Archive for March, 2013

Flipboard vs. Feedly

March 22nd, 2013

I am a huge fan of Flipboard. Normally, when I think of RSS readers, I think of a chaotic swarm of information. Flipboard simplifies what’s current on the Internet into a visually-pleasing set of squares based on categories. The issue that I have with it, though, is that it’s a little limited on some of the features that I have come to appreciate in Google Reader. Since Google Reader is being discontinued, I thought that I would see what all of the buzz about Feedly was.

Here are my thoughts after spending a few days with Feedly. I do the vast majority of my Internet reading on my phone, so that’s the context of the comments.

Flipboard allows you to add RSS (and Twitter and…) feeds, which is great. The limitation, though, is that Flipboard only gives you four screens (six feeds (in beautiful big boxes) per screen) of information. There are preset categories like News or Technology that you can use, but those (to the best of my knowledge) are not customizable. You can add more feeds, but they hang out off in the wilderness a few clicks away. For scrolling through news quickly, those feeds will be missed.

Feedly is more customizable as long as you use the Google Chrome or Firefox plug-in on a computer to get it started (which was kinda annoying since, like I said, I run most of this off of my phone). In the plug-in you can create as many categories as you want and sort the information based on the number of articles to read and how many times you like to read from certain categories. You can even get categories to show you bar graphs for buttons as to which ones contain more unread information.

Both Feedly and Flipboard display graphics from feeds in a nice manner. Both have widgets that display on your device’s home screen. Feedly’s main negative, though, is that it lags a bit more than Flipboard. Jon Virtes from Flipboard says that the speed of the app is the reason why they probably won’t add more pages to Flipboard.

The final verdict? If you’re just going to read a few general categories like Business or Politics, go with Flipboard. If you want to separate feeds into umbrella categories like Teaching Ideas, School Leadership, and Typography, go with Feedly.

The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer (House of the Scorpion #2)

March 20th, 2013

If you haven’t read House of the Scorpion, stop here. It is an excellent book and I don’t want to spoil any of its details. If you have read it, meet me after the scorpion…

Yes, House of the Scorpion has a sequel. Many students will be excited. I even had one class a few years ago get so mad that there wasn’t a sequel that they wanted me to write to Nancy Farmer and make her write a sequel.

It seems that more people wanted a sequel because here we are.

A caution, though: I started reading with extremely high expectations and it took me a bit to realize that the sequel is different. Where the first book is about a young boy trying to survive in a crazy cartel world, the sequel is about Matt trying to run the cartel. The book spends a significant part of the narrative taking the reader on a tour of the new Lord of Opium’s palace. His ideals come into conflict with some of the staff from the previous leader, but most respect him – at least on a surface level. This was the part of the book where my attention waned for a bit. While it’s interesting learning about the inner workings of a household, it wasn’t what I was reading the book for. I wanted suspense. In the first book, a clone could be killed without any real consequences because they were property. How harrowing! I wanted that level of suspense and/or intrigue.

The rival drug lord was scary sounding. I mean, his name is Glass Eye. I wanted more threats from him, more brooding foreshadowing from him. Something. Anything.

I had to accept that the big conflict for The Lord of Opium is person vs. self. Matt is a clone of a violent man. One question haunts Matt’s existence: Will his genetics destine him to a life of violence or will the world around him forge him into a violent man? (Okay, so maybe that’s technically two questions.) Once I realized that it was Matt’s own fears that we should worry about, it made for a more interesting read.

The scientific detail matches the first book and challenges the ethics of why we do what we do. I loved that about House of the Scorpion and appreciated it here. I didn’t quite anticipate just what tech level the society was at, though. Imagine my surprise when a wormhole opened up in the hacienda. It was jarring (my reading, but I’m sure the portal was, too), but once I shifted my perspective, I was good.

Nancy Farmer works in many details from Arizona. As a fellow Arizonan, I appreciated references to Kitt Peak, Ajo, and the Chiricahua Mountains. Those details were spot on.

So, what did I think of the book? I enjoyed it, but there were noticeable hurdles for me to get over. Some were in the pacing of the novel and the focus of the scenes. Some, though, were a result of perhaps unrealistic expectations on my part for a follow-up to such a staple of YA fiction that House of the Scorpion is. I’ll definitely pick up a copy when it releases for the Fall semester, but I’ll hold off on getting multiple copies until I hear from the students about what they think of the book. My copy was a digital ARC on my phone. Yes, publishers, this may save you printing costs, but it would help you out in the long run if I could hand out a paper copy to a student to give me their opinion.

I heard back from Guinness about being the World’s Tallest Librarian

March 20th, 2013

Back in November I submitted a claim to Guinness to check if I was truly the World’s Tallest Librarian. It turns out that they don’t track that record. Here’s a quote from their email:

Guinness World Records is in no way associated with the activity relating to your record proposal and we in no way endorse this activity. If you choose to proceed with this activity then this is will be of your own volition and at your own risk.

So, I can continue to be the World’s Tallest Librarian; I just do so at my own risk.

An alternative to Duotrope

March 18th, 2013

I love Duotrope. Their search engine helped me find great short story markets like Penumbra and Cast of Wonders. Duotrope switched to a subscription model in January – a choice that I don’t begrudge them.

If you are looking for a free alternative to Duotrope, though, you should check out The Submission Grinder. You can search for markets based on genre, word count, and pay scale. It offers many of the same features as Duotrope and promises to always be free.

Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz

March 12th, 2013

I’m concerned with a condition like Asperger’s being minimized to a gimmick or a trend in YA literature, so I was a bit reluctant to read Colin Fischer at first. I’m glad that I did read it, though, because I would have missed out on a great story if I hadn’t.

Colin Fischer trudges through the daily life of a high school student, but has a unique perspective on life as someone with Asperger’s. I’ve enjoyed stories like Mockingbird by Erskine whose narrator gives us insight into their condition (what good story doesn’t do that, really?). What I especially liked in Colin Fischer was any time that an emotion was written. It was in a different font to represent Colin referencing a face chart to understand body language. The semi-subtle feature continued to draw me back into Colin’s mind. Characterization of duplicitous people, characters who said one thing but meant another, was enhanced by misleading faces. Colin has to sift through the information to get to the truth.

Colin Fischer is a detective in the same style as Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. He’s in good company and borrows their techniques while applying them to a high school mystery. A gun has gone off in the school cafeteria and Colin will determine who fired the gun – simply for the love of truth.

Miller and Stentz do a good job of balancing out the seriousness of the situation with some fun pop culture references. On second thought, make that a ton of references. Almost every page has a footnote explaining some kind of allusion, whether to the Kuleshov Effect or Die Hard. It makes sense that the authors would have a finger on the pulse of entertainment. They’re the screenwriters from X-Men: First Class.

This has the potential to be a popular book and rightfully so. It’s stellar realistic fiction and I would love to see the mystery genre jump off. Browsing the aisles of Barnes and Noble and seeing the majority of stories revolving around a girl rebelling against a corrupt government [cough] Hunger Games [/cough], Colin Fischer stands out. I hope that others will take a look at it, too.

A preview of something pretty cool

March 1st, 2013

I’ll give you more details in a bit, but I wanted to share this really cool cover art.