Monday, December 27, 2010

College Information

Recently I got two emails from webmasters telling me about their sites. I've looked them over, and they do seem useful. Check them out for yourself.

The first one is Zen College Life. Right on the front page you can search for programs, see a list of top-ranked schools by subject, and browse colleges by state. They have basic career guides for a wide range of jobs, reviews of a select list of schools, and some grant information. The focus seems to be online programs.

The second website is Masters in Education. It's a comprehensive list of colleges and universities that have M.Ed. programs, either online or at physical locations. Use the links provided to request information directly from each school. The bottom of the front page has a list by state.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Book Review - "The Last Page" by Anthony Huso

The Last Page is a unique blend of fantasy and science fiction. You have magic and a secret book on one hand, and zeppelins and something approaching electricity on the other. Author Anthony Huso is also a video game designer, and his vivid imagination translates well from computer screen to printed page.

Caliph Howl is in college when he meets Sena, a beguiling woman who seduces him...or is it something more? She graduates before him, and they lose touch for a while. Then he graduates and becomes High King. Immediately Isca plunges into civil war with Caliph doing everything he can to keep his country intact.

Sena reappears, having found the Cisrym Ta, the book she's been hunting for all during her college years. Its lock is held with a powerful spell, and she must decide how desperately she wants to open it. Once she does, who knows what horrible, wonderful things will be released?

There is some court intrigue in The Last Page and several horrid, filthy beasts, which make for a few suspenseful scenes, but I was not necessarily on the edge of my seat the whole time. Rather, it was the overwhelming odds against Caliph and Sena that kept me turning the pages. Life in this book is dirty, messy, and very bloody. Huso writes of war, betrayal, murder, and sex. He has created a lavishly detailed history in the style of high fantasy, but there is plenty to satisfy sci fi fans as well with his chemiostatic swords and a system of magic that involves numbers and equations. The magic is not explained well, but the results of equations cast are fascinating.

No matter where you fall on the fantasy/sci fi spectrum, give this one a chance. Even if you don't necessarily like either of those genres, if you like clever wordplay, you might enjoy The Last Page. Huso likes to turn nouns into verbs and use them in unexpected ways. He also has an unfortunate tendency to write in sentence fragments, which makes for a disrupting reading experience, but hopefully you can soon adjust to his cadence and not get jolted out of the story. Also, don't be afraid of the huge words. I couldn't tell if Huso has a really big vocabulary or if he just likes being a wordsmith, but in either case a high level of intelligence is quite evident.

Overall, The Last Page is an interesting read.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010 Census

The first part of the 2010 census was released today. Check out the website: 2010 Census. Data for individual locations is not yet available, but state populations are. The Census Bureau has to publish this information by December 31 so Congress knows how to apportion its seats in the House of Representatives. Click the Data tab and check out the map to see whether your state has gained or lost any seats.

For what it's worth the US has officially reached 300,000,000 residents.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Opt Out from Prescreened Credit Offers

The other day I came across another website where you can enter your name and address and get off mailing lists for prescreened credit offers. It's another way to protect your credit and lessen your paper trail and junk mail.

The website is OptOutPrescreen.com. It's a secure site run by the credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion) and gives consumers the choice of whether they want their information made available to credit card and insurance companies. You can opt in, opt out for five years, or opt out permanently. No matter what you decide, you can later go back to the site and change your mind.

Check out their About Us page for more information and their list of Frequently Asked Questions.

Don't forget that you should also check your credit report annually from the only official website approved by the major credit reporting companies, AnnualCreditReport.com.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Twitter's Year in Review

Twitter's lists of popular topics is being released in installments. So far they have Who's New and Top Trends.

Who's New includes famous people who joined Twitter in the last year. Check out the feeds for Conan O'Brien, the Dalai Lama, Bill Gates, Tinkerbell, and Victoria Beckham.

Top Trends is broken into categories, with hashtags having a category of their own. Perhaps the average age of Twitter users accounts for the fact that Prince William's engagement and Kate Middleton have risen so quickly onto the top ten lists, since that news just broke a couple of weeks ago.

Twitter is planning three more lists, so check back to find out what they are.

Google's Search Zeitgeist 2010

Google has released its Zeitgeist 2010. It's not exactly a list of the most popular searches, but rather it's the fastest rising topics. Things that captured people's interest during this past year include Chatroulette, Justin Bieber, the World Cup, Nicki Minaj (who?), the ash cloud over Iceland, and the iPad. Yes, Kim Kardashian is on the list of fastest rising people.

The health concerns are interesting: McDonald's nutrition, Asperger's, vitamin D deficiency, whooping cough. People must be paying attention to the news and their own health. Maybe finding out the nutrition value--or lack thereof--in McDonald's food will help with the obesity epidemic in the Unites States. Okay, maybe not.

Compare this zeitgeist with Yahoo's searches and with Bing's.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review - "The Confession" by John Grisham

John Grisham's newest book, The Confession, is good but not as good as his earliest ones. It feels more like an extended outline than a fleshed-out narrative. However, if you like page-turners this might work.

There are a couple of confessions in play. Nine years ago, Donte Drumm was coerced into a confession by a cop just doing his job. By answering leading questions, he confessed that he kidnapped, raped, and murdered a high school classmate named Nicole. Oh yeah, Donte is black and the victim was white.

The book opens with another confession. Travis Boyette walks into Reverend Keith Schroeder's office and after some beating around the bush, admits that he actually killed Nicole. He's feeling guilty because Donte's execution is days away and because he himself is suffering from an inoperable brain tumor that could kill him in a matter of weeks. Therefore, he has little to lose by going public since he probably won't be alive by the time the wheels of justice turn in his direction. In light of this startling information, what can Keith do to make sure Texas doesn't execute the wrong man?

On the face, this is a compelling story. There's the race against time: Keith and Boyette are in Kansas, about a twelve-hour drive from the town in Texas where Donte is from. Can the two of them get there in time, and can they then convince anyone that Boyette is really Nicole's murderer? Can Donte's lawyer Robbie Flak file his petitions in time to stop the execution? There's the decisions that Keith must constantly make in determining just how far he will go to help Boyette, a convicted sex offender in four states. There's the possibility of race riots in Donte's town if the execution goes through. Grisham knows how to build suspense and keep the reader engaged. However, his storytelling ability seems to have gotten lost.

Grisham has concocted a dilemma for his characters which will keep the reader interested, but he relies on telling the story and not showing it. We get a lot of up-front descriptions of characters instead of dropping details as the story unfolds. He puts in some details that bring his locations to life but not as many as in his first books. Reading The Confession feels a bit like he made things up as he went and didn't spend much time planning how to craft his tale. He's also heavy-handed on the anti-death penalty idea. Authors writing out of their own beliefs is nothing new, but this time the author beats his readers over the head.

About halfway through I was moved to get out my paperback copy of A Time to Kill, Grisham's first novel and one of my all-time favorites. I've felt for a while now that he's lost his touch in his quest to churn out as many books as possible, and I wanted to know if his early ones were as good as I remembered. I'm only chapters in, but already the quality of writing is different. Sure, A Time to Kill is a bit rough (even now Grisham has a rather jarring tendency to abruptly shift viewpoints, something a good editor should be able to point out), but the time he spent in shaping his story is evident. We get background information when necessary, details are doled out through the action and narrative, and it feels like he planned his story in advance. By contrast, The Confession seems slapped together like maybe Grisham was hoping the high suspense would keep the reader from noticing the lack of a good yarn.

Grisham fans wanting to read a story akin to the early ones that made them fall in love with the author will be disappointed. His previous book, The Associate, had been heading in the right direction, but with this latest one he has gone off track again. Let's hope he finds his way before writing whatever comes next.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Santa's Coming!

Christmas is less than three weeks away, and Santa is preparing for his journey around the world, delivering gifts to the good girls and boys on the night of December 24. You can track his sleigh and reindeer online at www.noradsanta.org.


Right now there is just a countdown, but on December 24 you can track his path online or on your mobile phone. Here's what NORAD partner Google says:

Starting at 2 a.m. EST on December 24, you’ll be able to track him in real-time on Google Maps from your computer or phone as well as on Google Earth with the plug-in by searching for [santa].
In the meantime, you can play games and watch videos.

Have fun!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Yahoo's Top Searches of 2010

Yahoo has released its list of top searches for 2010. It has a separate list for mobile searches. (There's a neat graphic at that link.)

Yahoo searchers were more interested in news stories than Bing's searchers, who pretty much just looked up celebrities, though it does have its share--Kim Kardashian made both lists. Yahoo also has specialized lists, such as song lyrics, gadgets, coupons, and includes the top misspellings. Justin Bieber was definitely on many people's minds in 2010.