AI and the written word

•9 December, 2022 • Leave a Comment

As a technologist, I’m always interested in advances in artificial intelligence and have been following the AI art debacle in the news. If you don’t know about it, feel free to read more about it here.

Today though, I was interested in a difference art form. The art of writing. I’d read an article about the OpenAI app, ChatGPT, and how it was going to make the work of writing teachers much more difficult. Being in education myself, I admit to being a bit critical.

That was until I tried it out. Once you arrive at their website, OpenAI has you login using one of several options. I used my google login and was immediately granted free access to ChatGPT. It details some of its strengths and weaknesses and then opens up a pretty plain page with a simple prompt.

From my very first line of text, I was blown away. I tried, “How are wildfires changing the American west” and the software wrote a very well written essay on exactly that. I ran it through a plagiarism tool, and … nothing.

I tried all sorts of prompts, “compare Van Halen to AC/DC”, “write a 1000 word essay comparing themes from Lord of the Rings to Chronicles of Narnia”, “write 500 words about the history of Amish quilting”. Each time it “wrote” word by word, on my screen, the topic I’d requested.

Finally, I asked it to “write a playful, sincere 400 word essay about raising livestock in 4h club for a college admission essay” (FTR, while I did attend 4H Club as a teen, I never raised livestock). Here is what I received in full:

Raising livestock as a member of the 4-H club has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have learned so much about responsibility, hard work, and the importance of taking care of animals.

When I first joined the 4-H club, I was a little nervous about the idea of raising livestock. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the commitment, or if I even knew enough about animals to do it well. But as I began to learn more about the process and work with my fellow 4-H members, I quickly realized that raising livestock was something that I truly enjoyed.

One of the most challenging aspects of raising livestock is the amount of time and effort that it requires. Unlike many other hobbies, raising animals is a 24/7 commitment. They need to be fed, watered, and cared for every day, no matter what the weather is like or how busy I might be. This has taught me the value of hard work and dedication, and I have become much more responsible and reliable as a result.

Another important lesson that I have learned from raising livestock is the importance of taking good care of animals. As a 4-H member, I have been taught the importance of providing animals with proper nutrition, shelter, and medical care. I have also learned about the different behaviors and needs of different species of animals, and how to best meet those needs. This has given me a greater appreciation for the animals that we rely on for food, fiber, and companionship.

But perhaps the most valuable thing that I have gained from raising livestock as a 4-H member is a sense of community and camaraderie. As a 4-H member, I have had the opportunity to work and learn alongside other young people who are passionate about raising animals. We have supported each other through the challenges and successes of the process, and have formed lasting friendships along the way.

In conclusion, raising livestock as a member of the 4-H club has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me. It has taught me valuable lessons about hard work, responsibility, and the importance of taking care of animals. It has also given me a sense of community and camaraderie that I will always treasure. I am grateful for the opportunities that the 4-H club has given me, and I am excited to continue to learn and grow as a livestock raiser in the years to come.

At this point, all I can say is, I’m glad I’m not a high school English teacher.

Coffee Shop Hop Stop 3

•7 December, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Evergreen Coffee: Latte Macchiato

After the dirty chai at Yukon, I drove across town to Evergreen Coffee on the north side of Longview.

Evergreen is one of my daughters favorite coffee shops in town. Not because they serve great coffee, but because they have great pastries and boba tea. They really do. I’ve never been disappointed in either their boba tea or their pastries. I particularly enjoy their savory scones.

By this time, I was wanting something a little different. I noticed they had a caramel macchiato on the menu, so I asked if they could make a “regular” latte macchiato for me. The barista said “sure” and asked if I wanted it hot or cold. I told them hot and went to the register to pay.

At this point, I’m probably going to sound like a bit of a snob, and I truly don’t mean to be, but perhaps I was (and am). I’m fine with coffee shops hiring anyone that wants a job. I’m fine with cold espresso drinks substituting coffee toddy cold concentrate. However, I wish shops would train their staff that how they do things isn’t necessarily the “original” way. I won’t even say “real”. When a customer asks if they can get a flat white or a macchiato, is it too much to expect that what they’re provided with isn’t the exact same drink the cafe serves as a latte?

As I got ready to pay, I noticed the barista swirling caramel around the inside of my cup. Since I was the only one in the shop, I knew this was going to be my “regular” macchiato. I stopped her and apologized, and asked if I could have my macchiato without caramel or any syrup. I admit, I was a bit gobsmacked when I was told, “That’s what a macchiato is.” Um. No. Not it isn’t. A decent break down on macchiatos can be viewed here (and I do think the YouTube presenter is more of a snob than me, lol).

Seriously, I blame Starbucks.

I asked them if instead of what they were making for me, they could simply give me a latte but pour the milk in first, then the espresso. They replied, “That’s how a latte is made is made.” At that point, I kind of shut up and drank what they gave me. And it was horrid. To be honest, I didn’t take off the lid to see if it was stained or spotted.

Evergreen is in an older strip mall. They’ve done their best to give it a nice ambiance, and to be fair, I’ve been in much worse. It was well lit as can be seen from the picture. I enjoyed reading my book while I forced myself to drink half of the coffee. I will state, that although other places had indoor seating, this is the only one that didn’t have outdoor, and thus was the only time I sat inside on this gorgeous day.

I’ll definitely be going back to Evergreen. But I might stick with the boba. And the scones. Definitely the scones.

Score: 2/5

Coffee Shop Hop Stop 2

•6 December, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Yukon Coffee: Dirty Chai

My second stop for the day was at Yukon Coffee next door in Longview, TX. I don’t think this is a chain but to be honest, I’m not 100% sure. I couldn’t find multiple locations with a simple google search, but their branding and building seem a bit polished for a single location, so who knows.

Yukon Coffee opened fairly recently, and I admit, this was only my second visit. I had planned on getting a cappuccino, but when I arrived I noticed the Dirty Chai on the menu and decided to go for it.

I have gone back and forth on coffee and tea. For several years, I didn’t drink much coffee at all, but always had tea handy. Recently my pendulum has swung back the other way. A good dirty chai hits both targets.

For the uninitiated, a dirty chai is simply a chai with a shot of espresso added. The spicy, milky tea goes well with a good shot and I have been known to try these whenever I see them on the menu.

I should have asked if the chai was a mix. I’m pretty sure it was. It was overpoweringly sweet and, to be honest, I won’t be ordering it from Yukon Coffee again.

Yukon Coffee has no internal seating, but has an interesting combination of chairs, tables and a grouping of Adirondack chairs next to their building. Since this is Texas, I’m sure it could be used most of the year. The morning of my visit was a bit cooler than the locals enjoy, but I had fun sitting in the cool weather enjoying (or at least drinking) my chai.

If you get the chance to check out Yukon Coffee, I can say the latte I had several months back was much superior to the chai.

Rating: 3/5

Coffee Shop Hopping

•5 December, 2022 • Leave a Comment
photo of a to go coffee cup sitting on a table

I’m going to do something a bit different for this blog. I’m going to discuss another passion of mine. Coffee.

This weekend, I decided to do something I’d never done before. Since I was a teen, I’d heard of people going bar hopping, but since I don’t drink alcohol, it’s never been something I’ve been acquainted with. Saturday, as I was planning out my day, it occurred to me that I’d enjoy spending some time drinking various drinks in different local coffee shops, reading a book and watching the world go by. I did set myself some rules: I wanted to try to only visit privately owned shops. I wanted to pay closer attention to the ambiance than is my normal want. I could read my book, or people watch, but with the exception of taking a photo of the drink, I didn’t allow myself to play on my phone or iPad until I had finished my drink and posted my order and location. I used the #coffeeshophop on FaceBook. If any readers decide to replicate the experiment, I’d be honored if you would use it as well so I can follow your experiences! (If you do, please feel free to comment so I know to look for you!)

Since it was a nice day, I climbed on my motorcycle, grabbed my iPad (I only read eBooks these days), and hit the road.

My first stop was my small hometowns only coffee shop. Main Street Coffee in Hallsville, TX. I get coffee here at least several times a month when I’m too lazy to make something at home or just looking for a change. As you can see, I chose to sit outside under their new pergola since it was a nice day. Inside seating is also available. The seating area is small, but since we’re a small town, it’s more than adequate.

I usually hate sweet coffee, but they were advertising their “seasonal” drinks and several had gingerbread flavoring. I chose not to order one of the seasonal drinks, but did have a single pump of gingerbread syrup added to my latte.

So, let’s talk about lattes.

Latte: I don’t speak Italian, but my understanding is that a latte, or better – cafe latte, literally means “milk coffee”. A traditional cafe latte should be approximately 1/3 espresso, 2/3 steamed milk, and a thin layer of foam on top. The espresso is placed in the bottom of the cup, the steam milk is added on top. Yes. Order matters, as we’ll talk about another drink later in my sojourn. Main Street’s latte was perfect (as expected).

While I love Main Street Coffee, and enjoyed my cafe latte very much, I’ve never seen anyone offered a ceramic mug here. I get the added hassle of cleaning drink ware, but would enjoy the option. Still, great service, great espresso, and great atmosphere.

Rating: 4.5/5

Guest Review #1: The Pelbar Cycle by Paul O. Williams, reviewed by Baldr (aka Ed Hanzel)

•3 May, 2022 • Leave a Comment

I was thrilled when my last post garnered a few interested replies. Baldr and I are both in a group on Facebook devoted to the novels of Nathan Lowell (Golden Age of the Solar Clipper). He mentioned his love of The Pelbar Cycle and was kind enough to write up a short review. I asked Baldr if he’d be interested in returning to review each book more in depth at a later date, to which he has agreed, time permitting.

So, without further ado.. our first guest review:

The Pelbar Cycle is five books written by Paul O. Williams in the 1980’s.  The story take place years after an Armageddon event.  Great stories of individuals that help to bring isolated groups of people in the North American continent together again while dealing with their own struggles.

I love that the book does not use bad language, although you will hear a few “slithering snake” or “fish guts” insults.  Perfect for young readers and adults alike.

This is one of the few authors I go back and read time and time again.  If you enjoy Nathan Lowell’s Solar Clipper Ship series, you will enjoy this as well.

You can find book one of The Pelbar Cycle, The Breaking of Northwall in ebook format on Amazon and at Apple Books (and other fine book sellers I’m sure).

Thanks Baldr! Looking forward to seeing what each book in the series brings to the table.

Call for reviews!

•28 March, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Greetings all. I’m wanting to try something new. For most of it’s time in existence, View from Valhalla has been dedicated to finding stories of interest and trying to bring them to a wider audience. Occasionally, I have reviewed something other than a book, for the same reason.

Life has a way of getting busier than we’d like. I’m finding it harder to make time to create reviews these days and have been giving a lot of thought about what to do about it. I’d prefer to keep VfV alive and on mission, but I’ve decided I need a bit of help from the rest of you Asgardians.

Do you have a book, an album, a painting, a series of photos or anything else art related you’d like to help gain exposure? Then I have a deal for you.

I’m looking for guest reviewers. It can be about anything you have found interesting, or even had hoped to find interesting (not all reviews need be positive).

So, let’s talk about the rules and how to go about this:

  • If you’re reviewing something that has a beginning and an end, you need to get to the end before you review. Yes, even if it’s painful.
  • Try to find at least one thing positive (if possible). This isn’t mandatory, and if something is totally without merit in your opinion, you’re welcome to share it in a professional way.
  • No politics. This is hard and fast. If you’re wanting to review Tucker Carlson or Hilary Clinton’s newest books, please find another outlet.
  • Independent and less well known authors, artists, and artistic types have always been my preferred targets of review. This is not a hard and fast rule, but more of a suggestion. However, if you’re wanting to review the latest SuperHero movie, bring a fresh take on it if possible.
  • Provide a short bio. Each reviewer will be given (or you can choose for yourself) a Norse deity’s identity for the reviews. You can choose to identify yourself in the bio or not, but give us a bit of your personality. No, we are not playing 2 truths and a lie. I don’t care if any of it is truth. It’s a blog for Valhalla’s sake.
  • Please do not review something you had a hand in creating. If you’re the artist, author, publisher, agent, son, daughter or best friend, try to find someone that will give an honest review for you. But feel free to review someone else’s content!
  • Please email all reviews to Valhalla.
  • I, as the All Father, reserve the right to refuse any review for any reason. Yes, that does mean if you try to post positively about Twilight (in either book or film iteration) it will be denied.

I really am hoping I’ll get some people that will come play in my sandbox. I’ll try to keep the bullies from knocking down the castles made by others (in comments, etc). Hope to see you’re review soon.


•7 March, 2022 • Leave a Comment

For many years I was a hard core coffee drinker. For a time I even considered buying a commercial roaster so I could buy, mix and roast my own blends.

Somewhere, somehow, about 2 years ago, I randomly decided to have a cup of tea instead. While I enjoy the flavors of the different coffees, something about tea piqued my interest like it never had before. And down the rabbit hole I went.

First I had to find a supplier of “good” tea. I knew from the beginning boxed bags of tea that had sat on a shelf for who knows how long wasn’t going to cut it. An author friend (Nathan Lowell, some of the best books I’ve ever read came from his mind) pointed me to Adagio.

I knew that if I was going to replace coffee, I was going to need an alternative caffeine fix. I generally prefer black teas, though I do enjoy green as well. Rooibos and Pu erh ….. well, let’s just say I’m still trying to find one I like. Matcha, well, I want to like it.. I love the idea.. I keep buying it, but so far I keep dumping it.

So, what’s in my tea cabinet? A lot. Lol. If you like a good camp fire, I highly recommend Lapsang Souchong. It’s my go to and the tea I’ve probably drank the most of. I also have an apricot/ginger black tea blend that I picked up at a spice store in San Antonio that I’ve really been enjoying. It’s in my mug today.

I’d always loved the smell of earl gray, but something about the bergamot always upset my stomach. Again, I found (for me) it was all about the quality. A good loose leaf earl gray is amazing and I drink a lot of Adagio’s Bella Luna (yes, its a gimmick, but its a great tea) that is only sold on the day of the fool moon.

I also have a good apple blend black tea that reminds of me of apples and oats. It’s lovely.

Lastly, I’d be sadly lacking if I didn’t have a good jasmine tea. It’s my favorite of the greens. If you’ve never tried jasmine iced, I’d highly recommend it.

Finally, if I’m on the road (which work requires) and looking for a short cut to taking my own infusers or bags I fill myself, I usually take some sachets of Harney & Sons that I’ve picked up from one of the stores in the area. Target usually has my favorite (Hot Cinnamon Sunset) in stock. This is an amazing tea, especially since it’s a mass produced tea. Naturally sweet, and very, very full of cinnamon. It is my favorite tea to turn into a latte.

Do you have a favorite tea? How did your tea journey begin?

Book Review #138: Oblivion (Rakkan Conquest Book 1) by Andy Blinston

•12 January, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Title: Oblivion
Author: Andy Blinston
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2020
Located: Amazon
Formats Available: Audiobook, dead tree and ebook
Rating: PG for disturbing scenes of violence with several involving children

It’s been a while since I’ve added a review to the blog. It isn’t that I haven’t been reading, it’s just that I haven’t been reviewing. To be honest, many of the books that have existed on my iPad in the last year are from big name authors that have budgets for advertising and much had all ready been said about them. I mean, who really needs another Dresden review? (But seriously, if you do, let me know.. I guess I can write them up too.)

What I haven’t done lately is follow through on my inclination to read more indy published or self published authors. I believe Mr. Blinston falls into this category and I am aware that he is currently publishing on Amazon through their KDP program.

So, on to the review.


Once a god.

Now a target.

They stole the greatest part of him, and he damn well wants it back. 

Waking confused on a still battlefield, Darius knows he must be a great fighter, because all around are the bodies of lesser warriors. As he gathers himself up, he has but a singular memory that haunts him. 

There’s only one more thing he knows. 

He wasn’t just a god… 

…but an assassin of gods. 

In the midst of a centuries-old war between the human empire and savage invaders, Darius finds his name uttered with terror and curses by both sides. 

How do you fight when you don’t know on which side you belong? 

Follow Darius, his loyal panther, and the secretive Alexandra in this dark fantasy series as they’re hunted by a sinister enemy who wants to finish what he started. (Stolen from the Amazon listing for the book.)

Review: I am a subscriber to the BookBub listserve. Once a day, I get an email from BookBub with book titles that are currently on sale, free or drastically reduced. The recommendations are based on my preferred reading types on their site. I was made aware of BookBub by my favorite author, (who also happens to be self published) Nathan Lowell. Mr. Blinston’s novel was suggested to me and, I admit, the cover immediately grabbed my attention. A good cover is hard to deny, and Mr. Blinston’s novels do indeed have extremely professional covers. Once I read the above synopsis, I figured it was worth the loose change in my pocket to give it a shot. I’m glad I did.

Characters: Darius is hard to peg. Without spoilers, it is safe to say, that Darius quest for identity initially makes him a bit of a blank slate. He has no passions and yet is easily angered. Initially, he’s not a sympathetic character, but regardless, I found him intriguing. Lyra, his panther, needs to have a larger role in forthcoming books, and I’ll leave it at that. Lex (Alexandra) has many secrets making it something of a chore to know whose side she is really on.

Suffice it to say, that singularly, I don’t know if any of the characters from Oblivion would rank highly with me, but as a cast, taken as a whole, I became very interested in where the story was going, and found myself routing for Darius as the novel unfolded.

Plot: I’d characterize Oblivion to be a quest driven book. However, it isn’t your normal quest, and it isn’t your normal questing party. As you travel with Darius, you’re unsure who is the hero, and whom is the villain. I truly dislike anti-heroes, so I admit to being a bit concerned at different points along the way. Darius’ quest is to find himself. The part of himself he woke up missing. I will state that I was a bit surprised with how Mr. Blinston found an ending to this first book in this series.

Recommendation: I really enjoyed Oblivion and found it read very quickly and left me wanting more. Let me speak just a bit about the “more”.

There are many storylines introduced in Oblivion that are not tied up by the final page. I sincerely hope that they are addressed by the end of the series. However, since only the first two books (Oblivion and Viridian Legion as well as a prequel short story) currently exist, I have a feeling that it might be awhile until I find out. (Yes, Viridian Legion is currently on my iPad.)

There is a feeling of the Roman Legionnaires being dropped into a fantasy world with this novel, though there is not a lot of world building. I do hope for more character study in future novels in the series, but am comfortable giving Oblivion a two out of two raven recommendation. Both Huginn and Muninn enjoyed it, though Muninn was a bit more pensive.

You can find out more about the author of Oblivion, Andy Blinston at

Book Review #137: Imager

•4 March, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Title: Imager
Author: L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Genre: Fantasy
Released: 2009
Located: Chirp, Amazon, Apple’s Books
Formats Available: Audiobook, dead tree and ebook
Rating: PG for suggestive content, mild violence, explosions and mischief.

As I’ve mentioned before, I love books, but hate subscriptions. Audible was a no go for me, I just couldn’t justify the cost for the return (not meaning to demean anyone that loves it. If you find it a good value, good for you!). Chirp just works better for me, especially since I limit myself to the “deal” sections. A month or so back, I picked up a book by Modesitt. I’ve enjoyed a book or two of his in the past, but was unfamiliar with the Imager series. I purchased it (at the time) for less the $5 and gave it a listen.

So, on to the review.


Although Rhennthyl is the son of a leading wool merchant in L’Excelsis, the capital of Solidar, the most powerful nation on Terahnar, he has spent years becoming a journeyman artist and is skilled and diligent enough to be considered for the status of master artisan-in another two years. Then, in a single moment, his entire life is transformed when his master patron is killed in a flash fire, and Rhenn discovers he is an imager-one of the few in the entire world of Terahnar who can visualize things and make them real.

Rhenn is forced to leave his family and join the Collegium of Imagisle. Because of their abilities (they can do accidental magic even while asleep) and because they are both feared and vulnerable, imagers must live separately from the rest of society. In this new life, Rhenn discovers that all too many of the “truths” he knew were nothing of the sort. Every day brings a new threat to his life. He makes a powerful enemy while righting a wrong, and he begins to learn to do magic in secret. Imageris the innovative and enchanting opening of an involving new fantasy story.

Production/Narrator: The production of this audiobook is topnotch. The narration is fair.

The narration is done by William Dufris. I’ve never listened to anything read by him before. He has a surprising range and capability of doing multiple voices. The only problem I had is that I enjoyed the voices of the supporting character much more than I did his actual voice, which of course is the main character’s and the one used to narrate the story. Since voice is a personal preference, I can’t and won’t mark it down. The quality of the production from Tantor Audio is top notch and the story lasts a respectable time, coming in just four minutes under 18 hours.

Grade: A

Story: I really enjoyed Imager. More than I’ve enjoyed a mass market fantasy novel in a good long time. I don’t know what it was, the characters, the storyline itself, or the way Mr. Modesitt used the supporting characters. I’m guessing it was a bit of all of the preceding. I very much enjoyed the take on magic he uses, which he calls imaging, and the geopolitical ramifications of the nation he has created on his characters.

Grade: A

Verdict:  I really did enjoy Imager and feel comfortable giving it my highest two raven rating!

Two Ravens


Book Review #136: Cape Grace

•13 February, 2020 • Leave a Comment


Cover art

Title: Cape Grace
Author: Nathan Lowell
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera
Released: 2020
Located: Amazon
Formats Available: ebook, paperback coming soon
Rating: PG-13 for violence and abuse

I would be willing to bet that Nathan Lowell has been reviewed more on View from Valhalla than any other author. It isn’t because he pays me (he doesn’t) or because I count him as one of my few true friends (I do). It’s because he writes amazing stories. It is through his stories that our friendship began, but I can honestly say that if you have the chance to talk to Nathan, you’ll want to count him as a friend as well.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: When Otto Krugg’s daughter follows in his footsteps, he’s faced with the task of changing a century long rule that will force her to make decisions no one should have to make.

When Jimmy Pirano gets tasked with enforcing that rule – no matter what – he goes down the rabbit hole to try to find out who established the rule. And why they can’t let it go. (Stolen from Amazon)

Story: This is a sequel and a prequel of sorts. Nathan is most well known for his Golden Age of the Solar Clipper stories. Ishmael Wang lives and breaths in many of our hearts. If you haven’t read these books (or listened to them) I recommend you stop what you’re reading now, and go obtain a copy of Quarter Share. The rest of the series will be waiting for you. The second book in the series (Half Share) introduces us to the character of Sarah Krugg as a young adult and shares with us some of the tragedy she’s all ready experienced. Many readers I’ve conversed with have been haunted by Sarah’s story since they first encountered her.

Mr. Lowell many years ago wrote a story centered on the planet of St. Cloud, South Coast, in which we met the Krugg family, and watched the boy, Otto, that would grow to be Sarah’s father become a young man. Cape Grace finally tells us the story of the previously lost years of Sarah’s childhood.

SettingCape Grace takes place predominantly on St. Cloud, a company owned planet where all inhabitants either work for the company or are married to somone that does. If one of these two conditions are not met by the time you’re 18, you are expelled. There is one exception to this rule, and this exception drives the story.  Both South Coast and Cape Grace are centered in fishing villages along the coast of the planet. Life on the coast is comprised of hardwork and hard people.

Characters: The story revolves around Sarah and her father Otto. Both are complex beings and are dealing with issues and trials that reduced me to a quivering mass on more than one occassion. Mr. Lowell excels at writing complex characters. His characters are almost always beautifully flawed in all the right ways.

VerdictCape Grace is truly amazing. It’s painful in a way that you know it has to be, but that knowledge still doesn’t really prepare you for the reality. There will be a third book in the series, but Mr. Lowell has indicated that Sarah’s story is complete. Anyone that has read Mr. Lowell’s books can verify when I say, he never has promised us a happy ending, and this one was more bittersweet than most.

Grade: A+
Just buy it.

Disclosure: Alhtough I did beta read this story for Mr. Lowell, I did not receive this books in return for a review, and I did purchase a final copy.

Obvious self promotion: As a reminder, I will review books (in ePub or audio) provided for review, but they will be noted as such.