Monthly Archives: October, 2006

Review: Valley of the Soul

Valley of the Soul
Valley of the Soul

Valley of the Soul
My rating: 5 out of 5.

My first introduction to the world of Faldorrah came about 2 years ago. AWelkin knew the author and had an early copy of the first book, Ghosts in the Snow. My wife and I were over at AWelkin’s house for a visit, planning to watch some anime. However my wife picked up Ghosts in the Snow and was lost to us for the evening, as she wouldn’t put down the book for anything. I got my chance to read the book later that weekend and was hooked myself. That first book in this series combined elements I really enjoyed from a variety of genres into one book and it was fantastic. Then last year, Threads of Malice, the sequel was released. It was a good read, I found the second book to be too dark disturbing for my tastes. At the end of this month, the third book will finally be released. But having “connections” helps, as AWelkin was kind enough to provide me with an advanced reader’s copy. Fortunately, I’ll have to give it back and go out to buy my own copy.

Yes, you heard me right. I am quite happy to return this free copy so I can go out to buy my own copy. No, I’ve not lost my mind or been replaced by one of the pod people. While I tend to keep a grip on my spending money; this book is definitely worth buying to support the author. This third book in the series is probably Ms. Jones best work yet.

This time around Dubric is out of the castle investigating some gruesome1 animal killings. All of the characters who survived the Threads of Malice are still around but have definitely been psychologically scarred by their experiences. It’s really good nice…. Hmm, it’s horrible the sorts of things these characters have been put through but it’s great that Ms. Jones continues to build on her previous work, rather than just ignoring how her characters would react after living through something like that.

While Dubric is out in the field, he almost gets his first ghost of this book. I say almost because it’s just the head, the rest of the ghost’s body is missing. This is something new and disturbing for Dubric. The reason behind the ghosts showing up in parts2 was a surprise but one that fits nicely into the world Ms. Jones has created. In a sense there are multiple villains in this book and Ms. Jones kept me guessing throughout the book. Basically, if you like Ms. Jones’s other works (particularly her first book) then I’d highly recommend you pick this one up as well.

1 Not nearly so gruesome as the 2nd book in this series, but still rather unpleasant.
2 If you think revealing that there will be multiple ghosts in this book is some kind of spoiler, than you must be completely unfamiliar with Ms. Jones’s work.

Windows Tips

This post was inspired by a recent article over at LifeHacker. But before I get into the tips, I’m going to bore you with a slight digression.

LifeHacker is one of the very few blogs that I actually check daily for new content. And I’m not talking about using an agregator, I will actually pop up a webbrowser to hit them up. I read their site so often it wasn’t until today that I realized my portal page didn’t1 link to them. As a general rule, the articles there are interesting and/or useful. I don’t have a Mac, so some articles don’t always help me, but overall they have a really good mix. I suppose given how much use I’ve gotten out of their site, I should be a bit nicer about this…. But the tip posted today was so shockingly lame that I feel the need to compile my own list of tips for windows users. Sorry, justrick but this one shouldn’t have made it past the editor’s desk!

Right that’s more than enough complaints, here’s my favorite Windows tips (in no particular order)

  • Reformat your drives and load your favorite linux distro (I suggest either Kubuntu or OpenSuSE).2
  • Use the Windows Key shortcuts:
    • Win + E: Launches Windows Explorer
    • Win + D: Pressed once, shows your desktop. Pressed twice, restores your windows to their prior positions. The same effect can be achieved with Win+M and Win+SHIFT-M, but Win+D takes less effort.
    • Win + R: Launches the Windows Run Box. True, this isn’t as powerful as the Linux cli but you can do some good tricks with it (I’ll cover some of those later).
    • Win + L: Locks your computer, good for corporate environments.
    • Win + BREAK: Launches the System Properties window.
    • Win + F: Launches the Windows Explorer Searach function, useful in locating files3. Of course, if what you’re really looking for are other computers on the network then you could use Crtl+Win+F.
  • If you use the Windows Command Prompt frequently, then setting up some aliases for your most commonly used commands is helpful. the one I like to do on evey Windows machine I use is to create C:\Windows\X.BAT. This batch file contains only one command and that’s EXIT. Since the batch file is in the Windows directory, it’s in the system path on a default configuration. When I’m ready to close any command prompt, I just hit “x” (minus the quotes) and I’m out.
  • If you don’t have a fancy keyboard with extra keys for macros or launching other programs, you might want to use things like:
    1. Press Win+R
    2. Type in “notepad” (minus the quotes)
    3. Press enter or click ok. This will launch the Windows Notepad accessory, great for editing small text files or making quick notes to yourself. the other app I frequentally launch this way is the Windows Calculator (use “calc” instead of “notepad”).
  • If your Quick Launch bar is overflowing but you still need quick access to more programs and you don’t have a fancy macroing keyboard, then you can setup shortcut keys for your programs by right-clicking on their icon/shortcut, selecting Properties, clicking in the Shortcut Key field and pressing the key combo you want to launch the program. For example…
    1. Go into Start -> Accessories.
    2. Right-click on Paint and select Properties.
    3. Click in the Shortcut Key field and press Crtl+Alt+P
    4. Now whenever you press Crtl+Alt+P Microsoft Paint will launch. Keep in mind that this can cause problems with other programs if you try overwriting a keyboard shortcut that the other program already uses (e.g. Ctrl+C).

Those are all of the Windows tips that immediately come to mind. If any of my readers have additional ones they like, please post them in the comments.

1 As soon as I realized this, I added the link.
2 If this tip offends, I’d apologize but you should know by now from reading this blog, that I vastly prefer Linux.
3 Though installing Google Desktop and using hitting Crtl twice is easier overall and GD does a better job searching.

How To Buy Your First Home

In my younger days due to various employment situations, I ended up moving about once every five years. Fortunately, ever since I went to college I’ve pretty much put a stop to that by living in the same town for twelve years. As mentioned previously, my wife & I have bought our first house and have since moved in. While doing the actual move didn’t frighten me in the least, the buying part of this was a new and rather terrifying exhilarating emotionally draining experience. And as I hate to be flying blind in any situation, I did what I could to prepare myself. Mostly, this consisted of hitting up the public library for every book written in the last 5-7 years talking about home buying, mortgages, house inspections and anything else I could think of to look at. Those books included: The Virgin Homeowner: The Essential Guide to Owning, Maintaining, and Surviving Your HomeMortgages For Dummies, 2nd Edition, Kiplinger’s Homeology: How to Be Sure the House You Buy Is the Home You Really Want, and House Inspection: A Homebuyer’s Homeowner’s Guide: With a Special Section on Older or Historic Homes.

I’ll talk more about those books later, but I’d like to distill the knowledge I got from reading them into a few handy bullet points for future first time buyers to think about:

  • Start planing and SAVING as soon as possible! Personally, I’d recommend start planning out your purchase 5 – 10 years before you ever look at a house. Every “expert” in home buying recommends having a minimum down payment of 20% of the purchase price of the house you want to buy. Having that much saved up gives you several advantages:
    • Banks/Lenders will be more likely to take you more seriously when you can demonstrate both financial stability and prudence.
    • They will also be more likely to offer you a better loan when you have that much money up front.
    • The downside to having the 20% is it could disqualify you from some of the first-time buyer programs out there. Then again while I am a first time buyer and I do qualify for some of those programs; it made more sense for me to NOT use them1.
  • If your credit history is either short or bad, work to improve it. This means borrowing money for things like a car or using credit cards and being extremely careful to pay back what you owe in a timely manner (e.g. no late payments). The better your credit history, the more likely a bank/lender will want to work with you and possibly offer you a better interest rate.
  • If you are young and undecided on what you want to do for a living/career; consider real estate sales and/or being a lawyer specializing in real estate/property law. When you start going to the banks and realtors, they are going to dump tons of paperwork loaded with legalize on you. If you have the skills to understand what they are talking about; you’ll stand a much better chance of getting the house you want at a price (and a mortgage payment) you can live with.
  • Figure out exactly why you’re buying a house:
    • Are you simply sick of renting?
    • Do you want to have the additionally privacy of not directly sharing a wall with your neighbor(s)?
    • Are you looking for a long term, non-liquid investment?
  • Figure out how long you want to stay in the house:
    • 5 years?
    • 10?
    • 20?
    • More?
  • Figure out what kind of house you want:
    • A 3 story brick mansion with a dozen acres of manicured gardens?
    • A 2 bedroom, 1 bath condo?
    • A turn of the century bungalow built and decorated in the Arts & Crafts style.2
    • A 1950’s ranch in need of major renovation?
    • An environment friendly underground bomb shelter?
  • Figure out how much you can afford to spend:
    • Based on your savings, credit history and monthly income determine how much money you can afford to spend on a house. Note that the amount a bank will preapprove a mortgage for you is the maximum amount they feel comfortable lending to you and is not, I repeat NOT a figure you want to be paying off for the next 30 years.
    • When trying to determine this amount, you should be thinking about more than just the mortgage. You should also include your utility bills (e..g electric, natural gas, water, etc..) and insurance costs.
  • Start looking around the area you’d like to buy a house in, keep an eye on any “For Sale” signs and watch for open houses. You want to get an idea of how much the houses in the neighborhood are going for, so you can have some idea of what you might have to spend.
  • Likewise attend any open houses in the right area and get a good look at the houses.

Once you find a house that you are interested in, take another walk through it (either at an open house or arrange a time with the realtor. When you go through the house, you should poke in every closet. Also you should try every door, toilet, faucet, lightswitch and any appliances that are included with the house. Look for anything that doesn’t work or that perhaps works but not easily. These are things you can either ask the homeowner to fix in your bid on the house. Or you can ask them to knock some money off the price of the house so you can fix it yourself.

There’s undoubtably tons more advice I could put into this post, but it’s been sitting in my publishing queue for far too long already. If any of my readers have additional questions, then can either post them here and I’ll try answering them. Or then can read one of the books I linked to above.

1 Due to the interest rates being offered by the banks being better than that offered by the program.
2 Yes, yes, yes, yes please! 🙂

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