Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Over and Over and Over

I am an app-a-holic.

In particular, I have this compulsive need to download every photo editing app available in the Play Store. We'll have to burrow into my brain and dig around under that rock some other time. Point is, I like me some photo apps.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of them suck. Bad.

So when I read about a "hot new" app called Over being ported to Android from iOS I was skeptical. All it does is overlay text and clipart images onto your photos. Woop-dee-shit.

Sometimes, though, how you do something is more impressive than what.

Radial menu in over slides out.
You can certainly do what Over does with just about any other image editing app on Android. There's no scribble mode, or fancy hipster filters, or even basic photo editing. You can crop for Instagram. You can add text and clip art to your image. That's about it. Over just does it with style and the results look fantastic.

The interface is slick. When you open an image in Over it offers only two choices: Add Text and Add Artwork. After you select one of those two options and do your thing, there's a radial menu that slides out from the right when needed. It has eight simple options: Photos, New, Share,More, Save, Font, Edit, and Add.

That's it.

The interface is what makes Over better than using a full featured image editor. Type text then drag it where you want. Pinch to make it bigger or smaller. Pop out the Edit button if you need to fine tune it or adjust the font or art. Done.

It's one of those 'I guess you had to be there' apps. You need to experience Over to get it.

A few things in Over aren't quite there yet. The help system is practically non-existent. There's a few web based help articles available for the iOS version baked into the More menu option. A simple help overlay explaining the gesture controls would be a welcome edition, ala Snapseed.

Font selection slides out from left.
The artwork and text fonts available are beautifully done and unique. The exclusivity of some of these is a big draw of the program and they are reasonably priced from $0.99 for one set of art or fonts to $9.99 for full packages.

A wider selection, though, would be nice, particularly different themed packages. This where Over has the potential to shine. By offering exclusive and professionally done art and font packages, the app distinguishes itself from the do everything style apps.

This is not one of those stores where you'll drop $3.99 and get a dogpile of art and fonts, most of them complete shite that you'll never use. It is, and should be, a thoughtful process where you only purchase what you need, or more importantly, what represents your particularly style. As long as the quality is there, Over will do very well with this model.

The controls are all visual. That's fine and Over certainly does a great job of making sure elements move smoothly around the screen. However, I'd like an indication of what degree a particular effect or adjustment was applied. Tell me how much opacity I applied to that element so that I can do exactly the same to this element.

Simple element editing and fine tuning.
For example, in the sample image, when set the opacity for the word "Gonna", I can't tell if the words "You Up" are set exactly the same opacity. There's no percentage or numeric value displayed. I have to rely on my shitty eyesight and judgement.

A way to group elements and set color, opacity, size, rotation, and such at the same time for all would be nice. A "snap to element and/or grid" option would be handy, as well. As is, you have to do each individually and eyeball it.

In these sample images, I enhanced and filtered the original picture in Snapseed. I then used Over to do the text. You can see that, even with my crappy hand eye coordination, I was able to get a pretty decent amount of accuracy for the text placement.

The whole process took a few seconds. Very sweet.

Over only does one thing.

It just does it beautifully.

I'd love one photo app that does everything perfectly. Until then, separate apps that do one thing perfectly will do. For text and clipart, Over is the one.

Before Over. Image filtered and enhanced in Snapseed. Cat is Shadix.*

After Over. Text overlayed and styled in seconds. 


*Shadix just got his 5 pound ass handed to him by a 20 pound Ragnar the Magnificent. Lesson: Don't pounce on Viking cat's tail when he's asleep, else much pillaging of tiny kitty shall ensue.

Your misguided thoughts, irreverent feedback, asinine commentary, and general inappropriate behavior are always welcome. Please comment below

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Grown Up Fantasy - Kushiel's Legacy

One of the things I've always wanted to do was promote awesome authors who write great fantasy novels. I just never had the time. We never have the time for things we don't make time for. Know what I mean?

 So I'm making time.

There's some amazing authors out there doing some kickass stuff with the fantasy genre these days that go way beyond elves and hobbits and such. Not that there's anything wrong with hobbits, of course, but I like the stories that focus on humans. I got hooked on this type of book with Greg Keys' Kingdom of Thorn and Bone. (I'll review that bit of epicness sometimes, as well.) I enjoy those special fantasy novels that use the genre to explore the depths of humanity and the human condition in unusual ways.

The Kusiel's Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey certainly qualifies. It's the story of a young  prostitute and is set in an alternate history Earth where the religion and theology of Europe and the Middle East took a radical turn. This is grown up fiction. The main character, Phedre, is basically the ultimate masochist. She is gifted by an angel (Kushiel) to experience sexual pleasure in pain.

The back story is what caught me first. I won't spoil it here, but Carey has rewritten most of the religious history of our world and woven it brilliantly into a vibrant fantasy nation. Against this fascinating backdrop, the story unfolds from the first person perspective of Phedre and the intrigues of the nation of Terre d'Angle (loosely based and located as France) and the surrounding countries and peoples. This alternate theology and history continues to develop and get deeper as Phedre and her companions travel around the world and experience the cultures that seem familiar at first but are markedly different from what we know.

The whole thing is put together brilliantly. The story could take place entirely in the main city of Elua and I would have been happy. The fantasy civilization of Terre d'Angle is fascinating enough by itself.  Carey, however, takes the story and explodes it onto an international scene that is detailed and beautifully rendered. I love how many of the ancient cultures survived and how the author has developed them as they might have been.

The first book, Kushiel's Dart, goes from a interesting story about a child growing up learning the arts of pleasure and spycraft into an epic battle for the fate of an entire kingdom. The amount of backstory and research alone is worth reading, but combined with Carey's ability to put together compelling characters with intricate plots and resolve them in grand style makes the whole series worth reading.

When I first started reading it I thought for certain that I would get completely confused with all the gods and angels and factions and alternate nations and such. Much to my delight, that didn't happen at all. Carry does an elegant job of keeping everything straight so that the reader can just relax and enjoy the story.

Granted, to get maximum enjoyment from a lot of the alternate historical details in this book, you'll need a good foundation in European and Middle Eastern history. Discovering the twists and differences is part of the fun. Even without it, though, the story is compelling enough to enjoy as straight fantasy. Getting how Carey has modified things just adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the "what if?" factor presented in the series.

Again, this is grown up fantasy. The sex scenes aren't terribly explicit (maybe a little) and are far from pornographic. The acts presented, though, are considerably brutal, particularly in the third book. It's actually quite nice to see a subject like S&M have such a well done entry into the fantasy genre. No, this isn't Beauty's Release. Even if you don't swing that way, it's such an integral part of the story that it fits the world Carey has created perfectly. And everything, including the sex, fits together nicely by the end of the third book when we discover . . . Ah, but that would be telling.

If you enjoy fantasy fiction, or any type of fiction filled with epic intrigue and adventure, you can't go wrong with Kushiel's Legacy. Grab the first book (on sale as I write this) and give it a try. My fiance had to talk me into it, but I'm glad she did. Hands down, the best fantasy I've read this year.

I've linked the series in my Strange Recommends in the sidebar. Or you can order it directly from the new Strange Moves Store. Start with Book 1, Kushiel's Dart, and enjoy the fascinating, sexy, epic ride!


Monday, August 11, 2014

The Art of Vaping Right!

I started this blog as a general thoughts from the writer/author type of thingie, but thus far it's pretty much been about technology. Which makes sense, because I really dig me some technology. I like writing about technology. It's cool. My other interests should worm their way in here, as well, though.

In particular, I suspect that anytime I actually publish a book, I should probably, maybe give it a mention or two or ten here.

Well, here ya go!

The first book in the Vape Right series about using e-cigarettes is now available! It's called Virgin Vaping: Get Started with Electronic Cigarettes, E-Cigarettes, and Personal Vaporizers. That long ass subtitle is all about tagging and search engine optimization. Sucks, but necessary these days.

As I write this the Kindle e-book version is available on Amazon. The print version should be available in a few hours should you prefer to go old school.

See the picture of that gorgeous book cover by pro_ebookcovers on the right at the top of the sidebar? Click that and buy it!

Go on. You know you want to. All the cool kids are doing it!

It's a concise and easy read at 76 pages, so it won't break the reading budget. It's on sale now for a mere 99 cents for the next two weeks! Regular price will be $2.99 for Virgin Vaping and $3.99 for the other two (forthcoming) books in the series. I've also included it in Kindle Unlimited for those of you that like to gorge on books.

Paper is a bit more spendy, but being a techno-geek and all around somewhat acceptable guy I have a couple of deals for you. If you buy the print version at $5.99, Amazon and I will throw in the Kindle edition for free! That way, if you ever decide to join the rest of us in the 21st century, you'll be all set! Woot!

Of course, I'm not going to drag you kicking and screaming into the future. The impending spontaneous creation of the AI singularity that will enslave all mankind will take care of that nicely. So, if you prefer, you can order the book direct from me through Createspace on my estore page.  Order it from there and then enter the secret code "DSWTE8RT" without the quotes for 15% off the $5.99 list price. I'll keep that code active for the next two weeks (until August 25th), as well.

Why should you buy it?

Excellent question!

Here's an excerpt from the Note From the Author section of Virgin Vaping:

Before I started vaping I was a smoker for over 20 years. I enjoyed it. As I said, I liked smoking. What I didn't like was getting sick. I got sick a lot. Sinus infections, colds, flu, pretty much any nasty bug that floated through the office or came home with the kids, I got it.

I started getting weak, too, and experiencing a lot of pain. I didn't eat right, I guzzled at least a two liter of soda a day, and felt miserable most of the time. Just to get through the day I was taking enough ibuprofen that liver damage was becoming a concern! 

I ended up in the doctor’s office one day and they immediately sent me to the hospital for a massive throat and chest infection. When I recovered, I resolved to fix myself. 

One of my co-workers (shout out to Danny!) was messing with a thing called an e-cigarette. Being a techno-geek I was intrigued. It was pretty cool. A little complicated with the atomizers and cartridges and bottles of liquid and such, but that just made it cooler. I put off getting one myself though because a) it had a steep upfront cost, and b) I liked smoking. 

Then one weekend afternoon in January as I huddled in the garage freezing my ass off and smoking a cigarette (no smoking in the house!), I started thinking about how ridiculous this whole smoking thing was. It was killing me. How was I going to quit, though? 

That same afternoon one of my little girls asked me, “When are you going to quit smoking so you don’t die, Daddy? You know, New Years is a good time for a revolution.” 


A week later I ordered my first e-cigarette kit. I paid way too much and it took awhile to get the hang of it. I took the little mini PV with me to work tucked into my pack of cigarettes and “smoked” on it all day. 

I was fine. 

That evening as I left work a coworker asked me for a smoke on the way out the door. I handed over my last pack of smokes and told him to keep them. And that was that. 

Now I eat better. I exercise regularly. I don't guzzle soda anymore. I fixed a lot of things. The single biggest improvement, though, was switching to vaping. I don't get sick. I breath easier. More than anything else I changed, vaping made me better.

You can sample more with the "Peek Inside" feature on Amazon.

If you smoke then switching to electronic cigarettes is going to be better for you. Virgin Vaping is my attempt to bring more lost smoking souls into the fold. Oooh, "Lost Smoking Souls" is a great title for a novel. Excellent...

But I don't smoke, you say? Well... This book would also be good for anyone that just wants to know what e-cigarettes are all about. It's an introductory text that would be most useful for someone switching, but it's short and sweet, so it would do as an introduction to the activity for the non-smoker/non-vaper, as well.

The next book in the series is due shortly. It's called The Vape Right Vaping Guide and it goes into more detail about various options and tweaks for e-cigarette users to maximize their vaping pleasure. Perfect for the intermediate vaper that wants to up their vaping game. Following that will be a third book in the series called Vaping and You that will cover a lot of the health, political, and social aspects of electronic cigarette use and vaping culture. That one is going to be a blast.

I'll take a moment here to thank my beautiful woman for her support and understanding in this endeavor. I might, possibly not be the easiest writer to live with when I'm ass deep in the Chromebook. Love you, babe!

I do, of course, humbly thank you, dear reader, for your support, as well. I hope you'll give Virgin Vaping and the whole Vape Right series a try and enjoy! As always, comments and feedback are welcome.


Your misguided thoughts, irreverent feedback, asinine commentary, and general inappropriate behavior are always welcome. Please comment below.