Sunday, February 28, 2010

Books of February 2010

16 Books
7510 pages 

I think this is still more than what I read in an average month.

Ender's Game
Orson Scott Card
ISBN 0-812-55070-6
324 pages
Feb 28

This is one of those books that I reread every few years.   A most amazing book, I only wish that I had discovered it in 1985 when it was written.  A Hugo and Nebula award winner.

George's Marvelous Medicine
Roald Dahl
ISBN 0-590-03274-7
89 pages
Feb 27

So I haven't been counting children's books.  This one I read on my own though.  Picked it up today for when kids are old enough & read it because I like Roald Dahl stories.

Robot Visions
Isaac Asimov
ISBN 0-451-45064-7
482 pages
Feb 26

I liked this.  A nice variety of quick robot stories.

Robots and Empire
Isaac Asimov
ISBN 0-345-32894-9
468 pages
Feb 23

Conflict between spacers and settlers.  Many interesting thoughts on long lifespans and the consequences.  I find it mathematically improbable that there isn't intelligent life out there.  Many reasons have been put forward as to why no contact.  Conspiracy - they already have.  Physics - FTL travel is impossible.  I like what Asimov alludes to in this novel - decadence.  You're a technologically developed species with long life span and many robot servants - why bother exploring?

The Robots of Dawn
Isaac Asimov
ISBN 0-345-31571-5
398 pages
Feb 20

I finally finished reading this book.  Its taken me over 25 years.  Picked it up at the library when it came out, but it was too 'heavy' for me as a little kid.  Still a bit of a slog at times, but an entertaining detective story.  It helps that in the meantime, I have read other Asimov robot stories, so I understand more of the background.  Currently working on the sequel.  As sci-fi goes, nobody beats Asimov in either quantity or quality.

Tales from the White Hart
Arthur C. Clarke
148 pages
Feb 16

One of the greats of science fiction.  A collection of cute sci-fi stories slash tall tales.

Will Ferguson
ISBN 0-14-301271-1
339 pages
Feb 15

"Our entire way of life is built on self-doubt and dissatisfaction."  This one has been in my 'to read' pile for a few years now.  Ferguson is also a past participant of CWY.  I'd like to read "Why I Hate Canadians".  The book reminded me of the style of Douglas Adams.

Bernard Cornwell
ISBN 0-06-109194-4
482 pages
Feb 15

Yep, human beings have always been ignorant, superstitious savages.

The Plague Tales
Ann Benson
ISBN 0-440-22510-8
675 pages
Feb 14

A combination sci-fi and historical novel.  It did predict full body scanners at airports, but overall fell flat.  The continued stupidity and illogical decisions of the protagonists (supposedly intelligent scientist types) eliminated all chance of suspension of disbelief. 

Hot Springs
Stephen Hunter
ISBN 0-671-03545-2
527 pages
Feb 12

Found this today.  I stopped reading another book - an extreme rarity - because it wasn't working for me.  Figured this was a good quick read.  Lucky find really for fifty cents, probably the only Stephen Hunter I hadn't read already.  Not literature by any stretch, but I enjoyed it.  The background was helpful for some of the other Swagger novels.

By Heresies Distressed
David Weber
ISBN 0765353997
640 pages
Feb 10

I like the characters & the story & plan to read the next book when it is released, but it hasn't lived up to my expectations from the first novel, Off Armageddon Reef.  Still, I hate waiting for a new book from a series to be published.

By Schism Rent Asunder
David Weber
ISBN  0765353989
736 pages
Feb 9

Less enjoyable than the first book in the series.  A whole lot of political machinations, very little science fiction.

Off Armageddon Reef
David Weber
ISBN 0-765-31500-9
592 pages
Feb 7

Another common sci-fi theme.  Technologically advanced person stranded or marooned with a more primitive society.  In this case, humans have been all but destroyed by alien invasion.  A colony is sent many light years away, but must avoid technology so no transmissions or energy signatures will ever be detected by the evil aliens.  How do you set up a society to stifle the science, free thought, rational thinking, and innovation that leads to technology?  Two words: Organized Religion.  That and you ban the metric system (since only the ignorant still use imperial ;).  Ah, the wonders of Organized Religion as a tool of control, oppression, and hypocrisy.  Some the of colony founders set themselves up as gods, some were opposed.  Two sides kill each other off.  The opposition left behind an android which was reactivated 800 years later with the intent of overthrowing the religion and reestablishing technology.  The colony is at a medieval swashbuckling stage of technology, so the book at times reads like fantasy.  Sword fights and old school naval encounters - think Horatio Hornblower, or any of Alexander Kent's books.  First of a series, I'm re-reading because there have been two more books published & I want to refresh my memory before tackling them.

Darwin's Children
Greg Bear
ISBN 0007132387
480 pages
Feb 6

Ultimately unsatisfying.  Jumps around too much, too dependent on having read the first book, too much science.  I could usually get the gist of the technical talk, but what is the point of writing  pages of viral biology science that most people won't understand?  Way too much for a novel, not enough for a textbook.  Plus I don't believe the sudden 180 degree attitude change about the virus kids at the end.  Don't get me started on "the caller" either.  Ended up reading to finish the book rather than hanging on, sad that there aren't enough pages left.  An aside, I couldn't find a hard copy of this book.  Out of print (no surprise).  Read it in pdf.  I know apple's new ipad toy is all the rage, with kindle before that, but from a personal standpoint, I can't see reading books on a screen.

Glory Season
David Brin
ISBN 0-553-56767-5
764 pages
Feb 3

Leans more towards fantasy than I like.  A planet where humans have been genetically engineered not only for the planetary conditions, but to establish a "feminist nirvana".  Matriarchal society where the primary means of reproduction are female clones.  Clones at the top, naturally conceived persons have lesser status, and men have lesser status still.  I found the "niche" system of careers interesting.  Did you know that women are genetically superior to men?  The book also incorporates Conway's game of Life, which I think is mindblowing.  The game, not its inclusion!

Gregory Benford
ISBN 0-671-50632-3
366 pages
Feb 2

More hard science fiction.  Scientists discover the FTL properties of tachyons, use them to try and communicate with the past & stop the environmental disaster of the present.  Lots of mind-bending paradox, physics, and hard science. The book is best known for Benford's law of controversy, which says "Passion was inversely proportional to the amount of real information available."

Friday, February 26, 2010

A decimetre of snow

WTF is a decimetre, you might ask...  Simple, its 10 centimetres.  My early schooling was during the change from imperial to Metric, so I was taught all about decimetres.  In the meantime, I have never actually used or seen the decimetre as a unit of measurement... until now.  Oh, the excitement!  Seriously though, I love the metric system.  Did you know a cubic decimetre has the same volume as one litre?  At that one litre of water weighs one kilogram?  Distance, volume, and mass can be related in the metric system.  Ingenious. 

Anyway, the teacher snow dance yesterday must have worked.  We have a decimetre of wet, heavy snow.  The kind that really sucks to shovel.  Our road hasn't been plowed... yet... and I'm not looking forward to it.  Its a snow day, so got to sleep in a little bit.  Main roads are fine having been plowed, or "bare and wet" as per the radio, but side roads wet, snowy and slippy.  Its funny that just a few days ago I was thinking we haven't had much snow lately.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Figure Skating is Not a Sport

Sorry figure skating lovers, but it isn't.   Definitely not an Olympic sport.   The Olympic motto is "Faster, Higher, Stronger", not "Nicest Costume, Most Artistic, Best Choreography".  Sports are competitions decided by fact - highest score, shortest time.  Figure Skating is an activity decided by touchy-feely subjective judging.  (Also known as a popularity contest).  Yes, figure skaters are athletic.  But so are ballet dancers... and ballet isn't a sport either.  Figure Skating is only in the Olympics because it brings in tv ratings.  Just like the tight swimsuits of women's beach volleyball.
* Also not a sport - any event with extra points for "style": Ice Dance, Moguls Skiing, Aerials Skiing, Nordic Combined, Ski Jumping, any snowboarding event.  So basically 25% of Olympic events are not even sports.  Sorry to be the one to break it to you.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Oven Fire

A little oven fire this evening.  Of course, when there is a fire in your house, it never seems little.  I think a taco shell cracked & fell onto the element.  Had the fire extinguisher out in about 5 seconds, pulled the tab, unclipped the hose, got ready to open the door & shoot it... then I thought "damn, I just cleaned the oven yesterday".

Don't know if you've ever needed to clean up after a fire extinguisher, but the 'dry chemical' type are a messy pain in the butt.  So I left the oven door closed and stayed ready in case the fire didn't burn out from lack of oxygen.  A nice plume of dark smoke poured out of the vent in the back element and filled the kitchen, but the flames died out fairly quickly.

Tacos are seriously flammable though!  The whole episode got my heart racing nicely, scared the dogs to death after the smoke detector went off, and made me worried for Mars.  His breathing has been acting up again for the last few days, and we're still not 100% sure on the triggers.  Leaf took the boys to play in their room while I ran the air cleaner in the kitchen.  Worked well, there isn't even a burnt popcorn smell.  Had burritos instead of tacos for dinner...

Gluing Odin together again

Odin had a little boo-boo at Holly's yesterday. Fell and hit his face on ice about 5 minutes before I picked him up. A nice bump on his head, big scrape on his face, and an ugly cut on his cheek. Based on the copious blood inside and outside his mouth (which I thankfully missed), Holly thought maybe his cheek had been punctured.

Had to interrupt Leaf at yoga, we decided to take a trip to the hospital. He took the whole thing rather well.  A little compulsory screaming when the Doctor wanted to look inside his mouth - which worked well for looking inside!  She didn't think it was a hole, just impact damage of cheek to tooth on the inside, and the cut on the outside.

After a quick clean, she crazy glued the cut on his cheek and stuck on a little bandage.  Ah, the wonders of crazy glue.  I've always found it pretty useless for anything except gluing skin together - in my case, usually unintentionally.  Odin should heal up pretty quick.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I call Bulls*t on the Olympic opening ceremonies

The Olympic hype (more acurately BS) has arrived in a big steaming pile.  I just read on the web page of the Toronto Star that "3.5 billion people watched the opening ceremonies".  More than 50% of the entire planet watched?  What a load of crap reported as fact.  I guess whoever made up these television numbers was the same person who said the games would turn a profit!

A very interesting article on "Lies, damned lies and TV viewing statistics".   Some info on the "informed guesswork" that goes into the lies that are worldwide television audiences.  Torino 2006 opening ceremony claimed 2 billion viewers, only 98 million verifiable.   Happy to see that Superbowl numbers equally BS, and that World Cup, though also throwing around inflated numbers, had, BY FAR, the highest verifiable numbers.


Battling the Tim Horton's Addiction

First off, for the record, I would like to state that it is all Leaf's fault!  I didn't drink coffee, and the only time I would ever go to Tim Horton's would be to get a chocolate eclair (sadly no longer offered at Tim's).  Not a coffee drinker.  I resisted for at least 5 years, but eventually got hooked.  I think the deciding factor was moving into town and going from 20 minutes away to less than five.  Its on the way to everything.  I can even kayak to Tims.

This past summer, we started putting everything on credit card to better help with budgeting.  Although this goes counter to the conventional  wisdom of paying cash so expenses are noticed, we decided on credit card since everything is tracked.  No more guesstimating the Tims budget, I can just add up the statements.  It wasn't pretty.  I figure we were spending about $100 a month at Tim Horton's (twice what I would have guessed based on cash).  And their coffee isn't even that great.

In our defence, Tim's is our fast food of choice.  If we are away from home - down to the city for  shopping for example - we'll usually eat there.  I don't know about factual information, but their sandwiches and soups at least give the illusion of being healthier than typical fast food.  A family meal is going to run about $20, we eat there at least once a month, the Tim's budget can't be that horrible...

Nevertheless, it needed to be remedied.  We were easily spending over $1000 a year, and there are so many things that would be a better use of the money.  Decided in December (after the giant $120 November tally) to start cutting back.  Due to vagaries of billing cycle we didn't start until mid December, but there was an immediate improvement.  I'm pretty happy with the January numbers.  I don't think we'll ever eliminate it completely, but reducing by two thirds gets us to a more reasonable budget amount.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Breathing check panic

I think it is a 'new parent' thing, the breathing check.  Infant is fast asleep and somewhere in the depth of your brain there is a little fear impulse that compels you to make sure he is still alive and breathing.  Went through it when Mars was born, again when Odin was born.  More frequently early on, wanes away before they turned one.  Then Mars got sick and the breathing checks restarted for a while.  That lasted a few more months and the compulsion was fading...

5:00 am today I wake up and Odin looks odd.  Pale?  Lying awkwardly?  Too still?  Don't know what it was but immediately look to see if his chest is rising.  Start to worry and feel to see if his chest is rising.  Start to panic and gently shake until he moves.  Holy adrenalin batman.  I had gotten myself completely freaked out.  Of course he was fine the whole time (at least until I disturbed his happy little sleep).  The light, the angle, the blankets, blurry eyed at 5:00 am... once wide awake it was completely obvious to see and hear he was breathing completely normally.

Pre-kids I never truly understood what made fear such an excellent motivator.  Now I do.  Logic is forgotten and some kind of reptilian hind-brain kicks in.  It explains a lot.