Review of “Feldspar”

Book ReviewsShort Stories – The science fiction short story “Feldspar” was written by Phillip A. Kramer (https://pakramer.com) and is available from the Baen Books website. This story is the Grand Prize Winner of the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award 2017. This is a “G” rated story.

Mars is being developed in many ways, though human exploration is still in the infant stages. Most work on Mars is being done by the the many rovers that have been transported there and which have been leased to “gamers”. TerraForm Games now utilized the drones for exploration and sample collection.

Blake has invested everything he has into one of the rovers. He plays the ‘game’ full time, gathering resources and discretely building a habitat that he hopes to one day live in on Mars. While his rover is returning to his base of operations on the Martian surface, he comes across the tracks of one of the few astronauts on Mars. Soon he discovers that they are in trouble. Will he be able to use his rover to help save the astronaut?

I really enjoyed the 30 minutes spent reading this science fiction short story. You get a real feel for the characters and the plot is quite believable and engaging. I give this short story a 5 out of 5 rating.

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Review of “The Rogue Agent”

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Book Reviews – “The Rogue Agent” eBook was published in 2017 and was written by Daniel Judson (http://danieljudsonbooks.com/). Mr. Judson has published a dozen novels. This is the second book in his “The Agent” series.

I received an ARC of this novel through https://www.netgalley.com in return for a fair and honest review. I categorize this novel as ‘R’ because it contains scenes of Violence. The story is set in the contemporary US. The primary character is former covert ops agent Tom Sexton.

Sexton thinks he has been hiding and invisible to his former boss. He finds that is far from the truth. He is drawn back into his past when he is approached by his former boss to help protect a young girl.

This quickly leads Sexton and his girlfriend into one dangerous situation after another. He also learns much about his family that had been kept hidden from him up to now.

I really enjoyed the 7 hours I spent reading this 354 page fiction thriller. I liked the characters that were developed for the novel as well as the plot. The cover art is OK. I give this novel a 4.5 (rounded up to a 5) out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/31181778-john-purvis).

Review of “Bullet Catch”

Book ReviewShort Stories – The science fiction short story “Bullet Catch” is available for free from the Baen Books website. It was written by Stephen Lawson and is the First Runner Up in the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award 2017. I would rate this as “G”.

Mars has been colonized to a small extent. Vinny is one of the colony staff and comes up with a brilliant idea to make a small fortune. He builds a rail gun and then secretly fires projectiles of platinum back to his brother on Earth.

When one of the researchers finds not only that she is pregnant, but that her unborn child has a cancer, Vinny and the others struggle to find a way to save the first child conceived on Mars.

I thought that this was a very good short story and enjoyed the 30 minutes it took to read it. Though the story is brief, you get a good feel for the characters. I would rate this as a 4 out of 5.

macOS New App Release – Screenshot Auto-Rename 1.4

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Product Announcement – The Software Hub of Bickfaya, Lebanon has released Screenshot Auto-Rename 1.4, an important update to the company’s easy-to-use screenshot capturing utility for macOS. In addition to the rich feature set, “Screenshot Previous Selection” allows users to precisely screenshot the same area on the screen without having to select it again. This is a great feature for users who frequently need to snap screenshots of the same area on the screen.

“Screenshot Previous Selection” will take a screenshot of a previously selected area, the user just selects the required area the first time by using the normal macOS Screenshot Selection command, and use the “Screenshot Previous Selection” for all consequent screenshots. The screenshots will all come with the same name with an incremented version appended to the name.

Screenshot Auto-Rename offers a smart set of preferences that allows you to control the format of the screenshot name, and add versioning for the file by either using the traditional macOS date and time method or a date and version number. It also allows you to control your default screenshot destination folder and format (PNG, JPG, GIF, TIFF, PDF).

Features at a glance:

  • Automatically name your screenshots according to the snapped window name
  • Screenshot Previous Selection
  • Manually name your screenshot before saving
  • Control where to save your screenshot rather than on the Desktop
  • Automatically share your screenshots by saving to a shared folder, DropBox
  • Select from a range of image formats: JPG, GIF, TIFF, PNG and PDF

Easily customize your screenshot name:

  • Add prefix or custom code to screenshot names
  • Set a fixed name for your screen shots or automatically name according to the front window name
  • Add combination of date, time stamp and version numbers or none
  • Set the date / time stamp after the prefix or at end of the file name

A user friendly interface allows you to either access screenshot commands through the icon on the menu bar, or use the macOS standard screenshot shortcuts. Screenshot Auto-Rename will also facilitate advertising agencies’ tasks as well as development, beta testing, and publishing teams by streamlining their workflow and saving their screenshots into shared folders.

System Requirements:

  • OS X 10.6 or later
  • 64-bit processor
  • 1.1 MB

Screenshot Auto-Rename 1.4 is $5.99 USD (or equivalent amount in other currencies) and is available worldwide exclusively through the Mac App Store in the Productivity category.

macOS New App Release – SecuritySpy 4.2

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Product Announcement – Ben Software of London, United Kingdom has released SecuritySpy 4.2, an update to the premier multi-camera video surveillance software for the Mac. With powerful and flexible recording features, motion-activated events, and remote monitoring and configuration, SecuritySpy is designed for demanding video surveillance applications. This version adds many new features and improvements, including new scheduling options, web interface improvements, and bug fixes.

“This update represents our ongoing commitment to maintain top-quality NVR software and respond to our customers’ feedback” said Ben Bird, the developer of SecuritySpy. “We are proud to deliver a host of improvements that make SecuritySpy even more powerful.”

The main features of SecuritySpy are as follows:

  • Displays and records multiple cameras simultaneously
  • Powerful capture features, with motion-detection and notifications
  • Built-in secure web server for remote monitoring and administration
  • Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ) support
  • Secure off-site backup of captured footage
  • Browser feature for synchronised multi-camera playback of captured footage
  • Supports all major brands of IP camera as well as ONVIF-compatible cameras
  • Supports all industry-standard media formats (JPEG, MPEG-4, MxPEG, H.264, AAC)
  • Extensively threaded and optimised to take full advantage of multi-core Macs
  • Hardware-accelerated video compression and decompression
  • Purpose-built iOS and tvOS apps for full access on iPhone, iPad and Apple TV

SecuritySpy supports virtually all network cameras on the market, including the popular Axis, Dahua, Canon, Amcrest, Hikvision, Samsung, Vivotek and Zavio ranges. SecuritySpy features advanced motion detection, which can be used to trigger recordings as well as email alerts, audio alarms, iOS push notifications and external devices. The built-in secure web server allows remote monitoring of live streams and captured footage from over the Internet, using a web browser or an iPhone, iPad or Apple TV.

The full list of improvements in this version is as follows:

  • Schedules can be grouped and invoked together via new “Schedule Presets”
  • Improved web interface with new status indicators and scheduling controls
  • Improved audio streaming support for live viewing via the web interface
  • Links to captured footage in notification emails, where possible
  • Improved Browser playback and scrubbing performance
  • New “Audio Format” column in the Camera Info window
  • Improved volume control for audio input devices and two-way audio
  • More date format options for time stamps, including YYYY-MM-YY
  • Added quad view support for Axis panoramic cameras
  • Bug fixes

Pricing is in British Pounds, Euros or US Dollars and depends on the number of cameras used, ranging from GBP 29.90 (approx. $40 USD through the website) for a single-camera license, to GBP 649.00 (approx. $890 USD) for an unlimited-camera license. SecuritySpy supports any Mac running macOS (Mac OS X) 10.7 “Lion” through 10.13 “High Sierra.” SecuritySpy can be tested for 30 days before purchase, with no demo limitations whatsoever. Download from the web site.

Trailer for “A Quiet Place”

Trailers – The trailer for the film “A Quiet Place” is very different. The family living in the remote farm must be quiet at all costs, thus the trailer is without dialog. Should the family make sound by accident, they will be hunted. The synopsis from IMDB:

A family lives an isolated existence in utter silence, for fear of an unknown threat that follows and attacks at any sound.

It looks interesting as a ‘horror’ movie. We’ll see how good it is when it opens in April of 2018.

 

Review of “Starhome”

Book ReviewsShort Stories – The short story “Starhome” was available for free from the Baen Books website. Starhome is a small (approximately 1 kilometer across) planetoid in space that has been hollowed out with habitat and working space. It has originally been used as a part of the deep space jump point control, but it had been abandoned after many years of service.

Years ago the Bates family claimed the planetoid as salvage and established an independent space nation. It has survived for years, but now the war between Earth and the Freehold of Grainne has shut down the independent transport business that has been Starhome’s life blood.

As Bates is considering abandoning Starhome, a stealthy space craft approaches and makes them an offer that is too good to turn down. Starhome will get much needed supplies and even some improvements in return for hosting a science research station. Will this offer allow Starhome to operate independently or will it draw them into the war?

I enjoyed the 30 minutes it took to read this science fiction short story. I liked the characters and the over all plot. This is a universe I would like to read more of. I give this a 4 out of 5.

macOS New App Release – Photo Sense 2.1

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Product Announcements – VeprIT of Zoetermeer, Netherlands has released Photo Sense 2.1 for Mac, a major update of its flagship product. Photo Sense is a lightweight bulk photo post-processing tool for Mac and iOS devices.

“Now that Adobe Lightroom is available only with a subscription, many users are looking for an alternative with a perpetual license.” says Dr. Demid Borodin, VeprIT owner. “While Photo Sense is not a digital assets manager, it is a great alternative for users looking for a lightweight bulk photo post-processing tool. No need to manage catalogues, make things easy: just drop some photos and adjust them quickly.”

Photo Sense advocates the automatic-first approach: instead of adjusting every image manually, it enhances all photos automatically, and offers effective tools to customize the results as much as the user wishes. This approach enables users to choose their preferred workflow complexity, from completely automatic (just select and save good auto results) to semi-automatic to manual fine-tuning. Hence Photo Sense appeals both to novice and more advanced photographers. The former appreciate how easy it is to enhance photos (mostly automatically), and the latter appreciate how efficient and flexible the workflow is, how much time it saves.

Photo Sense 2.1 for Mac Feature Highlights:

  • Flexible workflow allowing to choose the preferred complexity
  • Efficient automatic-first photo enhancement workflow – The user only needs to adjust the auto enhancement imperfections, if any, rather than doing everything manually from scratch
  • Quick and easy basic adjustments in batch mode
  • More advanced manual adjustments on image by image basis
  • Artistic effects applied with a single click in batch mode
  • Artistic effects can be combined and customized as the user wishes, achieving unique creative results
  • Copying any desired settings between images, including selected adjustments, crop & straighten configuration, artistic effects, and metadata
  • Custom presets defining any desired image settings, including selected adjustments, crop aspect ratio, artistic effects, and metadata
  • Collection of predefined presets offering various photo styles and artistic effects
  • Batch rotation and flipping
  • Direct sharing on social media services
  • Export to other software, including Photos and Lightroom
  • Flexible file export options, including powerful filename generation options and image size constraints defining dimensions, megapixel count, and even file size
  • Custom export presets to keep and quickly access any export configurations
  • Export image settings to configuration files and restore all the settings in Photo Sense later
  • Non-destructive operation
  • Simple and efficient user interface

Testimonials:

“Photo Sense is a nifty, automated photo editing app for OS X that can bring forgotten photos back to life. It’s great for those that don’t want a high-end app’s expense or steep learning curve.” – Mel Martin, The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW).

“Photo Sense is so easy to use that anyone can get the gist and make vast improvements to their pictures in just a couple of minutes.” – Jimmy Hayes, issue #95 of the iCreate magazine.

“While Photo Sense isn’t cheap, it is competitive with other image editors that are more complicated and don’t always give such good results.” – Mel Martin, The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW).

“A great app for batch processing, simplistically built and very easy to use.” – Jimmy Hayes, issue #95 of the iCreate magazine.

“Contrary to what one might imagine, there are not so many applications dedicated to automatic image correction, and Photo Sense is almost an exception – a quality one.” – Mathieu Lavant, issue #68 of the Vous et Votre Mac magazine (translated from French).

“Photo Sense is one of the most simplistic apps you’re ever likely to encounter on the Mac.”- Jimmy Hayes, issue #95 of the iCreate magazine.

“Photo Sense is an excellent program that I recommend to all those who feel no particular interest in photo correction, but want to significantly improve the quality of their images without spending hours.” – Mathieu Lavant, issue #68 of the Vous et Votre Mac magazine (translated from French).

“Overwhelmed With Complicated Photo Software? Try Photo Sense!” – Sue Megrund, AppAdvice.

“Intuitive user interface, beautiful design and interesting photo enhancement algorithm combined with the batch processing function make Photo Sense a useful application for any Mac user who would like to perform a quality photo correction without much effort.” – ANJUL, appstudio (translated from Russian).

“If you are not interested in learning how to make changes and adjustments to your photos on your own, Photo Sense lives up to its name and makes a great solution.” – Sue Megrund, AppAdvice.

“We are quite successful in using your software for product photography. The workflow is remarkably intuitive and produces good results even with operators who don’t have a photography background.” – Dr. Roderich Bott, Dr. Bott KG.

“Very cool app. Makes your photos look like you knew how to use a camera.” – mac-ho, Photo Sense user (from a Mac App Store review).

New in Photo Sense 2.1:

  • Exposure algorithm improvements: now it preserves a better contrast in bright areas, and generates less artifacts even at high values
  • Adjusted blacks, whites and noise reduction algorithms
  • Less aggressive auto shadows
  • Slightly stronger auto saturation

Device Requirements:

  • macOS 10.9 (Mavericks) or later
  • 64-bit Mac computer
  • 10.1 MB

Photo Sense 2.1 is Free (with an in-app purchase) on the Mac App Store, available worldwide in the Photography category. A promotional watermark is added to the exported images, it can be removed with the $19.99 (USD) in-app purchase. A free trial version (which adds a watermark to exported images) is available on the website.

Review of “A Fire on the Hill”

Book ReviewsShort Stories – The short story “A Fire on the Hill” is available from the Baen Books website. This short story is a quick 10-15 minute read. It is a science fiction story in a world where Earth has been invaded by the “Creepers”. The Creepers killed off a large chunk of humanity, but now humans are beginning to fight back.

Young Belinda Craft is living with her grandfather in rural New York. She sees and hears signs of a battle going on up the hill with Creepers. Her grandfather has her gather supplies and they start up the hill to assist. Up the hill into danger to do their duty.

I thought that this was a very good short story. I would like to read more stories set in this world. I give it a 4.4 (rounded down to a 4) out of 5.

Review of “Race for the Flash Stone”

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Book Reviews – “Race for the Flash Stone” eBook was published in 2017 and was written by K Patrick Donoghue (https://kpatrickdonoghue.com). Mr. Donoghue has published two novels, both in his “The Anlon Cully Chronicles” series. This is the second book in the series.

I received an ARC of this novel through https://www.netgalley.com in return for a fair and honest review. I categorize this novel as ‘PG’ because it contains scenes of Violence. The story is set in the contemporary US. The primary character is Anlon Cully.

This book picks up a few months after the first book ends. Cully is well on his way to recovering from the injuries incurred in the first volume. He, along with close friends Pebbles McCarver and Jennifer Stevens, continue to pursued evidence of the early Earth civilization that created the special stones with magnetic powers.

He is not the only one in pursuit of the stones. Not only must they decode the secrets to the map Cully obtained from his uncle, they must avoid interference from the others pursuing the stones. Cully, McCarver and Stevens find themselves in danger more than once as they pursue the clues they have uncovered.

I enjoyed the 11.5 hours I spent reading this 360 page science fiction adventure tale. While I did read the first volume in the series, this book stands pretty well on its own, though it is a continuation of the story. I liked the plot and the characters, but I do feel that the villains are a little on the weak side. The cover art is OK. I give this novel a 3.8 (rounded up to a 4) out of 5.

My book reviews are also published on Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/31181778-john-purvis).