Saturday, July 21, 2018

Flying over the Grand Canyon

In April I visited Arizona for the sole purpose of seeing the Grand Canyon, and took a helicopter tour that left me as awe-struck and mesmerized as I have ever been. Tonight I put together a video of some of my footage taken during the flight.  I hope it conveys even a little of the experience.

Friday, July 20, 2018

From Russia with Love

From Russia with Love
© 1957 Ian Fleming
253 pages

I've tried three times to read any of Ian Fleming's Bond novels, because he was an actual intelligence officer writing spy novels. Bond in the abstract is an interesting character, a posh international superspy with cool tech and a drinking habit. However, in practice I've fallen asleep during the one Bond movie I've watched (Skyfall, apologies) and don't fare much better with the novels. This particular novel opens in Russia, however, with no Bond in sight, and the plot is introduced quickly. The Russians believe that killing Bond will gravely weaken British intelligence, and recruit a femme fatale to lure him into position so that 007 can be deep-sixed in a scandalous way. Said fatale's cover story is that she's a Russian intelligence officer who fell in love with Bond by looking at his photograph, and now she wants to defect so she can be with him in person.

I really should have stopped reading there, but I persisted. (Seriously, who disguises an intel officer by pretending she's AN INTEL OFFICER?) I should note that I have an active dislike for novels with sex scenes in them -- I'll read science books about sexuality, no problems, but inflict fictional bedroom scenes on me and I'm sloooowly putting the book down -- and so I probably shouldn't have even TRIED a novel with this premise. There's just endless description of people's buttocks and breasts and yadayadayada. When Bond meets the fatale she's literally naked in his bed, and it's just....preposterous. I'd say "silly", a la Monty Python, but silly can be charming, whereas this is more like the 2016 US election. This is a rare DNF for me, as I stopped 75% through. There is a train at the end, though, and it's even the Orient Express

Anyway, I don't think Fleming is for me. Fortunately there's plenty of spy novels with more explosives and less anatomical exposition.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Anne of Avonlea

Anne of Avonlea
© 1909 Lucy Maud Montgomery
366 pages

I recently took my niece to see a production of "Annie" at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and it put me in a mood to revisit Anne of Green Gables, another red-headed heroine I'd first encountered at the theater.  When I read the actual novel a couple of years ago, I found Anne an utterly charming character,  a match for America's Tom Sawyer.  That novel ended with a young orphan reaching the cusp of adulthood, finishing her education and preparing to take her place in the community.  Thus Anne of Green Gables (the verdant name of her home) becomes Anne of Avonlea, a woman of her town. Anne of Avonlea follows the course of Anne's transition from teen to adult,  as she launches a teaching career and sees her theories put to the test against real live children  -- and  invests herself more deeply in the village by creating a society for its improvement.  Anne's increasing maturity also displays itself when she faces dilemmas square in the face, and refuses to quit believing that even schoolroom hellions and village cranks can be reached.  Anne's sweet spirit and the air of possibility around her make her a popular figure in the village, which is good because she still tends to get into scrapes.  (Most memorably, she climbs on top of a neighbor's roof to investigate dishes in their pantry for sale during their absence, and plunges midway through, getting thoroughly stuck.)   After two years, however, greater challenges -- college and real adulthood -- await.  That's a story for Anne of the Island, however!


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Resistance is Futile? State of the Kindle

(Image borrowed from here)

A few weeks ago I walked into my usual Chinese place for lunch and the proprietor immediately inquired: Where's your book?  She's seen me walk in every week for the last six years and get comfortable with a book while waiting on my order. I hadn't brought one for the same reason that when I went on vacation, I decided to not carry any books as part of my pack-light-and-avoid-checking-bags policy.  I had my Kindle in my carry on bag, and as I stood in the Chinese restaurant, I carried a small library in my pocket -- my phone, equipped with the Kindle app.

Seven years ago I did a worried  thinking-out-loud post called "Go Go Gadget Literature?" on e-books and e-readers, detailing my concerns about electronic readers. Five years later, I sheepishly revealed that I'd recently purchased a Kindle fire, mostly to use as a tablet, and had been dabbling with reading books online. I called that one "You Still Can't Call Me Inspector Gadget".  I'd become interested in a few titles which were online-only, partially because of NetGalley.  Things have changed, however. I just did a tally, and approximately 41 books from last year were read via my Kindle. That's less than a third, but seven months into 2018, e-books account for nearly half of my reading. That's quite a sea change, and one prompted by frequent sales of Kindle books, the relative paucity of nonfiction in my area (I have to drive an hour and a half to a library with enough nonfiction to keep me busy), and my growing ease with android and iphone systems. Seven years ago I had never touched a smartphone; now people hand their devices to me and ask for help  -- which is how I learned to use them to begin with.

It's not that I've stopped liking physical books, far from it: they fill my rooms and are scattered around my car. I'm still buying them,  cruising Amazon on a daily basis looking for interesting old or new titles  to be had for cheap . But my space is limited,  the Kindle offers me frequent  steals, and in the three years I've had it, I've yet to drop or damage my device, or suffer a book being deleted mysteriously by Amazon. I paid a $15 premium on mine at the time to avoid seeing any splash advertisements on the wake screen, so all of my  original objections have never applied.

Ironically, as my work has made me both comfortable and experienced with smartphones and related devices,  I've grown to appreciate my Kindle Fire less as a tablet (which is why I originally bought it!).  Kindles use a modified version of Android that is divorced from the Google play store, so a lot of Android-compatible content isn't available.  My particular Kindle model also doesn't have any way to expand its memory, so it may be good that its app library is limited.  Earlier in the year I purchased a 2016 flagship smartphone, principally as a camera but equipped with a 64 GB microSD card for photographs and such. Surprisingly, it's taken over as my e-reader of choice, so that despite my considerable use of Kindle as a software platform, my Kindle device itself has been relegated to marginal use, not being touched for weeks at a time.

Has the use of a Kindle changed me as a reader? Am  I more distracted, less focused?  I honestly don't think so.   I realize this is subjective, but I think I behave the same way while reading a book on my phone as I do reading a real one.  I don't stop reading mid-page to check notifications,  both out of deliberate choice (I ignore the itch to check email) and because I've arranged things so I won't be distracted. I turn do not disturb mode on, for instance, as I despise notifications and disable them at every opportunity, whether I'm using my phone or my computer.

It may be too early to speculate, but I think my e-reading activity has leveled off,  My phone has had a few months to do its magic, and while I definitely use it more than my old emergency-use  cellphone (which was usually lost, or dead, and only rarely on my person), I still haven't become a tech-zombie, shuffling around in public and staring downwards. My phone stays in my pocket until I decide it's time to read, or time to practice Spanish, or when I need to make a call. (This is rare, as I don't like phone calls and keep my phone on mute)  I've 'assimilated' my phone without becoming a drone myself. So...resistance isn't futile, so long as you're a crank to begin with.

The Grid

The Grid: The Fraying Lines Between Americans and Our Energy Future
© 2016 Gretchen Bakke
384 pages

The Grid is a brief history of how our present electrical network evolved in the  United States,  an layman-friendly analysis of its weaknesses -- some inherent, some developed over time as demand soared and different areas of the country made their own adaptations -- and a look at the future of the grid. Bakke imagines nano- and micro-grids will become much more common -- in part because it's increasingly affordable to generate one's own power through solar panels,  and in part because as the system continues to age it will be necessary out of self-defense.  "But wait," you said, "Solar panels and wind turbines only work part of the time!"     Bakke acknowledges this, but is hopeful that the ever-evolving Internet of Things, and especially the allegedly inevitable rise of electronic cars,  will  allow for more evenly-dispersed power distribution, as we continue to contrive ways of storing electricity for future release.   In Alabama, for instance, one station uses electricity to compress air during the day, and then at night the compressed air is released and used to power turbines.  Said station uses nearby salt caverns for storage, and that's a rare enough resource that this station is literally the only one of its kind in the United States.  Not exactly a repeatable approach, but it's only one example of how determined engineers can flank the problem of 'storing' electricity.

I owe this one a re-read because  my brain checked out 70% through. Usually I enjoy reading about infrastructure, but I just tired of the subject here.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Just a coincidence!

"Whaat?  No, I'm totally sick. In bed. reading a new book. "

Cartoon was posted in "Into the Wardrobe", a Lewisian/bookish facebook group.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

What I Read in 2007

Although these days I'm a fairly organized reader, with a Excel spreadsheet and everything,  when I first started yakking about books in 2007, I didn't even list them. I just posted rambling towers of paragraphs on MySpace.  I've been wanting to have a better reference for what I read in the early years, and since it's a quiet, rainy day, good for parsing paragraphs of superfluous commentary into  legible data...why not?

I should note that not everything I read in 2007 was on this list, because I didn't start tracking my reading until late May, and from August onwards I was largely tied up with life and work at my new university.  Nothing for most of December '07 or January '08 was reported!   This was also a unique moment in my life, as the year before I'd summarily rejected everything in my past and was actively trying to develop my own, independent view of the world.  I've been building on that foundation ever since.   Note that science, not history,  is king of nonfiction!   That will change, however:  as I was finishing a degree in history, with a European emphasis,  I read a lot of German, English, and French history later in the year, and would open 2008 with the same.

May 21st, 2007 -  December 12th, 2007

  1. The Rapture, Jerry B Jenkins and Timothy LaHaye
  2. Kingdom Come, Jerry B Jenkins and Timothy LaHaye
  3. The Know-it-All, A.J. Jacobs
  4. The Everything Classical Mythology Book, Lesley Bolton
  5. The Osterman Weekend, Robert Ludlum
  6. Allegiance, Timothy Zahn
  7. Universe on a T-Shirt, Dan Falk
  8. An Intimate History of Humanity, Theodore Zeldin
  9. Before the Dawn, Nicholas Wade
  10. Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief,  Lewis Wolpert
  11. Phantoms in the Brain,  V.S. Ramachandran
  12. The Whale: Mighty Monarch of the Sea, Jacques-Yves Cousteau
  13. Extraterrestrial Civilizations, Isaac Asimov
  14. Hitler's Shadow War, Donald McCale
  15. Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
  16. The Valley of Horses, Jean M Auel
  17. The Tribe of Tiger, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
  18. Dolphin Days, Kenneth Norris
  19. Nightfall and Other Stories, Isaac Asimov
  20. The Plains of Passage, Jean M Auel
  21. The Stand, Setphen King
  22. The Associate, Philip Margolin
  23. The Mammoth Hunters, Jean M Auel 
  24. Theories for Everything;  John Langone, Bruze Stutz, and Andrea Gianopoulos
  25. The Middle Ages, Dorothy Mills
  26. The German Empire, Michael Stuermer
  27. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Al Franken
  28. A Man Without a Country, Kurt Vonnegut
  29. Rickles' Book, Don Rickles
  30. Our Endangered Values, Jimmy Carter
  31. Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, J.K. Rowling
  32. The Complete Idiot's Guides to Turtles and Tortoises, Liz Palika
  33. The Rising Tide, Jeff Shaara
  34. Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut
  35. Storms from the Sun, Michael Carlowicz and Ramon Lopez
  36. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, JK Rowling
  37. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling
  38. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire JK Rowling
  39. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, JK Rowling
  40. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, JK Rowling
  41. Harry Potter and the Deathy Hallows, JK Rowling
  42. Shelters of Stone, Jean M Auel
  43. Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan
  44. River Out of Eden, Richard Dawkins
  45. Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s, FL Allen
  46. Infidel, Ayaan Hiris Ali
  47. Broca's Brain, Carl Sagan
  48. The Assault on Reason, Al Gore
  49. The End of Faith, Sam Harris
  50. The Darwin Awards, ed. Wendy Nortcutt
  51. Great Tales from English History 2, Robert Lacey
  52. Mephisto, Klauss Mann
  53. Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany, Marion kaplan
  54. The Hundred Years War, Desmond Sewawrd
  55. Great Tales from English History, Robert Lacey
  56. I Am America (And So Can You), Stephen Colbert
  57. The Luftwaffe: Creating the Operational Air War, James S Corum
  58. The Rise and Fall of the Luftwaffe, David Irving
  59. German into Nazis, Peter Fritzsche
  60. Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
  61. Montgomery: Biography of a City, Wayne Greenshaw