Friday, December 25, 2009

Friday Book Review: Paris 1919

I like to think that I'm pretty well versed in history. I know a lot about ancient civilizations like the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians because let's face it, those eras are super cool. I even think I know a considerable amount about more recent history from World War II to the present day.

But there was definitely a lack of knowledge about the time immediately before and after World War I. Sure I know that the assassination of Frans Ferdinand is the answer to the trivial question, what started World War I? Other than that I'm sketchy on the details and that is where Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World comes in.

It really is a fascinating book. It is broken out into chapters focusing on individual countries. Detailing their demands at the peace conference, their major players and the resulting new boundaries once the treaty was eventually signed. I found this to be real interesting as the world's boundaries were redrawn pre and post World War I.

The other major part of the book was pointing out the mistakes made during the treaty which directly led to the outbreak of World War II. You'll understand why allies in WWI like Italy and Japan fought on the Axis side during WW2.

I really enjoyed this book. It's a very long read and the information quotient is very dense. I recommend this one as a borrow from your local library.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Idiot Proof Coffee Mug

I love this Drink Selector Mug I saw over at Gizmodiva. You can setup your preferred coffee order directly on the mug for error free coffee ordering.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday Book Review: Wireless

While I'm not usually a huge fan of short story collections I couldn't pass up Wireless by Charles Stross. He's been one of my favourite sci-fi authors since I read his post-singularity novel, Singularity Sky.

In this collection we get to see Stross take on a number of different genres like the cold war era Missile Gap, the mind bending time travel Palimpsests, his net neutrality collaboration with Cory Doctorow called Unwirer and my personal favourite Down on the Farm. In Down on the Farm we get another mission from Bob Howard of The Laundry. The Laundry is a secret British organization that is a cross between MI-6/computer hackers/warlocks.

All of the stories in this book are quite enjoyable and I recommend this book as a buy to all sci-fi lovers.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pricey Tea

This $2,500 bottle of green tea better cure cancer. Why else would you spend that much money on tea?

In Depth Look at the Rise and Fall of Starbucks

The Phoenix has an in depth article with Bryant Simon the author of Everything but the Coffee: Learning about America from Starbucks. In the article Mr. Simon talks about the rise and fall of Starbucks. Arguing that the extension of the Starbucks brand nearly destroyed the company.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tea Flavoured Hot Chocolate

From Lifehacker: add a little interesting flavour to your hot chocolate by adding some tea. They suggest using vanilla or peppermint. While personally I think this sounds kinda gross I do love peppermint hot chocolate so I may have to give this a try.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Coffee Wil Not Sober You Up

Apparently using coffee to sober up once intoxicated is a myth. In fact the combination of caffeine and alcohol impairs your decision making abilities even worse than alcohol alone.

So if you are out and you've been drinking. You don't need a coffee, you need a cab.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Coffee vs Prostate Cancer

Ah coffee, is their nothing you cannot do? New research shows that coffee consumption reduces your chance of getting advanced prostate cancer.

Thanks to Paul and Ryan for pointing me to this article.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Make Your Own K Cups

If you have one of those K Cup coffee brewing system you may want to check out this post on making your own coffee pods. It may save you some money in the long run.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Book Review: House of Mystery Volume 1 - Room and Boredom

House of Mystery Vol. 01: Room and Boredom is basically a contrivance that allows DC to put out an anthology book of short stories but I like it.

Traditionally anthology books don't sell well in the comics medium. However, Vertigo has put on a few of their heavy hitters on to this book in hopes that it sells well. Teaming up on the writing duties are Matthew Sturges and Bill Willingham who are the driving force behind the Fables universe. See my review of Fables Volume 1.

In House of Mystery the story opens up with Cain talking to his brother Able, yes that Cain and Able, before returning home one afternoon. Sadly upon Cain's return to his house he finds it is missing. Cain is distraught about the chain of events and vows to find his missing house. A quick note in DC continuity: Cain is the caretaker of the House of Mystery while Able is the caretaker of the House of Secrets.

We flip over to the house where we are introduced to the core concept of the book. People wander in and our of the house where they can enjoy the food and drink at the bar. However, money is no good at the house and you need to pay up by telling a story. This allows guest writers like Bill Willingham to step in and spend a few pages spinning a yarn about whatever he feels like at the moment.

There are five characters, the barman, the waitress, the poet, the pirate and the architect who cannot leave the House of Mystery. Whatever they try just drops them right back into the house. In fact the only way they seem to be able to leave the house is via the mysterious coachman. What happens to people who leave with the coachman is unknown to people at the house as no one has ever returned.

It is the newly arrived architect called Fig who starts the connecting pieces written by Matt Sturges into motion. She arrived at the house as she was being chased by a couple of ghost like figures. Once in the house she discovers she has a unique connection to it that none of the other characters share.

I did like the way the mystery was developed in this first volume and it left me wanting more so I have to recommend this as a buy.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

New Tim Horton iPhone App, Horton’s Finder

The iPhoneInCanada Blog has a review of the new Horton Finder app from Majestic Media. The app is used to find your nearest Tim Horton's and is available for free until December 15th.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Buy a Latte, Fight AIDS

Starbucks is donating a nickel from every latte sold today to help fight AIDS as part of their Join Red program.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Book Review: Fables - Legends in Exile Vol. 1

Recently I've been on a bit of a Fables kick. I've re-read the first 10 volumes of Bill Willingham's amazing series over the past two weeks.

Fables centers around characters from fairy tales or folklore that have relocated in present day New York City. The reason for this move is that a tramatic battle has taken place between the Fables and the Adversary. This has caused much devastation in the Homelands and the Fables were forced to flee to the real world with as much as they could carry.

The identity of the Adversary is one of the main mysteries in the early books. Luckily there is a resolution to this plot thread in later books.

Fables has a huge cast of characters as it is able to draw from fairy tales all the world over. Many of them you will recognized instantly. Although some may be a bit different than the disneyfied versions you've seen in cartoons.

In the first volume Fables: Legends in Exile you are introduced to a number of key characters but chief among them are Snow White who is the deputy mayor of Fabletown and Bigby Wolf, the big bad wolf, who is also the town Sherrif.

Bigby is investigating the murder of Snow Whites sister, Rose Red, apparently by Jack. This is the Jack of many fairy tales like Jack and the Beanstalk or Jack and Jill or Jack Be Nimble. Jack is a thouroughly dispicable character who is unlikable yet entertaining all at the same time.

The first volume unfolds into a film noir type murder mystery and I have to give this book a solid buy rating. Subsequent volumes deal with different issues like politics, war and espionage all the while advancing the underlying story.

Special mention has to go to the artist of most of the Fables issues, Mark Buckingham, who does an amazing job with the art chores. No space is wasted and some of the most beautiful work he does are in the gutters. That being the space between the panels.

Also, James Jean's work on the covers are breathtaking. So much so they release a book of just his cover art: Fables Covers: The Art of James Jean Vol. 1.

Again I have to recommend you buy the first volume of this great series and please do try some of the later volumes which are just as enjoyable.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Book Review: The Lost Symbol

As promised I have finished reading The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO! Usually, I like to stay positive with my book reviews so I tend to shy away from reviewing books I haven't enjoyed. However, when I picked this book it was for the express intention of cutting loose with my vitriolic sarcasm. Surprisingly, I didn't hate this book.

A number of years ago when The DaVinci Code was all the rage I decided to look into this hot new author. To that end I checked out Angles & Demons, The DaVinci Code, Deception Point and Digital Fortress. Reading all four of these books in a two week period. I do not recommend reading that many books by a single author in such a short span as you really begin to pick up on their formula. This was very much the case as I can distill the plot for all of Dan Brown's novels down into this simple scaffolding:
  1. An old man dies who is a grand master of a secret society.
  2. The protagonist is called to the scene by the dying grand master and only he can solve the riddle.
  3. The love interest of the protagonist is somehow related to the dead grand master.
  4. There is a grotesque assassin hunting the protagonist and love interest.
  5. Also a misguided member of a law enforcement agency who is chasing the protagonist and love interest.
  6. Behind it all is a secret enemy who is pulling all the strings and it is the person YOU'D LEAST EXPECT!
Sadly, after reading more than one of Dan Brown's novels it becomes laughingly easy to pick out the eventual villain. The Lost Symbol is no exception to the above rules as it follows each one of them with a slight twist that I won't mention for those of you who want to read this book.

Anyway, as I said The Lost Symbol follows Mr. Brown's usual formula and apparently the characters act in such a way that they'll believe anything that anyone says to them over the phone. Regardless, of the current situation where prudence should be exercised.

However the strength of the novel lies in the research done on the Freemasons and the city of Washington D.C. Both of which play a huge role in The Lost Symbol. It is there where I find the book to be entertaining but I confess I have not checked any of the facts laid out in this book but I suspect that some artistic license must have been applied. This is not unlike his previous two Robert Langdon novels Angles & Demons (Roman Catholic Church and Vatican City) and The DaVinci Code (Knights Templar and Paris).

Also, it wouldn't be a Dan Brown book without some religious controversy but I can't get into that without revealing major plot points. Grrr!

As much as I wanted to pants this book I'll have to give it a borrow rating. It wasn't as bad as I expected but maybe I just had really low expectations.

However, I feel bad of those who've shown up looking for me to shred Dan Brown. For that you want to read this sarcastic review of the book by Jennifer McKeown. Well played Jennifer, I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pushing VIA Too Much?

Starbucks seems to be pushing VIA too hard for some customers tastes. Personally I haven't had any of the baristas ask me if I wanted to buy VIA. Mind you, we're way too polite up here in Canada.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Free Coffee at McDonald's Starting Today

McDonald's is having another free coffee giveaway. Come in for breakfast from November 16-29 and get a free small coffee with breakfast.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Book Review: Batman Year One

Not long after Crisis On Infinite Earths
DC comics decided they needed to reboot Batman for a new generation. To which they turned to Frank Miller the man who wrote and drew the amazingly successful Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Combined with Batman: Year One the two books set the course of a grim and gritty vigilante that Batman would become for the next 20 years.

As the title indicates the four issues collected into this trade we follow the early career of Batman. We see Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham City after more than ten years of training and we see Lieutenant James Gordon joining the Gotham Police Force. Both men are struggling with their new roles in society. Batman is still a little green and has difficulties with his equipment and tackling street level bad guys. While Lt. Gordon is not exactly fitting in with the rest of the corrupt cops in Gotham City.

In this story Miller muddies up the pristine backgrounds of a number of notable Gotham residents. The one retcon that I really didn't approve of was the changes made to Selina Kyle aka Catwoman's background.

All and all it is a good Batman story but not a great one. It's hard to be groundbreaking when you are re-telling a character's origin story that's been around for over 50 years.

I have to rate this book a borrow as it is a good story and the basis for the 2005 movie Batman: Begins.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Next Travel Mug?

My next travel mug just might be the Contigo Double Wall Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Tumbler as it is excellent reviewed at Cool Tools, Fresh Coffee Gourmet and I can't can't count how many times I've spilled my coffee hustling to my next meeting.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rememberance Day

In honour of Remembrance Day:
In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Top Customers Upset About Starbucks Reward Card Changes

Starbucks customers are reacting to the news that gold customers will lose their 10% discount under the new rewards program.

As I expressed on Thursday, I don't think this new reward program is actually going to benefit us as customers.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Book Review: A Long Way Gone

There are some books that you read and they really stick with you. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah is certainly one of those books. In it the author details his life growing up in Sierra Leone in the 1990's.

Starting when he was 12 a bloddy civil war between the government and rebels forced him out of his village and separated him from his family. For months he and other refugees try to find a safe place away from all of the fighting to live safely and try to reconnect with his lost family. Then he is conscripted into the Sierra Leone Army where he is brainwashed and addicted to drugs all to make him a better solidier. For two years he lives in a constant state of kill or be killed without really knowing the true reasons behind the conflict.

Finally at 15, he is rescued in the form of being sent to a UNICEF transistion center. This is where the child soldiers are integrated back into normal life. He is sent to live with an uncle he doesn't know and all is good for a short time until strife comes to the capital. At this point Beah decides to flee to America.

Luckily he is adopted by Laura Simms, a woman he had met a year earlier when he participated in a Children of War conference at the UN. Now Mr. Beah has graduated from college with a degree in politics and is a human rights activist.

I listened to the audio book version of the text ready by the author himself. His lilting voice and matter of fact manner in describing all sorts of horrors he's seen and committed certainly added to the gravity of the subject matter. It is hard to imagine a situation like this with my comfy North American life experiences.

This book is rated a solid buy and it will bring you tears on more than one occassion.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Starbucks to Offer Frequent Buyer Program

Starbucks is changing the way their Starbucks Card program works. The new program is called My Starbucks Rewards and has a variety of reward levels. Each time you make a purchase with your card you earn a star. After 5 stars you get a variety of rewards like 2 hours of free wi-fi per day that you currently get with the current reward card program. After 30 stars you start earning free coffees for every 15 stars.

My take is that it makes things worse for the current Starbucks card users but makes things better for Starbucks Gold card users as there will no longer be a yearly fee associated with that card level.

Monday, November 2, 2009 has quickly become one of top coffee blogs. Here are a few of articles that I've enjoyed over the past week:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Friday Book Review: Rocket Men

Whoops, I forgot to move this post from the draft to published state. So here is my review of Rocket Men a couple of days later than intended.

When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. I would have liked to be a NHL hockey player but I knew I was good enough but maybe just maybe I could be one of those people going up on the space shuttle. After all Marc Garneau was going up on those shuttles and he was Canadian. One of my all time favourite family vacations included a trip to the Cape Canaveral, Florida where we watched a shuttle take off and visited the Kennedy Space Center where I got this shiny silver jacket with a NASA patch on the shoulder. I probably still have that jacket somewhere at home.

This leads me to Rocket Men The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon. It is an incredible story of the 9 years and 400,000 people it took to send three men (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins) into space, landing two on the moon and getting them all back safe again.

This is a very interesting book detailing the vast amounts of effort it required from to land men on the moon. It goes into details describing the men of the Apollo 11 mission and how it affected their lives. It truly is amazing how flimsy the lunar lander was, basically a metal cage wrapped in tin foil, and how Armstrong and Aldrin nearly were stuck on the moon only saved by some quick thinking an a felt tipped pen. Which is where I'm guessing The Simpsons get their inanimate carbon rod joke from.

For fans of space this is an excellent book to go out and buy but if you are just casually interested I suggest borrowing it from your local library.

Thursday, October 29, 2009