Author Archives: kiesa

Playground at Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland

The absolute best playground we visited in Scotland was on day two at the Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh. The playground is located on the far western side of the park. The park map we saw neglected to mention there was a playground and we trudged the entire length of the park, Calvin complaining the entire time, on faith having heard a rumor there was suppose to be a playground somewhere.

I was very relieved when we found the park to see it was worth the trek. The park is spectacular. The main playground equipment is setup like a play castle.


It has all the normal playground features such as slides, monkey rings, rope bridges, etc.




There’s also a climbing wall so you can storm the castle.


The playground also had a wide variety of spinners ranging from single-person spinners to a giant rope climbing apparatus that also spun.




There’s also a little kids area and the obligatory themed spring rider.



And, of course, a log swing that looks like it could be used to ram open (fragile) castle gates.


If you’re looking at the park facing south, you can see the play castle overshadowed by the real Edinburgh Castle. (The sun was not kind to my pictures.)



Surface Material Mostly poured rubber
Restrooms Yes, relatively close, it appears you usually have to pay but we didn’t the day we were there
Water fountain Can’t remember
Shade Reasonable amount of shade
Picnic area Can’t remember but the park itself has a ton of benches.
Parking No
  • Nice playground equipment
  • Very scenic backdrops
  • A bit tricky to find if you don’t know where it is.

Playground at Highland Folk Museum, Scotland

I’ve been meaning to post pictures of the Scottish playgrounds we visited but kept procrastinating. While Scotland isn’t quite as overflowing with playgrounds as Hong Kong is, we visit several nice ones. On our seventh day in Scotland we visited the Highland Folk Museum. We arrived toward the end of the day so didn’t have nearly enough time to wander around. However, right within the entrance is a pretty nice playground area for kids.

Among other things, they have the best tire swing I have ever seen. It’s huge.


The main playground area had a rustic feel to it.


However, they had several more modern pieces of playground equipment also. I’m pretty sure one of our Boulder parks has this one:


They also had a fantastic spinner. I think it would have been even better with more people on it.


There was also a single-person spinner and a wobbly balance beam to walk on.


Away from the main playground area there’s also a digger, fairly close to their sawmill building.



Features Modern age 5-12 playground equipment, log-house style playground equipment, wooder spring rider, amazing tire swing, large spinner, individual spinner, wobbly balance beam
Surface Material Mostly bark chips
Restrooms Yes, relatively close
Water fountain Can’t remember
Shade The more modern playground is shaded by the trees but the wood-based playground elements don’t appear to get shade.
Picnic area Can’t remember.
Parking Parking for the museum
  • Best Tire Swing Ever
  • Nice variety of equipment
  • N/A

Columbine Park, Boulder, CO

After Salberg Park I decided to drop by Columbine Park which was just a few blocks away. Earlier in the morning when I was trying to decide where to go I stumbled across a Boulder City post about their Top 10 Nature Play Parks. Columbine Park was on the list but I wasn’t sure if it was going to be large enough to amuse Calvin for more than a couple of minutes.

Columbine Park was a very pleasant surprise. It doesn’t have any traditional playground structures but still had enough elements to keep Calvin amused. The first thing he did was run over to the “OmniSpin Spinner” which appears to be a modern equivalent of a merry-go-round. It’s definitely a cut above most modern merry-go-rounds but I found it difficult to get up to a nice speed (being pregnant probably doesn’t help). Even though it goes slower, it’s pretty comfortable to sit in. I relaxed in it for a bit and let Calvin (briefly) spin me.


Next up, Calvin climbed aboard the “Oodle Swing” (at least, I think it’s an Oodle swing, definitely similar if it’s not that exactly). Add some pillows and I think it’d make a nice hammock-like swing for a kid to read in.


The playground also have several rocks with rope ladders to climb up.


A unique feature of this park is its extended balance path consisting of pretend tree stumps, rocks, log balance beams, and log tunnels. Calvin enjoyed running back and forth on them.




The park also had a fake “stream” wandering around one edge of the playground area with rocks providing more balance options.


The final feature of the park is a tree. Normally, I just mention the man-made structures. However, this was a perfect playground tree. Its branches hang low enough to the ground that children ducking under toward the trunk are nicely hidden. Plus, the branches are low enough to the ground that children can climb up the (sap-leaking) tree. This is probably not an officially approved activity but I liked Calvin have the opportunity to climb on something actually natural, not just nature-imitating. Calvin didn’t go up more than a couple of branches but enjoyed that bit of climbing up by himself.


I was amused to see a sign indicating the playground was designed for ages 5-12. I know they have to do this for safety reasons but there was a lot that younger kids could get from this park. I think it’s one we might go back and visit once 2.1 is born.


Features Multi-person swing, merry-go-round substitute, lots of balancing elements, several rocks/ropes to climb, good climbing tree
Surface Material Poured Rubber
Restrooms No (though there’s an elementary school behind the park that might be available if you get desperate)
Water fountain Yes, it was even turned on
Shade Yes, there’s quite a bit of shade provided by a picnic structure and mature trees.
Picnic area Yes, one covered picnic area with a couple of tables, including wheelchair friendly tables.
Parking Fairly convenient street parking
  • Lots of balancing options
  • Merry-go-round-like equipment
  • Good climbing tree
  • Interesting multi-person swing
  • No traditional playground equipment, may bore some kids?
  • No restrooms

View Random Parks and Playgrounds in a larger map

Salberg Park, Boulder, CO

October has been unnaturally warm. It’s almost the end of October and today was sunny and almost 80 degrees. On the weekends Calvin has a tendency to get stuck in the family room playing with Legos all day. I love Legos but I also think that outside time is important. So I decided it was time to go and explore a couple of parks.

We first went to Salberg Park. Calvin and I have been to this park before but it was in the pre-photographing of park era. It’s a nice park with restrooms! (Though it appears the restrooms may only be open in summer as they were locked today).

Playground Equipment

The park has a nice-sized traditional playground structure. It’s mainly designed for “older” kids but does have several things underneath for younger kids. An example is a little bucket swing.

Little Swing

Calvin enjoyed climbing across the rope wall.


The playground also has two regular swings and two bucket swings for babies. (Calvin hasn’t learned how to swing himself yet so I don’t have any pictures of them). I had forgotten that Salberg park has a very nice sand area. I should have brought our sand toys. Even so, Calvin was able to amuse himself with the built-in sand equipment: two regular diggers, a wheelchair accessible digger, and an elevated sand table.

Sand Area

As always, Calvin enjoys climbing on the rocks.


I think the playground might have been upgraded since I was there last. It has two structures that I don’t remember. The first is some equipment that I believe is suppose to mimic a sailboat (note it’s also surrounded by blue poured rubber). The entire structure can be rotated, with some effort.


The other structure provides more climbing opportunities.



Features Small double slide, curved slide, swings, bucket swings, mini-swing, rope wall, sand diggers, accessible sand digger, elevated sand table, stylized sailboat structure, climbing wall
Surface Material Poured Rubber and some sand
Restrooms Yes (possibly only open for summer)
Water fountain Didn’t see one but seems like there should be one by the restrooms
Shade Yes, there’s quite a bit of shade provided by a picnic structure and mature trees.
Picnic area Yes, one covered picnic area and additional nearby picnic tables.
Parking Dedicated parking lot
  • Good equipment
  • Easy to park
  • Sand!
  • N/A

View Random Parks and Playgrounds in a larger map

More Books

Tomorrow we have a new library opening so I spent most of today testing making sure the new location in the catalog is working correctly. I already had most things setup but ran through more extensive testing today. For some reason, requests still aren’t working on the patron side (staff side is fine which is really weird). I suspect it requires restarting some services so I have to wait till the libraries close at 9pm before troubleshooting some more. As a result, I have to stay awake past Calvin’s bedtime.

Pre-pregnant I usually went to bed around 9:30. In the first trimester, I took a nap right after supper and then would wake up just enough to toddle up to bed. Now I’m splitting the difference and, when work doesn’t interfere, have been going to bed around 8pm. However, I’m still finding some time to read.

Eric, by Terry Pratchett and Read by Stephen Briggs – Rincewind once again happens into a mess when a teenager attempts to summon a demon and gets Rincewind instead. Even though Rincewind isn’t a demon he seems to be able to “fulfill” the boys wishes, though perhaps not the way the boy would have wished.

I didn’t expect to like this book, and it isn’t my favorite Pratchett, but it was more amusing than I expected. I particularly enjoyed listening to Eric and Rincewinds escapades through the levels of hell. It brought back memories of college English classes (the books we read, not the class itself).

The Clocwork Dagger, by Beth Cato – Octavia Leander is a very gifted medician. After the exhaustion of healing wounded soldiers, Octavia is ready to settle down in an idyllic village. However, first she has to get there. The only practical method of transportation is airship but strange things keep happening and it’s starting to appear that someone is trying to assassinate her.

I’m not a huge steampunk fan. However, I enjoy a good story and this book provided that. Unlike a lot of steampunk, this one isn’t set in our world. It’s obviously a different universe/setting. I found the universe to be interesting. A weird mixture of scientific reasoning and faith. There was a romantic element in the story but it didn’t interest me as much as the general world building.

God’s War: Bel Dame Apocrypha Volume 1, by Kameron Hurley – Nyx lives in a country that has been at war with its neighbor for decades. No one seems to know exactly why the war started but it certainly hasn’t been helped by theological differences between the two nations. Nyx use to be a Bel Dame, a respected and state sanctioned bounty hunter. However, she messed up and now has to scrape by on whatever jobs she can get, no matter have unreputable and risky.

Kameron Hurley is also the author of Mirror Empire, the book I had such conflicted feelings about. However, God’s War was a lot more comfortable of a read for me. It’s still really grim and Nyx has plenty of flaws. However, I found Nyx to be a much more sympathetic character than any of the characters in Mirror Empire.

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner, by Judy Melinek, M.D., and T.J. Mitchell – Dr. Judy Melinek always wanted to be a surgeon. However, after examining the toll her surgical residency was taking on her, she quit. After a break, she starts training as a medical examiner in New York. The book details her first experiences and training as a medical examiner. There is also a chapter detailing Dr. Melinek’s experiences examining victims from 9/11.

I don’t know why I picked this book up. I almost never read memoirs. Actually, I rarely read non-fiction unless it’s related to whatever obsession I’m currently working on (parent, pregnancy, finances, etc). However, for some reason I put this on hold via the library and actually read it once it came in. I found it a fascinating read. Detailed without being overly gory (at least for me). The authors also manage to insert a nice amount of humor in between the grimmer sections.

Recent Reads

Work is getting exciting. My migration is less than a month away so I’ve been working more than usual. I’m not explicitly spending dedicated hours working more1, I am stuck at a strict 32 hrs/week, it’s more a matter of me distractedly answering important data migration questions in the midst of making supper.

All that being said, I’ve actually gotten a fair amount of reading in since I started feeling better in August. All things considered, I’m not a harsh critic when it comes to most books I pick up2. Provide an interesting female heroine and you’re almost guaranteed an automatic 4-star from me. However, it’s much rarer that I love a book. So, I’m been feeling particularly lucky recently.

The Martian, by Andy Weir – This is hands down the best hard science fiction I’ve read for many years. Mark Watney, a botanist and mechanical engineer, is on the third mission to Mars. The trip goes well until an accident and emergency evacuation leave Watney stranded on Mars, and presumed dead, by his crew mates. Watney has no communication equipment to report his survival back to Earth and must find a way to survive and relay his survival to NASA.

This was a very well-written book. I heard a lot about it but was pretty dubious going in. I mean, how interesting can it be to follow one guy stuck on Mars? However, Weir pulls it off brilliantly. The book reads like an epic love story to engineering. I read it in one sitting and then told Jaeger he had to read it. He did and also really enjoyed it.

As an aside, there may be a movie based on the book coming out in 2015.

Lock In, by John Scalzi – In the near(?) future a virus sweeps the world causing 1% of those infected to experience “lock in” where their minds are still functional but their bodies no longer respond. Governments throw money at the problem and an industry springs up to allow those that are locked in to live fairly normal lives. Chris Shane, from a prominent family, is one of the most famous locked in people. However, Chris doesn’t want to be a trust fund baby and chooses instead to become an FBI agent. Chris’ first week on the job turns out to be a doozy and requires learning to deal with a jaded partner while solving several rather sensational murders.

This was a very satisfying read. A good science fiction angle mixed in with a very nice mystery. Up to this point I’ve only read a couple Scalzi books. They were fine and amusing but didn’t really make me inspired to pick up more. The main reason I read Lock In is because Jaeger reads a lot more Scalzi than I do and we picked it up when we went to Scalzi’s book signing in Denver. It was just sitting around the house so one day I picked it up and started reading. I can’t remember if I actually read it in one day but I did breeze through it pretty quickly.

Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie – Against all odds Breq survived her experiences in Ancillary Justice3 She grudgingly agrees to go on a mission for the Lord of the Radch, mainly because the mission sends her to a station where the sister of Breq’s former captain lives. Once on the station, Breq unerringly sniffs out trouble and decides to deal with it.

Second books always scare me. I’ve had many, many experiences where the first book was great and the second book was only ok. However, this book was also fantastic. It’s a slightly different feel from the first book but still adventure-packed. I was particularly impressed by how well Leckie did multiple viewpoints. I would have expected the way she did it to be confusing but it just worked. The end also seemed appropriate. I’m hopeful there may eventually be a third book.

One note: This book is published by Orbit, a division of Hachette. Being published by a division of Hachette, it’s receiving the same treatment from Amazon as most Hachette books that aren’t authored by a politician who could possibly do something if they were convinced Amazon is a monopoly. Anyway, given how much I enjoyed Ancillary Justice, I would have bought this book anyway but who knows, I might end up buying another copy or two and then figuring out what to do with it4.

Other books I’ve read recently:

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, by Julie Berry – The girls of Prickwillow Place, a Victorian boarding school, have various reasons for preferring school to their homes. Thus, when their unloved headmistress and her brother die, they face a problem. They solve the problem by attempting to bury their headmistress and her brother in the backyard and see how long they can convince the community the headmistress is still alive and supervising their education and virtue.

This was quirky and fun. It’s a YA book but doesn’t have a lot of the love angst that can make some annoying. Style-wise, it reminded me a bit of Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, though without the whiff of magic.

The Mirror Empire, by Kameron Hurley – I don’t know how to summarize this book so I’ll just copy the overview on Hurley’s website:

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. At the heart of this war lie the pacifistic Dhai people, once enslaved by the Saiduan and now courted by their former masters to provide aid against the encroaching enemy. As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked uniting a country fractured by civil war; a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family to save his skin; and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

I expected to adore this book and didn’t. I heard a lot of positive things about this book and was sure I would like it. After all, how could I not love a book overflowing with strong women? It turns out that I don’t like reading about sociopaths, which this book appears to have an abundance of. Truthfully, that’s not fair. I think there’s really only one woman who I’d consider a straight-up sociopath though the rest are fairly dubious. There was one scene where I almost put the book down and walked away. Truthfully, if it had been a man treating his wife that way, I would have put the book down. I feel fairly conflicted that I kept reading it anyway.

The book is a very good book, it’s just one that I find distasteful. Which isn’t to say I regret reading the book, at least not exactly. I’ve heard various people at different times in my life opine that the world would be a better place if run by women. I strongly disagree with this. I believe that with power comes the potential for abuse of power and women are just as likely to do that as men. I think it’s fair to say that in fantasy women either get romanticized (too good to be true) or marginalized most of the time. Hurley does not fall into this trap.

On a related note, Kameron Hurley won the 2014 Hugo for Best Related Work for her essay ‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative (also available in audio format from Podcastle).

Scale-Bright – Julienne’s newly discovered aunts,Hau Ngai and Seung Nog, are famous immortals. Julienne herself is delighted to find family. However, other immortals try to take advantage of Julienne’s fragility in order to wring concessions from Hau Ngai and Seung Nog.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew was nominated for the “not a Hugo” award this last year. However, she only had short stories, which are really hard for me to read, and I ran out of time and never read any of them. That being said, I kept hearing rave reviews about her short stories. So, when I heard she had a novella coming out I requested my library buy it, and they did. As promised, the story was lyrical and entertaining. It’s set in Hong Kong and made me a bit nostalgic for our short holiday there a couple of years back.

Ghost Train to New Orleans, by Mur Lafferty – In the second book in The Shambling Guides series, Zoe Norris is working to put together a tour book of New Orleans aimed at supernaturals. Since starting her new job she’s became more and more enmeshed with vampires, zombies, and other non-humans and has fewer human friends. It doesn’t help Zoe’s nerves that she smells like food to most of her colleagues. Zoe spends most of the book trying to focus on her job, avoid being eaten, and save her boyfriend.

I read the first book in the series and enjoyed it. However, I liked this one more than the first one. I think it’s because the climax didn’t feel as jumbled to me. Anyway, it’s a fast fun read.

  1. Well, except for that night I stayed up till midnight tweaking our new OPAC. III is known for having a “one right way” to do things and our library also has firm opinions about how to do things. These two visions are not always the same thing. I was feeling very, very constrained by my customization options until another sys admin told me I could link to the JQuery library in the “custom header” and then could magically do many things I couldn’t before. I don’t think this is the right way to do this stuff but since it’s the only way I have, I’ll take it.
  2. Though, of course, I only pick up books I think might interest me.
  3. If you haven’t read this book, go read it. It’s a fantastic Space Opera. It won the Hugo Award,Nebula Award, BSFA Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award and Locus Award.
  4. If there was a DRM-free version, I’d definitely buy the eBook version of this in addition to the hard-copy. However, I’m not going to buy it from Amazon and I don’t feel like going to the trouble of figuring out how to strip the DRM off any of the other vendors at the moment.

Pratchett Goal Update

While being laid low with morning sickness I stopped reading. It was too hard to read while curled into a ball moaning. However, I did manage to get through quite a few audiobooks. For the most part, I listened to comfort reads where I already knew what had happened so it wouldn’t matter if I dozed off in the middle. However, in addition to the comfort reads I also ended up listening to quite a few Discworld books

Equal Rights, read by Celia Imrie – Due to a careless mistake, a wizard leaves his staff to the newly born eighth child of an eighth son which allows the child to become a wizard. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize the eighth child was a daughter, named Esk, instead of a son. Of course, women can’t become wizards which provides a quandary for those around her. Granny Weatherwax reluctantly tries to train her to be a witch but it doesn’t take.

I’ve read this book before and, like before, enjoyed it. It’s not my favorite Discworld book but it’s pretty amusing and offers a great introduction to Granny Weatherwax.

Mort, read by Nigel Planer – Everyone agrees that Mort is hopeless. Fortunately, Death has decided he needs to take an apprentice and chooses Mort. At first this works out remarkably well until Mort tries to change history for the sake of a girl.

I found this one amusing. I particularly liked the scenes where Death decides to take a vacation. I didn’t have much patience with Mort but the supporting cast was a lot of fun.

Sourcery, read by Nigel Planer – An ex-wizard uses his son to exact revenge on the wizards that threw him out of Unseen University. Chaos ensues and naturally Rincewind gets drawn into the center of it.

I think I’m going with “meh” on this one. Rincewind isn’t my favorite character. However, I found Conina, daughter of Cohen the Barbarian and unwillingly good at theft and mayhem, pretty interesting.

Wyrd Sisters, read by Celia Imrie – Roughly, this books is a variation of Macbeth. Granny Weatherwax makes a reappearance and grudgingly works with Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick to make sure the kingdom is run properly.

This book was a great deal of fun. The interactions between Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick are great. I found them a great deal more interesting than the other characters running around.

Pyramids, read by Nigel Planer – Teppic, the heir of a pharaoh-like king, is educated in the assassins guild, as all truly wealthy sons are, and is fairly happy away from his small kingdom. However, when his father dies he must go back and decide which traditions are worth following and which need to be forgotten.

My favorite part of this story is where we first learn about how assassins are trained. My second favorite part is the magical properties of the pyramids. However, the characters themselves never really clicked for me.

Guards! Guards!, read by Nigel Planer – Captain Sam Vines is a drunk in charge of Ankh-Morpork’s night watch. The night watch spends a great deal of energy making sure they never catch any miscreants. All goes well until an ambitious man decides he wants to rule the city and starts manipulating people, and dragons, into doing his bidding.

This is a great book. It’s one of my favorite Discworld books. The book has both a solid plot and solid characters in a nice combination. I agree with the people who say Discworld shouldn’t be read by publication date. However, I think Guards! Guards! would make a decent first-book to try in the Discworld series.

My interlibrary loan for Eric just arrived. The reviews I’ve heard haven’t been glowing but even the Pratchett’s that aren’t great are usually pretty amusing.


I have a good reason for my blogging silence recently: I’m pregnant. I spent pretty much my entire 1st trimester either sleeping or curled up in a ball trying not to throw up. Morning sickness was a lot more intense this time and towards the end I ended up taking meds to keep the vomiting under control (though I know I got off a lot more lightly than some women). Now that I’m at 13 weeks, the vomiting mysteriously disappeared which was a relief1. I planned this pregnancy carefully to make sure my migration (big project) at work happened before I was likely to hit any preterm labor problems in case I have a repeat of last time. However, I hadn’t counted on being incapacitated during my first trimester. I was still able to get in all my hours but I don’t think I was operating at my normal level.

Below is a post I wrote the morning I found out I was pregnant back on July 8, 2014.

It turns out that it’s a bad idea to take a pregnancy test at 2:00AM. It seemed like a good idea at the time because I didn’t want to avoid going to the bathroom all night just to make sure I had concentrated enough liquid.

The test shows the very faintest plus symbol. Technically, I took the test one day before the instructions recommended. I got it confused with the non-generic brand I used last time and didn’t notice the difference till after I had already tested. So, I was a little surprised to see a faintly positive result. My understanding is that if you see any plus at all, no matter how faint, you are pregnant. However, according to at least one study, 22 percent of “chemical” pregnancies never become “clinical” pregnancies2

Now I am sitting down in the family unable to go back to sleep.

Coincidentally, I interviewed an OB today. I really liked my Longmont OB but the Longmont Hospital won’t do VBACs. It’s not that I necessarily want a VBAC. I had a great c-section the first time and due to various factors my odds at a successful VBAC aren’t great. However, I dislike not having the flexibility to choose a VBAC. The OB I interviewed today delivers at Avista Adventist Hospital. It’s 20 minutes away from my house but has a Level III NICU3, vegetarian food in the cafeteria4, and does VBACs. However, the main reason I’m considering this particular OB is she is very close to one of the libraries I can work at. The OB answered my extensive list of questions and I felt pretty happy with her responses.

I have an interview scheduled with a Boulder OB next Monday. Boulder Community Hospital also does VBACs and is only 12 minutes away from our house but prenatal appointments would be slightly more inconvenient than the Avista OB. They also have a lower level NICU though I’m not sure how much importance I should place on that.

Assuming this pregnancy continues, my due date is March 24, 2015. Does this date seem vaguely familiar? Calvin’s birthday is March 26. This was unintentional. I’ve been trying for a while to get pregnant and I guess this was just weird coincidence. Perhaps something about summer makes me more fertile.

UPDATES: I decided to go with the Boulder OB. Both OBs seemed great but Boulder Hospital appears to have a dedicated vegetarian menu which is hard to beat (particularly if I end up there for several weeks). I also got the fancy MaterniT21 genetic blood screening done since I’m “elderly” at a whole 35 years of age. It came back negative for the major chromosomal abnormalities it tests for. In addition, it was able to determine that I’m having a boy. So, Calvin will get the little brother he’s always wanted. Of course, I’m not sure Calvin really realizes how long it is before babies become interesting humans.

  1. With Calvin I had much milder morning sickness that lasted significantly longer.
  2. I’ve been seeing a therapist for the last couple of months for stress-related issues. She would no doubt like me to point out at this point that only a 22% loss means that it’s more likely than not that I will stay pregnant.
  3. I thought I saw they were a level IIIB but the OB said they take babies at 28 weeks or later which implies IIIA.
  4. I thought PSL in Denver had bad vegetarian options till I delivered in Longmont. They were worse. I could get frosted flakes for breakfast at both locations but at least at PSL, the moderately “healthier” options, such as a whole wheat bun instead of snow white, required the approval of a dietitian.

New Tablet

Sunday I started preparing for our semi-annual pilgrimage to Lincoln to visit friends. Preparing in this case means requesting movies for Calvin that I transfer to the iPad, loading new iPad games, considering if I should do another audiobook/picture mashup, etc. Once again, I was running into the iPad’s space limitations. Last November I researched and found a kludge to be able to access more movies than the iPad can natively handle. This works but is really, really kludgy. Also, it requires my intervention to get things transferred over to the iPad because the process is too complicated for Calvin to do at the moment.

A month or two back I got a Windows 8 phone (Nokia Lumia 521) which I’ve liked. As a bonus, it has a microSD slot so I could put the microSD card with Calvin’s visual audiobooks on it and he could play them without me first having to transfer them to the iPad. However, I was pretty uncomfortable handing him a live phone without fairly close supervision.

I started contemplating once again whether buying another tablet would make sense. I did very briefly have a $10 dollar tablet but, not surprisingly, it died fairly soon (though I’m pretty sure I got my $10 out of it). Out of curiosity, I went to Apple’s website to see what sort of refurbished iPads they were selling. It turns out they had several very good deals for iPad 2s.

I was strongly tempted to get another iPad. There’s many things I like about them. They’re durable, have a pretty good battery life, and a fantastic variety of apps for kids1. However, they still have quite a few flaws that sit there and bother me. The biggest things that annoy me are the lack of expandability and ability to make it do what I want it to2. Of the two, expadability was the biggest show-stopper for me. I just don’t want to spend the money required to get a reasonable amount of space on an iPad.

Android . . . well, I just can’t get excited about Android. I had an early-gen Android work phone, it was ok. Jaeger has a Nexus 7 which he seems to like fairly well. However, I just can’t shake the feeling that they’re a less sleek, disorganized iOS wannabe. I know this isn’t fair and in many cases Android is open enough to let me do whatever my crazy brain takes a fancy to3.

I mentioned above I recently acquired a Windows 8 phone I liked. I had seen the Surface ads so I decided to wander over to NewEgg and see what sort of Windows 8 options there were. One of the first options was an Asus Transformer Book T100, specifically the T100TA-C1-GR. It seemed fairly reasonably priced and the more I poked around, the more it appealed to me. Several professional reviews I ran across seemed general positive with a couple downsides. The Amazon user reviews were also fairly positive and included hints on how to work around some of the bugs mentioned. There were several things I liked about this: 1) The tablet size was decent 4 2) It docked very nicely with a decent physical keyboard with touchpad (even if the touchpad was reported to be dodgy) 3) It has a decent amount of hard drive space and is expandable. True, after the windows install the 64 GB magically reduces to around 32 GB. However, it is a microSD slot which is golden 4) Good battery 5) Full Windows. This means that I can theoretically use this for work emergencies instead of lugging my 8 lb laptop around5 6) While I expected the apps for kids to be abysmal, it would still work well as a movie player for Calvin.

So, after obsessing over reviews, I decided to go ahead and buy it. I was really hoping to get it before Friday so I’d have another screen option for Calvin. However, that fast of guaranteed shipping is expensive so I started looking around for local options. Best Buy didn’t have anything. However, on a whim, I looked it up on Office Depot and had astonished to see they had one in stock in Boulder. What was even weirder is they had a $50 “instant savings” that cut the price enough so once I included sales tax, it basically matched the non-sales tax but slow-boat shipping amount I would have paid online. My one concern was the model number was slightly different, a C2 instead of a C1. After scouring the specs the only obvious difference I saw was that it had a slightly newer processor than the C1. Hoping for the best, I placed my order while Jaeger said derogatory things about buying a tablet with a processor from That Other Company.

I picked up the tablet on my lunch break on Monday and plugged it in and impatiently waited. The Amazon reviewers were all very definite that you really needed to follow the instructions for charging 8 hrs otherwise Really Bad Things Happen. About 4 hrs in I broke down and turned it on, though kept it plugged in. It’s slow to boot up from a cold start. It is a full Window 8 install after all. Also, I have very mixed feelings about Windows requiring a Live account to sign in these days. It’s very Apple-like but they’re not Apple6.

Once everything got booted and setup I started customizing my tiles. The interface was vaguely familiar from my phone, though with more features due to its desktop qualities. Not everything was intuitive for me but I figured it out. I do find the mix between the desktop and the start tiles to be abrupt and not entirely pleasant but that’s more an aesthetic thing than a functionality problem. Overall, it seemed fairly responsive and I didn’t have any of the problems that the Amazon reviews had warned about, especially with the touchpad. Perhaps I got the version with some of the major bugs worked out? So, I spent a fairly pleasant afternoon/evening customizing the tablet to get everything just so.

The one major feature I am adoring that I didn’t know about ahead of time is the parental controls. Windows 8 has fantastic parental controls, at least compared to Apple which may not be saying much. You can set time limits on how long child accounts can use the computer each day, white or black list websites as well as allow websites based on various ratings, and restrict specific games and apps your kids have access to. I tested it out, it is fantastic. It’s obvious that the Windows developers have kids (which I sincerely doubt about Apple developers). Another nice feature is if the kid tries to access an app that the parent hasn’t allowed, they can click to ask for permission and it’ll pop up a login screen for the parent. Very easy, I don’t have to switch accounts to add access because I forgot obvious apps. The same technique also works for websites. Since Calvin is so young I blocked everything except a white list of a couple of sites. Once back in my parent account, Windows will also provide a report of what website my child went to, how long they used various apps, etc. I find that a tad creepy but I’ll get over it. In any case, I can’t say enough good things about these settings. It’s made me seriously consider having him use this tablet more except for iPad specific apps he can’t get on here.

The biggest downside I’ve found so far is that there’s pretty much no good out-of-the-box options if I lose the tablet for finding it or wiping data. I was a little surprised by this because my Nokia phone has a pretty good setup for both finding it and wiping the data if I can’t retrieve it. However, I suppose that’s the difference between a cellular and non-cellular device. I’m particularly nervous because I haven’t setup Calvin’s account with a password. It’s a child account but I still assume getting in at all increases the options for compromising data. I’ll have to research this more. I’m sure there’s 3rd-party products I can get that will at least partially solve this problem.

Anyway, so at this point, I’m pretty happy with the tablet. Just to torment me, Jaeger now mockingly asks me what the TSA considers my new toy. Tablet or laptop? It makes a difference. *sigh*

  1. After all, everyone designs first for iOS, then Android, then if they’re really big and have money to throw away they might consider Windows, maybe.
  2. I get ideas in my head about how I want software to work and I will spend days bashing my head against the software trying to make my vision happen. I can’t tell you how much time I wasted one week trying to get document shortcuts to show up as icons for a one-click to open experience for Calvin. That is, instead of making Calvin go into iBooks, I wanted him to see and pick his books straight from where all the apps are. Apple just doesn’t flex that way.
  3. Jaeger got document shortcuts working in under 5 minutes on his vintage Android phone. He did this just to taunt me.
  4. I’m not a 7″ fan, I prefer bigger for reading magazines from the library
  5. It feels heavier than that but I just weighted it.
  6. While I’m complaining, their two-factor authentication isn’t nearly as smooth as Google’s. I turned it on but might need to turn it off because it’s not working particularly smoothly.

Hugo Voting, 2014

Well, I’ve gotten through as many of the Hugo nominees as I’m going to. I’ve decided to vote as follows:

Best Novel

  1. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  2. Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross
  3. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson1
  4. Parasite by Mira Grant
  5. No Award

Best Novella

  1. “The Chaplain’s Legacy” by Brad Torgersen 2
  2. Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente 3
  3. “Equoid” by Charles Stross
  4. “Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages4
  5. No Award

Best Novelette

  1. “The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard
  2. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal
  3. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling by Ted Chiang
  4. “The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen
  5. No Award

Best Short Story
Short stories aren’t my thing but I felt this was a particularly strong category.

  1. “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky
  2. “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu
  3. “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
  4. “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar

Best Graphic Story
I’m not positive I should be voting in this category as I’m not a huge graphic novel fan. I did read all of them but with the exception of Saga I haven’t read any others in the series. As a result I’m voting for 2 but not including No Award anywhere.

  1. Saga, Volume 2 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples
  2. “Time” by Randall Munroe

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)
Tricky category I enjoyed watching all the movies but I wouldn’t say all, or even most, I’d consider Hugo worthy. Maybe I’m a snob . . .

  1. Gravity
  2. Iron Man 3
  3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  4. Pacific Rim
  5. Frozen5

Best Professional Artist

  1. Julie Dillon
  2. Fiona Staples
  3. John Harris
  4. John Picacio
  5. Daniel Dos Santos
  6. Galen Dara

The John W. Campbell Award
I was only able to finish a book by one of these author’s so I’m voting for only one but not using No Award.

  1. Max Gladstone

  1. I’m moderately conflicted over this one as I did not read the entire series. I read several books many, many years ago and started listening to the audio of the first Brandon Sanderson one.
  2. Based on the other blogs I’ve read, I feel like I’m the only person who like this one 🙂
  3. Not my favorite but the most literary. Ending didn’t quite work . . .
  4. Good story but if we’re including magical realism there’s others I might have expected to see nominated before.
  5. Ok, it’s probably the best Disney kid’s film I’ve seen in a while. The setup with the two love interests was wonderful to see in a princess movie. But still . . .