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WEEK 52 2010

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First Post, 17 March 2002
Eight Years Ago, This Week, 2002 Seven Years Ago, This Week, 2003 Six Years Ago, this week, 2004 Five Years Ago, this week, 2005 Four Years Ago, This Week, 2006
Three Years Ago, This Week, 2007
Two Years Ago, This Week, 2008
One Year Ago, This Week, 2009

Saturday 1 January 2011
Saturday - ran a few errands, did a few chores. It's cold out, I don't even want to go out and walk, and I need to.

I had to replace the battery in the Probe yesterday - it could no longer hold a charge, even for a week. So I went down to Sears in the early afternoon, thinking it would be a ten  minute job. Only it was the end of lunch hour, so the help was going to lunch after the rush, and they were short handed, yada yada yada. But they were honest with me - it'd take two hours.

Well, OK. The theater was next door, so I went and caught TRON: Legacy in 3D for $9.00. Yikes. Still, it was OK. It was the first 3D movie I've seen in decades, and the 3D worked reasonably well. It was odd how the three dimensional objects just disappeared at the edges of the screen, but it wasn't as blurry and headache invoking as I remember the old movies and glasses to be. As for the movie, eh. There were a couple of good scenes, but Tron himself was just a cameo. They had a cute girl as the guide/protector sidekick instead.

After a couple of hours at the movie I went back to Sears. Where they informed me that they'd bumped me up in the queue, and that my car had been ready since fifteen minutes after I left. Heh. I guess my understanding & kind attitude got me some results, but since I had my phone turned off in the theater...

Yes, it's time again for that final book tally. There were a lot this year, which I put down to not being quite as busy as usual, and of having evenings free when working away from home at my parents' place, and on the boat, and not being desperately tired. Also the ease of downloads with the Kindle helped increase the total number (but decrease my net worth).

The Year in Books, 2010
#1 Sailing from Byzantium
#2 Wireless
#3 The Riddlemaster of Hed
#4 Heir of Sea and Fire
#5 Od Magic
#6 Storm From the Shadows
#7 Krakatoa
#8 The January Dancer
#9 The Forest of Time
#10 Over the Edge of the World
#11 Harpist In the Wind
#12 Destroyer of Worlds
#13 Unknown Quantity
#14 Transitions
#15 The God Engines
#16 The Garden of the Shaped,
#17 Shaper's Legacy
#18 Wizard's Bane
#19 The Wizardry Compiled
#20 The Wizardry Consulted
#21 The Wizardry Quested
#22 The Wiz Biz
#23 Flinx Transcendent
#24 Seize the Fire
#25 Iorich
#26 To Say Nothing of the Dog
#27 Falling Free
#28 Babel-17
#29 Way of the Pilgrim
#30 Empire Star & The Ballad of Beta-2
#31 Blackout
#32 Eifleheim
#33 Limbo System
#34 Lady of Mazes
#35 Cobra Alliance
#36 Deadman Switch
#37 Assignment In Nowhere
#38 Strange Encounters: Adventures of a Renegade Naturalist
#39 Spinneret
#40 Drinking Sapphire Wine
#41 Aristoi
#42 Elegy Beach
#43 The Splendid Little War
#44 Castle Perilous
#45 The Architect of Sleep
#46 The Cassini Division
#47 A Case of Conscience
#48 Fallen Star
#49 The Quincunx of Time
#50 Tam Lin
#51 Blown Away
#52 The Fuller Memeorandom
#53 Antares Victory
#54 Gibraltar Earth
#55 Gibraltar Sun
#56 Little, Big
#57 Gibraltar Stars
#58 Those Who Hunt the Night
#59 Traveling With the Dead
#60 Odd Thomas
#61 Forever Odd
#62 Brother Odd
#63 Odd Hours
#64 The Price of the Stars
#65 By Honor Betray'd
#66 Galileo's Dream
#67 Isaac Newton
#68 The Forgotten Genius
#69 Imager's Challenge:
#70 Against A Dark Background
#71 Valentina, Soul in Sapphire
#72 Imagers Intrigue: Third Book of the Imager Portfolio
#73 The Cruise of the Snark
#74 A Mighty Fortress
#75 Just Patty
#76 When Patty went to College
#77 The Crooked Letter
#78 Dear Enemy
#79 All Clear
#80 Gridlinked
#81 The Line of Polity
#82 The Road to Serfdom
#83 Enslaved by Ducks
#84 The Pirate Hunter
#85 Agent to the Stars
#86 Brass Man
#87 Polity Agent
#88 Line War
#89 John Tyler, The Accidental President
#90 City of the Chasch: Tschai #1
#91 Servants of the Wankh, Tschai #2
#92 The Dirdir, Tschai #3
#93 The Pnume, Tschai #4
#94 Things I Wished I'd Known Before I Started Sailing
#95 Z-Sting
#96 One Good Turn
#97 The Eerie Silence
#98 Out of the Dark


The Year in Books, 2009 (84)

The Year in Books, 2008 (54)

The Year in Books, 2007 (64)

The Year in Books, 2006 (53)

The Year in Books, 2005 (50)

Before 2005 I didn't record books here on the blog, except occasionally. For the six calendar years we have 408 books in total, averaging 68/year or 1.307/week.

Looking things over, I am a bit disappointed in myself. It isn't much of a reading plan. There isn't much hard science or engineering, just a little true history, just a bit of biography, and a lot of science fiction.

It's easy to be hard on one's self in retrospect, to say "I should have read this, that, and the other improving tome, back then". On the other hand, those days, and nights, were much like tonight when I am blogging instead of reading; and though the detailed memory of any particular night is mostly gone, I was just as certainly busy, tired, depressed, thinking about teevee, the family, the job, vacations, and wanting some distraction as I am now. So, where does one draw the line between self indulgence and admitting a fault?

Friday 31 December 2010
Friday - New Years Eve. Over with friends, watching teevee. These were firstly The Producers, then some Big Bang Theory Season 3 DVD's, and we all sat around, watched, worked on our knitting, nooks, pc's...and drifted off to sleep. I missed 12:00pm myself, woken up by the (rather sparse) shooting and fireworks outside (it was too cold for people to linger long outside I'm guessing). The teenage boy was awake as well, but that was it....

A present to myself this Christmas was a Roku box, for Netflix streaming. I ordered it from Amazon and it arrived well before Christmas...and just sat there in the box. I was busy, for one thing, and I knew that it would be a horrible pain to install for a second reason, and I was considering getting a new flat screen teevee which would mean taking everything apart anyway for a third, and would probably incorporate a streaming connection natively, for a fourth.

Well, it's almost the new year and I'm still dithering on the flat screen, so I installed the Roku last night. It should have been a five minute task, but took over an hour. Pull the teevee out, plug in the ROKU cables (RCA, it's an old teevee) and push teevee back. But, somehow, the DVD player became unhooked. Pull it out, replace SVIDEO cable with new cable, push back in. No video. Ah, the RF cable from the teevee is dislodged. Pull teevee out, attach cable, push back in. No TIVO light. Pull TIVO unit out, reattach power cable, push back in. Fish power cable behind cabinet for ROKU. Power up ROKU and teevee. Discover that the old TIVO remote no longer allows changing to secondary input. Neither does the audio system controller, which was my backup. Search for the original teevee remote, change the batteries in it, and switch to secondary input and...

Voila! The Roku works!!

Pretty snazzy, really. Since the cable modem is right there, alongside the router, I just hardwired the ROKU to the router, no WPA setup required. And the setup was dead simple, a password for the ROKU website, and a password for the NETFLIX website. Essentially just setting up a handshake.

So, it all works. Teevee, Tivo, VCR, DVD, Stereo out and Roku. (The CD player won't eject though.)

So, I can now watch my NetFlix DVDs on the teevee, rather than the computer, and I can stream whatever I want. Roku also does Amazon and some of the other sites, I'll look into that eventually.

My first streaming download was Deep Water, about the strange last voyage of Donald Crowhurst. In 2007 I read Robin Knox-Johnstorn's story, "A World of my Own" about winning the first single handed around the world race in 1968, wherein he was the only one to finish. Winner by default, but he seemed at the time to have one last challenger, Donald Crowhurst, who was on track to beat his time.

Only Crowhurst was a fake. After setting out late and making terrible time, Crowhurst had simply lurked in the South Atlantic after deciding that his boat was not up to the voyage in the terrible waters at the bottom of the world, sending in fake position reports, waiting until the racers were on their way home, and then finally falling in behind them, willing to come in last and knowing few would be interested in him. But then, one by one, as the true racers dropped out, he became the only other sailor besides Knox-Johnston who would finish, and probably, due to his falsified position reports, the apparent winner on time. His records would be scrutinized in detail and his lies and deceptions revealed (he had even gone ashore in South America, and made repairs, a disqualifying action even if he had sailed about the world). Francis Chichester was already a bit suspicious of his fabulous (in both senses for the word) daily record of 243 miles.

His boat was found empty, floating alone in the ocean, and his logbooks told the story of deception, despair, loneliness and eventual madness. He probably committed suicide.

And, something I don't remember reading before: the race winner, Robin Knox-Johnston, himself by no means rich, donated all his winnings to the destitute widow. Now there is character.

Thursday 30 December 2010

Thursday - After a bit of a storm yesterday it is sunny and clear. Winds were, quite literally, howling in the house eaves last night. That, from experience, means about 40MPH and above, and looking at the Weather Underground "Wundermap" for Lancaster, at that time, did indeed show those sorts of wind speeds.

An intriguing thing about the map, that I noticed, was that the winds didn't slow down substantially from Gorman, in the west, to Lancaster, despite the valley widening out. One would expect the increase in width to act as a diffuser, and for the wind speed to decrease. The explanation is probably two-fold, firstly that there is an elevation drop, which would tend to accelerate the working fluid (air), and secondly that it's not a simple 2D situation, there is a vast mass of air moving, and above a few thousand feet AGL the diffusion is limited.

I'm reading a bit, being home and it being the end of the year, and even finishing some of the lighter stuff. So maybe I'll make that 100 Books for the year after all. Some books I've had for a while, others are library books. At any given time I've probably a half dozen partially read books laying about the house, another half dozen that I'm meaning to start, and a half dozen that I should start (but require a mental effort or a mind set I'm not in the mood for).

Book #96 was One Good Turn, by Withold Rybczynski. Subtitled "A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw" it is a short book on, as it says, screws and the screwdriver. Starting as a request for a magazine article nominating a "tool of the millennium",  in 2000, the author reviews several venerable tools, and finally decides on and tracks the screwdriver and screw much further back in time than expected. The august Brittanica dates the screwdriver only to 1800, but the author eventually tracks the screwdriver and screw, much as we know them, all the way back to 1475, at least. They are, it turns out, useful in attaching parts of objects that endure repeated sharp blows - like the butt of a musket or arbequs.

WR also talks about the screw proper, and it's probably descent from Archimedes water screw, the lathe, and it's development, and the history of the Phillips and Robertson screw heads. And the A-frame level and the bubble level.

A fun read, and ties in a bit with the history of machine tools I read a few years back. More than 5 years, since my tabulations at year end don't show it, and  maybe pre-2002, since a site specific google search doesn't find it:



Book #97 was The Eerie Silence, by Paul Davies. This is another riff on the "Where are the Aliens?" question. There is no sign of them in radio signals, and no historical record or evidence on earth or in the explored solar system. In 1950 Enrico Fermi pointed out that even the most inept technological civilization, given the age of the galaxy, fifteen billion years, should have spread across it and left signs (condo's on Mars, beer cans on the Moon, alien versions of Happy Day's broadcasts). But there are none.

There are a lot of explanations, but I've read this stuff before, and the only really new take to me was "The Great Filter". Essentially Davies and an economics professor, Robin Hanson, worked out some math relating to "filters", i.e. obstacles or doomsdays affecting the development of technological civilizations. Essentially it's a probabilistic argument that says: (1) if we find any kind of organic life not of earth origin, then the "filter" is in our future (yikes!); (2) If we find no life, then we have probably (by sheer Darwinian luck) managed to get past most filters, and the future is bright.


Book #98 was David Weber's Out of the Dark. It starts out well, then sort of peters out into foolishness. Genre confusion foolishness, the worst kind.

Essentially a galactic civilization of herbivores discovers a primitive Earth around the time of Agincourt. Horrified by our violent ways they sic the only carnivorous race in their federation, the Shongairi, on the disgusting omnivores (us). The Shongairi arrive about 2020 (hey, it's a big galaxy), kick everybody's ass with kinetic strike weapons, but get bogged down in a guerrilla/pacification war against the plucky humans. Disgusted and demoralized the aliens decide to pull out and destroy the planet entirely, from orbit. Then, at the last minute...well...

At the last minute Dracula, the vampire Vlad the Impaler, uses his and his followers vampire powers to defeat the enemies.

I think somebody plotted himself into a corner (the humans could not win, given the novels initial premises), and this was his ridiculous (and unfair to the reader) way of ending things. I have nothing against vampire stores, I enjoyed Saberhagen's books, and those Barbara Hambly books earlier this year, but vampires clinging to the sides of ascending space shuttles and infiltrating super space dreadnoughts through the air vents? Insulting. Glad I didn't buy the damn thing.

Not recommended.

I was thinking a bit about Z-Sting, and why it didn't "gel" for me. In a way it fails to live up to the literary equivalent to Occam's Razor: there are too many sci-fi elements introduced, too many characters are introduced, and coincidences multiply beyond any rational expectation. Now that last might be unfair, given that the Z in Z-Sting refers to the "Zeitgeist", things that are in the air and might be considered to cause coincidences, but still.

That said, it was an honest effort, and wasn't unfair to the reader in the way Out of the Dark turned out to be.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Wednesday - again, just a bit of (billable) work. I did get by the library to pick up some books on VB.Net & such.

The library is, given the wet and wild weather outside, chock full of bums; smelly, sleeping, snoring, mumbling incoherently. I've talked to friends in other cities, it's a problem everywhere. The library is a public space, you can't exclude someone just because they're annoying and disgusting...

Checked on the cats again - food gone, solid waste generated - they are obviously alive, still. My friend got home this evening, so I'm off the hook now.

Book #95 was an odd one: Z-Sting by Ian Wallace. A system is set up to generate world peace by what might be considered a grievance exchange, where the balance of grievances between nations is calculated. If a certain level is exceeded then the offending nation is "encapsulated", cutting it off from other nations. But something goes wrong, the calculations are fiddled with, and the Z-Sting weapon is programmed to enshroud not just a single nation for a limited time, but the entire world, forever. Zounds! Superhero to the rescue.

Not really recommended...

Z-Sting cover, DAW edition
Kind of a cheesy cover, too.

Tuesday 28 December 2010
Tuesday - not much to say. Had lunch out, did a bit of work at the computer.

Still cat sitting. The kitty litter needed changing, and most of the soft food was gone, so I know that cats are present and alive.

Book #94 was Things I Wished I'd Known Before I Started Sailing, by John Vigor. Short, mostly just tips on this and that. But I found myself saying "Yeah, that's right!" frequently. Some things I haven't done - long distance sailing, for example, so the tips involving that were interesting as well. He suggests that going downwind in a sloop (Bermuda) rig that tacking will reduce the rolling and not add much to the distance - 20 degrees off the wind only adds 6% to the distance. Stuff like that.


Matilija Canyon doesn't quite have the spirit...
The inhabitants of Matilija Canyon aren't quite into the Season, it seems.

Monday 27 December 2010

Monday -  Feeling a bit better.

I've been watching a friends' cats. Well, sort of, 'taking care of' might be a better term. They are indoor cats, but nowhere to be seen. My own cat sitters have mentioned this, but this is the first time I've experienced it. I put food and water in bowls, clean the kitty litter box, but there is no sight, no sound, no sign of feline presence at all. But I'm told they are shy...

Book #92 was The Dirdir, Tschai #3. Excellent.

Book #93 was The Pnume, Tschai #4. Oddly Vance stopped there, with our intrepid hero successfully leaving the planet. He didn't cover the Phung, the fifth species on the planet, said to be related to the Pnume.

These are short books, but the way, about 150 pages each. Altogether they'd only make two thirds of one volume of  the modern Baroque Cycle, for comparison.

Sunday 26 December_2010

Sunday - The Day after Christmas. Last Week of the Year. I see that it ends pretty close to the end of the blog week, which is nice. Usually I just extend the blog, and duplicate the overlap for Week #1 and Week #52, so that makes it easy.

While not feeling well I did a bit of reading. This was old, light SciFi stuff, a Jack Vance series in paperback: Tschai: Planet of Adventure! Vance has a knack for naming and atmosphere, and the books are an old fashioned pleasure to read. The setting is Tschai, an old world settled by a number of species. When a spaceship from Earth is sent to check on a radio signal the ship is destroyed, with only a single survivor, who crash lands and tries to make his way back to Earth. Much to his surprise he finds humans, groups adapted to live alongside each of the various species, and all more or less at each others throats.

So, Book #90 is City of the Chasch: Tschai #1, by Jack Vance. This sets up the story, and introduces our protagonist, one Adam Reith. We meet two other supporting characters, Traz and Anacho, who as natives give Adam his needed insight into the various human and alien cultures. The Chasch (Blue and Green) are the first species we meet (after the humans).

I note that Amazon reviewers gave it, despite it's 1968 publication (but perhaps that's just the ACE edition date, see below), glowing reviews.

Book #91 was Servants of the Wankh, Tschai #2, by Jack Vance. More adventure, this time interacting with the Wankh species, and their human imitators. I didn't see the ACE cover at Amazon, but there is a copy with a date of 1960, which is more in tune with it's late1950's style of writing. Though Vance was always better at imagining planets, cultures, peoples, aliens than he was as an expositor of deep human feelings, so it's hard to say. Well worth reading.

I am reminded of an not-quite so old a series, C.J. Cherryh used a similar idea of humans imitating aliens much later in her 'Faded Sun' set of books, with a human soldier identifying with the ferocious alien warrior mercenary and his manipulative boss identifying with the mercenaries unscrupulous client. Her plotting and character development is superior to Vance, but for sheer visual exposition he is the master.

Picture of the Week

Seth Thomas Regulator No. 2
Photo Notes: Seth Thomas Regulator No. 2.

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