23 June 2016

Review: Daughters of Freyja (negative stars, really)

I don't have a thing against self-pubbed authors (or vertically integrated, or whatever the appropriate term is these days). What I do have a problem with is a book that proports to be a genre (and erotica) novel that doesn't pass even the most basic "smell test" of worldbuilding.

Let's cut to the chase: If you want to see how to do romance and excellent fantasy worldbuilding, you want Elizabeth Vaughan's "Chronicles of the Warlands" or her "Epic of Palins" series. Those books have excellent worldbuilding, making the strange familiar and the familiar strange, while keeping everything consistent and the story compelling.

But let's pretend that you make the mistake of ignoring my suggestion above, and instead come to Daughters of Frejya, the first of the "Welcome to Valkyria" series.

As an aside to my pagan friends: Yeah, if you haven't already guessed, just keep walking.

I was asked to review this book by a friend, who, to his credit, forewarned me. If he hadn't, the rather long author's note on the Amazon page defending the book would have. And if I ignored both of those, the cover's WordArt style lettering would have. It's not quite Lousy Book Covers level, but definitely not the work of someone who has done a lot of graphic design.

If it seems like I'm spending a lot of time on the cover, that's because I could only make it five chapters into this hot mess of a book. The freaking thing starts with a seventy-nine word long sentence. And what's worse, it's exposition. We get lots of irrelevant details about how our protagonist bought this house, and a completely trite comparison between "Valarie" and "Valkyria".

So, worldbuilding. We establish early on that Val knows geography, and her friend doesn't. Yet Val doesn't blink an eye at her friend's suggestion that they vacation in a location that Val has never heard of.  And of course, they only have air service from Oslo, Reykjavik, and Miami.

Yeah, you fans of Norse religions, you caught that spelling of Valar in our protagonist's name, but for some freaking reason they're headed to somewhere in the Bahamas. Or Bermuda Triangle.

As our protagonist boards the plane, she gets hints that clothes are not exactly a welcome thing in Valkyria (which would, of course, surprise both the Valar and the Valkyries), and that men are at best second class citizens.

There's five things that bother me about this bit (which seriously takes up chapters two through the beginning of five):

1. It's stated that men tried to have a revolution a while back. If you have a mystically isolated area (like, oh, Avalon), the idea that this escaped the notice of Fox News and the MRA/men's rights asshats makes sense. If, instead, you set up an active tourism industry, there'd be fedora-wearing jerks complaining all the time about the restrictions to men.... which would have brought all of this to Val's attention.

2. As is revealed by chapter five, all these women are exceptionally old, but look young. But nobody notices. The biggest problem interacting with the mundane world is that the naked passengers on the plane have to cover up in Miami. Again, there's apparently diplomatic relations, because our protagonist has to get a passport and the like. Sooooooooooooooo... what the hell? Nobody in the mundane world clued in to that?

3. Val is repeatedly shocked - SHOCKED I tell you - that there's nudity. It got kind of old kind of quick. Nudity in the brochure! Oh my! Nudity on the plane! Oh dear! Nudity of the woman in front of me! My stars! ::eyeroll::

4. Apparently the best way the whole place of Valkyria could figure out to deal with the "men's uprising" was to make it law that everyone doesn't wear pants and expose their genitals. We will come back to this.

5. It is freaking infuriating that it's not only implied but expressly written into the plot that naked women means lots of lesbian sex. While I can suspend disbelief enough to get by an individual's awakening of sexual urges they never admitted before, this is that fantasy writ large to encompass (apparently) all women. It's just... it reads like a straight person who is titillated by the idea of being bi-curious trying to write erotica. Sexual orientation just doesn't work like that, and even writing erotica that pretends otherwise is frustrating at best.

Again, this book - or at least as far as I could tolerate reading it - sounds like the writings of a straight person who has never actually talked to LGBT people, let alone been in a LGBT relationship. Further, the bits about the "men's uprising" is not only sexist, it's out-and-out anti-feminist and definitely anti-trans. To quote:
While the bulk of these laws restricted the freedoms of men, they in turn would have the greatest impact on the women of Valkyria by technically being the opposite of restrictive. In order to make sure that men would never again be able to dress up as women in public to carry out their nefarious plans, the Mandatory Public Exposure Laws were enacted.
Yes, that's right, women. You're free by being forced to leave your genitals exposed. (Hint: SocImages has a post for you)

All women may no longer restrict visual sight of their Blessings of Womanhood. The blessed wombs and supple breasts that clearly separate women from men may no longer be concealed in public by any means, be they by clothing, hair, contraption, or otherwise.
Did I not mention that? Oh, yeah, you totally have to shave your nethers. And if you're not clearly identified as a female, I guess you're the second-class citizen that is "male", even if you're trans, intersexed, and so on.

Again, do I have anything against a bit of erotica where a person experiences an "awakening" of their latent but repressed urges, regardless what those urges are? Hell no.

Do I have a problem with a book that is casually homophobic, transphobic, anti-feminist, and just does a horrible job of world-building in service of a typically straight sexual fantasy?

Oh yeah.

Maybe, somehow, this book manages to correct course after I stopped reading it. I'm simply glad that it was discounted to free; that way I'm only out the time I spent reading as far as I could.

21 June 2016

Whole House Audio with MPC and PulseAudio RTP multicast

Setting up whole house and synchronized audio with pulseaudio was both simpler and more complicated than I anticipated.

If you decide to take on this task, let me save you some googling and give you a couple of relevant links, including a script that I created in order to turn things on and off again.

I started with this post about using MPD and whole-house audio. I already used MPD (and am very glad for it), so the problematic parts almost entirely involved Pulseaudio RTP multicast and firewalls. I also referred to this post from danplanet and this post from fruit.je.  Here's the important bits:

In ~/.config/pulse/default.pa, make the following changes in the server:

.include /etc/pulse/default.pa
### Load the RTP receiver module (also configured via paprefs, see above)
load-module module-rtp-recv

### Load the RTP sender module (also configured via paprefs, see above)
load-module module-null-sink sink_name=rtp format=s16le channels=1 rate=44100 sink_properties="device.description='RTP default'"

### Need to specify port and add loop=1 to broadcast locally as well.
load-module module-rtp-send source=rtp.monitor port=5004 loop=1

### If you're not playing through local speakers as well, use this instead.
#load-module module-rtp-send source=rtp.monitor port=5004

and in ~/.mpd/mpd.conf make the following addition:
audio_output {
type "pulse"
name "MPD RTP"
sink "rtp"
mixer_type "software"

In your receiving PC(s), make sure that you allow PulseAudio to take in multicast by editing ~/.config/pulse/default.pa to include:

### Load the RTP receiver module (also configured via paprefs, see above)
load-module module-rtp-recv

Then the only problem is ensuring that your firewall will allow multicast, which you can do with my UFW script or by following the directions in my RTP switcher script.

If you're considering this, you really ought to look at the switcher script, as PulseAudio multicast currently clobbers the crap out of anything connected to the network via WiFi, and there's a fix in there for it.

Also, multicast means that your network has 100-200K constantly being used, even if nothing's playing. That's why the RTP switcher script exists at all. It's there to allow you to be able to turn RTP multicast on and off again with minimal fuss.  (Do RTFM, though.))

Being able to play music from one source and have it be in sync throughout my home LAN is pretty freaking awesome. If you're using PulseAudio and MPD, you could be doing it too!

17 June 2016

Review: The Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400 Plus

I used Kodi to turn my old laptop into a media server attached to my television. It's a really nice setup, and well worth it. It doesn't require a new top-of-the-line system, either; this eBay search should show some systems that will work well enough in the $50-$150 range, and you can use Linux as an operating system (or just use Kodibuntu) if you'd rather.  Some other guides are here, here, here, and here; that last has a guide for building your own PC as well.

Which isn't really the point; it's just the setup for what I want to review: The Logitech Wireless Touch Keyboard K400 Plus ( Logitech | Amazon | Best Buy | Staples).

One of the few frustrations I had with the PC-as-Media-Center was simply trying to work the keyboard and mouse. While many interfaces were optimized for one, other tasks were simply easier for the other. And using a mouse on the arm of a couch is both difficult and makes you look like a fool. Add to that the mouse pointer showing up onscreen every time the table it was on got nudged, and I was ready for this product when it went on sale.

This keyboard solves those problems simply and easily. The touchpad is responsive, the form factor is small enough that it's not in the way and sits comfortably on the edge of an end table, and since there's no "real" mouse, I can easily move the pointer where I need it to go, when I need it.

It is probably not the best keyboard for any kind of extended typing work (like I'm doing right now), especially if your hands are large. But perhaps you'll have better luck with that if you like smaller keyboards. Regardless, it's not so small that I can't type on it; I'd just rather use my large ergonomic one.

But for the purpose of being the keyboard/mouse to control an old PC running my television? It's dang near perfect.

Note: I do run linux, and so some of the fancier touchpad options don't work at all, or don't work as well. Of course, I'm the kind of guy who often disables those options, so I barely noticed and haven't looked to see if there's a way to enable them.