Archive for September, 2012

So yesterday Apple held a media event to introduce the new iPhone 5. For those of us following the rumours, the announcement was pretty much as expected. The new model is officially called “iPhone 5” not the “new iPhone” à la iPad. The screen has been increased to 4 inches. It includes LTE fast network access. It has a faster processor and better camera. It includes a new Panorama feature for wide view photos.

Now, the Android cynics amongst you will note, quite rightly, that these features have been available on Android for some time. As Tim Cook took great pains to stress though, it’s the first time these have been available on the Apple ecosystem. It’s also a testimony to Apple’s strength in the market that two weeks ago, Fido announced the activation of its LTE network. I am left with the impression though that Apple was playing catch up rather than being the innovator it used to be.

Until a week ago, I was using an iPhone 4. However, I became frustrated waiting on my Fido phone being eligible for an upgrade and I REALLY wanted to check out Siri. So just over a week ago, I bought an iPhone 4S, knowing that it would likely be returned within the 14 day window to be replaced by an iPhone 5. The upgrade from iPhone 4 to iPhone 4S or 5 is a nice jump. Having said that, it won’t be the end of the world if Apple won’t take back my iPhone 4S.

I’ve really enjoyed my time with Siri. It may be because she’s still a novelty to me, and after a week it’s not worn off yet. I’ve used her mainly to set timers and alarms, and also to send the odd text message. She seems to understand my Scottish accent most of the time. There will be a few days between returning the iPhone 4S and having Siri on my iPad with iOS 6. I’m actually really going to miss her. What I find her useful for is reminders and checking calendar events. It is definitely quicker to tell Siri to set an alarm than to navigate through the app. I’m undecided if it’s quicker to type a text message than to have Siri send it. It’s possibly quicker if she gets it right first time, which happens maybe 50% of the time. Maybe she’ll get better as she gets to know me.

Once again, Scott Forstall demonstrated iOS 6 during this keynote. I have to ask myself how many times Apple can demonstrate the same things over and over and over. To my knowledge, this is the third time that iOS 6 has been demoed. By now we all know that the new Maps application is cool; that Siri is now a sports and cinema fan; and that you can now open apps via Siri.

That is not to say iOS 6 does not add a lot of extra functionality which is most welcome. Personally, I’m looking forward most to the Do Not Disturb function which allows your phone to remain silent and the screen blank if you do not want to be disturbed. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been woken by friends in different time zones posting a Facebook status update. I’m also looking forward to local search being available for Siri in Canada. For the moment, Siri is unable to find restaurants: she replies “Sorry, I can’t look for places in Canada.” It should be noted though that iOS 6’s extra functionality is very restricted geographically. This site shows just how few countries can benefit from it. This is rather disappointing from Apple who has generally impressed me with how broadly international its coverage was.

All in all, the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 upgrade are nice, and very welcome. They are not setting my world alight as the original iPhone did.

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Please enjoy this guest post by Sheryl Steines, author of the action-packed urban fantasy, She Wulf. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including a Kindle Fire, $550 in Amazon gift cards, 5 autographed copies of She Wulf, and 5 copies of its companion, The Day of First Sun.

 

Time Travel? Yes, I think so!

A guest by Sheryl Steines

 

If you could go anywhere, meet any person, in any period of time, where would you go, what would you do, who would you meet? I know this is all hypothetical, but hey, I write in the pretend–in the fantasy. So suspend your disbelief, and come play with me for a moment.

Not such an easy question to answer, is it? One option would be to go and meet someone long dead–perhaps Elvis circa 1959 makes your heart swoon. Would you take the opportunity to meet a favorite entertainer, or maybe you want your trip to count for something meaningful? But what if you made a change, saved a life, corrected a wrong, how would your alterations affect the future? An interesting notion, don’t you think?

As I wrote She Wulf, my time travel adventure, I developed the idea of changing the past and how that might lead to the future you are trying to change. Maybe our interference might just be a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s when The Terminator movie struck me as so relevant and important in how I shaped my ideas of time travel.

For those who don’t know, The Terminator is a science fiction adventure where machines take over the world. The machines are human like cyborgs, ruled by an artificial intelligence program called Skynet, whose sole mission is to annihilate humanity. In opposition, the resistance was created by John Connor and they are winning the war. In an effort to prevent the resistance from being founded, the cyborgs send back one of their own, to murder John’s mother Sarah, before he’s born. To protect her and ensure he is even conceived, he sends back one of his soldiers (his father), to protect her. Got all that. So finally to my point, and I realize this all imaginary and takes place on celluloid but really, had the cyborgs never sent back the terminator, John Connor never would have sent back his father and he wouldn’t have been born. But what can you expect from a bunch of cyborgs anyway?

For me, in She Wulf, you couldn’t just decide one day to go to the past unless you found yourself there when the past was actually the present. Huh? Picture it this way. It’s 2012 and you want to go to the past, let’s say to the year 1900. You can’t go unless during the year 1900, you actually showed up. I know, it’s all theory, but that’s how it happened when Annie Pearce finds herself falling through a time portal, back to eleventh century England. She understands the concept of time travel, of altering the past and how it can affect the future which makes her reluctant to get involved. But she realizes that she had already been there, in the year 1075, had already altered time and whatever she touched or changed or created, was meant to be touched, changed or created.

So still think time travel is cool? I know sometimes we’d like a do-over, the ability to change a decision, to not have to live through pain and despair. But sometimes, these things make us who we are. Each experience shapes us, each tear, each laugh, adds to our self. We gain something. All those things that I’ve experienced, including the loss of a child, made me who I am. Without that, could I have written She Wulf?

So time travel–can you see it? What if it was real and I could look at it from a purely joyful perspective, without those darned consequences hanging over my head. Maybe an afternoon with Elvis would be fun.

 

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the She Wulf eBook edition is just 99 cents this week–and so is the price of its companion, The Day of First Sun. What’s more, by purchasing either of these fantastic books at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include a Kindle Fire, $550 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!

To win the prizes:

  1. Purchase your copy of She Wulf for just 99 cents
  2. Purchase your copy of Day of First Sun for just 99 cents
  3. Enter the Rafflecopter contest on Novel Publicity
  4. Visit today’s featured social media event

About She Wulf: Annie is sent through an ancient time portal with only a prophecy to guide her; she struggles with a new destiny as she tries to figure out a way to destroy an un-killable demon and return home. Get it on Amazon.

About The Day of First Sun: A vampire, a rogue wizard and an army of soulless zombies are par for the course for Annie Pearce and Bobby “Cham” Chamsky of the Wizard’s Guard. But when the non-magical princess, Amelie of Amborix, is murdered by magical means, a deeper plot unfolds. Get it on Amazon.

About the author: Behind the wheel of her ’66 Mustang Convertible, Sheryl is a constant surprise, using her sense of humor and relatable style make her books something everyone can enjoy. Visit Sheryl on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.

Please enjoy this excerpt from She Wulf, an action-packed urban fantasy by Sheryl Steines. Then read on to learn how you can win huge prizes as part of this blog tour, including a Kindle Fire, $550 in Amazon gift cards, 5 autographed copies of She Wulf, and 5 copies of its companion, The Day of First Sun.

 

Someone screamed; a terrified, naked shrill cry in the distance. There were sounds of hollering, screeching, grunting, stomping. The ground rumbled under Annie as she threw several layers of animal skins to the ground.

Spencer jumped up; the coven roused themselves.

“The mead hall,” he said as they threw open the door and ran to the village center.

Chaos turned to determination as the coven traveled through the forest toward the mead hall. Annie knew the Vikings were running, screaming, panicked— but all she could hear were footsteps, and her heart pounding in her chest. Spencer had come with her; she didn’t know where he was now. She only knew the steady rhythm surrounding her as the coven followed the trail. Instinctively she went into battle mode. This was what had brought here. Her adrenaline pumped through her, her heart beat quicker, her blood boiled with rage, and she ran faster.

They were through the forest and into the clearing that surrounded the mead hall. Annie’s senses changed, grew clearer and louder. She heard terrified voices; smelled fear hanging in the air. The anxious cries of the Vikings moved through her. She listened to the growling and grunting and the rage and horror the demons brought forth. It crowded her as they broke through the wooded area.

Swords swished in the air; metal sliced through flesh. Anxious, chaotic screams greeted them as they entered the massacre.

Blood covered the earth and stuck to their shoes and clothes. Large dark patches already drenched the ground around the hall and rolled off the dead bodies that littered the ground. Annie was sick. Women and children ran from the mead hall in the direction of the coven village, away from the demons that had overtaken them.

She reached down and pulled a small boy out of the way as a demon lunged for him. She threw her first jinx at the demon, surprised by the strength of her magic. The creature flew through the air and landed on another demon. The demon on top grunted, punched the beast below it and stood up. The one on the ground rose and looked around, confused at first until it focused on a Viking running past. It reached its large hands over and plucked the Viking from mid-run and held him in the air.

Terror filled the night; panic surrounded her as she conjured a small fireball. It hovered above her palm; it grew in size and strength, and she released it toward the demon. Its lightweight clothing caught fire easily. The demon hopped around in one spot, patting down the fire, but the flames grew and inched their way upwards before consuming the demon’s skin. It screamed; pain mixed with terror. The battle stopped around them and the warriors watched, entranced by the only known means to kill the demons.

“Fire!” Annie yelled to them. “Kill them with fire!”

As if the coven awoke from a trance, fireballs lit up the night, flying through the air and consuming the demons. Fire ate away at Annie’s demon’s flesh and crackled its bones. They popped until there was nothing left but ash. The last of the monster’s scream reverberated in Annie’s ear as the wind picked up and scattered its smoking remains in the air. She lit another ball of fire above her palm and threw it in the pile of ash, burning any possible traces of the demon. The blaze flashed and died down to nothing. She ran toward another creature.

 

As part of this special promotional extravaganza sponsored by Novel Publicity, the price of the She Wulf eBook edition is just 99 cents this week–and so is the price of its companion, The Day of First Sun. What’s more, by purchasing either of these fantastic books at an incredibly low price, you can enter to win many awesome prizes. The prizes include a Kindle Fire, $550 in Amazon gift cards, and 5 autographed copies of the book.

All the info you need to win one of these amazing prizes is RIGHT HERE. Remember, winning is as easy as clicking a button or leaving a blog comment–easy to enter; easy to win!

To win the prizes:

  1. Purchase your copy of She Wulf for just 99 cents
  2. Purchase your copy of Day of First Sun for just 99 cents
  3. Enter the Rafflecopter contest on Novel Publicity
  4. Visit today’s featured social media event

About She Wulf: Annie is sent through an ancient time portal with only a prophecy to guide her; she struggles with a new destiny as she tries to figure out a way to destroy an un-killable demon and return home. Get it on Amazon.

About The Day of First Sun: A vampire, a rogue wizard and an army of soulless zombies are par for the course for Annie Pearce and Bobby “Cham” Chamsky of the Wizard’s Guard. But when the non-magical princess, Amelie of Amborix, is murdered by magical means, a deeper plot unfolds. Get it on Amazon.

About the author: Behind the wheel of her ’66 Mustang Convertible, Sheryl is a constant surprise, using her sense of humor and relatable style make her books something everyone can enjoy. Visit Sheryl on her website, Twitter, Facebook, or GoodReads.

So in the last 48 hours both Kobo and Amazon have released details of the next iterations of their ereader products. Full details can be found at the Kindle and Kobo websites. It should be noted that I watched the Amazon press conference, but all I know of the new Kobo offerings is what Kobo has put on their website.

At the lower price point end of the scale, Amazon has refreshed the screen and reduced the price of their base model Kindle – it now costs just $69. It doesn’t have a touch interface. The Kobo base end model is now touch based, but reduced in size to a 5 inch screen. It costs just $79 dollars. As an advocate of e-reading it’s great to see that the entry level models are so reasonably priced.

Naturally, I was most interested in the touch readers. The big selling feature of both the new Kobo and Kindle touch devices is the front lighting to allow you to read when in a darkened environment. I often like to read in bed in the morning when I wake up, and don’t like to disturb my husband sleeping next to me, so this is something to which I was looking forward. I have had the lighted Kindle cover, but that adds a lot of bulk and weight to the device.

For once Amazon and Kobo were playing catchup to Barnes and Noble who launched their Nook with Glowlight six months ago. It remains to be seen if Amazon and Kobo do it better.

Both new touch devices are offering enhanced displays. Kobo is offering the 6″ Pearl E Ink touch screen, Plus XGA High Resolution with 16 levels of grey scale. The new Amazon Paperwhite offers 25% more contrast compared to the current edition with a 6″ Paperwhite display, 212 ppi, optimized font technology and 16-level gray scale.

In terms of battery life, Amazon appears to have taken the lead here. Amazon states that a single charge lasts up to eight weeks, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at 10. Battery life will vary based on light and wireless usage. Kobo states one month per charge… with the footnote that that is with the light turned off. With the light on, you can only expect 55 hours of reading. That’s probably not much more than I would expect from my Nexus 7 tablet.

Two other things jumped out at me regarding the new Kindle Paperwhite. The touch screen is capacitive (like the iPad or Nexus) rather than the infrared of the current Kindle Touch. Capacitive allows for faster response than infrared and does away with the need for a large bevel, making the device thinner. I found an interesting info graphic regarding the differences. When typing on my eInk infrared touch devices I’ve grown used to typing a letter – breathe – type the next letter – breathe – next letter. It will be interesting to see how much better that is on a new Kindle capacitive touch device.

The second thing to jump out at me was that Amazon has FINALLY updated the UI for the Touch. All I can say is Halle-frickin’-lujah. It was about time. Lines of text as a navigation system are so last millennium. They’re finally switching to using book covers. I hope that with the faster touch response time this will make a wonderful experience.

Oh yes, one other new feature that Amazon has added is a guide as to how much time it will take you to finish the current chapter. That may be a gimmick, but it could be useful. I imagine I’ll just have to try for myself.

Both these devices look great, and I hope to add them to my collection. I had planned to purchase the Kindle Paperwhite first, but Amazon’s US centric focus foiled me: “this product is not available in your country”. So I went ahead and placed my order for the Kobo Glo. It should be with me on or around the first of October. I will certainly do a full review.

With regard to the tablets, I’m going to direct you to the Kindle Fire and Kobo Arc product pages. With my disappointment in the Kobo Vox, and the Kindle Fire’s lack of availability and content in Canada, I’m hard pressed to recommend either of these devices over a more open tablet such as the Google Nexus. Of course, your mileage may vary, as they say.

One other thing from the Amazon press conference which did absolutely blow me away was Whispersync for Voice. Amazon owns Audible, one of the main suppliers of audiobooks and now through Whispersync the two media are tightly integrated. You can listen to the audiobook in the car, then pick up the book on your Kindle when you get home and, get this, it will track your progress, so you will never lose your place. That just blows me away. Also, Amazon is now offering audiobooks of some of the books you own at a fraction of the normal price: when browsing Amazon’s site today I came across this:

Whispersync for Voice

Now you can switch back and forth between reading the Kindle book and listening to the Audible audiobook.

Because you own this Kindle book, you can add the professional narration of Towers of Midnight (The Wheel of Time) for the reduced price of $8.99. Normal price would be around $50 if I remember correctly.

I’m not big audiobook fan, but that could convert me.

And on that note, I’ll sign off.

Welcome back to my reread of the Guardian’s list of the world’s most difficult books. Previous entries can be found here. This is the third part of the No Place on Earth review in which I’ll be tackling pages 25-50.

What happens:

When we left them, Kleist and von Gunderrode were both attending an afternoon tea party, neither of them particularly enjoying it. They are aware of each other, sensing a kindred spirit, but have made no move to speak.

In pages 25-50, Kleist eavesdrops on a conversation between von Gunderrode and Clemens Bretano, the brother of her friend Bettine in which they discuss von Gunderrode’s character. This causes Kleist to reflect on his own relationship with his ex-fiancée Wilhelmine and how he did not have romantic feelings for her. He notes that he has a bad habit of reflecting on the past, or looking to the future rather than living in the present. Despite his sharing his dreams of death with his fiancé, they shared no emotional intimacy. Once again, Kleist touches on his feelings of depression and the choice he faces of allowing it to overpower him, or to deal with it and live a hum-drum boring existence.

Kleist is distracted by his friend Wedekind from falling into a panic attack. To distract him, they talk about Friedrich von Savigny, a man to whom, in Kleist’s opinion, everything in life falls easily. He thinks of an as-yet unwritten work which will offer a damning critique of his society.

They break for tea which leads into a von Gunderrode section. She, also, thinks of von Savigny, to whom she was once engaged to be married, and who is now married to her friend Gunda. Von Gunderrode feels as if the three of them are involved in a relationship, although in her view it is not she who is the third party, but the legally married Gunde. She discusses her writing with Clemens, saying that she writes what she feels as truth and expresses her feelings through writing. She speaks of these feelings as being loneliness and a sense of not belonging, but notes that her readers have not connected the feelings expressed in her poetry as being her own feelings. As she looks around the party, it becomes apparent to her that Kleist is looking isolated, that nobody other than Wedekind is making any attempt to draw him into the conversation.

Switching back to Kleist, he thinks on his friendship with Wedekind and how the latter’s care had helped him recover after his most recent nervous breakdown. Kleist makes it clear that despite the treatment, he still has suicidal feelings, and determines to end his own life.

As von Gunderrode walks across the room, a knife is let fall from her bag, which catches Kleist’s attention. He hands it back to her and notice that her friends are concerned that she always has it with her. Kleist’s friend, Wedekind, wishes to confiscate it as a threat to life, but von Gunderrode firmly but politely refuses. She thinks again about her relationship with von Savigny as is frustrated that in his eyes she should not approach him as intimately as she would like.

She sees Savigny start a conversation with Kleist and feels she must intervene as Kleist may be upset by Savigny. She approaches and they start to speak.

Comments

So, finally, our two protagonists speak! What strikes me most about their thoughts is that both value expressing their emotions through writing, although at this point von Kleist seems to be suffering writer’s block. Both are prey to deep, dark thoughts and have active thoughts of suicide.

During these pages both Kleist and von Gunderrode express frustrations with the expectations that society puts on them; Kleist is embarrassed by his inability to share intimacy with his fiancée as would be expected (an indication of his homosexuality as many scholars believe?), Gunderrode by being denied the right to express her feelings for Savigny publicly because he is married. In both cases they seem to experience this as almost a physical dissociation from the place they find themselves in.

This novel was first published in 1979, a time when Christa Wolf was feeling increasingly frustrated by the situation in the former East Germany. She was particularly affected by the revoking of the citizenship of writer Wolf Biermann a year or so prior to writing this book. The themes of literature and society and dissatisfaction with one’s society are beginning to come through here.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for this week. See you back next week for some more!