Friday, February 17, 2012

ASUS Zenbook: The Zen of Ultrabooks

On January 10 my ASUS Zenbook (UX31) arrived at the Microsoft Store in the Valley Fair mall in San Jose. I had to do quite a bit of hustling in order to give the store my money for this little gem. You see, back in December, when I began my search for an Ultrabook -- and eventually decided on the recently released ASUS Zenbook -- I discovered that this PC was in such high demand that they were completely sold out at all local stores1, and online as well. Even Amazon sellers didn't have this particular model available.

The Microsoft Store at the Valley Fair mall had one on display, but none were in stock; I was told that a new shipment (though the store didn't know how many would be in the shipment) should arrive before Christmas. After the Christmas weekend came and went, I was told that the store was still expecting delivery later that week. And then, New Years weekend came and went -- and still no Zenbooks. So I contacted a number of Microsoft Stores across the country and discovered that the Zenbook was in stock in Colorado, and elsewhere. I spoke to a manager at the Colorado store: she was willing to ship a Zenbook to the Santa Clara store, but the request had to be initiated by that store. So, I contacted the Valley Fair store once again, explained the situation, and they agreed to do a stock transfer from another store; the store they chose, for whatever reason(s), was in the District of Columbia.

I was motivated to purchase the Zenbook from the Microsoft Store for a number of reasons: I liked what I saw at the store -- the layout of the store and the hardware on display that was available for hands-on use, the store personnel who were there to assist and answer questions; also, the store was running a special offer that would save me $200, and provide me with two years of free support and maintenance, along with a full copy of Microsoft Office 2010; and lastly, all PCs sold through the store go through a "Microsoft Signature" review -- the PC is tuned, bloatware removed, etc. Given the problems that had been reported with the initially released Zenbooks, I felt the "Microsoft Sig" touch would ensure that my Zenbook wouldn't have bad pixels, problems with the keyboard, etc.

As I said, the Zenbook arrived on January 10; I was handed a brown corrugated ASUS shipping box at the store, which I greedily opened as soon as I arrived home. Unfortunately, in my eagerness, I neglected to snap any unpacking pics, and that outer box has since been disposed of. However, inside this outer box was the nicely crafted Zenbook box (pictured below) -- a multi-level box that contained the Ultrabook, a padded brown fabric carrying case, and a few booklets in an envelope-like enclosure mounted to the bottom. A section along the right side of the box held the power supply, along with a matching brown fabric pouch that contained the VGA and Ethernet adapters.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Two Holes-in-One and a Bogey

Alien ContactThis blog post has absolutely nothing to do with golf -- sorry, golf fans... -- I just happened to like this title that I came up with to represent the three recent reviews for my anthology Alien Contact (Night Shade Books).

I'll start with the two holes-in-one because we always want to boast first about the best -- our best golf swing, the humongous fish we caught, stealing home....

This first review is courtesy of Bob Blough, and published on Tangent online on January 30. After providing readers with the complete list of stories included in the volume, Bob opens his review with the following:
Alien Contact is an intelligently edited anthology of 26 first contact stories. And thankfully, Mr. Halpern has decided to mine the last 30 years for his selections, eschewing more well-known and oft-reprinted old favorites from earlier decades. So, this is a huge anthology favoring more contemporary SF and it acquits itself wonderfully. I do not agree with all of the editor's choices and can think of others I would have preferred, but so many terrific stories are gathered together in one place that everyone who likes this theme or is interested in learning more about it will perhaps find some new gems.
In the review, Bob focuses on "a few of [his] favorites." In particular, he singles out Pat Cadigan's story "Angel," which he refers to as "the best story of the batch (and one of my top SF stories of all time)."1 Bob's other faves include stories by George Alec Effinger ("a story with the perfect title"), Neil Gaiman ("read it and revel"), Mike Resnick ("a sadly moving tale, albeit a joy to read"), Michael Swanwick ("a complex and beautiful novelette"), Molly Gloss ("bravura performance"), Robert Silverberg ("a terrific read"), Nancy Kress ("clever and a delightful entertainment"), and Stephen Baxter ("the final story is one of the best").

Bob concludes his lengthy review with this paragraph:
These are but a double handful of my favorites; others by Paul McAuley, Bruce McAllister, Jeffrey Ford and a number of others serve this anthology well. If you are new to most of these stories or want to reacquaint yourself with some favorites – get this book. I thank Mr. Halpern for his knowledgeable selections. Alien Contact was a kick to read.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

January Links & Things

I returned this past weekend from my trip to SoCal, only to have to schedule yet another trip in a couple weeks. My mother's house in Anaheim, California, will be on the market toward the end of this month. In my youth I used to walk to Disneyland from that house, but it was/is a long walk, though not for a teen -- and from the house you can watch, and hear, the D-land fireworks at night, with no interference from any structures. It really is a great house. When everything becomes official, I'll post some photos and more details.

If you have an interest in my recently published anthology Alien Contact (Night Shade Books), please consider clicking on the "Like" button (if you haven't already done so) in the Facebook widget in the right column of this blog. This will add the anthology's updates to your own news stream on your FB Home page. You won't be inundated with posts, probably on average a couple per week, I promise.

And I best get to January's Links & Things before I run out of time this month as well. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern; or Friending me on Facebook (FB). Note, however, that not all of my tweeted/FB links make it into these month-end posts. Once again there is a lot of content, so please return for a second visit if you need to to take full advantage of all the links. Previous month-end posts are accessible via the "Links and Things" tag in the right column.

  • Via author and friend Bruce McAllister's FB page, I learned of a new magazine with a very strange title: rFISHc. Bruce has a short-short story in the first issue. Submission guidelines, payment details, etc. at the link.
  • Do you write fantasy novels? -- HUGE fantasy novels? If so, then you need to consider taking David J. Parker's "The Fantasy Novelist's Exam." Here are the first 5 of 75 questions: 1) Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages? 2) Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage? 3) Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn't know it? 4) Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme bad guy? 5) Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world? Let's just say that you don't want to be answering "yes" to very many of these questions. (via John Shirley's FB page, shared from David Brin)
  • Princeton Alumni Weekly -- "an editorially independent magazine by alumni for alumni since 1900" -- recently published a feature article on books entitled "What Princeton students are reading." You may be interested in learning what their "comfort food" reading actually entails. (via Gordon van Gelder's FB page)
  • From the UK's Guardian (@guardian): "YA novel readers clash with publishing establishment," and subtitled: "A row over the status of the bloggers who fuelled the success of young adult novels has been raging across the net." Apparently YA authors and their agents and publishers do not like negative reviews. I'm shocked, shocked I say.... So, among other things, they have been publicly discussing rigging the Amazon and Goodreads ratings to improve the visibility of good reviews, and thus "hide" the negative reviews. They've also been ganging up on the YA book reviewers/book review bloggers. The Guardian article concludes with a very special note to authors: "And if you can't stand the heat of the blogosphere – don't Google yourself." (also via Gordon van Gelder's FB page)
  • I write these month-end recaps on my computer, directly into a blog post, because I need access to the links/articles and often reference material, etc. But the drafts of most of my other blog posts are written in longhand; that's right, I take pencil to paper and actually write (well, more like scribble, since I'm the only one seeing the draft). I do this because I have a tendency to overedit when I compose online, and thus I never complete the text because I'm too occupied with editing. (Did I tell you that I'm an editor?) But writing on paper avoids a lot of this, and words actually do get written. Yes, I'll scratch out text, squeeze in changes, draw an arrow to the bottom of the page to something I want to add -- but the energy continues to flow, words continue to be written, and eventually the piece is completed. And then I edit as I type the text into a blog post. Evidently I'm not the only writer who works this way. Timmi Duchamp, of Aqueduct Press fame, also uses longhand, particularly when she needs to write additional material that will be inserted into an existing file. In a blog post entitled "The magic of writing longhand," Timmi says: "[In the past, before personal computers] whenever I wasn't sure where the story was going, I would retype the entirety of the scene I was working on, to give me a sort of running start. It never failed. I didn't feel I could do that when I switched to a word processor. So then I'd write out some of it longhand, and continue from there. Writing longhand has thus come to seem a sort of magic...." (via @charlesatan)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Would you like to review Alien Contact?

Alien Contact Kindle EditionIf you would be interested in reviewing an eBook edition of my Alien Contact anthology, recently published by Night Shade Books, please read on....

I've made this offer previously and thought I would follow it up with one additional post. I have eBook editions -- mobi, epub, and pdf -- available for Alien Contact that I would be happy to provide to book reviewers and/or book review bloggers.

If you would like an eBook review copy, simply post a request below in the Comment section, along with a link to one (or more) of your online book reviews and/or a link to your book review blog. I'll also need an email addy in order to get in touch with you. If contact information is posted with your review or on your blog, no need to include that same contact information with your comment.

Any questions, etc. can also be posted below in Comments.