Review: The Hollow Places

After recently divorced Kara moves into her uncle’s home she discovers through a hole in a wall a portal to an alternate and mysterious reality. This is the beginning to T. Kingfisher’s horror novel The Hollow Places, a story that moves at a quick pace but offers too few spine-tingling scares.

After climbing through the hole, Kara and a friend discover themselves in a concrete bunker. Outside the bunker flows a river, dotted with tiny islands, each holding its own bunker. Against all good judgement, but in the best horror-story tradition, the pair explores the strange land and make a series of unsettling discoveries. It quickly becomes clear there is more to the place than originally met their eyes and a sense of ever present danger lurks below the surface. But what lives in this place does not want to stay put and Kara soon finds hints of the it seeping into her world. She has to act quickly before the dangerous things that live there invade her universe.

While the plot The Hollow Places (digital galley, Saga Press) moves along quickly enough to hold the reader’s interest, for a book categorized as horror it is remarkably short on foreboding and suspense. Tense moments that could have been built up slowly seem to pass too quickly, and thus a little uneventfully. Call it horror-light. Feel free to turn out the lights and dangle your feet off the side of the bed while reading this book.

How to word graduation announcements for commencements canceled due to COVID-19

School graduations are upon us and if you, like me, are ordering announcements you realize a few changes need to be made to the wording due to commencement ceremonies being canceled or postponed because of COVID-19.

In lieu of a commencement date and location you can just say the student will be graduating “in two thousand twenty.” But I prefer the more specific, “at the conclusion of the spring semester two thousand twenty.”

Because COVID-19 is a global event understood by everyone, you don’t need to go into the specific details for the ceremony being canceled. Just leave the focus on the student and their achievement.

Here is a sample university announcement:

The President, the Faculty
The Graduating Class
Auburn University
College of Sciences and Mathematics
Announce the Graduation of
Jane Doe
at the Conclusion
of the Spring Semester
Two Thousand Twenty
with a
Bachelor of Science Degree in
Applied Mathematics

How to find your 2019 Shopify Payments 1099-K

If you use Shopify Payments, you may wonder where to find the 1099-K you need for your business taxes. Shopify does not make it easy to find, but with the help of Shopify’s chat support I was able to navigate to the form. I’ve outlined the steps below to find your Shopify 1099-K.

  1. Log into your dashboard and click on “Settings” at the bottom left of the screen.
  2. Click on “Payment Providers.”
  3. Click on “View Payouts” under Shopify Payments.
  4. Click on “Documents.”
  5. Download the PDF of your 1099-K.

Also important: You’ll also want to find an accounting of all of the fees you paid in the tax year to record as expenses. To do that, on the payouts page export a record of all of the payouts for the tax year. That will include all of the fees you paid.

There you go. Now get to work on your taxes.

Why you may not have a 1099-K

Shopify says that for 2019, “Shopify is required to submit a 1099-K form to the IRS for each merchant who processes more than $20,000 and has more than 200 transactions in a calendar year (or less if they’re in MA or VT states). If you qualify for a form, you will see this by clicking the documents link at the top left of your Shopify Payments payout page.”

If you didn’t earn enough or have enough transactions you will no receive a 1099-K form.

January 2020 Update: Originally posted in February 2018, these instructions still work in January 2020.

March 2020 Update: Added information about why you may not receive a 1099-K form from Shopify.

Review: The Deserter

Nelson DeMille is back with another thriller, sharing writing duties with his son, Alex DeMille. In The Deserter, Army criminal investigators Scott Brodie and Maggie Taylor are trying to track down elite Delta Force officer Captain Kyle Mercer, who walked way from his post in Afghanistan.

The trail leads to Venezuela and Brodie and Taylor head there in pursuit of the dangerous officer. The duo are in dangerous territory as Venezuelan society unravels around them. But the investigators rely on their wit and some rule breaking to stay on Mercer’s trail.

The Deserter (Simon & Schuster) is a typical DeMille thriller, full of caustic and satirical humor and dangerous setups that are always just around the corner. While it doesn’t break any new ground, it will be popular with fans of the writer.

Review: Janis

Following her breakout performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 Janis Joplin catapulted to stardom. Although it seemed like Joplin was an over night success, she cultivated her voice and singing style from an early age, mimicking classic blues performers such as Bessie Smith. But Joplin was plagued with a dark outlook on life that she held at bay with substance abuse.

In Janis: Her Life and Music, biographer Holly George-Warren thoroughly records the ups and downs of Joplin’s short life. Although Joplin perpetuated a myth of being a misunderstood and neglected child, her parents doted on her and accommodated her creative interests. Their influence showed in Joplin’s voice, which she inherited from her mother, and an intellectual curiosity and love of reading, which she learned from her father.

Janis (digital galley, Simon & Schuster) recounts Joplin’s rich life, from her youth in Port Arthur, Texas to her rise to fame in San Francisco with Big Brother and the Holding Company. While in high school in Port Arthur she frequented nearby Louisiana clubs where she heard R & B and “swamp pop music.”

After high school Joplin enjoyed fits of creative genius and her talents shone when she went to college in Austin, where she fell in with like minded musicians. But Joplin had recurring problems with drug and alcohol abuse and at times resorted to dealing and turning tricks to earn cash. Her journey eventually led to San Francisco where she explored her music and a wider array of drugs. She eventually joined Big Brother and the Holding Company, a band that, although not up to Joplin’s level of talent, helped launch here to stardom.

The well researched Janis gives performers, family and friends an opportunity to recount stories from Joplin’s life. With melancholy I read about her remarkable voice and performances that left audiences stunned, wondering what may have been. Joplin said she turned to heroin when “her feelings tormented her.” Unfortunately her life came to an end in 1970 with a fatal overdose.

Friday coffee notes

This is a short review of one of King’s best recent novels, The Institute. The book explores relationships among children with “special talents” held and abused at a secret installation. This is a good-vs-evil story that’s hard to put down.

Brittany Howard is a pure joy to watch perform. Her current tour ends in November and I hope she plans to do festivals next year so I have a chance to see her again live. Until then, there’s an NPR Tiny Desk Concert from this week to hold us over.

I’m working on a longer review of Janis: Her Life and Music, which will be released October 22. But for now it’s enough to say go ahead and pre-order a copy. It’s a well-researched and well-written page turner by Holly George-Warren.

Listen to Janis Joplin before Big Brother & the Holding Company in the 1964 bootleg “Typewriter Tape” recording. Her talent shows as she sings with guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, while his wife types a letter in the background.

It amazes me that there is a subway station in the basement of the Old State House in Boston. It’s not a big building and it’s odd to walk out of the station and see where you are. You can see it here on Google Street View. Here it is the 1906 Old State House with the subway, or East Boston Tunnel, entrance at the back left of the building. And before the subway in the early 1890s, when the basement was occupied by a telegraph office.

A brief review: Daisy Jones and the Six

Daisy Jones & the Six would have worked better, or just worked, as narrative fiction. The interviews in this oral history format overwhelm with minutiae and feel contrived. The format only serves to contrast this made-up rock band history with biographies of real rock bands. Just skip this and read the real thing. There’s a Janis Joplin biography coming out in late October 2019. Or pick up one of the many books about Fleetwood Mac, on which this book is based.

Review: The Warehouse

What would the world be like if Amazon ran everything: From housing to entertainment to food production? Rob Hart’s new novel The Warehouse gives a peak at that scenario with a thriller that explores a world governed with corporate diligence.

The Warehouse [digital galley, Random House] is set in the near future where The Cloud runs most of the economy by employing, housing and feeding workers in an environment regulated by technology. Those who can’t get jobs at The Cloud find themselves living in a dystopian world of chronic unemployment. But someone is suspicious of the corporation’s success and has infiltrated one of its facilities to find out what’s really powering the company’s success.

Unfortunately there are too many holes in the plot and an incongruous ending made me question whether the bad guys were really that bad after all. And if so, what was the point of all of the sneaking around early in the book.

Review: I Like to Watch

The last two decades have seen significant changes in TV — from the quality of production to how it is consumed — resulting in vastly improved entertainment options. In I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution critic Emily Nussbaum explores the television ecosystem in an anthology of essays.

Nussbaum, a Pulitzer Prize winning critic for The New Yorker, has great admiration for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Norman Lear and The Sopranos. Topics that have recurring rolls in her essays. I found myself agreeing with her more than half of the time and questioning some of her conclusions the rest of the time. But that’s understandable, as the best critics challenge our thinking and cause us to question, or at least justify, our own preferences.

I Like to Watch (digital galley, Random House) does read like the loose collection of essays that it is, without a unifying theme. And the collection fails to satisfyingly explore the impact streaming services have had on the quality and quantity of programs available.

If you share her sensibilities you’ll likely find yourself nodding your head in agreement as you read this book. If you don’t, you will still come away having learned something about your own preferences. But the book will help everyone become more critical and informed TV consumers.

Coffee notes for July 30, 2019

What I’ve learned in 20 years of blogging, by Anil Dash: Most people in tech want to do good, but tech history is poorly understood. As a result, many in tech don’t understand how tech can have negative impacts when they think of themselves as good people.”

As much as it pains me to say it, Facebook Marketplace is a better place than Craigslist to sell used household merchandise. Items seem to sell more quickly and some that never sold on Craigslist find buyers on Facebook. My success rate has gone up tremendously. And it’s probably safer than selling on Facebook. I guess Facebook will do to Craigslist what Craigslist did to newspapers.

Every state has an infamous crime — and a book about it.

The 10 best web scraping tools.

I’m working with SimplePie to create a website and it’s working great, but it looks like active development on the code has stopped. SimplePie is written in PHP, so it pretty much runs on any web host without problems. But I’m not sure what the future holds for the application since it seems like the developers have moved on to other projects.

On a related note, I’ve played in the past with David Winer’s River aggregator, but have always found it to be too fiddly. Other people have had success running it, so this probably speaks more to my comfort level with some of the software’s dependencies.

Coffee notes for July 18, 2019

Self-driving cars are way in the future: “Several carmakers and technology companies have concluded that making autonomous vehicles is going to be harder, slower and costlier than they thought.”

Gmail spam filters have gotten worse. They used to be so reliable I could simply ignore my spam filter. Now I have so many false positives my spam has to be reviewed every day. Many of the emails sent to the folder don’t have any obvious spam qualities and clicking “not spam” does nothing to keep subsequent emails from the same sender from being marked as spam.

Despite recycling the same monster and general plot, season 3 of Stranger Things is my favorite so far. It may be because of all the 80s movie references.

Review: Recursion

New York City police officer Barry Sutton gets wrapped up in a time-travel adventure while investigating the mysterious False Memory Syndrome, in Blake Crouch’s Recursion. Along the way he crosses paths with neuroscientist Helena Smith, who discovered the secret held in people’s memories and realizes the danger she has unleashed.

There is a sense of impending doom as reality as everyone knows it begins to unravel and every effort to right the course of history introduces new problems. I don’t want to say more about the plot for fear of revealing a twist, but this is a fast-pace thriller that infuses fresh ideas into the time-travel genre.

Crouch has already written a number of successful thrillers, including Dark Matter and the Wayward Pines series, but this is his best novel yet. Recursion (digital galley, Crown Publishing Group) deals nicely with the many paradoxes that inevitably crop up with time travel and Crouch wraps up everything neatly at the end.

Review: Once More Unto the Breach

During the Allied liberation of Europe Rhys Gravenor, a Welsh farmer, travels to France looking for his son in Once More Unto the Breach. With the help of American ambulance driver Charlotte Dubois he sets off on a roadtrip across the country following clues and encountering one dangerous situation after another.

The novel was off to the races before we ever got to know the main characters or their motivations. And the plot hinges on a too convenient and improbable meeting at the beginning of the novel.

Once More Unto the Breach (digital galley, Polis Books) has promise but is, unfortunately, full of stiff dialogue and it’s not really clear why Rhys is so desperately looking for his son. After all, he’s just one of millions wrapped up in WWII and displaced from their families. What makes this situation and relationship so unique that it was worth commencing a search during wartime?

Tuesday journal

Daniel Milnor posts a thoughtful essay on “competitive travel.” I don’t agree with everything he says, but this should get you thinking about what motivates you to travel. Related: Travel photos are underrated.

The study claiming Google made $4.7 billion from news is incredibly flimsy.

Cory Doctorow says regulating tech companies only makes them stronger. He suggests fostering competition by making it legal for third parties to interoperate with big-tech data.

Every HBO show ranked. Last place is 1st & Ten. First place is The Sopranos.

With the festival just a few days away, here is a list of printable Bonnaroo schedules. This year is supposed to be the first to sell out since 2013. Related is this story from the UCF magazine Pegasus: Why I am a festival kid.

Elspeth Diederix’s photo exhibition When Red Disappears explores life on the seabed of the coast of the Netherlands at depths where the color red begin to vanish from the visible spectrum. The photos resemble oil paintings.

Designed to imitate the look of park signs carved using a router, the National Park Typeface has a clean, retro look. And it’s free.