Why I read Baen Books

Inspired by Brad Torgersen’s “Why publish with Baen?” and Larry Correia’s “Why I publish with Baen, too”, here’s a side of the story from one of their readers.

I first encountered Baen Books in junior high school (late 80s), and started paying attention to the publisher “because the stuff they’re putting out is REALLY good”.

In 2001, I was bored, and encountered the Baen Free Library, and specifically, John Ringo’s novel “A Hymn Before Battle“. I gave it a shot, reading on my PC during lunch hour – and went to Book People (in Austin) that evening to buy the paperback.

I proceeded to start devouring everything I could by Ringo (one of the few authors who I would buy their works in hardcover, because I didn’t want to wait for the paperback), and by exposure through the Free Library, read other Baen authors. In most cases, I read one of their works through the BFL, then went out and bought the rest of the series in hard copy.

I started buying other Baen hardcover titles solely for the CDs inside the back cover, full of ebook versions of various Baen titles that weren’t up at the Free Library yet. You can still download most of those at The Fifth Imperium – thanks to Toni and company for allowing those files to stay online!

The majority of my book purchases are now electronic, and Baen is a publisher that I can trust with $15 for an e-ARC of the latest title from a favorite author, knowing that it’s NOT going to suck – and that it’s DRM-free so I can convert and read it on any device I want. While there’s been one or two titles over the years that have been sub-par, mostly where a new fledgling author has taken over an established series from a major author’s outline, those have openly been acknowledged by the main author and promised better results in the future. I’ve never been outright unhappy with any title I’ve bought from Baen.

My wife unfortunately passed away in 2009. The first time I laughed and smiled after that was while reading a passage in one of Ringo’s “Legacy of the Aldenata” novels. I wrote up a quick blurb, explained why, and sent my thanks to Mr. Ringo. I never expected to hear back from him, but I did! It wasn’t much, but it was one of those little things that inspire loyalty in fans. Five years later, my last name was even used for a very minor character in one of his latest books! As I said, tiny little things, make a huge difference.

Through John Ringo I discovered Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International and sequels. Bought the ebook, ordered a signed paperback and a few MHI patches, and was overjoyed to have direct communication with Larry a few times. Got at least three friends hooked on the series as well.

What struck me most was that I’ve *never* gotten a “I’m the big author, you’re just a reader” vibe from any of the Baen authors (or Toni, the publisher, who has directly commented on a couple of my Facebook posts talking about Baen) in communications. Larry comes across as an aw-shucks guy who likes his guns and just happened to get lucky with a story he wrote. MANY books later – he still has that same attitude, as do most of the Baen authors I’ve encountered.

Through Larry I’ve now discovered Brad Torgersen, and have become a fan of his work as well and look forward to his book coming out on Baen later this year.

As a kid in junior high (I’m 39 now) I never thought that I could have near-instantaneous communication with the authors and publisher of most of my favorite books. This post explains but a tiny few of the reasons why I’ve been a Baen fan for more than twenty-five years, and why I don’t plan on that stopping anytime soon.

Go buy yourself a HexBright. Right now.

Are you a geek, a nerd, a gadget hound? Do you like hackable things? Do you like useful things? If so, then go to HexBright right now and click on “FLEX” to buy one of the coolest flashlights I’ve ever held in my hand.

I backed the HexBright project on Kickstarter in July of 2011 – in fact, it was the very first Kickstarter project I ever contributed to. In short, to make up for the delay in getting product out, the project leader upgraded buyers of the PRIME basic light to the FLEX at no charge. My FLEX arrived today, and not only is it more than worth the wait, I’m kicking myself for not buying a couple more (even if they were just the PRIME model).

IMG_20130225_190850

In short, the HexBright is a CREE-based flashlight – with an Arduino for brains. To charge, I plug it into a MicroUSB cable – and that same cable can be used to reprogram the light. By default, it has “low, medium, high” and “blinky” modes. I can reprogram it so that one of those is a strobe, a low-to-high “heartbeat” pulse, something in Morse Code, etc. There are already code samples up on GitHub.

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Friends ask me for tech advice a lot of the time, and I don’t often give glowing, giddy reviews to a lot of products – but this is one of them.

Disappointed with Altec Lansing customer service

Over the past couple of years, I’ve bought a number of Altec Lansing computer audio products. First, a couple of IML237 “Orbit” speakers for my Mac systems. I was and am very satisfied with that product – a single speaker that gets both its power and data connection via USB (it’s a standalone audio device). Based on that experience, less than a year ago I purchased a couple of IML227 Orbit speakers through sellers on Amazon. The 227 is similar to the 237, except that it’s cheaper and has a plastic case instead of metal.

As far as sound quality, both models are functionally equivalent. However, the IML227s that I received have a flaw – when they’re connected to a power source (such as a powered USB hub or a system’s USB port when the system is in sleep or standby mode) but not initialized on the USB bus, they emit a loud random squealing noise. It didn’t take long for me to get annoyed with this problem, disconnect the IML227s, and switch to other speakers.

Eventually I came across this page on Altec Lansing’s support site, which states:

“Some of the initial production units exhibited this symptom. It has since been corrected. Please contact the Altec Lansing Customer Service Team by email at csupport@alteclansing.com or by phone at 1-800-ALTEC88 (1-800-258-3288) in order to resolve this situation.”

About a week ago, I sent Altec Lansing’s customer support department a quick and short email:

“I have two iML227 Orbit USB speakers that “squeal” when they’ve got power but are not receiving signal/output. I got fed up with the problem and put something else in their place, but recently found this: (URL). Am I still eligible for any sort of fix or replacement for these early production units?”

A week later, today, I received this response.

Not only did they not answer my (relatively simple) question, they told me that I have no warranty or service through them and that basically, I’m stuck with the defective speakers. Even a response that indicated they had actually read my inquiry would have been better than this generic blow-off form letter.

I’m very disappointed with Altec Lansing’s customer service at this point, and am not likely to purchase products from them again.

My Anti-Virus/Spyware/Malware Software Recommendations for Windows PCs


The latest version of this list will always be available here:
My Anti-Virus/Spyware/Malware Software Recommendations for Windows PCs


I get asked for recommendations a lot, especially when people get new computers for the holidays, so here’s a writeup.

First, if you’re running anything older than Windows XP, upgrade. This doesn’t mean throwing away your computer – it might just mean a RAM (memory) upgrade and an OS reinstall. I’ve seen too many perfectly working computers tossed out when all that was needed was $50-100 worth of RAM, a fresh reinstall, and a “tune-up” by someone who knew what they were doing.

If you don’t want to have to bother with any of this – ask a friendly neighborhood geek if a version (“distribution”) of Linux would fit your computing needs!

Second, you can never have too much RAM (not hard drive space; that’s different). Running Windows XP, you want a gigabyte of RAM at the very minimum, and if your motherboard / system model will take it, you want 3-4G of memory. Windows Vista and Windows 7 really want at least 2G to be “usable”. Think of RAM as “working space”, or the size of your desk, and your hard drive as your filing cabinet – your filing cabinet can store a lot more than will fit on your desk, and you swap stuff in and out of it as needed.

If you’ve got a 32-bit processor or are running a 32-bit operating system on a 64-bit processor, don’t bother putting more than 4G of RAM in the system. Due to address space overhead and limitations, you will only be able to “see” and use around 3-3.5G of that 4G total. If you’ve got a 64-bit processor and a 64-bit installation of Windows Vista or Windows 7, you will most likely be able to use as much RAM as you can afford and that will fit into your motherboard. Memory is insanely cheap over the past six months; I recently bought 16G (in four 4G sticks) of DDR3-spec memory for less than $80.

Now, on to the software.

A lot of people use anti-virus / anti-spyware / anti-malware products from companies such as Symantec, Norton, or McAfee. These companies may have had great products ten or fifteen years ago, but nowdays they’re bloated size-wise, slow your system down, adversely affect performance, and in a lot of cases don’t stay as up to date regarding system threats as they should. If you’re running one of these products, no matter if you got it free or have already paid for an update subscription, it is my professional recommendation that you dump it.

My personal choices for the best system protection packages:

FREE: (in order of preference)

Microsoft Security Essentials
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/products/security-essentials

AVG Free
http://free.avg.com/us-en/homepage

Avast!
http://www.avast.com/en-us/index

Avira Free
http://www.avira.com/en/avira-free-antivirus

COMMERCIAL / PAY: (in order of preference)

eSET NOD32
http://www.eset.com/us/home/products/antivirus/

Webroot Spysweeper + AV
http://www.webroot.com/En_US/consumer-products-spysweeper.html

In addition to the primary AV/spyware/malware package on your system, there are a few other free utilities that I highly recommend be used to run scans and cleans once a week if the system is used heavily, once a month otherwise.

MalwareBytes Anti-Malware
http://www.malwarebytes.org/

SuperAntiSpyware
http://www.superantispyware.com/

CCLeaner (aka “Crap Cleaner”)
http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner

I don’t use it anymore, but there’s also Spybot Search & Destroy:
http://www.safer-networking.org/

The built-in Windows defrag program is a piece of junk and should not be depended on. For free defrag utilities I like these:

Auslogics Disk Defrag
http://www.auslogics.com/en/software/disk-defrag/

Defraggler
http://www.piriform.com/defraggler

IOBit Smart Defrag
http://www.iobit.com/iobitsmartdefrag.html

UltraDefrag
http://ultradefrag.sourceforge.net/en/index.html

One more important note:

STOP USING INTERNET EXPLORER.

Instead, use one of these:

Google Chrome
https://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/browser/

Mozilla Firefox
http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/

These are just my personal preferences and what I tell people to use; I welcome alternative suggestions and comments from other tech types as to what they use and why.

My personal systems are all Macs running OS X or are various Linux desktop distributions. The only Windows machines I own are either virtual machines for development or a couple of systems dedicated to playing video games.

Just a standard warning…

I might be flirty, naughty, or kinky.
I might have my mind in the gutter.
I might be funny, amusing, silly, or childish.
I might be thought-provoking, informative, or educational.
I might disagree with you, but will always agree to disagree.
I might be not safe for work.
I might be not the greatest guy, but I’m not ashamed of being me.
I will always try to treat other people the way I’d like to be treated.
You have been warned.

It’s all part of being me.

I hope my sense of humor or the links I post or subjects I talk about on here or on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ don’t offend anyone. I’m not out to cause a ruckus.

At the same time, however, if I have offended anyone, you’re free to politely let me know your opinions and then stop following me or reading the content that I post.

Sometimes I’m silly, sometimes I’m childish, sometimes I’m thought-provoking – it’s all part of being me.

What’s in your Bug-Out Bag?

I started assembling my first Bug-Out Bag a few months before Hurricane Ike in ’08. Amy made fun of me for it at the time but stopped heckling after the storm, when more than once I had something we needed “In the bag!”.

(updated) Here’s the Google Docs spreadsheet listing the contents of my current “Emergency Preparedness / Uh-Oh / Bug-Out” bag..

Do you have one? If so, what’s in it? Do you keep a separate emergency kit for your vehicles?

Haircut and New Glasses

While out running errands today, I stopped by the Piney Point Barber Shop for a trim, and came home to find that my three pair of glasses from Goggles4U had arrived in just over a week from when I ordered.

So, here I am with the haircut. Which pair of glasses looks best?

Number 1:

Number 2:

Number 2, with Clip-On Shades:

Number 3:

Your thoughts?

Great customer service

Kudos to Amazon for having GREAT customer service related to their Kindle ebook reader. I bought one last November, and it has worked great. However, this particular unit just REFUSES to upgrade to version 2.5 of the Kindle firmware, no matter what I do (manual installs, etc).

I called up Amazon yesterday, and within five minutes they were doing the necessary stuff to get a replacement Kindle2 sent my way. The replacement unit will be here Wednesday.