DIY Home Uplighting

Over the last month, things have been pretty busy with work and trips to Chicago (more on this later), but one project that I’ve really enjoyed is installing some uplighting around the house. Deena has actually wanted this for quite a while, so we asked a few professional services to give us some quotes, and they all gave estimates ($4000-5000) that were far outside our budget ($1500). I had recently read a great article about DIY uplighting from This Old House, and decided to give it a try for myself.

The first thing was to get a vague idea of what exactly I wanted in the property, so I went to Google Earth and pulled up an image of our property to get a general lay of the land.


Once this was done, I walked around the property to see where I wanted lights — this was the most time-consuming part of the project, and although books were somewhat helpful, the best sources of information came from Pinterest and lookbooks of similar colonial houses on the Volt Lighting Photo Gallery. I decided that the most important things I wanted to do were:

  1. Light up the prow of the gable roof
  2. Light up the exterior front walls with gentle indirect light, showcasing the textured brick facade
  3. Light up the magnolia and weeping willow
  4. Light up the front path

Once I clarified these objectives, I built a scale model of our front yard in the free Sketchup webapp to mock where the best placement of the lights would be.


Once this was done, I went to and purchased a bunch of lights! This was a tough choice since a lot of traditional forums recommended Kichler, but the volt website was much more user-friendly and had a better resource center dedicated to people who wanted to DIY. And so, after a few phone calls, I ended up purchasing:

  • two 22′ Elegant Harp path lights [3W 2700K LED]
  • six wall wash lights (three for each side of the house) [4W 2700K LED]
  • two ‘Fat Boy’ wide spotlights for the trees [3W 60 degree 2700K LED]
  • two ‘Fat Boy’ bullet spotlights for the gable [7W 12 degree 2700K LED]
  • two Pro Junction Hubs
  • five hundred feet of 12/2 wire
  • three 12-packs of Blazing DBR Splice Connector gel wire-nuts
  • 300W multi-tap low voltage transformer with photocell

Total damage for all of this was about $1,100, but I also purchased some electrical tape, PVC pipe, and a multimeter. After this, it was time to get to work (cue Rocky-style montage)

It ended up taking me and my dad about eight hours of solid work to get everything done, but a lot of this was redundant work that could be sped up considerably in the future (i.e. checking impedences, learning how to strip wire properly lol)


All in all, I was really happy with the results — if I had to do this again, I would advise (1) purchasing lights with 25′ lead wire (instead of 4′), (2) use hubs instead of daisy chains from the start, (3) not to twist fixtures too much (at risk of pulling out lead wire), and (4) double check all light fixtures with a 9V battery before starting anything. As always, hindsight is 20/20 🙂

Ghostwater Cradle 5 Review

This is a brief review of Will Wight’s “Ghostwater”. This is the fifth book in the “Cradle” series, and is categorized as a fantasy novel.


A simplified graph of the major plot points in this title can be seen above. I’ve been following this series for quite some time and was quite disappointed in the last book in the series (Skysworn). Thankfully, this book is much more engaging than its predecessor. One of my favorite things about this series is its laser-like focus on training — the first book in the series posits that a dreadbeast will destroy the protagonist’s home, so the protagonist relentlessly trains until he is able to contend against the upcoming threat. In the past, the protagonist has done all sorts of ridiculous trials to become stronger (i.e. get stung by sandvipers), and this title is no different, with him eating magic-infused fish and bonding with an artificial intelligence. Although there is some attention to the larger events going on in the Cradle universe, I thought that the narrow focus on the protagonist was a pleasant change and led to a more enjoyable book.

This title does have a few subplots going on, namely (1) Yerin’s struggle to master her symbiote, (2) Eithan’s attempt to save the kingdom from the minions of the Bleeding Phoenix dreadbeast, and (3) the conflict between the black and gold dragon bloodlines. All of these different subplots are quite engrossing in their own right and do a good job on adding variety to the main plotline. Although there was a fairly good sense of closure in this title, I am a little concerned about the ever-growing list of juggling balls in play in this series — we are still no closer to figuring out why Mercy was expelled, what happened to Jai Long’s sister, and what exactly is going on with the Ascended / Ozriel. Although I was quite captivated by the idea of exploring a research station of Northstrider, it’s important to note that Northstrider was barely a footnote in prior books, and the in-depth exploration into his life does little to tie up loose ends.


Although there is quite a lot of hate against underwater levels (as Seth Everman notes), this setting was absolutely fantastic — the ocean depths were perfect for action scenes, and some of the resident wildlife (Diamonscale Sea Drake, Silverfang Carp) were absolutely amazing. Much of the main plotline is set in research labs of a god-level character, and it is amazing to see the neat toys and tools in each facility.

One thing that I thought was handled nicely is point of view — unlike the prior book, this book really limits the number of simultaneous points of view and does a nice transition between each POV to minimize disruption. I think that this really helped readability, and also was used nicely to bring a sense of closure — as a case in point, Yerin is separated from Lindon, they both struggle in different environments (as shown by the author) and are finally reunited.


I’ve always loved reading about interactions between an artificial intelligence and a partnered central protagonist. This has been famously executed in titles like Halo and the Gam3, but I particularly like the author’s spin on the AI Dross. Unlike the typical cool / competent AI companions, Dross is annoying, hilarious, and intriguing — I absolutely loved seeing him mature during the novel. I also thought that some of his quotes were great:

“Some believe that hope is the strongest force in the universe,” Dross said. “Although that is objectively untrue.”

I also enjoyed seeing the protagonist transition into the HighGold rank — as noted previously, he is singularly focused on becoming physically stronger, to the point of stunting his emotional growth. I find it somewhat amusing that there’s always a long spiel by a mentor that warns the protagonist to slow down, but the protagonist continues on regardless. I also quite enjoyed his fight with Ekeri, especially when he uses his Empty Palm — this technique was his signature move in the first book in the series, so it’s nice to see the protagonist return to his roots after all this time.


This book was well-paced and the writing style was perfect. This author is one of the best in writing great action scenes, and I couldn’t stop reading the final battle to save Dross. My absolute favorite part of the book was actually the outtakes at the very end — this was completely unexpected and made me crack up more than once. I’m hoping we actually see DrossTheRobotGhost on Patreon or witness the story behind Bowey McBowFace, but perhaps that is for another time.


Overall, this title was excellent. Great fight scenes, a cohesive plotline, and compelling characters make this a title to recommend.

The Hobgoblin Riot Dominion of Blades 2 Review

This is a brief review of Matt Dinniman’s “The Hobgoblin Riot”. This is the second book in the “Dominion of Blades” series, and is categorized as a LitRPG fantasy novel.


A simplified graph of the major plot points in this title can be seen above. The first book in this series — Dominion of Blades — was one of the best litRPG titles that I’ve read so far, so I was really quite looking forward to this title as well. However, the majority of title focused on a ‘tower defense’ game mechanic, which really limited the depth and breadth of what this title had to offer. In theory, a change in game mechanics from a standard LitRPG adventure novel to a ‘tower defense’ might have sounded like a breath of fresh air — after all, I’ve personally loved tower defense games such as Kingdom Rush, Jelly Defense, Orcs must Die, and Defense Grid 1&2. However, despite the intriguing enemies and conceptually inventive traps (liquid sand pit), it felt rather claustrophobic to be stuck in a besieged castle for such a long duration.

Although I wasn’t a fan of the main plot line, this book has several decent subplots. Within the many subplots, the most memorable I found were (1) searching for the identify of Isabella, (2) figuring how to defeat the hobgoblin prince, and (3) discovering how the NPCs are becoming more self-aware. Unfortunately, many of the subplots started out interesting, but eventually fizzled out under the weight of the main plot-line. As a case in point, the entire first book sets up the search for Sandra as an epic quest, but this turns out to be a middling afterthought that is wrapped up in a brief chapter. Similarly, the mage Keta — possibly the most powerful character in the game — turns traitor, but instead of building her up as a foil for the protagonist, she simply falls apart after a tepid confrontation. Both of these subplots could have been amazing if properly expanded, but simply fell prey to a bloated central plot.


Although much of this title is spent in the confines of the hobgoblin city, the world itself is quite nice — the introductory scenes in the Rafingo desert are beautifully depicted, and it is amazing to see the life that the author puts into the various races that populate the cities and dungeons. Although I still strongly feel that the ‘tower defense’ mechanic handicaps the storytelling, the environments for the boss battles were great — of note, I enjoyed seeing how the gashadokuro was defeated, and the use of the ‘Fish Fry’ spell on the last villain was hilarious. While these boss battles were great, it quickly grew old to see the more mundane villains get defeated (again) by ‘slam traps’ — I felt in these cases, the author did more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’.

One thing that I didn’t like about this title was just how frequently the point of view changed — there are at least six active engagements in the title, including (1) the tower defense situation in Castellane, (2) the primordial invasion situation in Harmony, (2) real-life coup on the Hibiscus. Each of these engagements have a different storyteller, and it is confusing to identify who exactly is the central protagonist. In addition, there are quite a lot of flashbacks in the story. Although I’m sure the intention of these flashbacks was to add emotional depth to the characters, it ended up adding more confusion than anything else.


Most of the title is written from the perspective of Popper, one of the colleagues of the main protagonist from the first ‘Dominion of Blades’ title. Although Popper does a great job at comic relief, I don’t believe that he was a particularly compelling protagonist — the backstory was rather tacky, and I can’t imagine that the future world could send starships to distant galaxies but not have solutions for reliable power and cerebral palsy.

I also thought that the book would do a better job at setting up a main villain — the first book did an excellent job of this in the form of Daniels, but it was just confusing who exactly the main villain was in this title was and what their role was (Keta? Isabella? Smallthunder? Genma?).


At the beginning of the title, the author specifies this title was actually supposed to be two books, one told from the perspective of Jonah and one told from the perspective of Popper. After reading this book, I wish that the author had kept to this plan, both in terms of reducing bloat and improving clarity. There are many LitRPG series that have an excellent book focusing on a character who is not the main protagonist — Awaken Online Retribution and The Artificer are the first two titles that come to mind. One wonders whether this book would be more memorable if a split was made.

From a more mundane perspective, grammar was a little hard to read, and there were a few spelling mistakes that were highly annoying.


Overall, this title was disappointing. Although the prior book in the series set up a compelling world, this title was ruined by its fixation on ‘tower defense’, fragmented point of view, and poor attention to detail.

Dominion of Blades Review

This is a brief review of Matt Dinniman’s “Dominion of Blades”. This is the first book in the “Dominion of Blades” series, and is categorized as a LitRPG fantasy novel.



A simplified graph of the major plot points in this title can be seen above. Hands down, I don’t think that I’ve recently read a book with such a fantastic opening sentence — this line alone is worth the price of entry into this excellent litRPG title. This title only improves from this line, with well-crafted subplots and a smartly-written backstory. This book was paced very well – scenes are presented in a cohesive fashion, but always had a permutation to keep the reader interested. As a case in point, the beginning quarter of the book focuses on the protagonist advancing from a complete novice into someone skilled enough to defeat a giant dragon — however, as soon as the audience just starts to get their sea legs underneath them, the protagonist gets cursed by a fellow player and the game mechanics change completely.

In addition to a great central plot, this book has several excellent subplots do a great job of bringing more depth to the title. Within the many subplots, the most memorable I found were (1) figuring why the main protagonist was persuaded to come unwillingly onto the Hibiscus, (2) questioning the motivation of the main villain, and (3) figuring what exactly was going on in the ‘real world’. Most litRPG titles, with the exception of the excellent Viridian Gate Online series, diminish the importance of the ‘real world’ at the expense of developing the ‘game world’, but this book does an excellent job of putting equal importance on both — not to give too much away, but there are pending cataclysmic events occuring in the real-world and the game-world, and I’m curious on how / if these issues will be resolved simultaneously.


Although the ‘game world’ in this story is pretty standard, the author does a great job in painting a world that seems real enough for the reader. I would state that the author does a particularly good job of adding snark to relatively mundane in-game actions. As a case in point, there’s a portion in the beginning of the book, the protagonist is eating a kabob in a town that has been plagued by gnome attacks — the author first does a in-depth description of the juicy, delicious, golden-brown kabobs, and then connects the dots that the protagonist is likely eating a fellow humanoid with all the resultant implications of cannibalism — it’s a slick writing trick that I thought was very clever. In a similar fashion, the author does a great job of describing the anxiety that the protagonist feels about being ‘trapped in a game world’ — most litRPG titles have protagonists that quickly accept their fate and move on, but the protagonist in this game actually works through the five Kubler-Ross stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) as he advances.

The last thing that I really liked about this title was the excellent game mechanics — one neat premise that the game exhibits is that the main characters have extremely high skills but low player levels, in essence becoming the ultimate glass cannon. This leads to an emphasis on using particularly underhanded environmental tricks (holy water, piranhas, royal bureaucracy) to achieve their goals — this dovetails nicely with the plot and leads to good storytelling. If I could point at one flaw, the author does a great job of quantifying the exponential scaling of levels with the passage of a millenium of in-game time, but one would expect that the in-game economy would change as well — certainly the purchasing power of a single unit of in-game currency (the ‘jack’) would decrease over such a long time — I haven’t done the precise calculations, but even conservatively using an inflation rate of 2%, one would expect that a feast would cost more than the fees mentioned in the title.


The most memorable thing about this book are the characters — I don’t want to completely spoil the surprise, but all three of the main characters have real-life identities that are far different from the classic straight male protagonist that populate most other titles in this genre. When I first read this title, I initially thought that this was a gimmick of sorts, but thankfully I was proven wrong. There’s a great quote in the middle of this title where the character describes why he didn’t play RPG games in real life — “I spent my entire life pretending to be someone else. I guess I didn’t need to pay to do it also.”. Good stuff.

The great thing about this book is, even if all three protagonists had generic backstories, it would still be an excellent title — the protagonists are funny, ingenious, and highly entertaining. I particularly liked the character Popper, who frequently assigned hilarious names to her weapons (the knife “Dolly Trauma’). The cast of supporting characters are also quite good, and I found it hilarious to see the interactions between the high-falooted unicorns and the protagonist’s rather unusual hippocorn.


This book was definitely a page-turner — I actually finished the entire book in two days. This is definitely a book that I am planning to re-read, since I’m positive that there are things that I missed in passing. One unique thing about this title is that the whole title is told in retrospective — the beginning of the title and the end of the title occupy the same tme, so there’s a great sense of full circle after the read.

From a more mundane perspective, spelling and grammar were perfect I liked how the litRPG notifications and statistics were presented. I felt stylistically that the book could cut down on the melodrama a bit, but don’t think that this really hurt the overall tone. Similarly, I felt that some of the references to advertising were a little anachronistic and broke some of the story immersion (Outback Steakhouse / McDonald’s), but perhaps these entities will be financially solvent in the far future (Outback? really?).


Overall, this book was fantastic. It is rare for me to feel that a title is worth a re-read, but this title certainly fits the bill, with memorable characters, fast-paced action scenes, and intriguing environments. Highly recommend.

Glitch Hunter Review

This is a brief review of Skyler Grant’s “Glitch Hunter“. This is categorized as a fantasy LitRPG novel.


A simplified graph of the major plot points in this title can be seen above. This title opens with the main character trapped and confused with two corpses, which is an apt description of how I felt while reading this book — while I felt compelled to finish the book based on a friend’s recommendation, the story was neither interesting, engaging, or entertaining. As one can see from the plot graph, this book has a more mature theme than its LitRPG peers. While darker themes works for many fantasy titles (i.e. Game of Thrones, Red Rising, etc.) the grittier theme appears quite forced in this title, and seems to be present purely for the point of shock value in lieu of an expanded storytelling palette.

The plot itself follows a relatively standard Hero’s Journey format, with the main character progressing from a novice trainee into a confident Glitch Hunter with his own code of morals. Although the main character predominantly followed a clearly defined plot, there were a number of subplots that appeared promising but simply failed to deliver. As a case in point, the protagonist encounters a legendary sword which is supposedly capable of tremendous destructive power, but the sword is teleported to a distant land and functionally vanishes. Similarly, the protagonist is accompanied by a djinn who can make wishes come true, but despite significant foreshadowing, this power is never used. This tendency of leaving us hanging is present for main story events as well — there’s a portion in the book where the protagonist meets his elder sister, who hints that she is adventuring in a futuristic world, but then disappears without a trace. At the end of the title, one wishes that the author spent less time in adding to the protagonists’ harem, and spent more time on rudimentary story mechanics.


As noted, this title is a fantasy-themed litRPG title. I personally find litRPG titles appealing because they suggest that there is some believable algorithm that defines how players advance and improve during the story narrative. However, the numerical statistics presented in the book were so carelessly picked that it really disrupted the credibility of the story — as a case in point, one of the final bosses in the book (the Glutton, formerly the father of the main story villain) yields 5 XP after a grueling fight, while the first minion in the game (Aryx) yields 6 XP (half-share of 3). Similarly, near the end of the book, the level 5 hero intimidates the level 27 Red Queen with his sword — however, just a few pages earlier, the hero is himself scared of confronting a level 4 bird-woman. In some sense, it was more frustrating to read a book with a half-baked progression system than one with no progression system at all.

While the fantasy setting of the game itself was serviceable enough, it was hard to conceptualize a bracer / advanced heads-up display in a fantasy world without an appropriate introduction. Additionally, even given the ‘game-world’ latitude of combat, it was unusual to see characters bounce back from a massive avalanche-based crush injury without much ado (rhabdomyolysis, rib fractures, trauma). Finally, and I know that this is more of a petty personal attack than anything else, but the whole concept of a harmonizing sword is cockamamie — in the latter parts of the book, the protagonist’s sword loses its harmonizing effect when coated with oil, but apparently it still keeps its tone when deformed by a metal hammer. I’m not sure if the author was initially trying to evoke the much more dangerous concept of resonant frequency, but I personally found idea of a warrier hitting a sword with a mallet to be more amusing than intimidating.


Although the protagonist was a pretty standard anti-hero, the supporting cast was quite good — I particularly liked the dialect used by Helen. The main villain in this story was excellent, and really caught me off-guard with the big reveal. I did think that the djinn in the story had a lot of unused potential — an immortal being is pretty amazing any way you look at it, but the character only seemed to be used as cannon fodder and bait for booby-traps.


One thing that I absolutely despise is bad grammar / poor spelling. I’ve included some of the examples that I found below, but there is no reason that a twenty-dollar print book has these many mistakes. I’m not sure that this is a function of careless dictation, but this simply reinforces the theme that this book went through a sloppy writing process. Not acceptable.


As a dedicated fan of litRPG, there are *very* few titles that I simply cannot recommend in any shape of form. Although I was able to finish this title, the careless writing, bloated subplots, and bad grammar make it an easy title to skip.

Top 10 Audible Books on Personal Finance

Over the past month, one of my priorities has been to really focus on money management — we bought our house in early 2017, and since then we have been really trying to figure out how to allocate money for kids, charity, and other expenses. I have a fairly long commute in the morning, and over the last year and a half, I’ve listened to a fair amount of Audible titles related to personal finance. Here are my favorite ten titles.

  1. The White Coat Investor by James Dahl – This was the first personal finance book that I ever read, and probably the one book that still is the most useful to me — I re-listen to this title at least once every few months, and I get more from it each time. It is still pretty complicated (don’t quite understand the mechanisms of a back-door Roth) but it certainly encourages me to learn more. The author has a great website and does a great job promoting financial independence.
  2. Financially Fearless by Alexa Von Toble – This title is by the founder of Learnvest, an online service similar to I loved Learnvest and its awesome financial advisors, but it was unfortunately shut down a few days ago. The most memorable lesson this book emphasized was the 50-20-30 rule, where 50% of one’s take-home pay was allocated for necessities, 20% for savings, and 30% for discretionary spending. One take-home point that I loved from this book was calculating a per-visit cost of attending the gym to see if it was really worth it based on usage. Definitely worth reading.
  3. You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham – I use YNAB on a daily basis to keep track of my budget — it’s an excellent tool, and I can’t tell the times that it has helped me catch money-related errors and unwanted transactions (including ADT and Netflix bumping up monthly subscriptions!). This book is also fantastic and is read by the author. I particularly liked hearing how his kids were competitive about the ‘age of money’ statistic!
  4. The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley – This book doesn’t quite focus on the nitty-gritty of budgeting, but it helped me reinforce the idea that it is more important to save than to earn. There’s a great section in the book where he discusses how most millionaires aren’t ostentatious or professionals. There’s also a neat discussion about physician spending patterns. Highly recommended.
  5. The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey – This book is recommended but only in small doses. Hands down, I don’t think that there is a single narrator who is as abrasive as Dave Ramsey. This book is quite informative, but the tonal style reminds me of the crotchety old dude telling everyone to pull up their pants. I personally wasn’t a big fan of his overblown statements i.e. “God brought a Jaguar into my life”. However, his metaphors are pretty entertaining, and certainly gives a good perspective on debt.
  6. Meet the Fruglewoods by Elizabeth Thames – Discounting the rather obsequious apology in the beginning of the book, this title is fantastic. This title is read by the author, and it’s interesting to see the mechanisms behind the ridiculously high savings rate they achieved. I also found it neat to see how the authors prioritized their quality of life over income potential — perhaps there is a happy medium somewhere!
  7. The Index Card by Helaine Oran and Harold Pollack – I listened to this a while ago and didn’t find it particularly memorable, but the main points listed on the titular index card are gold.
  8. I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi – I listened to this a while ago and found the author to be a little annoying. However, his points are pretty informative and dovetails nicely with the YNAB strategy. One suprising thing that he does is advocate that it is perfectly reasonable to spend 20k per year on clubbing if properly budgeted, which is unusual (but probably accurate).
  9. Get Paid for your Pad by Jasper Ribbers – One day, I’d like to own beachfront property in Connecticut. This is a neat read about starting an AirBNB buisness — the narrator is quite interesting and the audiobook is very enjoyable. Although I certainly don’t think we have the means or incentive to do now, perhaps in a couple of years!
  10. How to Retire Wild, Happy, and Free by Ernie Zelinski – This book is a great read about the end-game — what do you do after everything is said and done. I actually bought a couple of books on the mechanics of 401ks and how much to save for retirement, but I have to say that they were all pretty boring. This looks at retirement from a different perspective, and it’s neat to see retirement as something to look forward instead of something to dread. Just my two cents.

And that’s it. Audible books are great for long rides, so I hope this list help another poor sod get through bad traffic on I-95.

Star Wars Solo Review

The following is a brief review of the Star Wars movie Solo.


The movie Solo traces the life of Han Solo as he grows from a plucky Aladdin-esque street orphan into a cocky pilot. It’s hard to deviate from prior established movies which confirm that Solo (1) has a close bond with Chewbacca, (2) wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando, and (3) does a lightning quick flight from Kessel – however, this movie has a lot of latitude in determining how to accomplish these end goals, and does an admirable job in satisfying these three plot points.

With regards to the Solo-Chewie relationship, I was actually a little disappointed in how this played out — in the books, I vaguely remember that Solo sacrifices his career as a promising Imperial pilot to rescue Chewie, which seems more meaningful than the events of this movie, where Han helps Chewie break out in an act of mutual self-interest. One of the most poignant moments in The Force Awakens was to see Chewie’s loss when Han is murdered — it’s hard to justify that this movie did a good job in formulating a good foundation for such a strong relationship.

Although I didn’t like the plot arc for setting up Chewie and Han, I thought the arc introducing Han to Lando was fantastic. The pressure-cooker setting of Kessel does a great job in showing us how both characters work under duress. I wish the movies took a closer look at Kessel since this is such a famous place, but perhaps that is yet to come.

The last plot point that I personally loved was the process by which Han wins the Millennium Falcon — this ship is epic by any available measuring stick, and I thought it was awesome to see the sabacc games which led to ownership, as well as the sacrifice of Lando’s droid which led to her integration into the Falcon. Great stuff.


Although Solo had a large cast of supporting characters, I personally didn’t feel that many of these folks were that memorable. I felt that the movie tried to establish Beckett as a mentor-like character, but honestly, I think the main characteristics that Solo demonstrates (ingenuity, empathy, and his tendency to shoot first) are well established prior to Beckett’s arrival. I did love Lando’s L3 droid though (equal rights for droids!).


The Star Wars Universe has been one of the best set-pieces to grace the silver screen, and has plenty of books, TV shows, and comic books to shed light and expand on the the plot components. In this movie, I particularly liked twisting train set-piece in the snow-capped mountains, as well as the gritty streets of Corellia shown at the beginning of the movie. I also enjoyed seeing images of classic vehicles and artifacts from the movies, such as the Imperial probe droids, the AT-ST vehicles, and Han’s classic DL-44 blaster. Although I highly enjoyed these scenes, I think that some of the environments set in the books, notably the Kessel mines and their gruesome energy spiders from the 1994 title Jedi Search are far more memorable. I remember reading the aforementioned during high school, and it’s impressive that the title’s world-building was so memorable — I’m not sure that I’ll remember the setting of the movie Solo for a tenth of that time.


This movie had a lot going for it — the action was punchy, the pacing was great, and the plot was decent. The cinematography for this movie was quite good, especially during the swoop chases at the beginning of the film. There were a few amazing stylistic moments in this moving, but my two favorite ones were (1) when the protagonists are flying blind in the maelstrom and stumble across the giant ship-eating octopus and (2) when the protagonists head out of Kessel and see a giant Imperial Destroyer lurking in the shadows — both of those were amazing moments when seen on the theater.


As a dedicated Star Wars fan, this was a must-see, and I actually saw it twice in theaters. I do think that it was the weakest of the Star Wars titles that I’ve seen so far (since Force Awakens), mostly due to the rather slip-shod plot. Still, droid rights!

On the Shoulders of Titans Arcane Ascension 2 Review

This is a brief review of Andrew Rowe’s “On the Shoulders of Titans”. As noted, this is the 2rd book in the ‘Arcane Ascension” series and is categorized as a fantasy novel.

plot graph


A simplified graph of the major plot points in this title can be seen above. This is the second book in the series, and I was really looking forward to seeing what came after the cliffhanger in the end of book one, where the main protagonist gets the big reveal where his formerly-believed dead brother is a supervillain. The book smoothly transitions back into the search for the brother and attempts to uncover more about the sinister plot, but also does a great job focusing on the Harry Potter-esque magic school environment and the day-to-day routine of learning enchantments, magic theory, and so on.

I did think that the book pacing is a little slower than the first book, and it does take a fairly long time for the book to really start firing on all cylinders. This may be due to the increased the size of the book (742 pages compared to 625 pages for Sufficiently Advanced Magic), but also may be due to the increased number of subplots — most notably, there is (1) the quest to see who Karras really is and how is he so powerful, (2) search for the Tyrant, and (3) research into artificial attunements. Personally, I felt that the Karras backstory was a little superfluous and led to weakening of the main plotline, especially since he is so overpowered and was often used as a deus-ex-machina technique in inopportune moments. I also felt that there are a rather large amount of of loose ends that are left uncovered (i.e. what happened to the teleported black dagger, what happened to the owner of the Jaden Box, where is the protagonist’s mother, etc). However, looking at all things as a whole, the primary plot is clearly-defined, believable, and (eventually) had good resolution of conflict as the book drew to a close.


As in the first book, the author does a great job in painting a world that seems real enough for the reader — there’s a map of the world presented at the beginning of the book, and the book includes a thorough appendix that meticulously goes through the structure and function of the attunement runes — in the past, I’ve noticed that similar fantasy books can be written carelessly without a thorough description of mechanics, so it’s a pleasant surprise to see such effort put into world-building. There’s a lot of impressive set-pieces in the book — some places that come to mind include the student dueling arena, the Temple of Fire, and Tenjin’s sanctum — all of these are presented vividly, and complement the action scenes perfectly — one can perfectly visualize the amazing Naruto-like battles happening. Two big thumbs up!


The characters in this title are fantastic. One thing that I didn’t quite like in Book 1 of this series was just how awkward the protagonist was, but this subsequent book does a great job on uncovering the backstory of the protagonist and what made him this way. There’s a fair amount of dark matter that I didn’t expect in a book of this nature — child abuse being the first thing that comes to mind — but this is handled quite well and brings an unexpected depth to the content. This is an epic book with a large cast of characters — there’s an appendix in the back that details the whole roster, but it was a little unusual to see the protagonist demonstrate a deep connection with a newly-introduced childhood friend (Cecily) but be apprehensive about being with his close teammate Marissa, with whom he has been training/fighting for the entirety of this book and its predecessor. One last suggestion that I have to make is that this book doesn’t have enough Sheridan Theas — less Karras and more Sheridan please!


This book was definitely a page-turner — even counting the slow beginning, I finished the whole book in about a week. The last part was so interested that I actually sat parked in my garage at home and flipped pages until I finished it! I did appreciate the stats listed during the book (i.e. hand mana / mind mana etc.), but wish that the book elaborated on this a little more in order to get a concrete understanding on how the protagonist was improving. Each chapter was well-structured, and was well-crafted with a mini-cliffhanger to keep the reader reading! Paragraphs were well-formatted, and grammar was perfect.


Overall, this book was excellent. It’s rare to see titles that have such amazing world-building (i.e. looking at Tolkien’s Silmarillion). Although the book’s pacing is a little slow at the beginning, it more than makes up for this with great action scenes, strong characters, and excellent overall writing. Definitely looking forward to next title.

2018 Caribbean All-Inclusive Resort Search

At present, our family is in the process of finding a place to go for vacation. Last year, we had the opportunity to go to Turks and Caicos (see above photo) after finding a great deal and had a fantastic time. This year, we want to find something great as well. Our criteria are:

  • 6 night stay in December
  • access to snorkeling (preferably included)
  • reputable nanny services for date nights
  • easy access to swimmable beach
  • easy access to water park / water slides

In order to get a good starting point, I went to and look at their list of 10 best all-inclusive Caribbean family resorts. The resorts that they mentioned were the following:

  1. Franklyn D. Resort & Spa – Jamaica
  2. Windjammer Landing – St. Lucia
  3. Jewel Runaway Bay – Jamaica
  4. Beaches Resort – Turks & Caicos
  5. Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana – Dominican Republic
  6. Coconut Bay Beach Resort – St. Lucia
  7. IBEROSTAR Bavaro Suites – Dominican Republic
  8. The Verandah Resort & Spa – Antigua
  9. Las Casitas Village – Puerto Rico
  10. Wyndham Reef Resort – Cayman Islands

In this list, we’ve actually gone to Iberostar Bavaro Suites in the past and absolutely loved it — however, we do want to try a new resort, so it’s off the list.. For this trip, we were hoping to go to a place with a non-stop flight time from NYC of less than 4 hours, with a per-person ticket cost of less than 600 dollars. We also didn’t want to go to Puerto Rico, since it did get hit pretty hard recently by Hurricane Maria. We do have credit card points saved up, which we plan to use. Here’s the breakdown of places from Google Flights:

Location Flight Time (hrs) Cost (dollars)
Jamaica (MBJ) 3h55m 583
St. Lucia (UVF) 4h40m 656
Turks and Caicos (PLS) 3h32m 527
Puerto Rico (SJU) 3h47m 370
Dominican Republic (PUJ) 3h51m 502
Cayman Islands (GCM) 3h54m 577
Antigua (ANU) 4h14m 494

After applying our restrictions, we exclude Antigua, St. Lucia, and the list goes down to:

  1. Franklyn D. Resort & Spa – Jamaica
  2. Jewel Runaway Bay – Jamaica
  3. Beaches Resort – Turks & Caicos
  4. Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana – Dominican Republic
  5. Wyndham Reef Resort – Cayman Islands

Five places seems like a manageable place to start, so it’s time to look for prices and deals to find the best bang for the buck! Here’s my notes on each place:

Franklyn D. Resort & Spa – Jamaica

  • $449/per person (from Tripadvisor)
  • Pros: private nanny! Good internet access. Snorkeling available
  • Cons: tiny beach, one type of beer, older resort, requires ClubMoBay for transfer to hotel, food hit or miss, questionable issues of child trafficking in Jamaica
  • Other reviews available at itsalovelylife and at NYTimes.

Jewel Runaway Bay – Jamaica

  • $341/per person (from Tripadvisor)
  • Pros: Jewel Lagoon Water Park, spa days (not sure if included), lots of food options, infinity pool, good snorkeling. Water bicycles and kayaks available.
  • Cons: Smokers allowed? Poor wifi, Old hotel (built in 1950s)

Beaches Resort – Turks & Caicos

  • $800/per person (from Tripadvisor)
  • Pros: food trucks (?!) premium alcohol. ELMO! SKYSLIDE! Italian Village supposed to be good for family with kids, 10 minute airport transfer. Dive Center. Private childcare available at 15/hr.
  • Cons: Price. Understaffed. We actually stayed right next to this resort last year at Alexandra, and the beachfront is pretty tiny compared to the much cheaper resort next door.

Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana – Dominican Republic

  • $573/per person (from Tripadvisor)
  • Pros: Outdoor water park, new resort (2016!)
  • Cons: No water sports, smokers, not a lot of branded characters available during the day, ok food, rough water not swimmable, waterpark far away from main campus

Wyndham Reef Resort – Cayman Islands

  • $544/per person (from Tripadvisor)
  • Pros: Only all-inclusive resort in Grand Cayman
  • Cons: Dangerous swimming with strong current, rude staff, rooms are mostly time-share, dated accomodations, bad wifi

Looking between the different options so far, it seems that the most viable places are either Beaches or FDR. We hope to make the final decision tomorrow and hopefully in a few months will be posting from the Caribbean!