HelenEdith's Blog

The minutiae of my life, plus website updates and book reviews

Archive for September, 2007

Entry for September 30, 2007

Posted by HelenEdith on September 30, 2007

Today I met up with the wind quintet. We hadn’t met since the spring, as the five of us were unable to find a single Sunday morning all summer when we were all available! I think that one or two of us were a little rusty, so we didn’t attempt anything too challenging – although having said that, the first piece we played contains a bassoon solo that goes up to high D, which I nailed. I’m dreading the day when my plastic reed disintegrates: I’ve got another two, but they just don’t play well; and I need to toughen up my lips to switch back to cane.

I sat around and did very little when I got home from the quintet, but there was tennis on EuroSport later in the afternoon and I watched that. It went to three sets, with Ana Ivanovic defeating Daniela Hantuchova. It was quite a close match, and the commentators thought that now Daniela has improved her ranking that she’s getting to play the top players more often in the closing stages of tournaments and that next year she might win some of those close matches.

My laundry remains undone, and I haven’t ordered any more memory cards for my camera. They’re both jobs I’m going to have to do tomorrow: the laundry because I’m running short of shirts; and the memory cards because my switch to shooting RAW+JPEG means that I require higher capacity cards.

My new tax disc needs to go on my car in the morning. It will be 1st October, and my old disc expires tonight.

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Website update: Royal Gunpowder Mills visit, September 22nd 2007

Posted by HelenEdith on September 28, 2007

Last weekend, Stephen and I visited the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey.

I’ve got my pictures up now, and they can be found by clicking here.

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Book review: Anne McCaffrey – Pegasus in Space

Posted by HelenEdith on September 27, 2007

This is the third book in the ‘Talent’ series – a series which Anne McCaffrey started back in 1959. This book neatly fills a gap between ‘Pegasus in Flight’ (the second ‘Talent’ book) and ‘The Rowan’ (the first ‘Tower and Hive’ book).

Anne McCaffrey has remained true to her original characters, but has incorporated things into this latest book which hadn’t been thought of in 1959. The one that comes to mind is the ‘Reeve Board’: a device which those with a spinal injury can use to keep their muscles in tone. I’m not aware of whether there actually *is* a Reeve Board in reality, but this book is dedicated to Christopher Reeve, so we know where she got the idea from.

The story told by the book is that of Peter Reidinger, who also appeared earlier in the ‘Talent’ series. Peter has a spinal injury, but has learnt to move using telekinesis. He can move not only himself, but also other objects, and he can move them considerable distances. His powers of telepathy also come in handy, and he’s on hand to avert more than one disaster in space as the story unfolds.

Anne McCaffrey’s ‘Talent’ and ‘Tower and Hive’ books are my favourites among all of her work. I can almost feel I’m there with the kinetics as they shift loads by mental strength – with a little help from special generators they can tap into. I would love there to be more books in this series.

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Book review: Elizabeth Moon – The Serrano Legacy series

Posted by HelenEdith on September 24, 2007

I’ve gathered together reviews for all the books in this series, which I had on file. Beware that each review necessarily reveals the direction in which the earlier books in the series are going!

Hunting Party

This is Book One of The Serrano Legacy series, and is the first book by Elizabeth Moon alone that I have read. I have read quite a bit of work where she collaborates with Anne McCaffrey, and all I can say is that the two have similar enough styles that their collaborations blend rather well, and that Elizabeth Moon by herself is a pretty good storyteller, too.

The action in this book follows Heris Serrano, who has resigned her commission with the Regular Space Service, when forced to do so by an unscrupulous senior officer. She takes a job as captain of a luxury space yacht called Sweet Delight, owned by a rich old woman who travels extensively, and is bound, at the time of this story, for a planet on which foxhunting has been recreated.

There is quite a bit in this book about horses, but there’s also an underlying plot relating to the activities of the crew of Sweet Delight, and there’s a further plot relating to the unscrupulous senior officer who caused Heris to resign in the first place. Add in a spoilt nephew and the Prince he managed to offend, and there’s quite a lot of action going on.

I can’t wait to get hold of the next book in the series, Sporting Chance. I think Elizabeth Moon may feature quite heavily in my reading lists while I work my way through all seven books in this series.

Sporting Chance

This is the second book in the Serrano Legacy series.

In this book, Heris Serrano has a VIP passenger on the Sweet Delight: none other than her employer Cecilia’s nephew Prince Gerel. Prince Gerel was in a spot of bother at the end of “Hunting Party” and Cecilia is returning him to his parents as discreetly as possible. During the voyage, she notices that Prince Gerel, who should be of above average intelligence, actually appears to be stupid and she suspects that somebody is somehow poisoning the Prince.

She takes her suspicions to the King, and it sets in train a series of events which include a fair bit of murder and mayhem and result in Heris Serrano “liberating” the Sweet Delight and becoming a fugitive.

The adventure comes to a satisfactory conclusion, but there will be another adventure along in “Winning Colours” and I can’t wait to see what Heris Serrano gets up to next.

Winning Colours

This is the third book in the Serrano Legacy series, and is just as readable as the first two.

Lady Cecilia, newly rejuvenated, is ready to tour horse farms on a variety of planets, so that’s where the yacht “Sweet Delight” heads – right into trouble, as one of the horse farms is located on a planet which gets raided by the Compassionate Hand, a rival alliance to the Familias Regnant alliance where Heris Serrano’s loyalties lie. Unfortunately, the Fleet battlegroup sent to defend the planet are commanded by a man who is secretly in the pay of the Compassionate Hand, who are anything but compassionate to those they raid. Naturally, Heris gets all mixed up in what’s going on.

Meanwhile, some of the young people from the Familias Regnant have been sent on a mission to discover whether there are irregularities in the rejuvenation drugs being used by the wealthy to extend their lives. They find themselves in a spot of bother, and end up on a planet called Patchcock, where all sorts of trouble is brewing. Once Heris has sorted out the Compassionate Hand incursion, she ends up on Patchcock too, along with three formidable Familias Regnant aunts, and between them all, they get matters sorted out.

If I didn’t know that there were another four books in this series, I would have said that this was the end of the series, as this book ends with the tying up of pretty much all of the loose ends that have been lying around. I will be interested to see what’s in store in the fourth book, as Heris rejoins Fleet. I hope that such Characters as Lady Cecilia, her nephew Ronnie, and Brun, a girl from another of the Familias Regnant, continue to play a part in the rest of the series.

Once a Hero

This is book four of the Serrano Legacy, and it goes off on a completely different track from the first three books, whose main character was Heris Serrano, with a cast of supporting characters from the Familias Regnant. This book develops the character of Esmay Suiza, who appeared in book three as the junior officer with the most seniority after a mutiny who stepped into the captain’s role and won a battle.

Suiza turns out to be worthy of having a whole book devoted to her as she deals with the Court Martial which followed the mutiny, then goes on home leave to her world of origin, Antiplano, where she finds out disturbing information about her early years. On her return to Fleet, she is posted to a Deep Space Repair ship, where she handles her notoriety well and becomes a well liked Lieutenant.

Of course, life isn’t going to remain easy on the huge ship, as there is skullduggery afoot in the form of the Bloodhorde, who manage to infiltrate the huge ship. Suiza’s previous combat experience catapults her into the limelight once more, where she gets into the thick of the action.

There is a Serrano in this book. He is a young Ensign, and his path crosses Esmay Suiza’s and they become friends. I think we might see some more of both of them in book five of the series.

Rules of Engagement

In book five of the Serrano Legacy, we continue to follow the story of Esmay Suiza, but Brun Meager pops up as well.

Esmay Suiza has transferred from Technical Track to Command Track and now has to attend a large number of training courses which weren’t part of Technical Track, so she is doing more courses than anyone else at Copper Mountain, and doesn’t have much time for socialising.

Barin Serrano is also attending courses at Copper Mountain, as is Brun Meager, who is a civilian. Brun takes a shine to Barin, which doesn’t exactly endear her to Esmay, who doesn’t have time to consolidate her own claim to Barin. It all culminates in Esmay speaking her mind rather bluntly to Brun, which puts a question mark over Esmay’s name when Brun leaves the academy at Copper Mountain and charters a space yacht to return to her family, but never arrives.

Esmay gets posted to a search and rescue vessel which finds traces of Brun’s missing yacht. Meanwhile the story also follows what has happened to Brun, which is that her kidnappers have taken her back to their home world to breed from!

Fleet work out which world Brun has been taken to, and mount a rescue mission in which Suiza is eventually allowed to participate. Brun participates actively in her own rescue when it appears that she is about to be betrayed, and we end up with an exciting drama taking place on a derelict space station.

Brun and Esmay make up at the end of it all, but I’m very interested to know what’s in store for Barin Serrano in the next book, as he’s acquired rather a lot of “wives” from the planet where Brun’s kidnappers lived.

I managed to read most of this book one night over the holiday weekend, and didn’t turn my light out until there was starting to be light coming in from outside.

Change of Command

This, the sixth book in the Serrano Legacy series, got some rather mixed reviews when I looked it up on Amazon, and I can see how people who hadn’t read the rest of the series may have felt a bit lost with it, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and was intrigued by how some of the many threads from the previous five books are coming together and have a relationship I hadn’t previously suspected. I also enjoyed meeting so many of my old friends from the previous five books, even if some, like Heris Serrano, only put in a cameo appearance.

The incident which opens this book is the assassination of Lord Thornbuckle. This sets in train a series of events relating to who is going to succeed him as Speaker in the Grand Council of the Familias Regnant, and also who is going to inherit his personal wealth.

The theme of traitors in Fleet, the Regular Space Service, which has been central to the whole series, continues in this book, too.

Then we have the desire of Esmay Suiza and Barin Serrano to marry: a desire which is being continually thwarted by the heightened state of alert that Fleet is maintaining and enormous amounts of paperwork that Fleet require them to fill in. Esmay’s status as an Altiplano Landbride is becoming a huge stumbling block, as are the women Barin rescued at the end of book five, for whom Fleet is deducting maintenance from his pay!

This book is definitely not an ending book, and if I didn’t know that there was a seventh book out there waiting to be read, I would expect one to come along before too long, as this book leaves a massive number of loose ends and unresolved conflicts. I will definitely be visiting the library for book seven sooner rather than later.

Against the Odds

This is the seventh and final part of the Serrano Legacy series and is more action-packed than the sixth part was.

Esmay and Barin contracted a runaway marriage at the end of the sixth book, and early in this book she gets booted out of Fleet on the orders of Admiral Serrano. The only thing is: which Admiral Serrano, as there are several of them.

Esmay travels on a trading ship and eventually reaches Castle Rock, the seat of power for the Familias Regnant, where she is hoping that Brun Thornbuckle may be able to help her to get reinstated. Brun has all sorts of problems of her own after her father’s death, and she has been going about solving those, but she takes the time to help Esmay out.

Lady Cecilia de Marktos also pops up again, and is taking care of a rather touchy family problem when she gets captured by Fleet mutineers. Lady Cecilia, being Lady Cecilia, manages to escape from the mutineers in a suitably creative way, assisted by loyal members of the crew of the ship she gets taken to.

Meanwhile, it turns out that joining the Mutiny isn’t the only way that officers in Fleet can go bad, and Esmay, reinstated and given command of her own ship, and Heris Serrano together manage to foil the defection of an Admiral Minor.

With the Fleet Mutiny under control and other assorted traitors taken care of, the series has come to an end. I think that there could have been some more good stories in there about some of the other characters who have popped up during the series, but I suppose you have to draw a line under a series somewhere, and now that people aren’t fighting, any further books would be rather more political in nature and less action packed, so maybe Elizabeth Moon has made a good decision in finishing where she has.

If she ever decides to write another series in the same universe, I’ll definitely be reading it, though. As it is, I think I’ll be exploring some of her other series.

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Book review: Elizabeth Moon – Speed of Dark

Posted by HelenEdith on September 24, 2007

Unlike the other books of Elizabeth Moon that I have read, this one is neither part of a series nor is it a collaboration with Anne McCaffrey. The back cover describes it as a near-future thriller. I might not go quite so far as to describe it as a thriller, but it is heading in that direction.

Lou, the main character, is autistic, but he has had the benefit of treatments which were not available during the 20th Century, and he is able to live an independent life and hold down a job. He analyses patterns for a living. He also attends a fencing group once a week, and has become a very good fencer.

His employer, who manufactures pharmaceuticals, has just bought up a treatment for autism and wants some humans to trial it on. Somebody has come up with the idea of using the team of autistic people who do pattern analysis, and just to encourage them, they have all had a letter telling them that the company needs to cut costs, but those who are involved in product trials have job security.

We spend most of the book following the efforts of the company to get the autistics to participate in the trial; and the efforts of the autistics to find out more about the trial without committing themselves, but also without losing their jobs. We also get to know Lou as a person, and see some of the problems he encounters in day-to-day life because of his autism. Lou emerges as a very clever man despite his disability, and he studies and understands books about the human brain in an effort to understand the treatment he may be “volunteering” for.

There is a time near the end of the book when the reader must wonder whether Lou has lost everything, but he does emerge triumphant although not unscathed eventually.

This is a book that will probably remain in my mind for a long time. It transcends mere entertainment.

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Entry for September 23, 2007 – Royal Gunpowder Mills

Posted by HelenEdith on September 23, 2007

We had quite a day out yesterday. I had arranged to go on a London Photography Meetup Group outing to the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey in Essex. We weren’t due to meet there until 1pm, but we needed to allow a bit more than an hour for the car trip, and we had to stop in Chislehurst first to visit the cash machine, so we left the house sometime between 11:00am and 11:30am.

The cash machine was quickly dealt with and we headed down the M20 to Swanley, following my normal weekday route, and joined the M25 at Junction 3. There seemed to be just as many vehicles on the road at Saturday lunchtime as there are on a weekday morning, although there were more cars and less lorries and people seemed to be driving a fraction more slowly than they do at the tail end of the morning rush. (Conditions do sometimes mean it’s actually possible to drive quite fast, even in the mornings!)

There was a bigger queue at the Dartford Tunnel than I see on a weekday morning, but once I got to the spot where the lanes spread out for the toll booths, I was the only car heading along the DART-Tag lane. It didn’t do me much good, because there was actually a traffic jam going into the tunnels. One good thing came out of that, as I looked up while driving towards the tunnel, and I saw the top structure of a large ship passing overhead along the Thames!

Once through the Tunnel, the traffic eased considerably. Maybe some of it was going to Lakeside and left the M25 once through the Tunnel. We made good time the rest of the way to Waltham Abbey, and apart from getting in a left lane which forced me to turn left when I wanted to go straight across at a set of traffic lights, I had no difficulty in finding the Royal Gunpowder Mills. There were several other Meetup people there who had driven. The rest of the crowd came by train and were walking from the centre of Waltham Abbey. Unfortunately, we were short of mobile phone numbers for that group, but someone did eventually manage to make contact with them (a 10-minute walk away which none of us wanted to do!) and tell them not to wait at the church for us.

The Royal Gunpowder Mills site was used for the manufacture of gunpowder and other explosives from at least as early as the 17th Century right up until the middle of the 20th Century, but is now open to the public as a museum. Stephen and I elected not to take the Land Train tour, which was on a trailer behind a nice big green John Deere tractor driven by a lady. We had no objections to the lady, but tickets were in short supply and we’re likely to get another opportunity to see woodlands and countryside in a few week’s time, so we passed on it.

Instead, we stayed near the entrance to the site, where there were two re-enactment groups doing a special event, and we watched men (and a few women) in a variety of historic uniforms acting out the battles of yesteryear. Some of the people involved were the same ones that we saw at the Wild West Show at The Hop Farm a couple of months ago, but they are colourful and we were happy to see a bit more of them.

We also looked inside the Rocket Museum. That was quite nostalgic for Stephen, because he used to work for the Ministry of Defence in their Photographic Trials Unit, and he actually remembered when a number of the exhibits were being developed and tested. There were some other interesting displays in the Rocket Museum, as they had a series of early microcomputers (what we now know as PCs) and they even had some of them up and running!

We elected not to go to the pub after we’d finished at the Royal Gunpowder Mills. I think that a few others went straight home as well. We didn’t exactly go straight home ourselves, as we made a detour to Lakeside. I wanted to go to IKEA as they had some picture frames that I wanted. The Lakeside site is huge and I’d never penetrated far enough along it to locate IKEA, which turned out to be further away from the shopping mall than I’d ever imagined. We used some of the shortcuts in IKEA so that we didn’t go through the whole showroom, although we did have a look at part of the showroom stuff as Stephen was interested in it.

The picture frames took some locating. We found the picture frame area in the Market Hall all right. The problem was finding the exact frames I wanted, whose Swedish name I couldn’t remember. It turned out to be RESLIG. There weren’t as many of them on display as there were of some of the other lines. I wanted those ones because they allow items up to 10mm thick to be placed in them, and I want to put in photographs which are already on mounting board. Upon examination, we discovered that the frame is loaded by undoing some screws, which should enable me to open it up and change its contents without wearing it out. Most of the others have little metal tabs that you bend, and I think that changing their contents a few times would result in the little metal tabs breaking off.

We also found a couple of heavy glass vases that will be Stephen’s Mum’s birthday present. Stephen says that they should be ideal for her orchids and heavy enough for the cats not to knock them over.

Then we went back to the main shopping mall and found ourselves a parking space. There are 13,000 free spaces, and amazingly, many of the car parks were full at 6:30pm on a Saturday evening. We did find that although the car parks were showing as full, when the barrier raised and let us in, there were actually a number of free spaces, so I think that they allow for a certain number of empty spaces so that circulating vehicles will find a parking spot sooner rather than later.

I wanted to go to Holland and Barratt, and once that was done, we walked about half way along the shopping mall to Primark, where we had a look for some socks for Stephen. He chose a very reasonably priced 6-pack of assorted grey socks. He also got some more of his favoured boxers.

We contemplated stopping for some food, but we had food at home waiting to be eaten and decided to save our money. We did make one further side-trip on our way home: I crossed the QEII Bridge in the extreme left lane and followed the brown tourist signs, hoping to find the viewpoint for looking at the Bridge. We must have missed a sign somewhere, as we didn’t find the viewpoint and ended up in Dartford instead. It was dark by then and we didn’t go back for another try.

I was hoping to find it yesterday, as it’s getting to the time of the year when I’m crossing the Bridge at twilight on weekdays and I want to know where the viewpoint is so that I can go straight there and take some photographs. Messing around trying to find it on a weekday isn’t something I fancy, and so far, no web search has turned up directions to it. I might have to make a good old fashioned phone call to somebody – either Tourist Information or maybe Le Crossing, who run the tunnels and the bridge. Le Crossing don’t publish viewpoint information, though, so Tourist Information might turn out to be the better bet. That’s if Dartford has tourist information!

I’ve been editing my pictures today, but haven’t got them on my website yet. The picture on this blog entry is one of the ones I took yesterday. I particularly liked it when I realised that one drop of whatever the man’s drinking has dripped and the camera caught it in mid air. Just a wee drop seems like a good title for it.

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Website update: Interior Pictures of St Peter & St Paul Parish Church, Charing, Kent

Posted by HelenEdith on September 16, 2007

I’ve just transferred my pictures of St Peter & St Paul Parish Church, Charing, Kent, taken on December 11th, 2005, from Yahoo Photos to my website.

They were taken during the interval of an Invicta Wind Orchestra concert, so there was not time or space to set up a tripod, and I used my manual focus prime lenses with wide apertures and a high ISO setting on the camera to take these pictures.

Click here to view them.

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Entry for September 15, 2007 – Yesterday’s visit to Brighton

Posted by HelenEdith on September 15, 2007

Yesterday, I took a day off work, and we took Stephen’s Mum with us to Brighton for the afternoon and evening.

We toyed with the idea of visiting The Pavilion or the SeaLife Centre, but when we arrived in Brighton and found scaffolding still over the exterior of the Pavilion, our minds were made up and we “did” the SeaLife Centre, after which Jessie sat in the car while we took some pictures of the lights on the Pier.

The SeaLife Centre was reasonably wheelchair friendly, although the accessible entrance wasn’t well signposted and took a bit of finding!

I got out my 50mm f1.7 prime lens while we were in the SeaLife Centre, and shot with the aperture wide open. Although I had a lot of failures, I came home with a reasonable number of successful pictures.

After we emerged from the SeaLife Centre, we went and had a look on the Pier, but didn’t stay there long because the wind was quite fresh and Jessie was feeling cold. Instead, we retreated into Burger King, where Jessie had a small portion of breaded chicken while Stephen and I tucked into Double Whoppers. I don’t even want to think about how many calories/fat were in those things, but we had skipped lunch and they were very good. I like BK burgers because of the generous amount of salad included – and I also like their flame grilled beef. We might have tried their Angus burgers, only I’d left my money off coupons at home. We’ll have to try them another day!

We managed to linger over our burgers until after I should have been outside taking my twilight pictures of the Pier. By the time I’d been to the car and retrieved my tripod, they turned out to be night pictures.

Click here to view my day’s picture-taking.

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Book Review: Linda Howard – Kiss Me While I Sleep

Posted by HelenEdith on September 14, 2007

This book is romantic suspense at its best. Lily Mansfield, a hired assassin who works as a contract agent for the CIA, has gone off the rails and taken out an evil man whom who employers had not told her to take out, so she’s in big trouble with the CIA and she knows it.

Lucas Swain is the CIA agent sent to bring Lily in, but when he finds her in Paris, he gets involved in Lily’s personal vendetta, and doesn’t bring her straight in.

Between their adventures taking out the bad guys in an unauthorised hit and their growing interest in one another, this book kept me turning the pages. There was one rather unexpected moment near the end of the book which I didn’t see coming, but it turned out to be all part of Lucas’s plan.

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Website update: Monument pictures

Posted by HelenEdith on September 9, 2007

I’ve been on a hunting and gathering expedition around my hard drive and I’ve brought together a number of pictures I have taken of The Monument over the past couple of years.

This structure commemorates the Great Fire of London. It\’s open to the public (although not right now, as it’s under refurbishment and closed until December 2008 for that reason) and my daytime pictures show people standing on the observation platform near the top.

Click here to view the pictures.

I’ve been on a hunting and gathering expedition around my hard drive and I’ve brought together a number of pictures I have taken of The Monument over the past couple of years.

This structure commemorates the Great Fire of London. It’s open to the public (although not right now, as it’s under refurbishment and closed until December 2008 for that reason) and my daytime pictures show people standing on the observation platform near the top.

Click here to view the pictures.

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