The long wait for the return to Osten Ard is almost over. I was grateful to be given an opportunity by Tad Williams and his wife Deborah Beale to read an advanced copy of The Heart of What Was Lost (available at the beginning of January). Returning there was indeed the sweet breath of cold fresh icy Nakkiga mountain air that Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (MSantT) fans have been waiting for. And, since it made me want more, luckily the three books in the new series, The Last King of Osten Ard, are not far behind.
Full disclosure: this is based on an advanced copy. Slight spoilers may be below. If you don’t want to read further, the TL;DR of this review is…it sure as hell was worth the wait…but makes the months until The Witchwood Crown seem like an eternity.
I normally include snippets from the book in my notes to emphasize certain thoughts, but in deference to the author and readers of this unreleased book, I will forego that practice here.
After wars there is hatred. If you’ve ever talked to an American veteran of World War 2 who experienced the Pacific battles, many of them had an undying hatred of the Japanese. And that hatred was reciprocated. It may heal over time, but directly after the conflict it is fierce.
Tad Williams captures this (and other points) scarily well in this novel that takes place shortly after the battle at the Hayholt at the end of To Green Angel Tower. Duke Isgrimnur, whose son Isorn was killed by Pryrates and Norns in that battle, leads an army of Rimmersmen and others to chase the Norns as they retreat north, all the way back to Nakkiga. The Duke’s men’s increasingly fervent goal is genocide, to completely exterminate the Norns. Though tired of war, they are propelled by a hatred and an “it’s us or them” mentality (as it was the Norn’s intention to end the human race with The Storm King and Utuk’ku’s plans).
The Norns return the harsh sentiment. In MSandT the reader saw little of the Norn viewpoint, save for small vignettes from Utuk’ku. In The Heart of What Was Lost, as hoped for, the curtain is pulled back to reveal a very complex and developed Norn society, as one would expect from a people who had been around for many human lifetimes. The Norns believe, rightly so, that they are fighting for their very existence. With their Queen Utuk’ku in a deep sleep of recovery after her part in the battle, they are on their own. And their is “court intrigue” as those leaders who would normally bow to Utuk’ku vie for leadership roles and influence in what remains of the Norm kingdom.
There are dark parts of this novel, parts that remind me of Williams’ writing in Happy Hour in Hell (reviewed here on the archived and Hugo-award winning SFSignal) from his Bobby Dollar series (a series I highly recommend, and hope Williams continues to write…AFTER he’s finished The Last King of Osten Ard, of course). There is a viciousness to the battle scenes and tactics not seen in MSandT but appropriate for the enmity of these two armies. In MSandT, when a long-lived Sitha was killed, there was an almost palpable sorrow in the writing…that one who had lived so long and had so long yet to live would perish. In this novel, perhaps because there is so much death for the Norns, that sentiment is different; it is the blasphemy of genocide that permeates each Norn death.
There is not much character development in the humans (we’ve known the Duke and Sludig through thousands of pages, so not much is needed), other than the view of a Pedruin named Porto who gives the common soldier’s perspective. This is well played, as in any war the common soldier normally wants nothing more than to survive and return home, and desires the same for his brothers-in-arms. Porto portrays this well, as the hatred of the Norns is left mostly for others (save when the Norn violence hits close to him), and Porto stays, committed to his fellow men but constantly pining for distant, warmer places…and survival.
I admit that after the mysteriousness of the Norns in MSanT (which fed their mystique), as a reader I was apprehensive about seeing them as real characters, and losing that veil of unknowing. But that apprehension faded the as the story moved. The Norns are paraded out for all to see, with their family histories and specialities: Singers, Builders, Sacrifices. Simply put – Singers work with magic, Builders build and Sacrifices are soldiers – an interesting but appropriate name for the riskiest job of a long-lived people. Family histories are hinted at and in some cases revealed. The Norns have human slaves as well, unlike the Sithi. One wonders if this was another of the reasons for the split between the two (Sithi and Norn), or if the Sithi learned to survive without the Dwarrows (the other part of the Gardenborn who were used mostly as slaves) better than the Norns. It would be interesting (and perhaps will be revealed?) to learn if the Norn builders learned from the dwarrows how to do their craft of bending stone to will. And, though hinted at here (no spoilers), it will be interesting to see how the Norns and their slaves change in the The Last King of Osten Ard. There are several great new characters to follow into the forthcoming series.
There is a building suspense in the question of whether the Norns would survive, fed by notes interspersed amongst the novel from a Chronicler of the Norns (Lady Miga). With The Last King of Osten Ard series looming, and the Norns set to play a roll in those tomes, there is little room for such suspense of whether the Norns would be wiped out. But there is uncertainty on which of the long-lived Norns will survive and how the Norns will be changed; and how, if at all, the humans like the Duke will be changed from this last ordeal. One assumes this book would be the Duke’s last hurrah, as the Last King series is said to be set 30-40 years after these events. The Duke is already an old man, and one would assume he would not make an appearance. From my standpoint, he will certainly be missed; his characterization was outstanding throughout the entire MSanT series, as well as in this addition to the canon.
With MSandT there were some glimpses of the Garden, of the time before the Gardenborn (Norns, Sitha and Dwarrows) were driven out by “Unbeing.” And there is a bit more of that in The Heart of What Was Lost. As we are shown a more complete vision of the Norns world in this novel, I hope we see more of the history of the “Garden” and what really drove them out in the next series..
One note on the setting, the descriptions of which show the effort Williams puts into such things: much of the latter half of MSandT took place in the cold, in winter-like conditions, and this book has more of the same. As the locale moves further north, the weather grows colder. It is amazing how Cali-based Williams can write the cold so much that the reader knows, even feels, how much the characters abhor it.
This is a novel that requires an extensive background in Osten Ard (or at least of the events of To Green Angel Tower), but given Mr. Williams’ tendencies in all of his series, this book will be prefaced by a “What had gone before” section to catch up old and new readers. This practice should be the norm among writers on long works and series, other than expecting readers to re-read or catch-up via Internet scraps. There are already (as of December 1) photos around the InterWebs of some spectacular maps that will be included in the book. Hopefully this will be accompanied by “previous events in the series” blurb for new readers…and there should be a lot of new readers. This series influenced the legion of great fantasy writers that are being published today (for more background on this, see this SFSignal article).
It’s been more than two decades since To Green Angel Tower, the last book in MSandT, was released. The 1990s were a different world, or so they seem. But Tad’s books have remained timeless. I, like many, have so been looking forward to this continuation, so much that I hope, in typical Tad fashion, he turns The Last King of Osten Ard “trilogy” into a 4 or 5 book set! (or at least a record setting length for the books).
About a 45 minute drive from where we are in Tomball north toward Montgomery is the Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary. We did not know about it at all until this past Saturday when they held their open house. It is a fascinating place, housing thirteen wolves (at least when we were there) in a variety of enclosures. They are a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and the annual open house is their big yearly fund raiser.
There are a number of ways to visit the sanctuary, almost all (except the open house) are by appointment only (link here). I highly recommend visiting by an arranged appointment vs. the open house…there were tons of people at the open house, and the road to get to the Sanctuary had cars backed up quite a ways and parked on the side of the road for a long way.
The sanctuary consists for about seven enclosures which have two wolves each. There are two “ambassador” wolves (Tala and Meeko, who is jet black) that were out for pictures as part of the open house. The wolves were, for the most part, lounging (except for Romulus, pictured above, who shared enclosure #7 with snow white Rafiki who never left the house). When they brought Meeko back from his photo ops and took Tala out, most of the wolves got up and paced.
That’s Rajah and Lapua (enclosure #5) greeting their neighbor Meeko, who shares enclosure #6 with Tala who was taking her turn with the photos. The video below is the wolf being taken out.
I’m not sure why all the wolves get excited when one of their number comes back or gets taken out, other than the obvious concepts of greeting, wanting to be let out, or some other pack-like emotion.
The highlight of the open house was Romulus, who stayed close to the fence in spite of (or perhaps because of) the large number of people…including young kids howling, hoping to elicit a response. For the most part, he just sat there, but he did get up and pace. One of the volunteers who was talking to visitors said that the younger wolves were kept toward the end where Romulus and the ambassador wolves were kept, so it makes some sense that the younger ones would be more active.
Below is a picture of enclosure #4, home of Echo and Achilles. You can barely see one of them close to the hut, but the picture gives you a good idea of what the wolves enclosure look like.
The Sanctuary has an on-going fund raiser to move to a new sanctuary location, which plans for a much larger enclosure. The relocation fund and the plans for the enclosure and new location can be found here.
For those of you driving from Houston, I suggest using Waze (someone has added the location and it took us right to it) or following the directions on the Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary’s web page.
McKinney Falls State Park is about 6 miles from downtown Austin and 3 miles from my son’s apartment. We hiked there on a sunny September Sunday. (For links to our other State Park hikes, see Brazos Bend and Huntsville).
Like many of the State Parks in Texas, McKinney Falls has a long history. Thomas F. McKinney was one of Stephen F. Austin’s original colonists, and the remains of his house are still in the park. There is an excellent book from the Texas State Historical Association on McKinney Falls (link here) that gives a great view of its history.
It is $6 per person to get into the park. We hiked the Homestead Trail (the longest listed trail in the park at 3.1 miles) and portions of Rock Shelter Trail (to the point where it was blocked) and Picnic Trail, and spent time around both the Upper and Lower Falls.
After entering the park and taking the first right, there are three parking lots at the trailhead to Homestead Trail. It is a short walk over part trail, part rock formation to get to the Lower Falls. Though there at not been much rain lately (as usual) the falls was still flowing and there were quite a few swimmers at the lower falls.
Just past the waterfall (either a short rock to rock jump or a wade through the water) the trail continues. We found a sign that pointed toward the Homestead one way and the Gristmill the other; we chose to head toward the Homestead.
The Homestead is from the late 1840s and was (according the the sign) occupied by the McKinney’s until Thomas McKinney’s death in the house in 1873. Several families lived in it until it burned in the 1940s.
Homestead Trail is pretty overgrown; I do not know if this is normal or just from the time of year when we were there. The ground was pretty dry and cracked in places, so given the dry conditions it wasn’t recent rains that had it overgrown. There were certain places where we had to duck under the overhanging brush.
There were some open parts and a little bit of elevation change, but not much. And there were places where you would walk out of the brush and see office buildings or a golf course – one of the “features” of being in a state park this close to a major city.
There were a lot of dogs in the park. Some, like this one, seemed to know the trail quite well, as he was taking his owners on a walk.
There were a couple of places where we could have taken additional trails (Flint Rock Loop Trail, which intersects with Williamson Creek Overlook trail – combining these would provide for an almost six mile hike), but we stayed on Homestead Trail. We finally got back around the the remains of Thomas McKinney’s grist mill, which was interesting (there must have been more water there at that time, but it was bone dry there now) but there wasn’t much left of it.
And then we came back to the lower falls from the other side.
As we walked back toward the trailhead, you can see the large limestone covering that you walk over to get to the falls. It was still before noon but it was already getting warm on those rocks. I’d imagine in the hot Texas summer afternoon sun it would not be a place to be…unless you were heading for a dip in the water.
We then intended to hike along Picnic Trail (the picnic tables gave the name away) and Rock Shelter Trail to get to the Upper Falls. We made it to the Rock Shelter, which we read had been in use as a shelter by people for nearly 4,000 years. There were also some trails that you could scramble down to get a look at Onion Creek.
But the trail was closed right where “Old Baldy” (a large tree) was. We weren’t informed of this at the ranger station, but it wasn’t a long trail so turning around was not difficult. In the picture below you can see “Old Baldy” in the middle. It looks like the rails on the wooden walkway were down and the bridge had other damage.
With no hiking options, we drove to Upper Falls, which had more swimmers and divers that the Lower Falls did.
Here’s a short video to show the extent of Upper Falls.
Overall, it was a very convenient park with some short trails and a couple of really nice waterfall swimming holes.
Back in the day, my son collected Pokemon cards, played Pokemon on Gameboy, and taught me about Pikachu, Snorlaxes, and other interesting creatures…as I’m sure the kids of many others my age did. As my son grew older, he gave his Pokemon card collection to someone much younger who had more enthusiasm (a very generous move, one he semi-regretted when he saw the prices for some of those cards on eBay!) and moved on to other things. Now in his mid-twenties, my son and I are playing Pokemon Go, semi-together from 200 miles away.
Despite the articles about “nerd herd” and getting the geeks out from behind their computers (which is a pretty good thing, IMHO), in addition to the afore mentioned family camaraderie (and I loudly applaud those friends of mine that are actively playing with their kids), there are other obvious reasons certain people should become familiar with this app/game:
Pokemon Go is the top Free app (with in-app purchases) on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store in the US, the UK and multiple other countries, and has been there since it’s release. It is the fastest app to reach 10 million downloads worldwide, reaching that mark in seven days (source). It also currently leads all apps in daily usage time (i.e., how long do users actually have the app opened). (source).
It did have a bit of a head start in both content and database:
There are some characteristics of the game that are familiar, especially to those familiar with previous pokemon games. But the basics are similar to anyone who has used any count/goal based program: collect everything and level up. This is a common development model, whether it is for a beer drinking app like Untappd (see my breakdown of the Untappd app here), a healthcare/shopping app like Walgreens or game apps. There are badges for most everything (similar to programs like Untappd) though I seem to rarely look at them, other than for counts.
These are holes that will be filled, either in future releases or by independent developers. There are already examples of an entire ecosystem springing up around the game; Chat apps (see this developer’s app blog) as an example, I assume to be used to tell people when a rare pokemon is near. There are also several hacks, such as maps that use the app protocols to determine locations of pokemon, pokestops, etc. (most of these can be found in the pokemondev sub on reddit). Some of these are getting shutdown; one even mentioned a “cease and desist” order.
The “augmented reality” piece, where you can use your device’s camera to see pokemon on the background of the real world, is interesting but unnecessary in this game. It is such a battery sucker that I do not know of any players that have not yet turned it off. It is being used primarily as a novelty (I found a pokemon at a landmark) or by businesses to lure pokemon hunters in.
The estimates of how much the game has made the various parties varies. One estimate says that Apple, purely on the percentage that they receive from in-app purchases through the app, will make $3 BILLION in revenue over the next couple of years (source). Since Apple gets 30% of in-app purchases, that would imply an estimate of $7 BILLION in revenue for Niantic (one would assume this gets shared with Nintendo for licensing).
There is, of course, no need to spend money in the game if you choose not to (full disclosure: I do not). Sensor Tower is estimating $1.6 million per day in the US spent. And the app has not yet been launched in Japan where the average spend per mobile user is higher, and the Pokemon craze is even more rabid.
Nintendo’s stock price doubled following the release of the app (chart here) though it has retreated a bit from those highs.
Local businesses are taking advantage as well. Yelp now lets users filter based on pokestop locations. Many shopping areas and downtowns will have multiple pokestops near them. In the game, there are items known as “Lures” which do what the name implies (they lure pokemon to a pokestop for 30 minutes). When this happens, the pokestop lights up on the map, shooting purple pieces up like flares. Small businesses near pokestops are dropping these lures to lure people in while they hunt.
Pokemon Go is almost as well-known these first few weeks for server crashes as it is for having more users than most other applications. Since Niantic spun out of Google, one would assume that they have Google infrastructure. They don’t have Amazon Web Services (AWS), as the Amazon CTO has humorously repeatedly offered health over twitter whenever the servers are down.
As the game added multiple countries over this past weekend (July 16), the servers supporting the game crashed repeatedly, causing the game to be in operable most of that Saturday morning.
The image on the right is all that the players see. There is no notice that the game is having server issues. So users either continue to press “retry” (which comes up after a few minutes of this screen) or kill the app and start over…both of which cause more login attempts and impact on the servers.
From a capacity planning standpoint, one would assume that there would be a trending analysis done on the initial implementation based in the United States before adding in the multiple additional countries. Either this was not done or it was done incorrectly, causing capacity to crash the servers.
This is tolerated somewhat humorously (check out the Pokemon Go reddit forums for examples) for now. But if there are tours, events and other plans made around the app ( as there were that Saturday), this will not be acceptable by the user community for long.
Interestingly as of this writing, Niantic is advertising for a Software Engineer – Server Infrastructure...probably a much needed position just now!
My fellow joggers: we have an enormous advantage in this game of Pokemon Go. And this infuriates my son…and is the only reason I can even begin to keep up with him in this game (and with the many teenagers that are on summer break and do not have to work). That advantage is that mileage matters in several different facets of the program:
It may be obvious, but the downsides to running with the game are:
I have an old Google Glass from an earlier development project. Glass would be a great accessory for this game, and for all games that combine real-world with augmented reality. The ability to see landmarks and have heads-up display facts and stats was one of the benefits of Glass. Unfortunately, the issues it had, particularly with battery life, would have to be fixed. And it had a sweat problem (i.e., sweat be bad for Glass). But image just running along and speaking commands to Glass about throwing Pokeballs…those that make claims of “nerd herd” would have a field day with that one!
My current collection is below. Have fun!
The Pro Football Hall of Fame contains many Green Bay Packers. All-pro Jerry Kramer is not one of them.
Six-time AP All-Pro, three Pro-Bowls, the only player on the NFL 50th Anniversary Team NOT in the HoF, a member of five NFL Championship teams in seven years…is not in the Hall of Fame.
Mr. Kramer’s stats on Pro Football Focus are here for those who would like to see them.
The Hall of Fame Seniors Committee is meeting in a few weeks to nominate next years senior members. Below is a note I’ve written to one of those members, John McClain of the local Houston Chronicle. I will send addition notes to Seniors Committee members whose addresses I can find. The addresses I’ve found I will post below.
I hope you are well. I’ve enjoyed reading you through the years, especially during the Luv Ya Blue days. My mom still has her Luv Ya Blue wardrobe. She never got into the Texans.
I never did either…mainly because I’ve been a Packers fan for about 45 years, and was so when our family moved to Houston back in the late 1960s. I was in elementary school.
When we lived in Florida, I bought the Bart Starr biography through the scholastic book club in elementary school. My Dad saw me reading it, and found a copy of Instant Replay, Jerry Kramer’s Packer Diary. Though it was a bit of a tougher book for me to read, I ate it up. It was a great gift…especially since my Dad was a Cowboys fan.
I was barely old enough to understand football when the Pack was winning their NFL Championships and the first two Super Bowls. And then the hard years of being a Packers fan ensued. Kramer’s book, and watching those old games, got me through the tough Packer decades of the 70s and 80s.
I know that I do not have to recite Mr. Kramer’s resume (six-time AP All-Pro, three Pro-Bowls, the only player on the NFL 50th Anniversary Team NOT in the HoF, a member of five NFL Championship teams in seven years) to you, as I’m sure the Senior Committee has run through that. And I understand the objections of having too many players from the same team in the Hall.
And, I will admit, I cannot be objective about it. Mr. Kramer’s book, and Mr. Kramer’s team, led me to a life long love of the Packers. When I moved to Texas, at the time I was told I was the youngest person receiving the Packer Backer newsletter (you’ll remember, we had no Internet back in the day). Granted, there was little good news (other than the occasional John Brockington 1,000+ yard season). Thanks to my wife, I’ve been to Lambeau a few times (the first was a birthday present), and through the Packer Hall of Fame. Kramer is there, of course.
I hope he is one of the two nominations this year. I do not know all of the eligible players stats and records. But Mr. Kramer has certainly been passed over for too long.
Best regards, and thanks,
This site has a current list of members of the Seniors Committee and how you can contact them. I encourage you all, Packer fan or not, to send them a note of “encouragement.” Please be polite and respectful as you contact them.
After 12 years of not missing a day, John got a well-deserved day off.
Some have speculated (ok, some = me) that somewhere in that decade-plus there must have been at least one day. I certainly am not going back through 12 years of archives to double check that claim. One year of posting every day is pretty spectacular; posting for 12 years, through family events and crisis, through Houston hurricanes and thunderstorms, and through the demands of a full-time job…well that’s an extraordinary accomplishment.
What did John do yesterday, with that extra 4-5 hours? Sleep? Have an extra bag of bagels? Catch up on his reading? Run a marathon?
John has three Hugos, deservedly so. He should have one for every year for the amount of time, effort, care and feeding he has put into the website for so many years (with his only pay being books sent to him by publishers/authors and a small bit of online ad revenue). John recused himself from any more awards after winning the two Fanzine Hugos, mainly because he believes there were others out there like him that put their sweat and time into it and should have a chance to win. He should get another Hugo just for that … and that describes John pretty well. He did it because he really REALLY liked science fiction. He didn’t care about the politics, or the puppies (I’m not sure he likes cats either)…he just liked the genre.
I’ve taken advantage of John’s kindness and good humor and have thus been writing occasional posts for SFSignal for eight years. I met John in 2007 after I sent in a query to see if there was interest in reviewing a copy of my first book. When he gave me the shipping address, I emailed him that I could walk it to his house faster than the USPS would get it there (sadly true for many transactions these days). We both had worked at Compaq, so we met.
It started out as a great way to get great books before anyone else and interview some very cool people…and meet some outstanding fellow contributors, first online, then at a few of the conventions.
Because of John and SFSignal, last year alone I was able to interview two gentlemen whose works are on my “read everything they put out” list: the legendary Michael Moorcock, and Robert Charles Wilson. I still owe them both a beer (or do they owe me one?), and Mr. Moorcock is in a city where I visit often, so I certainly intend to collect that one.
I was given the opportunity to interview Andy Weir, the legendary James Gunn, and several others. John let me indulge myself with a Doc Savage Primer, a John Carter primer, even an article on Tad William’s Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and its place in Fantasy canon (Fantasy? On SFSignal? Ye Gads!).
And then…there were the books. Did I mention the books?
Now…it’s over. I hope John and JP have taken the time, after the overwhelming outpouring of thanks and support they received in the last couple of days, to reflect on this massive thing that they built. Twelve years…it is quite an accomplishment.
I’m pretty sure John still owes me bagels….and I intend to collect…many times in the future.
There are, obviously and intuitively, differences between testing an iOS app on the Xcode simulator, and testing on a real device. The obvious ones run the gamut from no camera on the simulator to the way the keyboard works differently on both. The intuitive ones, in my mind, come from the fact that the Simulator is running on a different operating system (OSX) than the devices (iOS) that the app is intended for.
The difference that repeatedly bites me is: CAPITALIZATION matters.
The majority of the apps I do at JoSara MeDia are HTML5 apps in a framework called Baker. If you are interested, the rationale behind this is that most of the apps are either coming from books or eBooks (and hence are already in a format close to HTML, like ePub) or are heading in that direction (so we want to make conversion easy).
I was putting in a very nice jPlayer-based audio player (called jquery.mb.miniAudioPlayer, checkout the link, it is quite well done), and it looked great on the simulator, as you can see on the screenshots below. I tested it on several different simulator devices – all looked as expected, all performed the autoplay function, when expected.
In case you are interested, this is from a forthcoming “coffee table poetry book as an app” project called Quebradillas.
But, once I transferred the app to a device (either through cable or TestFlight) the audio player graphics did not make the transition (see screenshot below). And neither did the autoplay functionality.
The autoplay issue was, again, capitalization: the parameter in one of the examples had autoplay in camelCase (i.e., autoPlay), but in the mb.miniAudioPlayer.js, the parameter was simply “autoplay.”
By noting this, I aim to remind my future self to use capitalization as one of the first items to check when apps look different in the simulator vs. on the device, especially when using HTML5 app frameworks.