Recently in Recommendation Category

I bought my daughter "Meanwhile: Pick Any Path. 3,856 Story Possibilities" several months ago, and it has become her favorite book. She doesn't quite get everything that's going on inside, but she loves tracing the paths through the story and finding new avenues to explore. She also likes the secret giant squid. I highly recommend this book for parents with kids of any age... even if they can't read it themselves, they'll love going through it with you.

I just ordered Vernor Vinge's new novel, "The Children of the Sky"! Completely by coincidence I just finished reading "A Fire Upon The Deep" and his new book is a sequel! I am extremely excited.

I love League of Legends, even though the past week or so has been incredibly frustrating with a string of losses :( But anyway, good news: Dominion has been released!

Long anticipated, Dominion is a capture-and-hold control point mode for LoL, and I have to say that it's quite fun. The gameplay is very different than Summoner's Rift which is very refreshing. The key differences:

  • Champions start at level three with 1325 gold.
  • A global Crystal Scar aura modifies standard statistics.
    • 15% armor pen, 5% magic pen, 20% healing reduction, mana regen bonus, experience point gain over time
  • Death timers are much shorter.
  • Matches are much shorter, usually 15 - 20 minutes.
  • More champion battles, less creeping, fewer large team fights.

Because of the aura not all champions are well-suited to Dominion. For example, champs without mana or who do a lot of healing will be disadvantaged. (Though the ninjas seem to do quite well.) In general, it seems that tanky-DPS champs dominate the game right now, which is somewhat disappointing because tanky-DPS dominates the vanilla game as well.

Overall the new game mode is extremely fun. The best feature is that it's fast-paced, so you don't need to commit to an hour of uninterrupted play.

Good work Riot!

I've driven my Barcelona Red RAV4 V6 4x4 more than 2000 miles since I received it, so it's time for a review! Here are RAV4 specs, but note that mine is the Base model and not the Limited, so it was a lot cheaper, has fewer gizmos, but has basically identical performance.

I'm not an experienced car reviewer -- these are just my impressions as a new RAV4 owner. My previous car was a 2000 Honda Civic EX, so keep that in mind.



The V6 is extremely fun to drive! Love it. When you hit the gas, the RAV4 leaps forward. There's plenty of power for passing even at high speeds, and you can get it over 90 MPH without even trying. Be careful!

The RAV4 handles well and corners tightly. Its turning radius isn't much worse than my Civic. The ride feels solid, and there are no vibrations or rattles of any kind. Even at high speed there is little road noise.


I like the interior, and it was very comfortable as both passenger and driver for a 1000-mile road trip. The controls are all intuitive. The front seats are comfortable and roomy. The back seat was huge for my two-year-old daughter in her car seat. I also had a chance to carry two adults in the back along with the car seat and they said that there was plenty of room.

The cargo area is gigantic. I recently had to buy a new dishwasher and it was easy to fit. If I had folded the back seats down I could have carried two dishwashers without any trouble. For the road trip, it was easy to carry suitcases for two adults and a child, along with a large stroller, a pack-and-play, and various other gear. It would be easy to fit luggage for five adults in the back without ever touching the roof rack.


Barcelona Red looks awesome, in my humble opinion. It wasn't my first color choice, but now I'm very glad I got it.

After the 1000-mile road trip there aren't any noticeable dings or dents in the hood or front area. There were a zillion bugs, but they cleaned off easily.

I have noticed that the rear end of the RAV4 gets much dirtier than the rest of the vehicle, probably because the flat surface creates some sort of dust vortex. When I got home from my trip, the front of the car was covered with bugs and the back of the car was covered with dirt.

Safety and Reliability

No problems at all, which shouldn't be a surprise for a new car.


I'm getting about 19.5 MPG during my daily commuting, which is a 50/50 mix of streets and highway. I could do better if I drove like a granny.

For the road trip, which was mostly highway driving, I got about 26 MPG and drove 80 MPH most of the time.

While experimenting, I was able to achieve a best of 33 MPG at 58 MPH, but who wants to drive that slow? You can also get similar mileage at around 40 MPH if you can keep the transmission in its top gear.

Note: The trip computer's reported mileage is consistently about 1.5 MPG higher than what I calculate with the odometer and gas station receipts.


I love my RAV4! When I drive it I feel like a superhero. I love the way it handles, I love the cargo space, and I love the comfort. I highly recommend the vehicle to anyone considering a small SUV.

I love my Nintendo DS Lite. It is super-rad. At the moment the only DS games I have are Brain Age 2 (which came with the system and got old fast) and Etrian Odyssey (which is extremely fun). I've also been buying Game Boy Advance games off eBay for a few bucks a pop, and they're fun too. The NDS is the best system I've seen in a long time, and I'm very glad I bought it.

My Hitachi 50UX23K television (ca. 1995) is acting a little funny but it's rather hard to find technical information about products from before the Internet age. There are several companies selling PFD versions of the service manual, but it seemed absurd to pay $10 or more for an unauthorized electronic copy... and I was right! eServiceInfo provides free services manuals and schematics for all sorts of electronics. If you've got something old that you'd like to repair, check there before paying anyone for anything.

From the creator of AirShowFan comes a newly up-to-date guide to digital cameras. He explains a lot of the domain-specific vocabulary so that you'll be able to know what you're comparing, and then gives a list of his top 50 digital cameras. A handy resource that I wish I'd had when I was buying a camera (of course, I had Bernardo's personal assistance anyway).

I generally hate Carl's Jr. / Hardee's, but this afternoon after church my wife and I drive through and I got a Six Dollar Burger. It was the best burger I've ever had, and I've had plenty. I wouldn't say that I'm a huge fan of burgers, but sometimes I'm in the mood for one, and the Six Dollar Burger was just amazing.

Downside: It has enough calories to sustain an Ethiopian village for a month.

Paul Hsieh from GeekPress just emailed me to ask about how happy I am with my purchase five months ago of an elliptical machine. I used to be an ardent runner, doing 12-15 miles per week, but my knees started hurting and after hearing horror stories from other runners I decided I needed to switch to a lower-impact exercise routine. So I bought the cheapest elliptical machine from my nearest Wal-Mart (under $150) and stuck it in my garage in front of the TV.

For the past five months I've used it 3-4 times per week for 30 minutes at a stretch, and it's been great. I put it together myself and the only shortcoming I noticed was that it required a generous drenching with WD-40 before it would run smoothly. The factory greasing wasn't sufficient to keep the machine from squeeking and rattling, but the WD-40 did the trick.

In use, I don't think the digital display is very accurate. It says that exercising for 30 minutes at one of the highest tension settings only results in me burning 12-15 calories, which I think it's low by a factor of 20 or so. A good rule of thumb is that running a mile burns around 100 calories, and the elliptical machine is quite a bit harder than running and utilizes far more muscle groups. The digital odometer and speedometer may be the roots of the problem, since after 30 minutes they show me having gone a mere 0.6 miles. Anyway, your mileage may vary... literally.

Having used my el cheapo model for five months, I don't see any reason buy a more expensive model. Mine doesn't have electronically variable tension or allow you to program "tracks" like some others do, but you can adjust the tension manually any time you want -- why pay hundreds of dollars more for a machine that does it for you? Mine seems to be holding up well under regular use, and I have no reason to believe that it won't last a few years.

For my first recommendation in quite a while, the Panasonic RR-US360 is crap and I recommend you never buy one. I picked one up earlier this week to record an interview (my first) with Bill Mundell from Californians For Fair Redistricting and the result was agonizing to listen to. The recording was full of static and feedback, and the sound quality was terrible. I could barely listen to it, and my long-suffering fiancee had an impossible time transcribing the interview. I'll be posting what I've got in a day or so, but meanwhile I just wanted to say that the Panasonic RR-US360 is the worst product I've ever purchased.

I recently purchased Fate, a role-playing game by Wild Tangent that's designed with the "casual gamer" in mind. The brief description is that it's a Diablo 2 derivative with vastly better graphics, vastly more color, simpler gameplay, and a slightly more cartoony style. But there's more to the game than that.

By saying it's designed for casual gamers I mean that, unlike most modern RPGs, Fate isn't weighed down with a cumbersome storyline and endless subquests that require a detailed journal to keep track of -- in that sense, it's more of an adventure game than an RPG, but stylistically it fits more into the RPG genre. If you're looking for an involved plot full of intrigue and mystery, this isn't the game for you. However, considering that the stories in most RPGs are pretty weak and contrived, I find it quite refreshing to be free from remembering whose cousin in which town has asked me to avenge his wife's death at the hands of which bandits, who turn out to be ogres in disguise, polymorphed by some wizard trying to undermine the mayoral council of a town that's infested by giant spiders. Or whatever. In contrast, the plot of Fate is simple: you go into the dungeon, kill monsters, and harvest treasure. You watch your stats rise so you can kill bigger monsters, so you can get more treasure, so you can kill bigger monsters. You can play for a few minutes or a few hours without having to keep track of what you were doing, which makes the game ideal for people with real lives who can't sit in front of the computer all day. If that sounds like fun, Fate's your game.

Developer/producer/designer/programmer Travis Baldree, who's very active on the forums, added several twists to the Diablo formula, such as giving your character a pet that follows you around, helps you fight, and carries treasure. When your pet is loaded up you can send him back to town to sell the treasure he's carrying and bring back gold, eliminating the need to waste time returning to town yourself every time your inventory fills up. It'll take a minute or two for your pet to return, depending on your depth, but there's plenty to do if you're too scared to fight monsters on your own. For instance, you can upgrade your items with gems you find along the way, or you can go fishing for fish to feed your pet when he returns, each of which transforms him into a different type of monster that can assist you in your journey.

Once you've got the gold, the town of Grove has a myriad of ways to relieve you of it. You can buy mundane items, of course, along with spells and magic items from various merchants. You can gamble for unknown items. You can pay an enchanter to attempt to enhance one of your current items. You can even pay a bard to sing songs of your adventures to improve your reputation. Basically, the game has interfaces to do just about whatever you'd be tempted to do through cheating, but within the game system. It's not all well-balanced, but as you get more powerful you can always go deeper into the dungeon. The main game is designed to be played through around level 50, but the the dungeon goes to 255, and from reading the forums few people can get past 100.

All that, and a price tag of just $19.99. I downloaded the demo and got hooked enough to buy the game, and I don't think you'll be disappointed. From reading the forums I see that the game is easily modified, and many fans are already creating add-ons to expand the gameplay and variety. Finally, you can adjust the difficulty of the game down to a level where even children with basic computer skills could play and thrive without frustration; the level of violence is moderate and not directed at humans, so this would be an ideal game for any little gamers you might have.

Other Reviews:
- GameShark: A+.
- GameSpot: 7.9, but readers gave it an 8.5.

I just finished reading Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks, and I'm in awe. It's one of the greatest pieces of science fiction I've ever read, and the ending is magnificent. You can find a summary of the plot elsewhere if you're interested, but briefly: Cheradenine Zakalwe is a mercenary working for the mostly benevolent and highly manipulative Culture; one thread of the book follows him through the present, and another thread jumps in and out of his past. Everything comes together in the end, and I was blown away. This is the kind of book I'd love to write.

Mr. Banks' publisher is reissuing his sci-fi novels and they should be available soon. I bought my copy on eBay for $8, and it was well worth the price. The book is otherwise out of print, and Barnes and Noble is out of stock, but the link below will at least let you read more reviews and learn more about the author.

Use Of Weapons
Use Of Weapons

Michael's Five Pound Stew

4 tbsp oil
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tbsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 tbsp sugar

5 lbs sirloin steak, cubed
5 lbs potatoes, cubed (not too small!)
1 lb carrots, cut or mini
1 lb celery
1 lb peas
1 medium white onion
3 cans beef broth

If desired:
a bit more flour for thickening
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp sage

0. Cube the meat and potatoes; chop up the onion, celery, and carrots.
1. Mix the flour, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and sugar together in a bowl, and then roll the chunks of meat around until they're all covered.
2. Put the oil in your (large) pot and boil it. Dump the meat in and brown it all for a few minutes; be careful to continue stirring to prevent burns. Dump in the onions after a little bit to fry them.
3. Lower heat. Pour in beef broth, carrots, and peas. Add rosemary, thyme, and sage, if desired. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and cover. Allow it all to simmer for 90 minutes.
4. Add potatoes and celery. Carrots and peas can be delayed to this step, if desired. Personally, I like my celery and potatoes firmer than my carrots and peas. Add a little more flour (3 tbsp or so) for thicker stew. Make sure you stir it in so you don't get lumps! Simmer for another 30 minutes or so.
5. Enjoy tasty stew. Serves one. (Or maybe a dozen.)

I'd been having some stability problems with my computer for the past few days and I finally found the cause. Summer's officially here, and the ambient temperature of my home computer lab has risen enough that my new Athlon 3000+ CPU was overheating. What to do?

Well my buddy Cypren (who also set me up on this new server!) recommened that I head to Fry's and get some Arctic Silver high-performance thermally conductive compound to replace the thermal grease than came packaged with my heat sink and cooling fan. I was skeptical that changing the compound would drastically affect the temperature of my CPU, but I was wrong.

I'm running a lot of simulations for my PhD and they really push the processors of my computers to their limit. According to the internal temperature diode of my Athlon the core temp was up to 146F during full CPU utilization, and I think that was an underestimate. This afternoon I removed the CPU, wiped off the old thermal grease, and applied some Arctic Silver 5 ($20 at Fry's, ouch).

What a difference! I've been running for eight hours now with no instability, and my core temp is holding steady at 120F! I can't believe what a huge difference Arctic Silver made. 26F is a huge drop. The Blue Screens of Death are gone!

It's been a slow holiday season here at Master of None, mainly because I've been taking advantage of the vacation to do a little writing on the side.

What really got me motivated is an excellent book by Stephen King called On Writing.

I can't recommend it highly enough; I read the entire 300 page paperback in one afternoon. The book contains a short biography, and then Mr. King gives a bunch of style tips and tons of examples.

Most of it isn't revolutionary, but he really got me thinking. I don't think I'm cut out to write novel-length fiction, but I whipped out a rough draft of a movie script yesterday afternoon that has real potential. I'm showing it around to some friends in the industry right now, and I'm pretty excited.

I also just finished Wolves of the Calla, which was pretty good. My favorite Stephen King book is still Wizard and Glass, though.

Next on the stack of books: The Brothers Karamozov.

If you've never read anything by Stephen King, but you kinda feel like you want to, I strongly recommend The Dark Tower series, starting with The Gunslinger. The second and third books -- The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands -- are good, but not as good as the first book. However, the fourth book, Wizard and Glass, is one of my favorite books of all time. I like it as much as Crime and Punishment.

The series isn't what someone unfamiliar might expect from Stephen King; it's not horror, it's an adventure story. The plot is very simple, and mainly driven by the memories of the main character, Roland, the Gunslinger. The series was inspired by a poem by Robert Browning named "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came", the title for which was taken from a line in Shakespeare's King Lear.

The Gunslinger's ancient world is passing away; his kingdom lies in ruin, his friends and family murdered by the Man in Black. All Roland can do is hunt down the destroyer and take revenge.

[Note: that Amazon link goes through my associates account.]

Based wholly on a recommendation by SDB, I sent off to Amazon and ordered all six Excel Saga DVDs, and I've been watching them for the past week or so. Based on a manga by Kohshi Rikudou, the story revolves around a trio of characters named after three Tokyo airport hotels. And it just gets weirder from there. Fortunately, two of the characters are pretty cute, and the third is the cool super-villain we all wish we could be.

Oh yeah, the main characters are the bad guys, I suppose. They're members of ACROSS, an ideological organization whose purpose is to take over the world. But, since the populace wouldn't be able to handle such a huge change right away, they're going to start by taking over Japan. Of course, they wouldn't want to bite off more than they can chew, so it's prudent to begin with a single city.

I'm only through the first five epidodes so far, but there's aliens, hitmen, main characters dying left and right (and being brought back to life, because otherwise the story would suffer), dog/cat stew, bottomless pits, zombies in unusual places, and more absurdity than you can shake a futon beater at. Kohshi Rikudou is actually in the story, as is the director, and Excel talks directly to the viewers so much that it really draws you in.

It's a blast of hilarity, and there are handy cultural notes that come on the DVDs and can be shown while you're watching that help explain some of the Japanese in-jokes that I probably wouldn't get otherwise. I really want to hurry up and finish the series of 26 episodes so that I can watch it again; there's a lot I'm sure I missed the first time through.

Plus, there's no nudity, so you can show it to your kids or grandparents.

So, all that said, let me now try out my new Amazon Associate link code. I bought mine used off Amazon and got a pretty good price; I don't know if you can get to used stuff through the link below, but you should check that out -- I saved more than $60 buying used. I looked on Ebay, but there weren't any good deals there. Maybe you'll have better luck, but Amazon worked great for me.

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