Monday, August 3, 2009

Evil Weed Tree

Hi all! I really need help identifying this thing. It's cropping up everywhere in my landlady's yard.

The major one is along a fence - It's nearly 20 feet tall! A 12-footer is about 3 feet away. One smaller one appears 10 feet away from the main, and it's growing from my house foundation. I keep it hacked back, but it keeps on coming. This guy is infected with woolly aphids, too. :(

There are 2 more about 20 feet along the fence - the landscape guy keeps cutting them back, but they are up to 4 feet or better within weeks. Dozens of small ones are growing out from under the patio and into the back yard - this is on the exact opposite side of my house from the woolly aphid-infested one.

The leaves are lobes and soft - not shiny. They're broad - the largest ones are much bigger than my hand. The edges of the leaves are serrated, but still very soft.

The stems are extremely woody, and it's much more like a tree. It is extremely heat and drought tolerant.

It's evil and won't go away! Need ID to locate best control methods.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Reading Books, and the Selection Thereof, and How Such Changes with the Times.

So, earlier this year, my darling Gabriel purchased for us a matching pair of Kindles. For those not in the know, those are e-book readers made by Just go to the main Amazon page. You cannot avoid them.

"Ebooks?" you cry. "Never! Never shall you steal my precious pulped wood, glue, and leather! NEVER! I shan't submit!"

Yeah, I know, I said that, too. But it didn't take long for us to ditch about 80% of our book collection in a yard sale. Yes, 80%. And one of us is a Librarian (i.e., is paid to work with real ink-and-paper books!), and the other of us is a Pack Rat. We kept the graphic novels (not yet readable on Kindle, which is not a color monitor, nor of sufficient size to showcase the format) and the special hardcovers/cookbooks/coffee table books. We still have an empty forlorn shelf, slowly amassing junk because we haven't turned it into a display yet.

We love our Kindles. I adore mine. Small. Can carry everywhere. Long battery life. Made my last flying trip a dream, as I only had to pack one item, not nine different books! Easy to use. Easy to add content. Oh, yeah, I'm sold.

We bought ours used with very nice leather cases for $200 each. Steep? You bet. But cheap compared to an iPod, iPhone, computer, Blackberry, etc.

To make it better, many titles on Amazon are cheap or free. Most new releases or bestsellers are $9.99! Much cheaper than tromping into a bookstore, even with a massive discount coupon. Also, the Kindle is always connected to Amazon via Whispernet (at least in the U.S.), so you can purchase and download a book anywhere, and you can begin reading it in 30 seconds. Wow. Much quicker than driving to the bookstore, and requires less gas.

In short, I can spend my life hauling around all my beloved books that I reread, or I can have them all in one device and be done with it. Now, In case of fire, I can grab one bag with purse, computer, ipod, Kindle, and hard drive, and as long as I grab one of the cats by the tail while Gabriel grabs the other, then I have everything important out of the house - pictures, books, and loved ones. Wow.

So what has this done for my book-buying habits? I began to be curious.

Borders sent me an email saying "We Miss You!" As a Borders Rewards member, they send coupons regularly, and the coupons are tracked when they are scanned at the register - and I hadn't set foot in the Borders near me for months. I adore bookstores. What's changing with me? I work by a Barnes & Noble, and I go there on my breaks for the Starbucks coffee (I refuse to go to the much closer Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf), but I hadn't bought anything there since I bought my Kindle except magazines, coffee, and pastries. Then the B&N manager got snippy with me for eating in the café, so I guess I'll be buying even less.

Torrents exist for all manner of ebooks. Gabriel located some of a size that would make your jaw drop - some that boasted as many as 12,000 books in one download! YOWZA!!! That's a lotta books! Now, doing some research generated the info that 1- most of these books are scanned and not proofread, resulting in ' w311 ' instead of ' we'll ' in the text and so forth, 2- the torrents are in formats that do not translate well to the Kindle, and 3- correcting these for the Kindle to read would be an utter PITA, so 4- it's totally worth just buying the damned file.

I giggled to find out that some authors just find torrents of their books, proofread, and then upload to the Amazon website to sell them, effectively letting the pirates do the scanning work - go, you innovative authors!

I researched all the available ways of getting free Kindle books, and many legal sites exist that offer Kindle format public domain works. A wonderful side effect for me is that I can download all of the works of Alexandre Dumas in the original French in order to practice my translations - for free! Yay! Add Jane Austen into the mix, and I am all good! :D

I surveyed cheap books available directly through Amazon, and discovered the Suvudu Free Library on one of my blogs. These feature books by Del Rey /Random House companies, and are of a Sci-Fi Fantasy nature. Yay! Perfect for me!! The purpose of this free library is to have available at no cost the first book in some long-running series with the hopes of getting you to buy the rest (these are available in other formats on the Suvudu site, in case you don't have a Kindle). Well, one of the freebies was a longtime Terry Brooks favorite of mine, Magic Kingdom for Sale: SOLD!. If you have not read this book, you should. I happily downloaded the freebie version and read it again.

Oh, my. I certainly hope Del Rey / Random House does copyedits more thoroughly on the Kindle books that I'd actually be paying for, because DANG this book has a lot of errors! As in HUNDREDS. Landover Land Over Landower Land-over Land óver and other mistakes are all varying ways the free ebook spelled or misspelled the name of the magic kingdom in question. On a positive note, the freebie brought to my attention that there are not three Landover novels, but six, so those I haven't read are now on my wishlist - but I haven't bought any yet on Kindle due to the distracting errors in the freebie. If they were in a novel I actually paid for, and in this intolerable quantity, I would be extremely upset. And yes, you can return Kindle books to Amazon for a refund.

So I read some other free Kindle books, and I have so far added several must-read authors to my list.

Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon sucked me in, and all of the sequels will be bought shortly. Well done. I haven't been that moved by a novel in a while. I normally hate war stories, I don't much like Napoleonic era stuff, and I am about as sick of dragons as I am vampires these days, but damned if that wasn't a great book!

I downloaded Blood Engines by T.A. Pratt just because it was free, but didn't read it right away. I was only moderately interested by the blurb. Then I saw a blog post about the Hugo nominated art for 2008, and the cover for Poison Sleep was one of the nominees. Stunning cover! I looked it up on Amazon, realized that it was a sequel to Blood Engines, and immediately read what I'd downloaded - and very glad I did, too! I will be buying more of Pratt's work!

Amazon allows you to read a sample of a book before you buy it on the Kindle, so I downloaded a few samples and read them. then I bought some books and then ran out of money on the card I use for my Amazon purchases. oops.

Sometimes the samples were very helpful in NOT purchasing. For instance, the book Seducing Mr. Darcy has a sample that is very punny and fanfic-y. After being smashed with a punsledgehammer and reading a bunch of stilted description, I elected not to buy. I think it was when the author called someone's hair "Adonis-like" that I gave up. I felt like the first few pages were loaded description packed in with a trash compactor. However, I'd bet Sex in the City fans would love this book. I'm just not that person.

I forced myself through another full free book and it made me question what editors have been telling authors for ages: "Show, don't tell." Um, this book did a lot of telling. a LOT. Oh, and I loathe most first-person work, so that didn't help. And the voices of the characters fluctuated too much. I felt like I was watching a poorly-filmed movie about fairies. The premise and voice were great, but I'll be damned if I want to read another. Horrid writing, I thought. I'll spare you the author's name, although he/she is very published, as in there are many titles out by this person. The dilemma over what this means for writers will have to be another post. Again, others will probably love it, and buy the subsequent titles.

So what does this boil down to? I've actually spent MORE money on books since I bought the Kindle than I was when I was Kindle-free! I'm plowing through entire series and I am discovering new authors. Other authors that I have considered before, but did not have the cash or space to store the trade paperbacks, are now on my reading list. Kindle's / Amazon's suggestions for me related to previous purchases have been dead-on, and I've been reading like a maniac. I want to upgrade to the DX, which is a larger-format Kindle, and hopefully many of my textbook providers will start offering Kindle versions. Believe me, I'd love for my back and wrists to hurt less during the school session.

There is also an app for the iPod touch and iPhone that you can put your Amazon books on, and the text looks lovely on the backlit screen. Apple is also supposedly coming out with a large-format version of the Touch soon, and it is predicted to be a Kindle-Killer. I'm not so sure, but I'll sure have a look! Since the Kindle's main purchasing audience is over 40 and iPod's main purchasing audience is younger, I think both markets are being approached appropriately, and as the books are easily purchased on either piece of hardware, it may even out.

I suppose the absences of certain titles are conspicuous. For instance, none of the Harry Potter titles are available legally as ebooks. Please note the term 'legally' - illegal versions abound.

Open Note To J.K. Rowling: please release Harry as a Kindle title. That way, I do not have to hear Gabriel exclaim at me reading one of your titles AGAIN. Also, Half-Blood prince does not fit in my purse. Harry requires one inconveniently large shelf in his current format - please set him free!! Love and thanks, Jenna

Despite that, as long as there are books to read, I'll read them. And stay tuned, since I'll be putting some out on Kindle/Amazon myself!

But what finally got me in the Borders again? Martha Stewart's book on cupcakes. As a baker, I needed to see/compare several cupcake books, and cooking/baking books are just not on the Kindle yet. Understandable, but I hope that changes eventually.

Huh. Never thought Martha would steer my purchasing decisions, especially after the way she's steered some of her own. ;) Then again, cupcakes are delicious little devils. I don't suppose that anyone can blame me.