Half and Half

So we have reached the end of the first half of 2024. The beginning of fiscal year 2025. And it has been and continues to be a year like no other I’ve ever experienced.

The first thing that tells us in which part of the year we are is the heat. And it has been, for most of us East coasters, extreme. If you know me though, then you know it’s hard to keep me inside when it’s not raining. Note I do know to listen to my body and seek shelter/water when told to by my various systems to do so. But understanding my need for heat, my wife got me this cool Neck Fan. Up until a couple weeks ago, I didn’t know such a thing existed. Weighing about as much as a headset band, it fits comfortably around the neck and blows air out through upward-facing slats. I’m actually curious how it works, since obviously there are no blades to generate the air. But you can set it at three speeds, and I’ve found that at the middle speed it’s quite effective in keeping me cool and minizing sweat, which of course helps me retain said water. So that thing is going to make my summer a lot more enjoyable.

The second thing that tells me where I am in the year is the amount of books I have consumed. (Side note: do you said you’ve “read” an audiobook? Because my wife and I are having a little discussion about that as well. I guess as a practical matter you are listening to someone read to you, but assuming it’s still a standard book and not something that tilts more toward an audio drama I argue that you are still using many of the same brain components that are involved in textual reading.) Any way you slice it, I have taken in more books (45) than I ever had at this time of year. I think that stems from my low tolerance for stories that aren’t grabbing me, which means I sometimes flick through three titles before settling on one. Lots of historical fiction, as that’s what people seem to be producing in spades these days. I especially love travel and adventure, currently into one called The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West by Sara Ackerman in which a woman enters an air race from San Francisco to Hawaii in 1927. It has some of the same elements of a Lisa Wingate book, as there is a character in 1987 Hawaii who discovers that she will inherit an estate from her great aunt. I’m not sure yet how the stories are going to tie together, but I’m also enjoying these increasingly popular dual-timeline novels.

And the final thoughts I have regarding the first half of 2024 involve my job. I spent nearly these entire six months working with two individuals in particular. I taught one how to perform some actions required in customer service and to do some basic work in Excel. This was rewarding, as he grasped many of the concepts we worked on. But what I found even more rewarding is the work I’ve done with a woman who wished to start learning some JAWS skills. I’ve learned the art of repetition, and of coming up with strategies to try and make the material more memorable. When I informed her that our sessions would be ending, or rather transitioning into a larger course that I will lead on using JAWS with web browsers, she said “Aww, I want more!” This made me feel good, as admittedly I had hoped she was even enjoying any of it or at least feeling like our work was useful. It is still nice to do work that truly matters, and that I hope will help someone achieve their career goals someday.

and that’s what I got for you as we prepare to embark on the rest of this year and our lives. We shall see what kind of fun awaits us on the other side. How was your first half?

BOOK REVIEW: Shelterwood, by Lisa Wingate

It’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed one of the books I read. In depth I mean, as of course I did talk a bit about the sci-fi series I’m enjoying. Anyhow, one of my truly favorite authors has just released her much-anticipated book. It’s called Shelterwood, and it’s by Lisa Wingate. I made a valiant effort to stay away from any chatter about the book prior to picking it up, so that I could have the pleasure of diving in and being immersed as I trust Wingate’s work to be excellent. So I think you can trust me not to give anything significant away, as I only wish to make you interested enough to check out this title for yourself.

This book deals with children and the mistreatment/orphanage of them throughout the years; abuse, lack of proper care from adult figures, and a forced growing up far too early. We see this impact both white and Chocktaw children in Oklahoma. The fact that it takes place there is enough to interest me, as I have read few if any books set in that state. One can’t help but feel sad that people were and are still faced with such hardships based solely on where and how they happen to exist in the world.

The story unfolds over two timelines: 1909, 11-year-old Olive Agusta escapes her stepfather as he becomes increasingly more dangerous, with Nessa, a younger child whom they’ve taken in in tow. They set off for what they hope is safety in the Winding Stair Mountains, and along the way they encounter a rich cast of characters speaking English and Chocktaw, accented and not. The imagery as they hike through southeastern Oklahoma really make you feel like you’re roaming that newly-admitted (at the time) state as well.

1990: Valerie moves to the region to become a park ranger after losing her husband in a horrible accident (not a spoiler as it happens prior to the story and is revealed sort of offstage). As she struggles with sexism and small-town life, she makes some discoveries with which some are clearly not happy.

I’m not sure how the stories are going to connect in the end, as I’m still making my way through it. That’s good though, as I would probably not tell you if I knew. I do know that the audio especially is very well narrated, primarily by Christine Lakin and Jenna Lamia. Other books i’ve read by Wingate that I would also recommend are:

  • Before We Were Yours
  • The Seakeeper’s Daughters
  • The Storykeeper
  • The Book of Lost Friends

I love all of her historical fiction, as I always learn about some new place or aspect. Or, she just causes me to see something I thought I knew plenty about in a different way. So I would recommend checking this out. I plucked up the audio on the first day it came out, which as a blind person for whom books were not always so accessible I still find exciting.

Why a Blind Man Watches Spacecraft Launches

And yes, I used the word “watch,” as it commonly refers to consuming video content. I “watch” TV or YouTube, or what have you.

I tried to watch the launch of the new Starliner spacecraft yesterday, but unfortunately they still haven’t been able to get it off the ground. Of course because it is a new machine, I’m sure they have to take every caution in putting it into the skies. But I find it particularly interesting to catch it, as this will be only the sixth different American craft created since the U.S. space program began.

My earliest memories of humanity hurling things out of Earth’s atmosphere are the same as many of my generation: the very sad Challenger space shuttle disaster. Because a teacher was going into space, all of the schools had us tuned in to watch this spectacle unfold. I think I only partially understood what had happened that day, because I was only 6 years old. But it gave me my first taste of a desire to explore and the dangers that could come with it.

This desire was deepened, oddly perhaps, by the little-known sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (one of my all-time favorite books by the way) called Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. In this one, Charlie ends up riding the elevator, I think from the factory, into space where he encounters aliens called Vermitious Knids. I guess they were a sort of stand-in for bad kids? Looking back on his writing, it seems maybe the author Roald Dahl didn’t like kids too much. Anyway, I remember the aliens smelling like eggs, and I was rapt by this nonsensical story. It even awoke in me a need to meet people not of my background who brought different perspectives and lived different lives.

As I got older I watched many of the shuttle launches, always feeling a thrill as all that audible power thrust them up, up, and away! I’ve read nearly every story written about the Apollo missions, and was most focused on how the astronauts felt as they left our planet, a slow ride at first with increasing G-force and speed until suddenly you go slack and float off of the couches. How I would love to experience that.

My interest in space and space travel went through the roof (clouds?) with the Apollo 13 movie starring Tom Hanks, which I got to catch in theaters. It was even more awe-inspiring to hear that power projected through a good sound system. And obviously getting those folks back home safely after everything unraveled is one of the best examples of the good we can do when we choose to work together.

Fast-forward to 2011 and the second-to-last shuttle flight. I sat in the lobby of my graduate school department building, feeling ho hum as I faced an insurmountable workload and had no clue how to deal with it. So I took a break and listened to the shuttle blast off. When I finished, I met a wonderful Lebanese woman who helped me get through that last, bumpy year and a half. I have an entire entry about her if you’d like to read it, but it again showed me the power of meeting and getting to know people from different backgrounds.

And as we are still stuck in low-earth orbit, I have read and am reading some sci-fi novels that take me many parsecs (I learned that a parsec represents roughly 3.26 light years) away and years into the future. The Noumenon series, by Marina J. Lostetter, is one of the most imaginative series I have ever read, and I’ve read many of them (the Frank Kitridge Mars series is also excellent). In Noumenon, she has them awake while traveling incredible distances rather than being frozen. I like how she takes care to represent all kinds of people, including multiple cultures and even people with disabilities (a deaf woman and one in a wheelchair play significant roles.) The books, three of them, are long but worth it. So if you get the chance, check them out.

So yeah, my interest in spacecraft launches and space travel overall stems from all kinds of experiences. Hey, maybe I’ll do as I told my mom and be the first blind man on the moon (I’ll plant my cane there!)

2021 Wrap: On Achievements, TikTok, and Books

What a year, folks. As I reflect on the happenings of 2021, I find it hard to believe that it is already close to wrapping up. It is, in many respects, yet another year lost to COVID. Let’s just pray that it will be the last such.
I guess I should focus most of my energy in this post on locating whatever nuggets of positivity that existed this year. Still looking… Nah, of course something worthwhile had to happen. I guess my elevation within my employer to a sort of assistive technology tutor is a major one. I say “sort of,” because I don’t know if one would feel entirely comfortable with what I’ve instructed. I can say though that I worked hard, did my research, paid close attention to the students’ needs, and tried to make sure that what I taught them was relevant.
I’d spent this past year doing JAWS for Windows tutoring, which as longtime readers would know also led me to purchase my current Windows computer and return to this platform from the Mac. Next year’s challenge, and a much more immediate and difficult one in some ways, will be to help probably those entirely new to the computer to learn some basic keyboarding skills. We’re going to use a program called Talking Typer, which helps people learn to type by speaking the letters aloud and informing of such metrics as Words per Minute and errors. I’ll need to brush up on this myself, and do hope that something I learn can help others unlock the vast power of computing.
I should also work to unlock my own power by digging back into this writing thing. I fell off of blogging over the last three months, but hey I’ve been reviewing books on Goodreads like crazy since May. Given that Book Reviewer still remains my career dream, the constant practice couldn’t have hurt.
To that end, and inspired by an NPR story on the rapid rise and influence of “BookTok,” I created a TikTok account. This, I guess social media, site allows for short three-minute videos and people, especially young ones, post on just about everything under the sun. Not surprisingly this is a very visual medium, but I did find some posts where book reviewers actually listed their titles aloud. I may (or may not) take a shot at recording my five-star reads there at some point, but am not impressed with the overall accessibility of the app. For instance, I find it difficult to follow those I am interested in with VoiceOver on the iPhone, and just navigating between videos is a real challenge. I hope some of these things can be fixed, so that a totally blind person could derive at least minimal enjoyment from the app, and perhaps more importantly tap into this vast crowd to gain exposure and other kinds of opportunities.
Just in case I never do post those reads in such a way, I’ll list them here. Note that not all books were released in 2021, just read by me herein. And just in case you do not choose to read my list below, I’ll close by wishing you and all of us a happy, healthy, and safe 2022.
2021 Five Star Titles: A listing of all the books I awarded this designation on Goodreads.

  1. Clap When You Land, Elizabeth Acebedo
  2. The Actual Star, Monica Byrne
  3. The Meaning of Mariah Carey, Mariah Carey
  4. The Last Train to Key West, Chanel Cleeton
  5. The President is Missing, Bill Clinton
  6. Return to Palm Court, Stephanie Edwards
  7. The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich
  8. A Good Neighborhood, Therese Anne Fowler
  9. Mother May I, Joshilyn Jackson
  10. The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
  11. How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, Cherie Jones
  12. Lies That Bind, Amanda Lamb
  13. Dear Edward, Ann Napolitano
  14. Eternal, Lisa Scottoline
  15. Great Circle, Maggie Shipstead
  16. Nerves of Steel, Tammie Shults
  17. Will, Will Smith
  18. Concrete Rose, Angie Thomas
  19. The Turn of the Key, Ruth Ware
  20. Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir
  21. The Book of Lost Friends, Lisa Wingate
  22. The Sea keeper’s Daughter, Lisa Wingate

Ramblings on a Crisp Day

Hello. I have to admit I’m feeling a bit uninspired, but need to try and type something out anyway. So, I am sitting under the sun, for it is so cold out that one must be in sun to enjoy it if that one is me, and just letting my brain wheels spin.

I guess the first piece of news, which most of you already know, is that I got my iPhone 6 on Friday. It’s both longer and wider than the 4S, and amazingly thin. The unit is subtly faster than my other one as well, as I’m noticing that apps start up immediately on launch. And the battery life is fantastic! I’ve been running it, outside of the hours I took for sleep of course, almost continuously since 1 PM yesterday, and it’s still at 20% charge. My 4S definitely couldn’t do that.

Thus far, there are only a couple of things I don’t really like, and I think they’re more iOS 8 related. First, there is no way to turn off key echo in VoiceOver. This isn’t a big deal, but it probably slows me down a bit as I pound away on the screen. Also, the A button in particular only works intermittently, with me having to swipe away and back in many cases in order to input it. I do like that autocorrect seems to be less intrusive, in that it doesn’t make that pop-up sound but will just correct the word once you hit space. I need to figure out how to more adequately use the predict feature, but once I do I think that will be pretty cool as well.

I downloaded Alex, the voice that Apple had already included with VoiceOver for the Mac but only just put onto the iPhone. I like it, I suppose, but am just so used to Samantha, the American voice that had been there since this software was made for use on iOS, that I ultimately had to go back to her. I just feel I understand more of what she says at a higher speech rate. People’s milage with this may vary, though.

And now for something completely different in this largely pointless post: a topic I’ve not talked about much in a while. What am I reading. Well, I currently have two titles going, trying hard to get that somewhat low year’s book count of 26 up before we end it.I’ve read others by both of these authors before.

The first is Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is about what I assume is a little-known war in Nigeria, a Civil war of sorts between that country and a breakaway southern country called Biafra. (Assuming I spelled that correctly, having consumed it in audio). The story is told through the perspectives of three main characters, a house servant boy, the mystress of that same house, and her sister’s boyfriend. The latter is a white man originally from England, who has come to live in Nigeria and is writing a book on his experiences there, and particularly in the war.

It is a beautiful story, but kind of sad as so many kids slowly starve to death in villages that have been cut off by the warring Nigerians. While it does show that side of Africa, the side we often think of in referring to it, this novel also demonstrates that there was a substantial middle class even at those times. Some work for the area’s major university, while others are employed by the government. Some live in a sprawling oceanfront house, while others reside in a village near the city. I’ve heard Adichie talk about how she wishes to show those in the west that such parts of African society do exist.

The other I’m reading is Earthbound, by Elaine Calloway. The third in her Elemental Clans series, it takes place in Portlant. The earth elemental is attempting to stop the Acobi fallen angels from taking young girls into tunnels dug into the riverside and torturing them. He must also do battle with a woman who lives in a pressure-cooker family of workers in a business who try to get her to further develop the riverfront in a way that would thwart his plans.

As always with her books, the best part is the amazing description of the town and its surrounding scenery. I’ve also read the other two books in this series, Water’s Blood, which I think I reviewed earlier, and Raging Fire. They take place in New Orleans and New York respectively.

And now I’ll disconnect and continue listening to this Carolina Panthers game as I sit outside here at Dunkin Donuts. Given that we are a virtual mash unit lately, with so many of our players hurt, I’m surprised that we are at present winning 7-0. Hope we can hold on. More soon.

iTurn 2: and 12 Apps List

And now, I have had this wonderful piece of technology, the iPhone, for just over two years. The huge leaps and bounds in what it can do astound me, and give me plenty of reason for optimism going forward. I think we, those with disabilities, do have an obligation to stay on these folks and make sure that they continue to value accessibility though.

As I had last year, I thought it would be fun to list my 12 favorite, (i.e) most used, apps of this past year of the iPhone. I think they clearly demonstrate my love for travel, learning about the area around me, and gaining access to so much more information than I have ever been able to have before. The list is long, and so I’d recommend you use the headers to skim and look for ones you would like to read more about. Also, the ones with stars have received their second recommendation. So, let’s go, shall we?

Ariadne GPS:

I know that most blind folks have fallen in love with BlindSquare lately, I’m sure with good reason. I haven’t yet purchased this one though, and still enjoy Ariadne for its feelable onscreen maps.

I can click to explore around where I actually am, or put in another city to peruse its layout. This has actually proven helpful in some cases, as I would know which streets were nearby as the bus or other form of transportation approached where I needed to exit.

I have also discovered some interesting sites that I might want to visit someday, like the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago? That sounds cool.

Finally, I enjoy the sounds it makes to indicate water, kind of relaxing, a park or green area, the highway, and even someone walking. It’s fun, and the price, about $5, can’t be beat!

*At Bat:

The official app of Major League Baseball, I love this one because it is so wonderfully accessible. They are the only sports league that even seems to get it, ahem NFL Mobile and NBA Gametime. I especially wish the NFL would step up to the plate and fix that thing! a fact about which I have complained a few times on Twitter. I’d listed theirs as one of my favorites last year, but they definitely broke things even harder this season sadly.

Anyway back to baseball. I can so easily view the schedules, standings, scores, and flip from game to game and team network to team network if I wish. I am glad that this app has basically remained the same as it was last season.

Audible:

Need I say more? One of several reading apps I use actually, I like it because usually the books are well marked up and I can stop at chapter’s end with the sleep timer. I say usually, because there have been some cases where the timing was off for whatever reason. This once led to an amusing case where I kept on reading past the bell while at work, having gotten so into the section without the timer stopping it appropriately. I had to run full tilt back to my work section after that lunch!

I began using this app to read a novel by Veronica Scott, one of my favorite authors on Twitter, at about this time last year. Since, I have consumed approximately 15 other titles. I like how quickly they can get new audio books up there, often very close to the same time the printed version is dropped.

Downcast:

A podcast-grabbing app, I’ve gotten more into this one over the last couple months as I aim to consume less cellular data. It will download and store content while I am on a WiFi connection, and I can listen to that content when on the move or at work on break. I love that the WiFi aboard Triangle Transit buses has improved so drastically as well, often allowing me to acquire new shows more quickly than I can even at home.

I don’t listen to a whole lot of shows, yet. Thus far, I subscribe to Airplane Geeks, Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase, On Being, and Serotalk. This usually gives me enough to listen to during the week.

Google Maps:

Well, I still love this app because it can show me where the nearest restaurants are located, as well as menus, numbers to call, and their website. The only thing is, in the last month or so I’m noticing that the menus seem a lot less accessible, as I noted on my birthday. They keep refreshing, and don’t allow me to finish checking all of the options before I am put back at the beginning. I hope they fix this.

I think overall though that this app now works a lot better than it used to. I haven’t really played with the Public Transit directions in a while, but believe that now even that information is more viewable with VoiceOver than it had been in previous iterations.

KNFB Reader:

I acquired this app only yesterday, and already it has risen to the top of my favorites list. It makes possible excellent object character recognition (OCR) on the iPhone. Heck, I would argue that I’ve seen some of the best OCR with that thing that I’ve ever known.

It’s technically not even supported on my current hardware, the iPhone 4S, but given that I’m due to get my 6 next Wednesday and I suddenly can’t find my mail-checking older neighbor, I figured I would go ahead and try it out. Once I came up with a method of holding the phone in the most optimal level position that involved placing both elbows on the table, putting both thumbs on the bottom edges of the phone and both middle fingers on the top edges, it read my text nearly flawlessly.

I often experience anxiety until I can find out what a letter says, and so finally having the freedom to view it immediately is a huge deal. Plus, one never knows in what other situations good OCR may well be needed. I should note that the app costs $99, but in my opinion it is money well spent.

NPR News:

Ah, I’m still and will probably always be an NPR junkie. This app allows me to listen to Morning Edition and All Things Considered wherever I am, as long as I can get an Internet connection. I also enjoy conducting random searches on topics that interest me and listening to audio and blog posts concerning them.

The app is reasonably accessible, though I wish they would only important the current day’s Morning Edition or ATC shows to the playlist when I click “Add All” as they once did. Now, it brings in the last 30. It can be difficult to tell when a show has actually ended.

Pandora:

This is the app that wakes me up in the morning and propels me out the door! I usually select from a varying list of stations. Sometimes I wanna bounce to some 70’s funk. Others, I mellow out to some early REAL! jzz. Or, I might open up my thinking pipes with some Mozart or Bethoven on the Classical Music for Studying Channel. All music is all good to me.

There was a bit of an accessibility kerfuffle when the names of stations suddenly became viewable only by enabling VoiceOver hints. I will credit the developers in eventually responding to and fixing this issue, though.

Rider:

A great, real-time transit app, I appreciate that Transloc Rider has worked to improve the accuracy of predictions regarding bus arrivals. This app has helped me and my sighted companions several times, by letting us know where the nearest stop was and when a bus would arrive.

The only issue we experienced with it is that we were never sure if the bus that was being referenced was inbound or outbound. This was usually not a huge deal, but it did mean that sometimes we would end up standing there 15 minutes longer than we had expected.

As stated when I last wrote about this app, I’m not sure how widely available it is. I guess you can try downloading it though and check it out. It definitely works with Triangle Transit and all of its associated networks (DATA, C-tran, CAT, Chapel Hill Transit, etc).

*Sports Alerts:

This is by far and away the best way for me to check scores on the iPhone. It reminds me of my Yahoo Sports days on the computer. I like that they are adding more information particularly to NFL and MLB scores, such as the team’s down and distance in the former and who is batting and pitching in the latter.

There had been a bit of an issue with refreshing, where the app would suck me back to the beginning of the list before I finished checking scores. However, this has somehow smoothed out with time. I think these developers do take accessibility into account, and I appreciate that.

Twitter:

I know many prefer to use other apps for this social media client, such as Twitterrific and Tweetlist, but lately I’ve much more enjoyed the native iPhone Twitter app. I’m finding it to be more stable, and haven’t yet had the kinds of problems with repeated crashing or it just becoming very slow that I experienced with those other two programs. I also like the way that it organizes conversations, making it easier for me to jump over threads with hundreds of replies (and yes I’ve seen some of those).

I am however having an issue where I no longer receive push notifications. I think this problem will be corrected once I am able to update to iOS 8 next week, though. So in the meantime, I just have to remember to check in periodically.

Uber:

Well I’ve been talking about this one for the past couple of months at least. For those not in the know, Uber is a rideshare service that allows you to summon a car with the push of a button on your phone. I love it, because I can put in my intended destination and get a fare estimate before departure. It also shows me the estimated time of arrival, changing as the vehicle gets closer. This makes life way easier for me, because I know once that timer goes to 0, if I still don’t hear anyone I should place a call. I have yet to have a bad experience with them.

I would say that the only thing I do notice is that the fare is usually at least a dollar higher than that which is quoted. This probably has more to do with the times I choose to travel though, and their subsequent heavy traffic. Again, for the last time I promise! if you want to try it out and help me in the process, use my promo code at sign-up: johnm1014. We’ll then both get a free ride!

And that’s my exhaustive apps list. I hope you find one or more that you can use and enjoy. Here’s to the coming years of iPhone 6! Mine had better stay straight.

Book Review: Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

Note the change of my blog URL to blindtravel.net. Actually, it’s a full-feature WordPress site that I suspect will take on its own identity over time. I’m just glad I’ve gotten everything working!
I actually finished this book a week ago, but never got around to writing about it. As one who is stimulated by the idea of traveling and learning about the scenery though, I knew I wanted to read it ever since I heard the National Library Service narrator Jill Scott talking about it at the last convention of the American Counsel of the Blind.
The full title is Wild, from lost to found on the Pacific Coast Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. Even her last name, Strayed, was no happenstance. She says she chose it to reflect her wandering spirit and the attempts to find herself that were obviously a big reason why she took this trip.
The story starts with tales of life on a farm in Minnesota, getting used to a stepfather and trying to get along with her brother and sister. It progresses with she and her mother deciding to enroll in college together, though vowing to allow each other the space to develop freely, and then with her mother becoming inexplicably sick and discovering that she has advanced cancer. The conclusion of that revelation is fairly obvious, but I won’t give it away.
After these events unfolded, she felt that the only way she could get herself back together would be to take a long hike along the Pacific Crest Trail from about midway through California, up through Oregon, and ending at the Bridge of the Gods, which spans the Columbia River and connects Oregon to Washington. Along the way, she encounters a series of characters that challenged her thinking, resulted in new friendships, and on a couple of unfortunate occasions, caused her to fear for her safety.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and particularly the descriptions of what it took to trek through the snow, attempts to survive blistering walks through the sun, and other experiences the likes of which I can only imagine. I think she probably went a bit overboard with some things though, exposing the reader constantly to thoughts of sexual desire and other off-color things. However, I guess these were pretty central in her mind during that time, being alone for large stretches and having been quite a bit unprepared for the rigors this journey would exact on her body.
One of the ways she especially soothed herself was through music. I liked her talk of a “mixtape in my head,” as I definitely use this to get through most of my workdays. Some of the songs she mentioned were Texas Flood by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Box of Rain by Grateful Dead, and one called Red River Valley which I guess is some sort of folk song. I listened to all of these titles via YouTube, bringing the story a bit more to life for me.
I think this story has inspired me to someday attempt hiking our version of that trail, the Appalachian Trail. This runs from Georgia to somewhere in Maine I think, and I’d be interested in perhaps taking in at least a bit of it. I’m not sure how much of an outdoors person I am, but think that every type of travel in which I could engage could be beneficial. She definitely showed me that a lot of thought and preparation need to go into that sort of venture if one wants it to go as smoothly as possible. Heck, I suppose I’d be lucky not to be eaten by a bear.
Aside from the somewhat overboard talk of sex I mentioned earlier, there is also a pretty intense scene involving her and her brother’s attempts to put down their old horse. I’d say if you have a particularly hard time reading about harm to animals, just be aware of that. They do explain why this needed to be done though, regretting somewhat the exact course of action that was taken.
I’d still say I can recommend this book as a way to get out of the normal pattern of modern life. Do check it out.

Book Review: Wreck of the Nebula Dream, by Veronica Scott

I’m currently reading a book that is technically classified as Science Fiction Romance, but is also packed with all kinds of action. It’s entitled Wreck of the Nebula Dream, (Kindle) by Veronica Scott. A very sociable and interactive person on Twitter, Scott also possesses considerable writing talent, having won an SFR Galaxy award for this interesting story.

Scott sets off to write what in many respects is a retelling of the Titanic disaster set in interstellar Space and in a distant future. As such, we are not surprised to encounter passengers from different life stations, and with varying degrees of reasons for being onboard this ship.

The story begins with a scene that reminds me somewhat of the 1997 Titanic movie, as a well-to-do passenger nearly misses the departing shuttle from one of the now colonized planets. This “shuttle” has the distinct feel of an overpacked airliner, as people squabble over space and rummage for any snacks they can find to keep the kids happy during the extended delay. Once the passenger and her husband are onboard and the shuttle is airborne, well, remember Rose’s hectic run toward the ship railing to get out as she kind of melted down? Yeah, something similar.

And of course, you have a new ship that its builders feel is nearly indestructible and wish to push to unsafe speeds in order to break a record. We get a glimpse of its engines through the eyes of Nick, the story’s main character, as he is shown around by officers of the ship. Scott notes in other places that she is less interested in the hard science behind how such Space travel might actually work, and more in the dynamics that drive people to take the actions they do, including of course, finding love.

From the moment he boards the shuttle, Nick’s eyes are drawn to Mara, a high-powered businesswoman who seems mostly to be lost in her work. Yet she, a whiney, high-class socialite, a member of a race of brothers who must always provide assistance when called on, and two young children essentially become the focal point of action once disaster strikes.

It shouldn’t be surprising that this story is not an exact Titanic replica. We see strange, very powerful alien figures, all sorts of unusual technology that would likely exist in such a world (for example, a grav lift that allows for floating up and down between ship levels), and wildly advanced artificial intelligence machinery. I’m about two thirds of the way through, and I can’t anticipate how it will end.

The story is told in the third person and from Nick’s perspective. We see his shyness, lack of confidence in approaching and trying to get to know Mara, and also a strength in decision-making that probably comes from his being a part of the Special Forces. He also uses this military experience to come up with what he hopes will be an effective plan for the escaping passengers in his immediate care.

I think I can safely recommend this book. The story, the technology, the worlds are imaginative; and yet the emotions they evoke are definitely real.

It is available in audio too, which is how I’m enjoying it, via the Audible iPhone app. With continued support to independent authors, I say check it out!

Book Review: Water’s Blood, by Elaine Calloway

Again, the Amazon Kindle app on my iPhone allows me to support and enjoy the work of a newly published author and relatively long-time Twitter friend. She writes under the name Elaine Calloway, and the first title of her Elemental Clans series is Water’s Blood.

The four essentially nonhuman characters represent the natural elements: water, wind, earth, and fire. They have assumed human form, and their primary job is to protect humans from the Minare, or Fallen Angels. These fallen angels, not surprisingly, work under the guidance of Lucifer. The elementals are commanded by a force referred to as “universe”.

In Water’s Blood, Brooke, the water elemental, creates major challenges when she meets, falls in love, and ultimately mates with a New Orleans police officer named Alex. She thus gives birth to a half-human, half-elemental child named Ella, over whom the Fallen Angels immediately go into motion to try and claim. Their big prize? Ella’s soul.

Brooke and Alex are forbade from remaining coupled up, as Universe requires that elementals not let their powers be known to the masses for fear that these powers might be misinterpreted. They are thus forced to live under a maddening, especially to Alex, set of rules that allow Brooke only to see Ella occasionally and in a detached way that avoids revealing the fact that Brooke is actually her mother.

Set against the already magical, mysterious backdrop of New Orleans, Water’s Blood is filled with moments of amazement, amusement, sadness, and nerve-racking intensity.

We cringe as Brooke is forced to reign herself in during bar interactions, as she works serving drinks and is sometimes accosted by fallen angel hinchmen.

We also are given vivid descriptions of New Orleans scenery, including a fun dog show on the levy and jugglers on unicycles in another part of that frenetic city.

The story is told in the third person, with most of the emphasis being placed on Alex and Brooke’s perspectives. We do ride along though as Ella makes her first, unknowing, encounters with the bad guys who vow to subvert her and thereby seriously undermine the work done by Brooke and her colleagues.

I like that all of the elementals have names that reference their element of power. Phoenix represents fire, and Tempest is powered by wind, for example.

The second book in this series entitled Raging Fire, was just very recently published. It takes up Phoenix’s story and the things he primarily had to deal with. I plan to read it next. They certainly make for good reads during public transit commutes, as they call on one to be more aware of the interesting mix of people and perhaps odd, or just misperceived things that might be going on around one.

If you’d like to kind of get your feet wet before diving all the way in, I’d advise reading the prequel first. It’s free, on SmashWords, and entitled Droplet. Only 5 pages or so, it does help lead you into the story with a little more understanding of how things will unfold.

As usual for me, I’ve not actually finished reading this first book yet. I like to review it about a third of the way in, both so that I hopefully have enough of an understanding of plot and don’t end up giving too much away. But I can safely say I’d recommend it, if for the wide variety of emotions experienced while perusing its pages.

DC On Air 1: The Going

Wednesday:

A light rain falls as I disembark from the Triangle Transit 700 which, ironically, arrives at the Durham Station transportation center on time. This is the first time all week, as on both Monday and Tuesday the bus got there so late that I had been unable to make my connection to the DATA Route 6 bus that takes me home. Today, I don’t even need it.

I kind of hang out at that immediate location from 4 PM until almost 5, knowing there are still a couple of hours to kill. Then the bladder places its call to the brain, and so I stand and make my way toward the Greyhound station to meet that need.

People are milling around, babies crying, teens may as well be. Meanwhile, I put my hearing aids into the beautiful t-coil setting that largely isolates all sound and settle in with my audio books to complete the wait.

I don’t think I’ve talked about it yet, but I’m reading The Twelve by Justin Cronan. In order to really read this one though, you have to have read The Passage first as it’s a sequel. Both novels, of epic length, start out in modern times and quickly advance to a somewhat post-apocalyptic future where “virals,” previously human figures that have been taken over by an awful virus, attack and destroy the fabric of civilization. These resulted from an experiment on prisoners that went very wrong. It’s good stuff, if quite disturbing.

So once 5:45 rolls around, I know it is time to start finding my way out to where the Megabus departs. I meet a nice individual who says he knows where I should go, and walk with him out to the back as we chat. The rain is still coming down, but sun also shines, which actually feels pretty good other than the fact that my clothes are getting wet.

I’d tried to memorize the confirmation number for my reservation, but apparently get it wrong. iPhone to the rescue, as I just pull up the email so the driver can have a look. Ah, I love no longer having to find a way to print this stuff out. Then, off we go.

Tweet Signpost:

And with that, my trip to DC is underway. Sitting upstairs, which is cool. Helpful pax showed me electrical outlet

I think this may be only the second time I’ve ever ridden on a double-decker bus. The ride is quite comfortable, and I’m surprised that I can feel a little less engine rumble up here. People do turn on their music and play it aloud, which I’m sure the rules stipulate should not be done. I guess the driver doesn’t particularly care, though.

Tweet Signpost:

And the first county on the other side of the NC/VA line is Mecklenburg. Copy cats! Also a town called Norlina right at border

Yep, one of the things I especially enjoy about this trip is really taking Ariadne GPS, an iPhone app that is customized for VoiceOver, for a spin. I have my destination hotel saved to its favorites, and so I watch the milage count down as we get closer and closer. It makes me feel like I’m headed to another planet.

We take on passengers in Richmond, stopping for only about 15 minutes. At this station, a woman boards who manages to hold up a very loud cell phone conversation for the duration of the trip. She speaks in what sounds like a mix of English and perhaps some African language, alternately stomping eratically and laughing hysterically. I don’t have a problem with this per se, but I’m willing to bet that some passengers do.

Tweet Signpost:

Yikes! Right into the heart of some heavy rain.

And right at that moment, I become glad I hadn’t opted to take Amtrak. Of course if I had, I would’ve had to leave earlier anyway, so that likely is a moot point. But I remember what happened to me as I attempted to reach Charlotte and my cousin’s wedding through a dounpour.

I watch as we bounce onto a bridge and the GPS reports “Potomac River”. I think that’s the Woodrow Wilson Bridge? It takes us from Arlington into DC, depositing us, I think, on SW 14th Street. I also note the towns of Lorton, Springfield, and Alexandria as we close in on the city.

At Union Station, I am assisted to the level to grab a taxi by a young woman who says she’s from Chapel Hill and about to complete her MSW at Howard. Impressive, I say.

Tweet Signpost:

Here In DC (Audio)

Hunger has nearly crippled me by this point, so as I state in that audio post, I call up a place called New York Pizza. I listen to the belly rumblings and order a 12-inch cheeseburger sub, when I would definitely have been fine with only 8 inches. I end up only able to consume half of it, depositing the rest into the can untouched. This is why I wish all hotel rooms had refrigeration.

I think I will stop here and continue with Thursday’s happenings tomorrow.