Far Out Madman

Far Out Madman has written 179 posts for Ramblings of a Farout Madman

Harvest, a good book but not for me.

Harvest: Unexpected Projects Using 47 Garden Plants by Stefani Bittner is a bit off for me.  It’s not a bad book by any means. It has some interesting uses for plants. The thing about it is that it wasn’t what I was looking for.  I think I was looking for a more basic guide to growing and harvesting plants for food and perhaps more practical purposes. Those certainly exist but things that are more decorative were not what I was looking for.

This, I think, falls into the more modern “homesteading” type books I’ve seen. Where you want your trendy dried flower potpourris, infused waters, etc. And for that type of a book this is actually a good one. It’s well laid out and the photos are fantastic, really. Directions/ideas are simple to implement (or at least seem to be, I must admit I did not make any infused water). Perhaps it’s the difference between the male perspectives on homesteading/harvesting as opposed to the female version. I can’t really say (as I only have my perspective to work with). I will say that if you’re looking for instructions on how to make infused water, natural dyes, and skin care products from harvested garden plants you could do worse than this book. I just didn’t find it that useful from my perspective. That’s probably what took me so long to write this review. Though it’s not a bad book, I just wasn’t that excited about the contents.

By the way, I’m also supposed to say I got this book for free from the publisher for the purpose of this review. That fact has not changed my opinion of the book and the opinions are my own.


Pen And Ink

Recently I decided to start drawing again. At least more than the doodles that constantly surround me.  I bought some sketchbooks, some pencils, some pens and have just been playing around.

I decided I would do a few drawings in just pen and ink. No initial sketch to work from, just start drawing and see where that got me.  It’s actually very freeing drawing with just ink. There’s no second guessing the lines/marks you’ve made. Once it’s there, that’s it. It’s there. It was nice to stretch those muscles. I don’t get a chance often to do things I used to spend a lot of time doing. Life has a habit of getting in the way.

Maybe I try doing some ink stuff with different shades of gray next.

Here are a few of what I felt were my more successful pictures.

I’m going to try

Over the years I’ve been writing this blog (closing in on 8 years now) I’ve been pretty spotty on how often I deliver content. And that content seems to come in waves.  I’m going to try to change that.

I don’t think that it’s going to make it more popular (I can’t actually believe that people would want to read what I’ve written anyway). I just think that if I’m going to write I should do it more often. If for no other reason than “why not?”

The Adventures of Stuart Horton

Stuart Horton is a boy (ten but looks younger) who, due to a job opportunity for his mom, had to move from his home to a new, smaller home, in the town of Beeton.  It is the small town where his father grew up and he soon discovers his family has a strange and mysterious history in Beeton.

Lissa Evans wrote two books about Stuart published here in the USA as Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms and Horton’s Incredible Illusions (different names in England where she’s from). I decided to write my review of these books as one for two reasons. They are both equally good. They are also both short (under 300 pages put together) and they are really all the same story.  In fact the whole of the two books takes place in only a matter of weeks.

Stuart discovers that his father’s uncle was a well-known magician in town.  That with a gift given to Stuart’s father by this uncle (Tiny Tony Horton) sets Stuart on an adventure to discover what happened to Uncle Tony. He befriends a young girl living next door and she helps him to solve the mysteries he comes upon.

I enjoyed these two books quite a bit. They are very quick reads (they are written with younger tween to early teen kids in mind) but I always enjoy a well written book regardless of the target age. It’s got a lot of action, mystery, and a little danger (of the kids variety). And because Uncle Tony was a magician there is also an elusive sense of magic in the first book that becomes more concrete in the second.

It’s also good when an author has his or her series planned out in advance. If they know where they are going to end when they start. It allows them to insert details and characters early on that they might have overlooked if they just wrote as the story took them.  Clearly the author knew where the story was going. It creates a sense of realism that is good in a fantasy book of this type. It grounds it. And while I’d like to see more adventures with Stuart, the story come to a conclusion satisfactorily.

I’d recommend these books for readers as young as 10 but even older if they are not “readers” like I was as a kid.

Amazing Animal Facts postcards

amazing-animal-facts-50-colorable-postcards-boxAs you probably know if you’re reading my blog, from time to time I write reviews of books that different publishers send me (BTW this seems as good a time as any to say that getting these for free doesn’t affect my reviews of them).  My last item was not a book though.  It is a set of postcards.  The Amazing Animal Facts postcards to be precise.  They come in a nice box with dividers, not unlike a recipe box, to separate out the different types of animals (Sea, Forrest, Field, Jungle, Sky).  There are two of every card which would allow you to send one and keep one if you wanted to keep a set.

tumblr_oi7aqwme6f1t3i99fo4_1280All of the cards are printed in black and white.  This is so you, or your recipient, can color them in (I suspect they intend you to, but you can make that call on your own).  I personally don’t want to sit and color.  I know adult coloring books are all the rage now but, while I can in some respects understand the allure, it’s not something I have ever felt the need to do.  I do, however, find the illustrations on the cards charming, as I do the facts presented on them.

There’s not a whole lot more to say about these cards other than I like them.  I don’t know that I have need to send out postcards, or that I ever will.  But I like the art on them enough to be glad I have them around.  It’s an interesting product, and I would love to see a similarly designed book with more animals represented.  I only wonder if, as a product, this one has any real staying power.

The Mysterious Package Company

In 2003 I came across a game called In Memoriam.  Without going into the details of that game I found it very engaging.  Essentially the game was set up as digital evidence for a crime with videos, photos, and puzzles/clues set up by the criminal.  The game makers also set up numerous websites to facilitate a blurring of the lines between the real world and the game.  You would investigate clues on the internet using Google and those searches would lead you to their websites.  You would also get emails from “other investigators” on your team (really just auto emails from the server) to your actual normal email.  It was very effective at blurring lines and making it feel more real.

I really enjoyed that escapism that allowed you to feel part of the story like no other video game I’d ever played.

Recently I became aware of a service/product that’s been around for a few years now called the Mysterious Package Company.  You sign up so either you (or a friend) receive a series of packages in the mail.  The idea behind it is that everything you receive is presented as a true thing.  There are clues to unravel and artifacts to discover.  It sells itself as a similar experience as I had with this video game so many years ago.  I decided to find out what it was like so I ordered the cheapest one they had (still not cheap but not as many mailings as the other more expensive items).

tq9nxs1It came in a plain cardboard box without any stamps or adornments to let the recipient know who it was from.  When I got the box open, there was some packing peanuts, a plain white envelope, and a wooden box.  The envelope had no distinctive markings on it.  At first I suspected it was a packing slip or something of that nature.  It was not.  It was a “hand written” letter addressed specifically to me.  It was of course printed but at first glance it did very much appear to be hand written on lined paper.  The letter was explaining that the package was being sent to me as the previous owner could not keep it.  Blah blah blah, mysterious stuff and more.  This isn’t to say the letter was poorly done, just don’t want to give much away.  I did find the letter a little difficult to read.  The handwriting wasn’t super clear, but I think that helps.

The box was in the style of an old wooden parts crate type thing.  Actually nailed together with four good size (not large) nails.  You will need tools to get it open.  I used a pocket knife but you won’t do it bare handed (unless you’re just going to smash it open).  It is a rough wood and bares stamps from an unrelated company giving it a real world feel.

Inside the box you are presented with some rolled up, yellowed newspaper pages.  I read through them briefly.  One of the papers are wrapped around a leather journal with a medal medallion on a string wrapped around it (perhaps binding the evil inside was what they were going for).  There was also a copied flyer that would also be from the time period (1980 on the newspapers).

mcnally1The book, which is the main focus of this box, is an old lined leather journal.  I don’t want to say much about the contents of the journal so as to not ruin the story.  I will say from a production value standpoint it’s great.  A few cut out newspaper clippings are tucked in the pages.  While we all know this is produced in bulk, it does appear handmade when viewed.  Even up close it’s not immediately obvious it was not hand written.  It would have to be, but the illusion is great.

As far as the story that comes along with the package, I found it entertaining.  I didn’t find it “chilling” as some reviewers on the website had said.  Perhaps, knowing it wasn’t real, I found it difficult to allow the illusion.  Maybe it’s my age.  Everything is produced very well and as a whole is very convincing from a visual standpoint.  I think I was expecting more of a puzzle to unravel than just a story to read.  Unless there’s some large underlying part of the story that I’ve missed (which is entirely possible).  I haven’t yet received the “reveal” letter from them so it’s possible there is a part of the story I missed (and if so I will post about it) but it actually seemed pretty straight forward to me.

With all that said, I did enjoy it.  In fact if it had been gifted to me, so that I may not have been expecting it that probably would have added to it.  And I think that’s their intent.  You buy it for someone so the package is mysterious.  But knowing it was coming and what it’s all about from the beginning I think ruined the illusion some.  It is worth the experience.  I may try one of their other packages that are multi-stage.  That may add to the mystery and puzzle.

The beatings will continue until morale improves

I’m going to be clear before I start rambling here.  During the primaries last year, I did not vote for Trump.  He wasn’t my guy.  When the general election came around I didn’t vote for him either.  I live in California so it hardly matters.  All of the Electoral College votes in my state were going to Hillary.  This is such a sure thing the news called California for Clinton the second the polls closed when there was only about 10% of precincts reporting.  With that said, I voted for Evan McMullin.  Would I have if I lived in a battle ground state?  I don’t know.

I’ll also give Trump credit where it’s due.  For example, everything I’ve read about Gorsuch makes me think he was an excellent choice for the Supreme Court.

No back to the point.  It seems to me that nearly every liberal out there (this is hyperbole of course) has lost the mind.  From the “It’s ok to punch a Nazi” movement, to the full on assault people in the name of stopping fascism (without a sense of irony) it seems like people have forgotten what free speech is.

Kiarra Robles was pepper sprayed in Berkeley, CA on February 1 (see video here) because she had the unmitigated gall to wear a Make America Great Again hat.  Fires were lit all over the city. People were beaten, because they came to hear Milo Yiannopoulos speak.

Celebrities were thrilled about the violence.  Debra Messing (of Will & Grace fame) tweeted this:

So she supports violence against people and property for political aims (which I think is the textbook definition of terrorism, just saying).

And here’s the thing that’s really crazy about it.  They weren’t protesting a government policy.  They weren’t protesting some wrongful act by the government.  They weren’t even protesting Trump.  They were protesting that another US citizen was going to use his right to free speech.  They didn’t want him saying things they didn’t agree with.  They don’t want anyone saying things they don’t like.

This is what we’ve come to.  The left increasingly wants to use violence and intimidation to keep people from saying (or probably even thinking) things they don’t agree with.

And they’re doing it in the name of stopping fascism while using the tools and techniques of fascism.

NKJV Study Bible (2nd Edition) is a good resource

9780718011659Of the various translations if the Bible out there I tend to like 3 the most.  The KJV, ESV, and NKJV are easily my favorite 3.  The MEV might replace one of those but I’ve only just started reading through it so those are still my three.  I was given the opportunity to review a NKJV Study Bible published by Thomas Nelson and was excited at the opportunity.

First thing, I’m not going to spend a lot of time going over the content of the study notes.  In general they are good.  Some things I don’t agree with.  But after going through the Bible I suspect every Christian of every stripe will find something they don’t 100 % agree with (though not all the same things).  This I’ve found is true of every study Bible.  After all the notes are not inspired, they are the work of flawed men (and women).  Therefore I don’t expect perfection.  One thing we all need to learn is to eat the watermelon and spit out the seeds.  So in general they are good, but not perfect.

The cover is a teal/blue design (the copy I received was the soft fake leather that is very popular right now).  I thought it was ok but my wife thought it was very nice.  Perhaps this color scheme is designed to appeal to women or maybe I just don’t like color.  Not sure.  You can judge for yourself by looking at the picture.

It has center column references which are traditional and very well-liked by many.  Personally I prefer side column references as it is easy to see what verses have them.  The color coding on notes is great though.  If you’re a visual learner I think this will be a good layout/design for you.  Even if you’re not it helps draw clear lines between the inspired text and the thoughts people have had on the text.  This isn’t to say that all the notes have color coding but it there enough for it to register (at least for me).

It is on the big side for Bibles.  Not as large as the ESV Study Bible (which is also great), but still big enough that it probably won’t be your everyday carry around with you Bible either (if you are the type that has one of those).

Over all it’s a solid study Bible and an improvement on the original version (which didn’t have the color).  If you like the NKJV and are looking for a study Bible you could do much worse than this one (I’m looking at you Modern Life Study Bible).  I did receive this Bible for free for the purpose of this review.  The opinions are, however, my actual opinions.

Hello, Bicycle, a great little book on bikes

61rlhzyme4l-_sx258_bo1204203200_I received the book Hello, Bicycle from the publisher to look over and review.  The opinions are my own.

I actually liked this book a lot.  It covers many different topics that relate to bicycles.  From determining your needs when shopping for a bicycle to bicycle maintenance to getting around on your bicycle.  It’s all done in an informative, but tongue in cheek manner (did you know having a bike won’t force you to wear spandex shorts? I know now thanks to this book).  Truth be told, I didn’t find a lot of new, or surprising information in the book.  Still I enjoyed reading it and I love the format of the book.

Many books have a design that actually works into the content (some more effectively than others) and this is one of those books.  I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed it as much if it wasn’t for this aspect of the book.  Perhaps that’s just me but I suspect not.  With that said it makes, in many cases, the book not work as well in an electronic format.  Any book that has sidebars, “note boxes” or things of that nature don’t translate over well to a purely text format.  I’ve found this with many books (study Bibles in particular) and they don’t translate over well.  So do yourself a favor and pick up this particular book in a physical format.  Sure it might cost a bit more, but in the end it will be worth the extra investment.

Oh No! The IRS is coming to get me! SCAM

Last week (10/3/2016) I got a phone call at lunch.  I didn’t recognize the number so I let it go to voice mail.  After lunch I checked and it was the last part of a recorded message telling me there was a warrant for my arrest and my home address was under investigation.

Well, being the paragon of virtue that I am I wanted to call back this obviously legit number to find out the details.  I mean how can you doubt the veracity of a robo-message telling you that you’re going to be arrested?  I’m sure that kind of thing is completely legal.

My first call back I was greeted by a guy who just said, “Hello.”  I asked where I had called and he hung up on me.  That’s professional.  I called back and spoke to a Robert Matthews who had a very thick Indian accent.  I asked where I was calling and he said it was the Department of Treasury.  He asked for my name and I gave it to him.  I don’t think my name is unique enough to be concerned about giving it out.  He then asked when I last paid my taxes.  That’s a strange question for them to ask.  Particularly without any supporting information.  Like I said, my name isn’t unique.  How would he know he was speaking to the right guy?  But I suspect any guy is the right guy.  I told him I always pay my taxes since I was 18 years old.  He seemed to think I meant I hadn’t paid since I was 18.  I corrected him.  He then said that I owed more money on my 2012 taxes.  I told him that I was confused why that would be since I got a refund on my taxes for that year.  He asked, “Why would the government give you a refund on taxes?”  I thought that was weird.  I said I get refunds every year on my taxes.  He informed me that the government doesn’t give refunds on taxes.  I responded by telling him that nearly everyone gets refunds on their taxes.

He hung up on me.

I called back and this time spoke with an Eric.  I told him I had just been speaking to Mr. Matthews and we got disconnected.  He asked me to hold.  After a couple of minutes he came back on the line and asked what Mr. Matthews had told me.  So I relayed the conversation I had with him and then stated that it didn’t seem like Mr. Matthews was familiar with the tax refund process.  I then asked Eric if he was familiar with the refund process.

Again, the line went dead.

Well wanting to make sure I got this cleared up I called back.  I spoke to the “supervisor” and he told me they had called me by mistake.  I asked how that happened.  He told me by mistake and then hung up.

I had a good laugh about it with my coworkers and went on with my day.

Well the next day my boss got a similar call from another number.  I decided to call back my number again.  I don’t recall the name I got on the phone when I called back.  This guy was a bit more aggressive.  After I gave him my name he told me that I owed taxes from years 2009-2015.  In an attempt to clarify I asked what address they have for me.  He told me they didn’t have that kind of information.  Just my name and the case information.  That’s strange.  You’d think the documents they had would include my address.  He then told me I owed $5,000 and if I didn’t settle it on the phone I would be arrested in 45 minutes.  I then again questioned the lack of documentation he had and he told me the police would bring the evidence with them, have a 30 minute meeting with me then arrest me.  He then hung up on me.

Well an hour went by and I hadn’t been arrested yet so I called the number back and they are no longer taking calls at that number.  Weird that the Treasury Department would stop taking calls to their investigation department.  I think it might have been a scam.

BTW, the number, if you’re interested was 202-795-5729.


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