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Thursday, July 31, 2014

July 2014 Read of the Month Review

Where has the summer (if you call it that based upon our recent weather) gone?  It is hard to believe that August is just around the corner.  Although Michigan public schools start after Labor Day, my college courses will be starting before I know it in August.  I sure hope I can balance my time and keep reading and writing.  Well enough of the back to school talk, I need to review my my July 2014 Read of the Month.

I know it is hard to believe, but this was the first time I ever read J. D. Salinger's classic The Catcher in the Rye. I want to start my review by stating this is not going to be some academic review of this classic novel.  There are plenty of those out there if that is what you want to read.  What I will provide is my feelings on reading this novel for the first time at the age of thirty nine.

I loved this book, 5 out of 5 stars from me.  I loved Salinger's main character Holden Caufield, probably because I see a lot of myself in Holden.  Now I am not going to get into some deep analysis over Caufield's mental state, but I will tell you that find myself saying much of the same stuff he says.  I am not depressed at all; but there are many things in this world that annoy me or I dislike (keep an eye on my Twitter account and you will often see what I mean.  When Caufield describes the movie he watched at Radio City Music Hall with "All I can say is, don't see it if you don't want to puke all over yourself" I immediately thought to my self "this is me!"  Some may get annoyed with Caufield's constant repetitions, but I loved his use of language.

After completing this novel I amused that this book is so often challenged.  The content and language may have been "risky" twenty plus years ago, but in 2014 not so much.  Besides a few mentions of the dreaded "F" word I see much worse on network television.  I guess as a librarian I will always find it amusing when books are "challenged." 

I really regret waiting so long to read this novel.   I am sure I will re-read it, just as I do with The Great Gatsby.  I have already started my August 2014 Read of the Month, so keep your eyes open for my choice.  It is a title that has been on my "to read" list for a while.  Happy Reading!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Movie Making via Smartphone....So Much Easier

I still remember when I decided I was going to film and edit digital movies.  It was right after my first child was born in the fall of 2004.  I purchased a "digital" video camera (tape based) specifically for the occasion.  All I needed was some fancy Firewire cable and some "super user-friendly" Movie Maker software and I would be directing numerous classic movies detailing Chloe's every move.

So, what actually happened?  I made one movie....after a long, frustrating struggle with nearly all of the elements involved in the process (camera, wires, computer, software, DVD's, etc).  Things did get a little better when I upgraded to a Mac and the iMovie format and things became even easier as digital video recording spread to hand-held devices.  However, making movies on the computer still involved a good deal of time sitting in my home office hunched over a computer screen.

This Has to Be Easier.....Right?


The other day I decided to give Splice on my iPhone 5 a try for making a movie.  I bought the $1.99 app a while ago for my daughter.  She wanted it to make movies on her iTouch.  All I can say is "wow!"  I was able to make two three minute videos of both Chloe and Nate's gymnastics highlights for the previous year in minutes.  I was able to include photos, video, transitions, text, and audio all while using my iPhone.  It was so easy.



Chloe's Gymnastic Movie via Splice





Now, I have to be honest about a few things.  I am not saying Splice (or Apple's mobile app version of iMovie) are going to be used anytime soon to make full length movies.  However, to just throw something together quickly while watching my kids at swimming lessons nothing beats these app based movie makers.  No headaches and very user friendly.  Obviously, there are more options and "special effects" via a full computer version of editing software.  It is also nice to have precise editing/time marks on a computer.  Making a movie on a smartphone via app requires users to use their fingers for making cuts/time marks.  The final movies also have a few rough transitions, but did come out pretty good.  Most armature movie makes will be satisfied with app based movie makers.

Nate's Gymnastics Highlights and Tribute to Randy Orton via Splice 





While these may not be Oscar winners or technical masterpieces they were very easy to make and were on YouTube within minutes to share with friends and family all over the world.  I find it amazing how digital movie making has become so user-friendly in the recent years.  Does anyone else enjoy making movies via their tablet or smartphone?  I would love to hear what app(s) you enjoy using.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Amazon's "Netflix" for Books

It was only a matter of time, but if you like to read a lot (or listen to audiobooks) Amazon has introduced Kindle Unlimited!  For $9.99 a month subscribers will have access to over 600,000 eBooks via a Kindle or Kindle app and thousands of audio books.  The 600,000 titles is only a small portion of what Amazon fully offers online.  Their current dispute with publisher Hachette may be a reason for a  lack of titles; 600,000 is still a lot of titles.  On Friday, investors seemed to be happy with the plan.

Amazon is not the first company to offer a subscription service for eBooks.  For $8.99 a month Scribd offers access to 400,000 titles and for $9.95 a month Oyster offers access to 500,000 titles.  Also, do not forget that if you are an Amazon Prime member you have access to one book per month free through their lending library.  Lending Library books are only available via Kindle devices.


How Many Books Can You Read in a Month?

Critics have pointed out that this is another step Amazon is taking to kill the physical book.  Also, critics of the Kindle Unlimited plan point out that subscribers would be paying $120 for a library card.  Personally, I do not plan to subscribe to the service at this time.  I may actually buy a Kindle because as a Prime customer I still do not take advantage of the lending library and I would like to do so.  I do not think subscribing to Kindle Unlimited is the same as paying for a library card.  Subscribers would be able to access a book anytime and anywhere they are able to connect to Amazon instead of driving to their local library branch. 

Any big time readers plan to subscribe to Kindle Unlimited?  There is currently a 30 day free trial period available if you want to give it a try.  I would love to hear from anyone that decides to give a try.  Happy Reading!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Smart Phones....Killing Phone Communication?

If you are reading this blog I am going to assume that more than likely you own a smartphone (except for my top editor in chief my mom).  Now, think about your daily use of your smart phone.....do you use it for to make numerous voice calls?  When I think of my daily smartphone usage I would rank usage as follows:

  1. Social-media use (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram mainly)
  2. Communication via text message
  3. Information consumption via browser or app
  4. Communication via email
  5. Music
  6. Games
  7. Communication via voice
  8. Camera 

If possible, I really try to make all communication via text.  When I think about my daily phone use it is usually just my wife calling or me using my phone to order dinner.  In an odd twist, I really think the advance of the smartphone has actually gone a long way to killing phone communication.  Remember when cell plans used to focus on how many voice call minutes were provided?  People used to wait until after 9 p.m. or the weekends to make all of their calls for the "free minutes."  Now it is all unlimited and the plans revolve totally on data usage.

Only Want to Make Phone Calls?  Good, That is all This Does!

Over at The Huffington Post author Rainbow Rowell writes an interesting piece on the lost art of telephone communication.  If Rowell's name sounds familiar it is because she was the author of my July 2013 Read of the Month Eleanor and Park (which I really enjoyed).  Rowell does comment on all of the new methods of communication but she also points out that cell phone calls are terrible compared to a land-line call.  With all of the improvements with smartphones, they are still average at best for voice communication.  I am never asked to repeat myself when using a landline, but once I am on my cell I find myself repeating things three times.  I guess that is why I prefer texting whenever I have my cell.

I really have no problem with the lost art of the long phone call.  I was never one for hour long phone conversations.  I actually love all of the options my smartphone offers.  I also feel I can carry on a conversation via phone or in person, so I am not worried about losing that "skill."  I do find it ironic that the creation of the smartphone is helping kill the actual phone call. What do you think of Rowell's piece?  What about your own smartphone?  How would you rank your usage?  Do you avoid phone calls and opt for other forms of communication?


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Happy Birthday America....and The Sony Walkman

Greetings, I hope everyone had an enjoyable and safe 4th of July.  As I was browsing through various news/tech sites I came across this interesting piece on The Sony Walkman turning 35 years old!  I find it interesting the first personal stereo listening device was created because back in 1978 a Sony executive wanted to listen to classical music in stereo while traveling via air.  Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka then directed Sony's tape recorder division to create such a device and just a few months later the first Sony Walkman, model TCS 300, hit the shelves.

Sony went on to sell nearly 400 million units of products under The Walkman name (including cassette, compact disc, and mini disc models).  I had at least two of those 400 million units in my younger days before Apple dominated the marked with their digital music iPod devices.

The Walkman Sports Model, To Get Your Fitness On

While reading the Time piece I had no choice to think back to my Walkman memories:

  • Battery life was never that great.....and when it started to get low you knew you were in trouble because of all the songs would s    l    o   w       d   o    w   n........
  • For some reason the headphones and headphone jack would always go bad quickly.  What was once stereo output would quickly shift to mono because output would only work out of one of the headphones.  I was constantly playing with the jack trying to get the device back to stereo.  
  • The best part of the Walkman era....making mix-tapes.  Kids do not realize how easy they have it today.  All they have to do is drag and drop songs and they have a full playlist.  Heck, with Internet radio options music fans just have to type a playlist they like and the computer "knows" what music they want to hear.  I remember spending hours making mix-tapes so I only had to listen to music I enjoyed.  Note...I am currently listening to one of my favorite iTunes playlists right now...and it is so much easier.  I DO NOT miss the mix tape tasks of the past.
  • Finally, having my own music to listen to while on a road trip with the family was a major bonus.  Of course, I wrote about how road trips have changed since I was kid a few years ago and things are much better today.  The Walkman was somewhat of a help back on my road trips as a child....but not much.  

Do any of my older readers remember their fist Walkman?  How many did you go through as a child?  Would your own kids even know what a Walkman is?  Check out this video to see what some kids think when they encounter a Walkman for the first time!





Let me conclude by saying Happy Birthday to the Sony Walkman for many years of music and entertainment.  Also, Happy Birthday to The United States of America and to all the men and women in uniform currently or in the past thank you so much for your service.