Thursday, September 6, 2018

Children of Blood and Bone, Book Review


Book Review by C. M.

A few months ago I first saw this book, "Children of Blood and Bone" in a bookstore and at the time I picked it up, looked it over, was tempted to buy it, and then decided not to because I was looking for a book in which the main character / protagonist was an archer. [Note the bow rack in the background of the photo above.]

Weeks later, having already read every decent archery book I could find, and disappointed with my options to find a new book featuring an archer protagonist, I eventually decided "You know what, it doesn't have to have archery in it."

In which case, that book I saw previously... what was it called? The Afro-Fantasy book about a girl who is trying bring back magic to her kingdom... Well, if I can find it, I might as well buy that book instead.

I didn't know the book I was buying was "Young Adult Fiction". I just knew it was Afro-Fantasy and I wanted to read something that was new and different.

So I flagged down a lady who worked at the bookstore, and I tried to describe the book I was looking for... But I couldn't remember the name of the book or the name of the author. [Tomi Adeyemi, see her Twitter page at https://twitter.com/tomi_adeyemi.]

So there I am, trying to describe a book to the bookstore lady having only read the dust jacket on the book and being unable to remember any crucial details regarding its name.

I did however know that if I saw the book I would be able to recognize it, as it does have a rather striking cover.


Suffice to say the bookstore lady found it for me on the computer and I recognized the cover when she was scrolling through possible books.

Reading Children of Blood and Bone... NO SPOILERS

My immediate impressions of Children of Blood and Bone was how the book was similar to a number of other books and in particular one Japanese anime series.

Each chapter was written from a first person perspective, which reminded me of various authors who prefer that style.

Also the author writes everything in present tense, which in my experience makes things more exciting. Most authors write in the past tense, but if you want to write action, then present tense is handy to write in because it creates a more immediate feeling of tension and drama.

Next, each chapter was written from the perspectives of different characters, and would often alternate or switch between the 3 main characters. This reminded me of George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones / Song of Ice and Fire book series, as he jumps from character to character frequently.

The chapters were often relatively short, but with 85 chapters it didn't matter. Still a huge book to read. The chapters also got on average shorter towards the end of the book when the action heated up and the perspectives switched more often.

The plot has some similarities to Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Japanese anime series I was referring to. Being similar to a great series is not a bad thing, just like being similar to a great movie is not a bad thing. (Saw the film "Peppermint" last night. Amazing movie. Reminds me of both "Die Hard" and "The Punisher". I was not expecting it to be an action comedy.)

It isn't just the plot that is similar to Avatar either. Three of the characters spend a lot of their time riding around on a giant lion known as a Lionaire. Shown here on the right in some fan art circulating online. I don't think the fan art does the Lionaire justice however, as they are supposed to be much bigger and able to carry 3 adults with ease. In Avatar, the main 3 characters ride around on a sky bison which is easily the size of an elephant, so in my mind Lionaires should be roughly elephant sized.

Or at very least the size of 'Battle Cat' from He-Man / "Masters of the Universe".

I even found it to be similar to some of my own books, the Lilith Bloodstone series, wherein the main protagonist is a necromancer who destroys undead instead of creating them. In Children of Blood and Bone, the primary character is Zélie, who is a Reaper (essentially a necromancer) who can use spiritual / necromancy magic. To me having the hero being a necromancer is a good juxtaposition of the reader's expectations.


Being "Young Adult Fiction" there is of course the obligatory love interest. Teenagers falling in love, that sort of thing. This is typical of franchises that cater to teens... Hunger Games, Twilight, etc. Apparently if you are going to have a book (or series of books) for young adults then it has to include some romance in there.

Thus I would be amiss in not pointing out the similarity to the Shannara Chronicles TV show, which is also a fantasy aimed at young adults and teenagers.

You could also say that the genre Afro-Fantasy is similar to Afro Science Fiction - in particular the film "Black Panther". But hey, maybe it is past time for such things to finally get recognition.

Still, being similar to such things is not a bad thing.
  • Game of Thrones
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
  • Black Panther
  • Hunger Games
  • Masters of the Universe
After all, people get inspiration from all sorts of places. And if you are going to make something that is similar to other things, might as well be similar to some pretty amazing works of storytelling.

"Good artists copy; great artists steal." - Pablo Picasso.

The book also serves as a very strong reminder of the problems happening in the USA currently, with police killing unarmed black people for no good reason. So there is also that. Considering the violent idiot in the White House currently, the book also makes for a nice allegory of the situation in the USA.

So how was the book itself?

Honestly, pretty amazing. I give it 5 stars (out of 5 of course).

I have been telling other people to go read it. Friends, family members, my wife who is too busy to read anything that isn't work related...

On Twitter I tweeted about it multiple times, and even got a Like from Tomi Adeyemi.

So am I just fussing about it? Is it just me?

Nope.

Not just me. I have seen some of the other reviews posted on youtube and other sources. It isn't just me who is making a big fuss about Children of Blood and Bone. There is already a huge fan following for the first book, and plenty of fan art, fan fiction, and more being produced. I myself have been tempted to make my own version of the map.

Hollywood has noticed too. They bought the film rights for this book and the next two books.

Now if Tomi Adeyemi is smart she will write 5 books, and Hollywood will have no choice but to buy the rights for those 2 extra books to be made into films. ;)

Price?

$24.99 CDN + HST for the hardcover, which is what I got.

If you go on Amazon.ca you can get the softcover for $15, or the Kindle digital version for  $8.99.

I normally don't buy hardcovers, but this was a special occasion where I was in a good mood, there was only hardcovers available in the bookstore, and I really wanted to read this book.

Fantasy Writer's Note + Grumblings

As a fantasy writer myself it was interesting for me to read something that was not the standard fantasy fare. Reading Afro-Fantasy gave me a new perspective as a writer for how to write about a variety of cultures. How culture is presented through clothing, food, architecture, language, social interactions, etc gives the reader a deeper understanding of the setting they are reading about, thus creating a more "in depth story".

Earlier today I was contacted by a software company wanting to hire me to give their video game a more "in depth story" because their current story was apparently boring the heck out of the intended audience. I quoted them $30 per hour for me to rework the story and make it better / more interesting. They decided to pass and asked if I knew any other authors willing to work for less...

I do, but therein lies the problem. Creativity is worth money. And it takes time to come up with ideas, write them down, and then do a 2nd draft, edit, etc.

Regardless of who a software company hires to do their background story for their video game, it is going to cost them. I charge $30 per hour because that is what my time is worth, whether I am designing / creating something or teaching archery (technically a charge a minimum of $40 per hour for archery, as I also provide equipment). I do not work for less than $30. It isn't worth my time otherwise.

And with respect to archery, I am probably the most expensive archery instructor in Canada. If not all of North America. People come from the USA, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, France, Brazil just to learn from me. So clearly my time is valuable.


So when someone asks me to do some creative writing work for their company, and then they balk at my hourly rate... sorry. That is the minimum of what I charge for my services. For that they get quality.

And writing a quality "in depth story" is not child's play. I read the draft the software company sent me. It looked like a 12 year old wrote it. A 12 year old with no writing skills. There was no sense of character. No sense of drama. It was as dry as an old history book.

Back to Children of Blood and Bone...

Definitely not dry or boring. Every chapter had something interesting happening, whether it was action or some new development. All thanks to quality writing and an "in depth" presentation of the characters, plot and the cultural setting of Orisha (the land in which the story takes place).

I am hoping in the next book we get to see Zélie fighting a sea monster like the one on the map. Foreshadowing??? ;)


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Directional Couplers

All About Directional Couplers

You may have heard of directional couplers but not really known what is meant by the term. This is true for most people, so it is nothing to really be alarmed about. Here is a basic breakdown of everything you need to know about directional couplers.

Essentially, the couplers are circuits consisting of four-ports where a single port is completely isolated from the input port. By consisting of these attributes, they are defined as networks of passive reciprocity. Each of the four ports is matched to the other three and the circuit is completely lossless.

There are several ways in which the realization of the directional coupler applications can be solidified. These ways include coaxial, stripline, wavelength, and microstrip. They can be used in this way to sample the signal. This sampling technique can include both the wave reflections and the actual incident itself. The couplers also generally work by using the individual properties distributed by microwave circuits. This property of coupling tends to exclusively work within a distance of a quarter-wavelength or in portions of multiple quarter-wavelengths of the device doing the distribution.

The four ports of the directional coupler each have individual names and attributes. The first port is known as the through port. This port is where the signal of incidence mainly exists. The second port is known as the coupled port. This port is where a portion of the input signal will appear and represent itself in the form of decibels, in most cases. The third port is called the isolated port which is where the signal will be terminated. The fourth port, obviously, is called the input. This port is where the signal originates. In some instances, the end user may choose to reverse the direction of the signal so that it actually exits through the input port but this is not a common occurrence.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Why people in Rich Neighbourhoods get Free Two Day Shipping from Amazon

By C. Moffat - May 10th.

I live in a wealthy neighbourhood of Toronto...

And I have discovered something fascinating about what happens when I pick the "Free Shipping" option when ordering things on Amazon.ca.

In the description for Free Shipping it says items will be shipped and received within 5 to 8 business days. However when I order things off Amazon, I typically receive them within 2 days.

And please note, I did not click on the "Two Day Shipping" option when buying them. I only clicked the Free Shipping option that is slower and takes 5 to 8 days.

So for example, yesterday, May 9th, I ordered a picnic blanket for my son and a LP record for my mother. I was just notified by email that both items will arrive tomorrow, the 11th.

So within 2 days, the same as you would expect for two day shipping.

So why would me living in wealthy neighbourhood of Toronto effect the shipping times?

Well, many people in my neighbourhood use Amazon Prime and they are not used to waiting for things. When they order something they usually choose either the 1 day shipping or 2 day shipping options. Plus there is quite a lot of people in my neighbourhood who shop in this manner.

This means that in order to save on costs, Amazon will often load up the delivery truck with multiple items for the whole neighbourhood that is governed by our post office and ship them all at once. This saves Amazon a lot of money on delivery costs.

Thus, with the sheer number of wealthy people in my neighbourhood who use 1 day or 2 day shipping, anything I order off Amazon typically shows up in only 2 days.

The exception to this is the Christmas season, which is a bit slower due to the volume of items being shipped, but I still received everything I ordered ahead of time. Way faster than it normally would have been.

Living in a large city like Toronto probably also helps speed delivery.

I am reminded of when I used to live downtown near the Rogers building on Bloor Street. I had Rogers internet at the time and it was the fastest internet connection I had ever had. Being close to the source dramatically reduced download times.

Thus, in my situation, living in a wealthy neighbourhood where people unaccustomed to waiting I get super-fast Amazon deliveries and all I have to do is pick the free shipping option.

That is a nice perk in my opinion.

Downside, the drivers in my neighbourhood are also impatient morons. Rich impatient morons who run over children. It is so bad in the local park they installed a camera that monitors the speed people are going and flashes what speed they are doing. People in the neighbourhood often have signs on their lawns, warning drivers to slow down because of children. If you know of what I speak, you know which neighbourhood I am living in.

So be forewarned if you live in a rich neighbourhood and have small children, keep an eye on them at all times because rich people don't like to slow down when they are driving and are often looking at their phones.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Proud Mary, movie review

By C.M.

Saw "Proud Mary" this evening.

Two thumbs up from the wife and myself.

Reasons why we liked it?

It felt very similar to the John Wick films, both chapters I and II.

Also had the feeling of various films in blaxploitation genre from the 1970s such as Cleopatra Jones (starring the very tall Tamara Dobson) or any of the Pam Grier films like Coffy, Foxy Brown, or Sheba Baby, and more famous films like Shaft (the original, not the remake).

So the director definitely captured the feel of a 1970s style blaxploitation film, but at the same mixed it with the style of action you see in films like John Wick I and II.

So much so that Mary is frequently double tapping the people she shoots in the same manner John Wick does.

Within the plot, and without spoiling anything, we can also say that the film touched on topics surrounding child abuse, guilt, responsibility, sexual harassment, the role of motherhood, and how people and organizations can effectively use slavery to control people against their wills. Topics worth talking about that reinforce a good well-written plot. The motivation and plot works, and you feel yourself agreeing with the actions of the heroine and thinking you would do the same thing in similar circumstances.

Like John Wick likes his cars, so does Mary. At times it felt like the film was a commercial for Maserati sports cars.

I cannot complain too much. Maserati just happens to be my favourite Italian sports car. Ferrari and Lamborghini are both nice, but Maserati takes it to another level by making cars that are more luxurious, handle better and are super fast. (If you are looking for insane power, check out Koenigsegg and Bugati.)

And apparently the car is ridiculously bullet proof, but we will just ignore that part right? Maybe Mary had body armour added to the car to make it more like the Batmobile. No complaints. We will just assume the car had body armour added to it.


Monday, January 15, 2018

Doing a Facebook Purge, a Review and Commentary

By C. M. - January 15th 2018.

Facebook isn't just any website.

It is the 3rd most popular website in the world after Google and YouTube. (See https://www.alexa.com/topsites for the list of top sites.)

As a social network (the first truly popular social network) it has played an important role in the last decade of helping people to communicate, socialize, organize events and meet new people with similar interests.

But it is also broken.

Don't take my word for it. Mark Zuckerberg (the creator of Facebook) recently said his new goal (resolution?) in 2018 is to fix Facebook. He has realized it is broken and needs to be fixed.

The realization came to Zuckerberg after the revelation that the Russians had manipulated Facebook with fake news reports to influence American voters into voting for Donald Trump. This kind of sophisticated election tampering by the Russians went unnoticed until it was too late.

"I started doing these challenges in 2009," Zuckerberg wrote in the post on his Facebook page earlier this month. "That first year the economy was in a deep recession and Facebook was not yet profitable. We needed to get serious about making sure Facebook had a sustainable business model. It was a serious year, and I wore a tie every day as a reminder."

"Today feels a lot like that first year. The world feels anxious and divided, and Facebook has a lot of work to do -- whether it's protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent."

"My personal challenge for 2018 is to focus on fixing these important issues. We won't prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools. If we're successful this year then we'll end 2018 on a much better trajectory."

 However...

This is not why I am doing a Facebook Purge today.

I am personally doing a Facebook Purge because of the following reasons, in order of significance.

#1. I find myself too often arguing with morons and jerks.

Yesterday I made a comment on a group about how admins have to balance free speech with the desire to moderate and remove hate speech. I said it was a balancing act. Yeah, metaphors. And wouldn't you know it, one moron decides to disagree with me and says it is not a balancing act, you just make rules and then stick to them.

Oh really? What rules? How do you make the decisions of what to allow and what not to allow?

So for example the admin in that particular (male dominated) group was banning racist comments. But sexist comments were probably still okay, as male dominated groups tend to not worry about sexist comments. Thus the admin is still making decisions about what to allow and what not to allow... which makes it a metaphorical balancing act.

And I have to explain this to the moron who just doesn't get it.

So one of the things I will be doing today is purging Facebook groups that I find to be a waste of time. Groups where people just argue most of the time.

For example I am a member (or was a member until today) of the Toronto Vegetarian Association (https://www.facebook.com/torontoveg/).

I joined that group because I like eating more vegetables. I am not a vegetarian or a vegan. I was simply a person who wants to eat healthier and I was hoping people on there would be posting recipes, events for foodies, that sort of thing.

Instead what I routinely see on there is people complaining about the meat industry or the fur industry, arguing about organic food, free range chickens, and a whole host of other topics.

Worse, vegans and vegetarians have a tendency to be jerks. Or sometimes morons. Sometimes both.

And so I am leaving groups like that too, because frankly they are not posting the food recipes I had hoped they would be. I should have just joined a cooking group.

So why am I wasting my valuable time arguing with morons and jerks?

So I will be purging every Facebook group I consider to be a waste of time.

#2. Finding more time for groups I admin.

I am the admin of various groups and part of this Facebook Purge process will be deciding which Facebook groups I want to keep being the admin of, and whether those groups need a set of rules so that people know that I expect a certain level of behaviour.

So for those groups I am keeping, I will be posting a set of rules. Hopefully this will discourage people from being jerks - and thus I won't be bothered as much to decide whether to ban people who are disruptive jerks posting racist/sexist comments.

Although I admit, there is a certain kind of joy that comes from banning a person from a group and sending them a message that tells them why I kicked them out. That part is certainly enjoyable.

#3. Friends and people I barely know who waste my time.

Sometimes you end up being friends with people whom you have not seen in years. They move away, you stop hanging out, but you still talk to them regularly on Facebook.

Some of them I have realized... they're just a waste of time.

Some of them are even argumentative jerks and morons and yet I am still friends with them. Clearly I need to dump them and purge them.

#4. Wasting time when I could be doing something more productive.

Facebook is a huge time waster.

I currently spend at least hour every day talking (sometimes arguing) with people on Facebook, clicking Like and so forth.

A lot of it is things that don't even matter to my day to day life.

What I need to do is prioritize things that are my close friends, the people I actually socialize with, and family.

Everyone else is basically me wasting time on Facebook with cat videos and things that have little or no bearing on my life.

#5. I have a son now.

And I would rather be spending time with my son. I routinely post photos of him on Facebook (to share with his grandparents, other family members and friends who also have kids). But if I cut down on the wasteful Facebook time, that means more time spent with my son (possibly taking more photos of him).



So what about you? Should you do a Facebook Purge too?

Probably a lot of us should purge how much we use Facebook.

Just imagine how much more free time we would have to do something productive instead of all the time we waste on Facebook.

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