Book Report: Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert Heinlein (1947, 1981)

Book coverThis book is one of Heinlein’s young adult rocket jockey pieces, the ones that made him famous and wealthy enough to do his longer, adult sleep-with-your-mother books later.

The book is set in the near future of its publication date (1947). A trio of high school seniors build a rocket in their back yard (roughly). It fails on launch testing, but their steady improvement has brought their attention to a government scientist, a sort of maverick, who happens to be the uncle of one of them. He has them join him in building and outfitting a real rocket on the cheap (government funds are tight, you know) and flying to the moon. When they get there, they pick up radio signals from someone who has beaten them to it… Nazis!

In the 21st century, the book is an artifact. Nazis have been played for fictional foils in the seventy years beyond their actual shelf life, but in 1947 and shortly thereafter, there must have been a real fear of redoubts of holdouts in places like South America. Going to the moon must have seemed like quite a dream. And high school students with that ability and interest? They must have been more common then.

The book depressed me a bit on the meta level. Here was young adult literature in America’s prime. Science lectures wrapped into it, reasoning skills emphasized, and every boy is a tinkerer and a good shot. Some kids who read this book probably went on to make the trip to the moon a reality. Meanwhile, in 2013, young adult fiction is all fantasy, vampires, and intrigues. Not what man can do, unless man is doing it to another man for some slight advantage.

One could argue that we’ve really lost something in how we entertain our young and what aspirations it leads them to. But one would probably waste one’s time.

Books mentioned in this review:

Topical Music

First, the song “Fistfight in the Waffle House”:

Now, the story: Waffle House Armed Robber Gets the Surprise of a Lifetime When Customer Decides to Fight Back With a Gun:

An Atlanta crook picked the wrong Waffle House to target early Monday morning. That’s because when the bandana and hoodie-wearing bandit walked into the restaurant and pointed a gun at patrons, one of them reached for his gun and fired back.

Brothers and sisters, that is D.U.M. dumb. It’s a scientific fact that there are more guns in your Georgia Waffle House at any time of day or night than at your local Friends of the NRA meeting.

(Links via Ms. K. and Doug G..)

Book Report: The Phantom of the Footbridge by Ron Boutwell (1999, 2006)

Book coverI picked up this book at the local used bookstore in its local interest section, but it doesn’t seem to be available online even though Springfield is lousy with them. It was published by a local Christian theatre company, and its protagonist is a young pastor who takes over a church (that later becomes the playhouse of the theatre company) in 1925. On his walk from the train station to the boarding house where he’s staying, a hooded figure meets him on a footbridge and tells the new arrival that he will bring a child who needs help tomorrow night, and the pastor must help him. This is the phantom of the footbridge.

It’s a very short novel–140 pages–carries with it more than a hint of Dickens in its plotting and characters. Unfortunately, the execution is not as picturesque as Dickens, but the author did a lot of research on the environs of North Springfield in the middle 1920s, and he makes sure to mention every landmark that people pass as they walk (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But the story lacks in those bits.

But I enjoyed it enough in its expository way.

Book Report: Let It Rot by Stu Campbell (1975, 1990)

Book coverI bought this book some time ago when I first got into gardening, since I’d heard that composting was all the rage, and I wanted to learn more about it. I’ve been doing some “composting in place” — basically you take some organic material, toss it in your garden, and throw some dirt on it — but I got some extra material from trimming back some bushes and the bucket in which we kept our kitchen scraps was getting full. So it was time to read this book.

It covers a variety of information not only about the history of composting, but also some different strategies, enclosures, basic scientific principles of it, and overall, how neat composting is.

But I won’t be doing it seriously.

Because, brothers, composting is work. It’s not a matter of just throwing waste you generate in your yard and your kitchen into a pile and watering it and turning it every once in a while. For starters, to get the best compost, you’ve got to go out and seek things that you don’t have, or at least I don’t have, including different kinds of organic material, manure, and so on. Secondly, he talks about six inches of this, three inches of that, and inch of this, and then repeating it. That’s a compost berm. Come on, I’m not interesting in rebuilding Cahokia Mounds here.

I can buy the soil amendments I need, even organic compost, in the quantities I need to make my soil better for what bit of gardening I do. Given how little time I have of late to actually get out there and weed or pick ripe vegetables and fruit, I don’t need to take on another bit of labor for it based in the neatness of it or the protection of Mother Gaia.

Still, I learned a lot that I’ll never use, except maybe to make some compost tea–that is, let rain collect in my scraps bucket and water with that–and perhaps consider a little tumbler. But I’m not going to be a proper composter, and I never would have given up on that thought without this book. So I guess I can say it changed my life.

Books mentioned in this review:

Have a Nightmare on Me

Giant carnivorous, venomous centipedes here in the Ozarks? You betcha:

“I was climbing up to Devil’s Tea Table down near Kissee Mills and grabbed a stick to pull myself up,” Maynard recalled about his July 17 hiking trip. “This thing was on the back side of the stick and got me on my right index finger. It felt like someone had stuck a hot soldering iron under my skin.”

Maynard had inadvertently grabbed a 6-inch giant red-headed centipede, and it bit him with its two sharp fangs, injecting venom that caused his finger to immediately swell. Sweating from pain, he knew he was in trouble.

. . . .

The 6-incher that bit Maynard was a pipsqueak. Miller said giant red-headed centipedes can grow upwards of 10 inches in length.

. . . .

Unlike spiders that inject venom into their prey and then suck out the insides, Miller said, giant red-headed centipedes eat all of the creatures they catch, ranging from other centipedes and insects to small frogs and lizards. The centipedes actively hunt at night…

Frankly, the title of the horror movie would be The Centipedes Hunt At Night.

UPDATE Thanks for the link, Mr. Hill. Hey, readers, don’t forget my novel John Donnelly’s Gold is available for $.99 Kindle and in other formats. Charles Hill himself said of John Donnelly’s Gold:

This really should not have worked as a novel: technical descriptions tend toward the mundane, and most of the techies I know are decidedly short on drama. What makes this worth your time is Noggle’s attention to detail: J. Random Noob will appreciate the extra exposition, and your local expert will nod, “Yeah, that’s exactly the way I’d do that. If I were going to do that, which of course I’m not.” There might be a hair too much geographical exposition — by the time you’re finished you should be able to hire on as a cab driver in St. Louis County — but no matter about that. The plot is more than sufficiently twisty; I’m pleased to report that I did not even come close to predicting the way it ended. And if the dialogue meanders a bit, hey, that’s the way these people talk. I’ve heard them, and so have you.

Doesn’t that sound like it’s worth a dollar?

VodkaPundit Channels QAHY

VodkaPundit’s Friday Night Video is last week’s QA Music: "Everybody Knows" by Leonard Cohen.

Steve says:

I first become aware of this song — and Leonard Cohen — in the 1990 Christian Slater vehicle, Pump Up the Volume.

. . . .

It’s impossible to convey my disappointment that long-ago summer when I picked up the soundtrack, only to find it featured an inferior Concrete Blonde cover of “Everybody Knows.”

As I alluded to in my book report on Leonard Cohen’s Selected Poems 1956-1968, actually discovering who sang the version that appeared in the movie throughout except for the scene in the Jeep. In those days before the Internet, if you heard a song but not the artist, it could take aeons before you tracked it down. It took me years of radio listening to catch onto who sang “Baker Street” (Gerry Rafferty) or “Hungry Heart” (Bruce Springsteen). You could ask around, but my cohort at the time didn’t listen to older music. I suppose I could have called the radio station, but it was never that pressing.

At any rate, once I associated Leonard Cohen’s name with the song (Was it in the closing credits? Was it an article about the film? I forget), I went right up to Camelot Music to get a cassette version of I’m Your Man. I’ve since replaced the cassette with a CD and ripped it into iTunes, which explains why I was listening to it just a couple of weeks ago.

Here’s the version I put on the other blog, which has scenes from the film:

Also, there’s no telling yet what Mr. Green thinks of Meco. If he thinks of Meco.

Some Swedish Total Recall-Style Plot in Jeopardy

Man found in California motel awakens with amnesia:

Doctors are looking into the mystery of a Florida man who awoke speaking only Swedish, with no memory of his past, after he was found unconscious four months ago at a Southern California motel.

Michael Boatwright, 61, woke up with amnesia, calling himself Johan Ek, The Desert Sun reported (http://mydesert.co/145PNGw ).

Boatwright was found unconscious in a Motel 6 room in Palm Springs in February. After police arrived, he was transported to the Desert Regional Medical Center where he woke up.

Hospital officials said Boatwright may have been in town for a tennis tournament in the Coachella Valley. He was found with a duffel bag of exercise clothes, a backpack and tennis rackets. He also carried four forms of identification — a passport, a California identification card, a veteran’s medical card and a Social Security card — all of which identified him as Michael Thomas Boatwright.

A botched memory implant, a double life, extensive skills with weaponry (albeit medieval weaponry), foreign bank accounts….

It looks as though a Swedish plot to infiltrate the United States has gone awry. Or is that what they want us to think?

In 2010, Brian Little Said The Chickens Were Falling

As I predicted:

Throughout Missouri and probably the nation, people are deciding that they want to raise chickens in their suburban and urban backyards (see stories in St. Louis and Springfield). These people are doing it as part of an environmental nutbar fad and they’re doing it with a bit of Internet research and without any experience in farming or treating livestock qua livestock instead of livestock qua food-providing-pet.

Ergo, when their circumstances change, when they get tired of them, or when they reach the end of the hens’ productive years, people are going to need to get rid of these damn birds. Are they going to slaughter them? Of course not! They’d just as soon slay their bichon frise or lifestyle accessory only child.

In 2013, the New York Post reports "Hipster urban farmers learn that chickens are hard to raise, animal shelters inundated with unwanted hens":

Raising chickens in backyard coops is all the rage with nostalgia-loving hipsters but apparently the facial hair obsessed faux farmers often don’t realize that raising hens is loud, labor intensive work because animal shelters are now inundated with hundreds of unwanted urban fowl.

From California to New York, animal shelters are having a hard time coping with the hundreds of chickens being dropped off, sometimes dozens at a time, by bleary-eyed pet owners who might not have realized that chickens lay eggs for only two years but live for a decade or more.

Amazing how the forward-leaning and forward looking don’t see very far forward, ainna?

(Link via Ed Driscoll.)

The Hippies Say, “I Smell Bacon!”

Some stories just need remark because they lead themselves to the obvious joke:

The Haight-Ashbury district was all about peace and love until bacon entered the picture.

The trouble began in May, when this city’s health department shut down a popular restaurant called Bacon Bacon after neighbors’ complaints caused a permit delay. The neighbors’ concern: the scent of bacon grease was blowin’ in the wind.

I already made the obvious joke in the headline. I have nothing more than the obvious.

A Quiz! Books You Should Have Read In High School

Buzzfeed as a collection of book covers with the title "23 Books You Didn’t Read In High School But Actually Should". I’m not really sure why they thought it was a high school requirement, especially given the state of current public high schools in the United States, but.

At any rate, here’s the list, and I’ve emboldened the ones I’ve read (although most in college or after):

  • The Great Gatsby
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Night
  • Lord of the Flies
  • Heart of Darkness
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Slaughterhouse Five
  • Frankenstein
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • Animal Farm
  • Waiting for Godot
  • Mrs. Dalloway
  • Brave New World
  • As I Lay Dying
  • Catch-22
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • The Bell Jar
  • Death of a Salesman
  • Beowulf
  • Metamorphosis
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God

Not bad.

Of course, the books selected reflect the preferences and probably the books I’ve read sensibility of the person who compiles the list.

So, ultimately, it measures how many books I’ve read that that fellow has read and thinks are important.

I Guess All The Good Sports Were Already Invented

A couple of things from the Wall Street Journal lead me to think that all the actually physically taxing, limit-pushing sports are already taken by people who tax themselves and push their limits, which leads less-than-peak physical specimens to make up their own little games and call them sports.

In Competitive Stone-Skipping Circles, A Rocky Debate Over Equipment:

Among competitive stone-skippers, nothing makes ripples like a disagreement about regulation rocks.

The latest dispute in this sport for people who skim small stones across water is over imports used in competition.

At the Mackinac Island Stone Skipping & Gerplunking Club championships, some believe participants are supposed to source their equipment from the pebble-lined beaches of this Lake Huron island.

Competitive stone-skipping. Controversies over equipment. I’d say something about modern man, but this particular competition has gone on longer than I’ve been on this planet.

Meanwhile, for those who might find stones too heavy or the outdoors too bright, there’s whirlyball:

But when the bespectacled 27-year-old event coordinator came across whirlyball, he knew he had found his chance to shine. The sport, involving flinging a plastic Wiffle ball at an elevated target with a jai-alai-like scoop, doesn’t pivot on athletic prowess. Nor do age, gender or girth matter. Rather than sprint from one end of a basketball-size court to another and back, players move and shoot in bumper cars.

“This is a sport where you don’t need to be big or a particularly great athlete,” says Mr. Betenia. “All you need is to be able to drive and drain shots.”

The popularity of whirlyball—think lacrosse on bumper cars—is accelerating, driven by couch potatoes who want to excel on the court and weekend warriors. Many wouldn’t survive a fitness boot camp or can’t find their way to the gym. But you don’t need to be ripped to stand out in this game played sitting down. “Agility. Speed. Strength. None of these qualities will be of any use in the highly-competitive world of WhirlyBall,” advertises the Chicago whirlyball center.

You know the saddest part? By the time I hit the Senior Olympics, these will be the events. All this time I’ve dreamed of athletic glory now that my physical development has started to match my peers and I’ve figured out how to roll my wrists when hitting a baseball and throw a spiral, and it’s all for naught. Because in the future, all sports will be silly sports.

Maybe I should start playing whirlyball, but in pads. So I can get ahead of the curve for when they’re required. I will get that gold medal, I know I will.

A Future Travel Destination Unearthed

From a news story entitled "Visitor discovers nearly three carat diamond at Arkansas state park, I learned about the existence of Arkansas’s Crater of Diamonds State Park:

Arkansas The Natural State is blessed with an abundance of geological wonders. Crater of Diamonds State Park, the only diamond-producing site in the world open to the public, stands out as a unique geological “gem” for you to explore and enjoy.

Here you can experience a one-of-a-kind adventure hunting for real diamonds. You’ll search over a 37 1/2-acre plowed field, the eroded surface of an ancient volcanic crater that 100 million years ago brought to the surface the diamonds and some of the semi-precious stones lucky visitors find here today.

How cool.

Senator Claire McCaskill Thinks The Government Should Record You More

McCaskill questions why Springfield traffic footage is not recorded:

As Jason Haynes, a city of Springfield traffic engineer, led McCaskill on a tour of the center’s control room, which features a number of cameras and computers displaying live video from the traffic cameras along with other information, the senator asked if the video was recorded. The answer was no.

McCaskill responded that recording would be helpful for law enforcement, if for no other purpose. She mentioned the Boston Marathon bombing this spring, where images helped identify the Tsarnaev brothers on the street at the time of the bombing.

Indeed, whyever would a government entity not capture images and data on its free citizens when it can? That just makes sense to a Federal-level Democrat.

Book Report: The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley (1977)

Book coverI picked up this book at the Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale a year ago, and I regret not macroing out the spelling of Friends of the Springfield-Greene County Library book sale because, gentle reader, I do not touch-type, and typing the name of that particular affair takes a lot out of me. Pardon me while I go nap to recuperate.

Ah, that’s better. Now, about this volume.

As you might recall, I read John Varley’s Millennium three years ago and liked it better than the Kris Kristofferson film.

This book is Varley’s first, and like much speculative fiction of the era (and maybe this era, too, but I get the sense a lot of stuff these days is either urban fantasy influenced or space marines stuff, mostly because I’ve read some of the latter and read blogs from Marko Kloos and Larry Correia–I dunno what contemporary science fiction is like outside of that). This book deals with a genetic scientist who is put into prison and sentenced to death for working on the human genome and cloning. It’s told in the milleiu of invaders who have driven humans from earth to outposts in the solar system because they, the invaders, favor intelligences like that of dolphins an whales. Similar creatures exist on Jupiter, and the invaders ignore humans who do not bother the invaders and the like intelligences. A technologically advanced transmission has erupted from somewhere near Ophiuchi (O-fee-you-key) 70 and helps humanity advance, including genetic technology (which has gone ignored by humanity but a few outlaw scientists).

Anywho, a politcal heavyweight on the moon rescues the scientist by presenting an illegal clone to take her place for the execution. He copies her memories and then trains her to work for him, killing her when she tries to escape and replacing her with a clone. After some number of tries, she goes to a moon of Jupiter and encounters a teacher clone and they plot an escape. And another clone goes to Pluto to try to find a way to Ophiuchi after the transmitters demand payment of hundreds of years of scientific knowledge. And allies of the scientist revive a clone she herself left in place.

For a while, it gets a little confusing remembering which clone team is doing what and why, especially as I had to put the book down sometimes for a couple of nights.

And then the book comes to a resolution, very abruptly, in an unsatisfying fashion.

It’s kind of how Lost ended. Remember that television show? Remember all the plot lines and questions, and how they ended it by setting up a final set of questions they could almost answer, and they did so in an unsatisfying fashion? This book has a lot of compelling things going on, some early questions about the nature of self and whether clones are you, machinations of a politician playing games several steps ahead of the characters, and this all gets abandoned for an abrupt ending that does not answer many of the questions.

It’s an interesting read for the speculative nature, but ultimately left me a little disappointed. But if I find another John Varley out there, I’ll pick it up and hope for better.

Books mentioned in this review:

It’s Only A Couple Times A Week

Signs that Springfield is getting too big: Stories in the newspaper entitled Don’t see this every day: horse on footbridge in Springfield

The traffic on Campbell Avenue continued on normally, for the most part, Sunday afternoon.

But just south of Primrose Lane, drivers occasionally paused or pulled over to snap a photo or shield the eyes to get a better look at an unusual site [sic].

Above the traffic, on a footbridge that spans Campbell, a man on a horse was slowly making his way over the road.

You see this in Republic from time to time, and I was sure I’d linked to a similar article about someone whose truck broke down in Springfield a couple of years back who proceeded to get his horse out of the trailer that he was pulling and ride the horse home. But I can’t find it now.