Book Review: Hood (The King Raven Trilogy, Book 1) by Stephen R. Lawhead


I have been a fan of Stephen Lawheads books ever since reading The Dragon King Trilogy as a kid, and his novels keep getting better and better with time. When you read a Lawhead book you can expect an imaginative tale steeped deep in history, his personal study of the history surrounding the time in which he places the book. In the Pendragon Cycle, for example, Lawhead paints a very realistic portrait of King Arthur.

With that in mind, Hood does not disappoint. Hood is Lawhead’s reimaging of the story of Robin Hood. Based on his study of the history, he places Robin Hood in Wales, not Sherwood Forest. There is a section at the back of the book that explains this decision. This change really works, though, making it feel like you are reading about a person who really lived.

Lawhead’s Robin Hood is Bran, a reluctant prince who would rather be out the ladies than at the castle being a prince. When his father is killed and land taken by the Norman invaders, Bran’s natural reaction is to just run away to his relatives. This book tells the story of him figuring out what it is he is supposed to do. It’s a story with a deep faith, and very colorful characters.

The story drags a little bit in the center, but picks up in the end leaving you wanting to immediately rush out and buy the second book in the series, Scarlett.

I think this is going to be another great Lawhead series, and I highly recommend the book.

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Family data backup plan

I realized a couple of months ago just how much of my family’s life was now digital. Family pictures, family videos. They were all stored on our computer’s hard drives. If something happened to those and we ended up losing that data, my wife would absolutely kill me. So, inspired by Scott Hanselman, I started working on a family data backup plan.

There are four computers in our house: My wife’s laptop (Vista Home Premium), my desktop (Vista Ultimate), my MacBook (Leopard), and the HTPC (Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005).

One of the goals of the HTPC was to host zero day there. So there is no data on that machine that needs backing up.

So, the first step is to get all data needing backup to a single machine. My desktop seemed to be the best choice.

First I broke everything down into five backup sets: Pictures, Videos, Music, Jenny’s Documents, and Matt’s Documents. All machines will share the same folders for pictures, videos, and music since we share those. The next thing to to determine who will own the data. For Pictures, I have it set up where they can be created on any machine and then synced among all machines. For Videos, I don’t want to have all of the family movies on my MacBook, so I set it up to backup all videos to the desktop, but not to copy them all out to the other machines. If I want a set of videos somewhere else it’s easy enough to copy from the desktop. Music is the same as Videos. For documents, Jenny’s documents are copied from her laptop back to the desktop, but not the other way. My documents are copied from the MacBook back to the desktop.

I use to use Foldershare for syncing files across machines. However, the fact that it synchronizes deletes scared me. Accidentally delete a file on one machine and all of your copies are deleted. So, I gave up on Foldershare.

SyncBack was the application I ended up going with for the Windows machines, and it works great. For $30 you are licensed to run it on 5 machines. More than enough. It gives you the ability to sync some folders, and just backup others. SyncBack runs nightly on my wife’s laptop to copy her documents, pictures, and videos back to the desktop and to copy any new pictures from the desktop out to her laptop.

ChronoSync is for the Mac, and works pretty much the same way as SyncBack. Also $30. I’m not quite as happy with the interface as I was with SyncBack, but it does the trick. ChronoSync runs nightly on the MacBook to copy any new documents, pictures, videos, and music back to the desktop. New pictures on the desktop are also copied back to the MacBook.

A 300GB Western Digital MyBook is the next step. Every night SyncBack runs on the desktop to copy all five backup sets to the MyBook.

If this was all I did, a house fire could still wipe out all of our data. Mozy is the last step. For $50 a year you get unlimited off site storage. An application runs on the desktop to monitor the five backup sets and back them up to Mozy every night.

That’s it. That’s the family data backup plan that I have come up with. Finally I don’t feel nervous about losing any of our family pictures or videos.

How digital has your life become? Do you have a backup plan that would prevent losing all of that data?

So, I bought a Mac…

After years of considering it, I finally purchased a Mac last weekend. I got the 2.4 GHz white MacBook. I’m really enjoying it. Within minutes I was connected to my network at home browsing the internet and content from my Windows server.

I’ve always been a fan on Linux. OS X is essentially a Linux operating system on standardized hardware so you don’t have to spend hours and hours trying to get everything to work right. It just works.

Things I love about this Mac:

  • It boots up and connects to the wireless network and internet amazingly fast. Browsing the internet is extremely fast. Connecting to and grabbing files from my Windows server works like a charm.
  • Home video editing with iMovie. Compared to Windows Movie Maker, this seems like a professional video editing software. I stayed up wwwaayyy too late playing with this the other night. I hooked up my Sony Handycam to the firewire port and it immediately recognized it and with a couple clicks it was downloading the video.
  • iTunes works so much better on the Mac. I should have expected this, being Apple software.
  • I love the size. I was worried that a 13″ screen might seem too small, but it’s really not. And it’s so light to carry around. I have a 20″ widescreen Dell LCD at home so, as soon as I get a Mini-DVI to DVI converter I’ll be able to hook that up.

I’ve only had a couple of issues…

  • I can’t seem to get the Mac to see the printer shared from my Vista desktop. I’m sure this has something to do with a Firewall setting on the Vista machine, but I haven’t been able to figure it out yet. If anyone out there has any pointers, I’d love to hear them!
  • The Mail application seems to integrate great with GMail, but I can’t seem to get it to hook up to Hotmail despite reading several websites that tell you how to do it. Not a big deal, since Hotmail has such a great Web 2.0 interface, but it’d be nice to have it within Mail.

Other applications I have installed:

  • I installed Twitterrific for using Twitter from the Mac. Seems like a great tool so far. Before I had used Twitter from Google Talk (the best Windows solution I could find) and so far I’m happier with Twitterific.
  • For office I installed Neo Office. This is an OS X port of Open Office. I’ve edited several large Word documents from work using this and it works great.
  • Microsoft Messenger. Most people at work use Live Messenger. I was very surprised to see that Microsoft had a Mac version. Works great but seems to lack the video functionality.
  • Flip4Mac. Unfortunately, most of the home movies I have captured so far have been saved in WMV format. Flip4Mac is a tool that allows QuickTime to play WMV files. It’s supposed to let you import those into iMovie as well, but I haven’t been able to figure that out yet.
  • Firefox. Safari was nice, and I used it for a few days. But Firefox is awesome and works as well on the Mac as it did on Windows.

There are still a ton of things I want to try out on here that I haven’t been able to yet.

  • All of the other iLife applications: iPhoto, iDVD, and iWeb. I’m especially excited about iDVD because I’ve had all of these home movies for years that I’ve wanted to burn to DVD but never found a method of doing so that I really liked and turned out like I wanted.
  • Garage Band. This one is really exciting. I just need to get some quarter inch to eighth inch converters and I’ll be able to plug my guitar into it. I’ve heard good things about Garage Band and I’m anxious to to give it a shot.
  • Windows. I still have several Windows apps I will not be able to get away from — Microsoft Money and Visual Studio 2008 being the biggest ones. I’m researching BootCamp, Parallells, and VMWare Fusion. BootCamp is the only free one, but I really don’t want to partition part of my hard drive for Windows. I guess I should have opted for a larger hard drive. I think I’ll try the trial versions of Parallels and VMWare Fusion and see how they work.
  • Xcode. I’m really anxious to see what the development environment is like on OS X. It looks like I should be able to try out Xcode for free. Objective C looks like a whole different kind of animal than what I’m use to, but I’m going to give it a shot.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the MacBook so far. I still have a lot to figure out, though. I’ll keep ya posted…

How I doubled the number of books I read…

I love reading books. But, with a family and a job and responsibilities at the church, I found myself having less and less time to read every day. And my backlog of “To Read” books just keeps growing larger and larger. So, I found a solution.. audio books.

A couple of years ago I got into the habit of listening to podcasts on my drive to and from work. I have since discovered that podcasts are only an entry drug 🙂 One of my favorite podcats, This Week in Tech, started advertising Audible.com. I figured I would give it a try. And I loved it! I spend an hour in the car each day, going to and from work, so that’s an additional 5 hours of reading every week.

The only problem was that books on Audible are inexpensive for audio books, but they still end up costing more than I like to pay. That’s when I realized that my local library has audio books on CD. And their selection is huge. So, all I do is go to Amazon to research the books I’d like to read and check out the reviews, then I go to TulsaLibrary.org to reserve the books. The library emails me when they come in and I drop by the desk and pick them up. Most audio books that I have tried so far are between 7 and 10 hours, so I have been able to listen to them in the first 2 weeks that the library lets me keep them.

As easy as that, and I’m “reading” 26 more books every year and chipping away at my huge “To Read” list.

HTPC

I spent the weekend setting up our HTPC. For those unfamiliar, Home Theater PCs are computers that live attached to your entertainment center in your living room, as opposed to on the desk in the office.

Here were my requirements for this project:

  1. Use existing resources with minimal purchases.
  2. Be able to enjoy at our pictures, home videos, and music content, currently living on my office PC upstairs, from the living room.
  3. Host no content on the HTPC itself. It will be a consumer of content hosted elsewhere.

I used the following:

  1. Dell Inspiron 8500 (it was sitting on a shelf rarely used)
  2. Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 (this came with my office desktop but was unused since that machine was upgraded to Vista Ultimate)
  3. Dell Remote Control (came with the office desktop but rarely used)
  4. Logitech Cordless Desktop EX110 (had to buy this)

Once I had the pieces ready, here were the steps I went through to set it up:

  1. Install Windows XP Media Center 2005 on the laptop
  2. In the power settings, set it to not go on standby when the lid is closed.
  3. Hook up the TV, remote, mouse, and keyboard to the laptop.
  4. Set up shares on my office desktop for Pictures, Videos, and Music
  5. In Windows Media Center, set the folders for pictures, videos and music to the share on my desktop.
  6. Enjoy all the media from the comfort of the recliner!

There are a couple of things I’m not altogether happy with, but I’m working on them:

  1. My office desktop has to be turned on to enjoy the media downstairs. This is because the content is hosted on it. This problem will be solved by the purchase of a 500GB or 1TB NAS that I plan to make later this year.
  2. The wireless mouse and keyboard have terrible range and work pretty poorly from the recliner. Not a big deal, since I can do most things with the remote. But still annoying. I’m trying to find a better mouse and keyboard, but so far all of the ones that advertise as long range have terrible reviews.
  3. Windows Media Center does not like the video card that came in the laptop. So, it throws up an incompatibility error message when you try to watch videos from the WMC interface. This is especially annoying because Windows Media Player will play the videos just fine. It’s a headache having to go out the WMP to watch the content, but not a big enough one to justify buying a computer with a more compatible video card.
  4. I’m beginning to regret all of the content I have bought over iTunes. Sure, I can play iTunes on the HTPC, but the interface isn’t nearly as simple to use with the remote was WMC.

All in all I think it was a pretty successful project. I’m still looking for a better mouse and keyboard, so if you know of one please let me know.

(More pictures are here.