Book Review – The Art of The Lord of the Rings

Unlike The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings did not had illustrations. In this book, you’ll read and see the many different illustrations, sketches, and notes that J.R.R. Tolkien drew and wrote pertaining to The Lord of The Rings. A significant amount of his original unpublished illustrations were related to maps and the geography of Middle-Earth. Having read The Return of the Shadow, The Treason of Isengard, and as of the time of this writing, halfway through The War of The Ring. Practically, all of the illustrations have been already been thoroughly analyzed and explain by Christopher Tolkien as part of The Complete History of Middle-Earth series. However this art book takes a different approach, the authors give out a brief description of the illustrations and in some occasions, small excerpts of the The Complete History of Middle-Earth that belonged to illustration. Showcasing how Tolkien’s illustration talent helped him to beautifully describe and add the overwhelmly details to his writings.

Not all the illustrations are complete drawings, instead you’ll get to see and read how Tolkien sketched the visions he had in mine when writing The Lord of The Rings.

In addition to maps and Middle-Earth geography, this art book also has different Elvish scripts, the Book of Mazarbul, and the different book covers that Tolkien drew.

Book Review – A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings is the sequel to A Game of Thrones. Like in A Game of Thrones, this epic story continues being told from the point-of-view of certain characters. We also get to read point-of-view chapters from new characters introduced in this book, as well as characters that were already introduced but were never given their own specific point-of-view chapters in A Game of Thrones.

A Game of Thrones was merely an introduction to this great fantasy world. Once knowing the world, and it’s interesting array of characters (fairly large one, I would say), A Clash of Kings definitely felt like a much more past-paced novel. This book is a really good book, and I enjoyed it more so than A Game of Thrones.

I complained about the lack of traditional fantasy elements like faeries and mythical creatures in A Game of Thrones. Without going into any spoilers, in this book magic is finally introduced, as well as dragons! Another aspect of this book that I really enjoyed was the character development. There were certain characters from A Game of Thrones that I thought were good buys, but in A Clash of Kings they ended up being bad, and vice versa.

The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is such an immersive universe, I constantly found myself thinking about the world and of the characters in the story when I’m not reading the book. Which to me, is what a really good book should do. George R.R. Martin has done a fantastic job in the continuing world building process of his amazing secondary world.

Book Review – Skyrim Art Book

I purchased this art book as part of a bundle that also included an Alduin statue, both of which were originally part of the Skyrim collectors edition. This is an art book in every sense of the word. It’s not a strategy guide, nor it isn’t a comprehensive introduction to the world of Skyrim. Instead this book is a beautiful visual to what we expect to see or encounter in the game. It doesn’t go into much detail of Skyrim’s main story quest, but rather illustrates the world that we’re going to playing in. Illustrations include the cities, landscapes, creatures, the different races and their respective clothing and armor.

This art book does not include walls of text, it does however include brief descriptions about the illustrations without going into full details behind the lore of The Elder Scrolls. Lastly, you’ll read about why certain characteristics of such characters where chosen, as well some basic background on why that choice was made.

New Home Lab Hardware Refresh

It’s been roughly six years since I’ve done any significant hardware refresh to my home lab. I’ve been using two Mid-2011 Mac Mini’s (i5 2.3GHz) as my physical servers. Both running Ubuntu Linux server with KVM and VirtualBox as the hypervisors. These tiny machines have been rock solid and have serve me well over all these years, however it’s come time to retire them; after all these two computers have been up and running 24×7 for at least six years respectively.

Originally, my main concern using the now retired Mac Mini’s was heating, which I mainly mitigated by replacing their original spinning disk drives with solid state ones. One of the Mac Mini’s was a major concern in particular as it ran at least 15-20 degrees hotter than the other. During the summer this Mac Mini at times measured 90-99° Celsius! Of which I was force to shutdown the computer to allow it cool down.

Another reason why I decided to finally retire both Mac Mini’s was because of noise. For the most part the Mac Mini’s are relatively silent, however since both machines are located my bedroom, the fan noise it’s quite noticeable (at least for my ears).

So I decided to replace my Mac Minis with an Intel NUC (NUC7i3BNH).

New Setup:
Ubuntu Server 18.04 LTS
Hypervisor: KVM
Intel Core i3-7100U
Crucial 32GB DDR4-2400 (PC4-19200) RAM
Crucial MX500 500GB SSD
Seagate Backup Plus 2TB USB 3.0 2.5 – Backup Storage

With total cost of $711.12, my new Intel NUC is projected to be my primary home lab server for the next 5 years.

Book Review – The Treason of Isengard

This book covers a somewhat small portion or timeline from the main Lord of The Rings narrative. Which in large part is do to the massive scale of the story. The Treason of Isengard starts of with the different manuscripts and drafts in the sequential order of:

  • Hobbiton to Bree
  • Bree to Rivendell
  • Council of Elrond
  • The Mines of Moria
  • Path to Lothlorien
  • The Kingdom of Rohan

One thing that struck me was the removal of characters from the story as well as the removal certain elements of the drafts that didn’t quite fit with the narrative that J.R.R. Tolkien was trying accomplish in the Lord of The Rings. Yes, sadly Tom Bombadil had a tiny portion (the strange nature of his character still intrigues me).

A very interesting thing about reading this book is that at this point, Tolkien had practically all the major plots of the Lord of The Rings already planned and laid out. By reading this book we get to see how the story keeps getting expanded to the epic literary master piece that it is.

To the surprise of many, The Lord of The Rings is a religious (Catholic) novel. Reading both The Return of The Shadow and now the Treason of Isengard, I definitely could see many elements of it. For example in this book, to me it very quite how in the early manuscripts and drafts (and even on the final publish form), Galadriel is written and described as a Virgin Mary figure, similar to Elbereth in The Return of The Shadow.

Finally in this book we get to read in more detail information about major figures in the Lord of The Rings like, Galadriel, Saruman, Treebeard and the Ents, and King Theoden.

Book Review – A Game of Thrones

When it comes to A Game of Thrones (TV show) or A Song of Ice and Fire altogether; I’m completely clueless. So when I first started reading this book, I had no idea what to expect.

I love fantasy, and epic high fantasy even more. I originally bought the mass market paperback A Song of Ice and Fire box set over two years ago. I kept on hold reading the novels because the series is not even finished! However, during my vacation I decided to finally start reading them since who knows when the hell George R. R. Martin will finish writing the whole thing.

A Game of Thrones is the first book of a fairly long saga, which as I said, it’s not yet fully completed. This book lacked the traditional fantasy elements that I adore, like fairies and mythical creatures. Instead, this book is mainly somewhat of a murder mystery with complex political intrigue.

Each chapter is based from a point of view of a certain character, and I feel this writing technique was beautifully executed by author George R. R. Martin. Practically almost at the end of each chapter, I kind of wished it kept going more given how well it captivated me. This is why I don’t think the length of the book should scare off anyone from reading this book or series. This book is really good!

I really enjoyed reading A Game of Thrones. In my opinion, perhaps the only negative or downside to this book or series in general is that from reading just this book I can’t see one main story, instead it seems this fictional universe was written with a ton of subplots which at the end all will culminate together.

This fantasy universe is very interesting, however I have a feeling I just read a small portion (albeit over 800 pages!) of what is a massive fantasy world.

PlayStation 3 Hard Drive Upgrade

Unlike the PS4, I do have a decent amount of digital games for the PS3. This, mainly because of some great Humble Bundle PlayStation bundles I’ve bought through out the years where PS3 is the platform with the most digital games in the bundle.

My PS3 originally came with just 120 GB drive, so I opted to upgrade it to a 500 GB (PS3 games are fairly small), and I must say, upgrading the hard drive on a PS4 was a significant easier process than a PS3.

Replacing the physical drive was extremely simple process as shown on this video:

 

However most of my problems were trying to install the PS3 software into the new drive. At a high level, the install process is identical to that of the PS4, https://www.playstation.com/en-ie/get-help/help-library/system—hardware/system-software/updating-the-playstation-3-system-software-using-the-safe-mode-m/. Only major caveat is that the PS3 only supports USB 2.0 drives. I have plenty of USB 2.0 drives so I initially thought this was going to be a quick 10 minute project, and boy was I mistaken.

PS3 Not Detecting UPDATE Software:

Label Drive as MBR

The major problem I encountered was the PS3 safe mode prompt not detecting the PS3 Update on the USB drive. While, the documentation states that the USB drive should be formatted as FAT16 or FAT32, it does not state what label should the hard drive have. A couple of forum posts suggest setting the USB drive with an MBR label, which I had to do since my drive was set as GPT.

Create 2GB Primary Partition on the USB Drive

After labeling the drive as MBR and reformatting it to FAT32 numerous times. The PS3 safe mode prompt still wasn’t detecting and loading the software. I even tried different USB 2.0 drives, just to verify the drive wasn’t faulty, and it still failed. I knew FAT32 has some limitations such as only supporting up 32GB partitions, however all of USB drives were 8GB so I thought this wasn’t the problem. Well I was mistaken, I partitioned my 8GB USB drive to have a single 2GB primary partition and just left the other space unallocated. Then I once again reformatted the drive as FAT32, and copied the UPDATE software to it, and lo and behold; the PS3 safe mode prompt was able to successfully load and install the PS3 OS Update software onto the new 500GB upgraded drive.

It took me about 3 hours to troubleshoot and fix the problem, but the most infuriating thing is that fact that this is not mentioned in the Sony PlayStation documentation!

 

Final steps:

  1. Label drive as MBR.
  2. Create a primary partition 2GB or smaller.
  3. Format primary partition as FAT32.
  4. Copy PS3 software to USB 2.0 drive

 

 

Book Review – The Return of the Shadow

In this sixth book of The History of Middle-Earth volume series, we finally start reading the early drafts of The Lord of the Rings. A very interesting thing about this book and the complete History of Middle-Earth is that the drafts and back history of The Hobbit are not included at all. The primary reason being was the fact when J.R.R. Tolkien first wrote The Hobbit, he didn’t originally incorporated into his mythology that he had at the time. In this book we see how a lot of the elements of his mythology that existed long before The Hobbit came to be included into the world of the Lord of the Rings. Effectively merging his work as a single monolith tapestry that we all love and cherish.

The Return of the Shadow follows the same chronological order of the chapters in The Lord of the Rings, so you’ll read different drafts of the chapters in sequential order as they occur in the final novel. Quite a lot content involves the evolution of the back story of the different Hobbits that take part of The Fellowship of the Ring. Also you’ll read and learn more about Tom Bombadil! As well as the Witchking. But perhaps the most important part, we see how the magic ring found by Bilbo in The Hobbit becomes an important element in the narrative of The Lord of The Rings. For example you’ll also read original different variations of the iconic ring verge.

To me what stood out the most was Tolkien’s first ideas regarding Aragorn’s character, and how it beautifully evolved to follow the narrative of not only the story itself, but also influencing a major of portion his legendarium.

April 2018 Favorites

Reading
This month I only read technical books. In particular AWS Certified Solutions Architect Official Study Guide: Associate Exam and Resilience and Reliability on AWS: Engineering at Cloud Scale. Though it’s just temporarily since right now I’m just focused on my completing my AWS certifications, I’ve taken a break from the traditional fantasy fiction that I’ve been reading continuously these last three years.

Gaming
This month, I finally played and beat Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Wow, this was an awesome first-person shooter, and the story is certainly my favorite compared to previous Wolfenstein’s games. Word of warning, the first hour in this video game, has a shit ton of polically incorect points that might trigger certain individuals. For the most part, I played this game in normal difficult mode, but compared to The Old Blood and The New Order, I found The New Colossus to be difficult game. Now talking about difficult games, this month I also started playing Nioh. Long story short, I rage quit Nioh in about an hour of playing it. It’s simply way to difficult, which I don’t really have the patience to cope with.

Wellness / Self-improvement
This month has been completely me focusing on passing the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate Exam.

March 2018 Favorites

Reading
Reading wise, March was somewhat of a slow month. The only real reading I’ve done this past month was that of AWS Certified Solutions Architect Official Study Guide: Associate Exam book, for the technical certifications that I’m studying for.

Gaming
For gaming, I played a whole lot of Middle-Earth Shadow of War, and I must say I’m enjoying this game more than I did the original Shadow of Mordor. I’m not a big fan of stealth games, so unlike Shadow of Mordor, Shadow of War is far less punishable. It’s still a somewhat difficult game, but in general I found this new second version to be far more enjoyable than the original. About 40+ hours in, I’m able about 80% through the main story mode. This game definitely has enough content to keep you busy for over 100+ hours!

Also gaming wise, I finally finished Wolfenstein: The New Order. Overall, it’s a fantastic fps game, but I must say I think I enjoyed more Wolfenstein: The Old Blood. Finally, I started playing Nier: Automata. I’m about four hours into this game, and I’m having a hard time getting into it. Role playing games are by favorite genre of video games, however the quest and character skill system is meh. Hopefully this game will get better further more into the storyline.

Wellness / Self-improvement
During March, I did a significant amount of studying for the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate.