Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I write like...

So there's the "I write like" site (http://iwl.me/) I've done it before, and it's told me Author Clarke. I decided to try it agian.

"A New Threat" still gives Arthur Clarke.

"Wings of Truth" gives Issac Asmoiv

"An Unwanted Apprentice" gives J.K Rowling. (Personally, I think this is because the site has never heard of Piers Xanthony....)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Book Review: Armored Hearts

My latest read is Armored Hearts, but Pauline Creeden and Melisa Lee.

I've been excited about this one since reading an excerpt a month or so ago.

Disclosure: I have a signed contract with Alt-Wit Press, the publisher of this book. Despite that, I will try to give my honest opinion of this work, which I have no financial interest in.

Gareth is a crippled boy in early 1900's England who's confined to a wheelchair... until he sees a girl fall from a tree, and suddenly he's flying. Skip forward a few years.. he's keeping the flying secret from everyone except his aunt (who's younger than him). He's cranky with everyone else, too. Out of nowhere, a girl from America shows up and wants to marry him...

I really loved this. It's part historical fiction, part Steampunk, and part romance. Why list historical fiction and steampunk? Isn't that redundant? More on that later...


What I love:

So many things here. In no particular order:

Above, I listed the book as historical fiction and Steampunk. Many would see this as redundant, as Steampunk is fantasy/sci-fi set in the past, with future tech re-imagined to how it might have worked with materials available at the time. Historical fiction, on the other hand, is telling a fictional tale while staying as period-accurate as possible. Steampunk tends to stray a bit from period accuracy, and that's fine, as it's alt-history, and... well, not historical fiction.
Armored Hearts, on the other hand, blends the two almost seamlessly. From the differences in American and English characteristics (with an English bias. Appropriate, as the POV character is English.) Also, the religious content is spot-on period accurate. The British characters might possibly believe in God in a general way, but aren't too concerned with religion in general. The American characters are almost evangelical. Fitting, as in this time period, the power of the Church of England was waning, while the Great Awakening had just happened in America. All sorts of lovely historicaly accurate tidbits like this are in the book.

Also, I love the romance element in the book. The pacing is right, the reactions are perfect... Alt-Wit press seems to really grok (hey, it's steampunk, I'll use a nerd term if I want too!") the real definition of romance. Most everyone else on the planet these days seems to confuse lust with romance. Here, we have two people fall in love. And it's beautiful. And you can read it to your children.

The plot is interesting too. We have an opening, middle, and end. The book's ending leaves it very open to a sequel, but unlike another book I've read recently, Armored Hearts still concludes it's plot arcs.

What I didn't like:

Gonna have to stretch here.

A few characters almost come off as too feminist for the times. It seems women are the only ones who dabble in tech inventions, and it's this whole secret society thing.... It's not really that pronounced, though, and I may be reading more into it than intended, or mis-interperting something. It's only a minor thing though, and I had to think over the story for a while specifically looking for a negative to put here to even come up with this...

Spoiler .........

.........


I'm not sure if Gareth and Jessie ever actually consummated their marriage... it's a little vauge, which is period appropriate, but still...


Over-all, I give it five stars. I love it, and want more. This one will be re-read. I could go on for a while more about this book, but there'd be even more spoilers, so...



Oh, look, a give-away!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Blind Taste Test: Mountain Dew vs imitators

Blind Taste Test: Mountain Dew vs imitators


Mountain Dew is my favorite soft drink (around here, it's called pop, down south, soda. More on that here.)

Everyone knows that Mountain Dew is the best, right? Or do those commercials just make us think that. I mean, the only reason we buy off brand is because we can't afford the real thing, right?

Well, a few of us Mountain Dew lovers decided to find out. We did a blind taste-test.

Products Tested:



What was tested:
  • Mountain Dew in a plastic bottle
  • Mountain Dew in a can
  • Mountain Dew Throwback in a can
  • Mountain Dew Throwback in a glass bottle
  • Diet Mountain Dew
  • Rocky Mist (Meijer)
  • Sun Drop
  • Citrus Drop (Kroger)
  • Moon Mist (Faygo)
  • Mountain Lightning (Wal*Mart)
  • Mello Yellow (Coca-Cola)
  • Mountain Holler (Save A Lot)
Each of these is marketed as a competitor (or at least store-brand knock-off...) to Mountian Dew. But are they really any good?

The Method

My wife mixed up the order of the product, then poured the same amount of each of these into identical glasses, labeled A through L. None of the tasters was in the room when this happened.

After the samples were poured, we came back in to sample each product. Judging solely by taste, we had to rank the samples from Best, to Worst, in order. Bonus points if we could correctly identify a sample.

Our tasters were four males who's favorite drink was Mountain Dew. My Mom was also curious, so she tried them as well.





The Prediction:

Each of us pretty much expected the different Mountain Dew varieties to be clustered together at the top, with the wanna-bees trailing after... and diet Mountain Dew as dead last (None of us like diet soda.. at all. It was tossed in as a control worst.)

Is that what happened? Keep reading...

The Results:

This is why I love science. It's fun, sometimes surprising, and, in this case, tasty. The first thing we all noticed was the variation in color (very close, all yellow. All oddly packaged in green containers....). There are also variations in carbonation, cloudyness, and scent.

Oddly, there are flavor variations as well, from subtle, to drastic. At one point, I wasn't sure we'd have a clear winner. A lot of the samples did taste nearly identical, with a few standing out as pretty good, and a few we didn't like. These results did vary by person, though.



Fortunately, a clear winner did emerge. More on that later...


Here's the results for each taster. The key is down below. Remember, we didn't get to see what product each sample was until after we'd turned in a sheet with our picks.



Aaron Joe Benny Phil Ranee
C C C E C
K H F C I
E D J G
D J E
J E D
L K I H
H I B
G G A
I A G F
B F K F D
F B L K B
A L H H L
Note: Un-ranked samples for Phil and Ranee were declared too close to call.

So, what were our mystery samples?

A. Rocky Mist (Meijer)
B. Sun Drop
C. Mountain Dew Throwback - can
D. Citrus Drop (Kroger)
E. Mountain Dew - plastic bottle
F. Moon Mist (Faygo)
G. Mountain Lightning (Wal-Mart)
H. Diet Mountain Dew - plastic bottle
I. Mountain Dew - can
J. Mountain Dew Throwback - glass bottle
K. Mello Yellow -  (Coca-Cola)
L. Mountain Holler - (Save A Lot)

So, we have a clear winner, Mountain Dew Throwback in a can!

But, which one was worst? At first glance, everything but the winner is all over the board. This is probably due to us drinking cheap pop too often. Or, possibly the imitators do a really good job. Also, the sample size for this study is very small, and taste is a subjective thing too. Also, we're not trained tasting scientists, just average Mountain Dew fans.

The weirdest result is that diet Mountain Dew came out about in the middle of the pack. Remember, all our tasters hate diet pop. (It's that nasty aspartame aftertaste.) We all commented that it was very different from all the other samples, but not bad. A few moments later most of us were able to identify it as diet. And yet, it still only ranked dead last on one taster's list.

Let's assign points to each product, then add the points together, and see if that gets us some more useful data. Like in golf, a low score is better here. If a taster ranked it as their number one pick, it gets one point, if they ranked it their worst, it gets 12 points. With five tasters, the best possible score is 5, worst is 60.


Product Points
Mountain Dew Throwback - can 6
Mountain Dew - plastic bottle 19
Mountain Dew Throwback - glass bottle 24
Citrus Drop (Kroger) 28
Mountain Dew - can 30
Diet Mountain Dew - plastic bottle 33
Mountain Lightning (Wal-Mart) 34
Mello Yellow -  (Coca-Cola) 35
Rocky Mist (Meijer) 41
Moon Mist (Faygo) 42
Sun Drop 45
Mountain Holler - (Save A Lot) 47

Or, in chart form:



Well, now we're a little closer to our prediction, but you can see that the small sample size does some interesting things to the bottom and middle ranked contenders.

I also wish that I'd been able to find Mountain Dew Throwback in a plastic bottle. At the beginning of the test, we all had our favorite storage medium, but weren't sure if it actually effected the taste or not. You can see from above that just by being in a can, Mountain Dew got bumped down out of the pack from the other Dew. Of the four of us that state that Dew is our preferred beverage, canned Dew was at exactly in the middle of the pack. Only the tester that likes, but does not prefer, Dew, gave canned Dew a bump up. Just being stored in plastic bumped Dew up four rankings. That's got me wondering if Throwback in plastic might just be the best beverage ever. Only one tester ranked Throwback in a can as a number two, and he vacillated a bit.

Note however, that this may be co-incidence, as the small sample size is throwing results here, as well. One tester rated Dew in plastic as number one. No one else rated it as a one, or a two, but it did get a three, four, five, and six.

I also regret not being able to test more product in glass. It's just not available. Note that Dew imitators were only tested in plastic, two-liter bottles. It was hard enough ranking these... (and that'd add more expense.) We can see from the data that we do have that, though packaging does effect flavor, the formula used effects it more.

Another conclusion is that Pepsi shouldn't have switched from cane sugar to High Fructose Corn Syrup in the late 80's/early 90's. (For those that live in a hole in the ground, that's what's different about Throwback. It uses real cane sugar.)

I'm sure there's stuff I've done wrong in the above. Feel free to point it out to me in the comments (nicely!)

Do you like Mountain Dew? Prefer one brand/package/variety over another? Are you sure you do, or is it all in your mind? Feel free to try this experiment at home. Test your friends. Let me know what you find out!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Book Review: Son of Truth

I just finished Son of Truth, the eagerly awaited sequel to Morgan Busse's Daughter of Light.

The sequel starts out right where Daughter of Light left off. Nierne's story continues as she her situation gets even worse. Caleb struggles with what happened to him in the first book.
We get a tensy bit of romance, but Lore and Rowan are... well, not much happens here yet...

Spoilers ahead. 

You've been warned... If you don't want the spoilers, my over-all take is: if you haven't bought this already, wait for book three, then read the whole series in one sitting.










(scroll down)










The Good:
The story picks up right where Daughter of Light left off, and picks up on all the loose ends from that book. Well, if you can call it a loose end if it's an over-arching plot threat meant to span multiple books in a series. I don't.
This is a great story, and it's shaping up to be a great series.

The Bad:
When all's said and done, not much happens in this whole book. Sure, it's a great read, I stayed interested until the end (more on that later), and it did follow up on plot threads, but that's about it. Not much happens in the whole book, except getting characters in place for book three. Granted, we need this to happen, and the character development is great, but still.
In the first book, we have introductions, characters get into position, and world-changing things happen, then the end. In Son of Truth, we have just the first two things.

The ending. Oh my. I was reading along, flipped the page.... and it was over. The whole book is awful things happen to Nierne (how does one pronounce that, anyway?), Calab tries to figure out what how to be a good guy, awful things happen to Rowen, Lore finally arrives, then everyone heads off (via different means) to fight the big bad first mentioned in book 1... then it ends... That's right... it ends with everyone in transit.

I think the problem here is that there are basically two ways to write a series of books (well, probably more, but they boil down to two.):

1. Stand alone books with over-arching themes, characters, etc.
2. Basically one big book broken into parts.

I'm a big fan of the first type, and really only like the second type if I discover the series after it's all been written. I don't like reading part of a story, then waiting FOREVER for the rest to come out.

I also think the only reason the second type of series exists is because people try to imitate Tolkien. The problem is that The Lord of the Rings was written as one book. The only reason it's three books is because it wasn't physically possible publish that big of a book in one volume (still isn't, in most cases...)
It's purely my opinion, but I feel that this type of series also encourages sloppy writing. It's possible to get the same characterization and plotting for most of these types of series in about half the amount of books.

I don't really know what to rate this. I'd give it a three just for the ending and lack of goings-ons... but then I really did enjoy every minute of reading it. I think I'm going to rate this whole series as one big book (and in the future, re-read it as such.) In that case, I give the series over-all a 4, with the possibility of moving to a five, depending on what happens.

I'm going to keep an eye on this series, and not review any more books in it until the series has ended, then re-read it in one big chunk and rate it as such. This might be a bit of an odd way to do it, but thinking about it, it's what I've done with The Lord of the Rings. I'd give that series a five, but each of the individual books (except book three) only gets three stars. Book one started very slow, and nothing really happened in book two (sound familiar? ;) ), and book three got a four. Yet, taken together, the whole series was.... well, it created it's own genre (with an assist from Chronicles of Narnia...)