Book Report: Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe (2015)

Book coverThis is the third of Munroe’s books I read. I read What If? in 2018 and How To earlier this year. And my enjoyment has declined in that order. The first dealt with interesting hypothetical physics questions in a whimsical but physics-oriented fashion. The second dealt with how to make common problems or procedures unnecessarily complicated with Rube Goldbergish answers and the physics behind them. And this volume tries to explain complex things using only the 10,000 most common words and Munroe’s illustrations.

Unfortunately, that leads to some oversimplification that was frustrating to read and, at times, hard to comprehend. He covers appliances, computers, nuclear reactors, submarines, ships, and so on (and the United States Constitution) and really does break them down into comprehensible bits, sometimes using metaphors instead of actual jargon, but, again, the over simplification makes it hard to read and to comprehend.

Munroe is trying to be amusing as he’s explaining, but unfortunately, I was not amused and not as informed as I would have been with a more straightforward explanation.

Basically, this conceit didn’t work.

Still, based on the weight of What If?, I’ll probably pick up other books he has yet to publish if I see them. Whether I pay extra for two signed copies or order them on Amazon (as I did with this book, which is saying something for me) remains to be seen.

If It’s Thursday, It Must Be The Door Latch

My oldest son has started stepping out of the house right before bed for some reason. Perhaps to get his last taste of fresh air before turning in, perhaps to look for UFOs or intruders around Nogglestead or to groom us to expect this so he can eventually sneak out at night.

However, last night, he came to get me because he could not close the front door. The plate around the latch had worked its way loose, so I screwed it in again and closed the door.

This morning, as he was preparing to leave for school, he came down and told me the door was off its hinges. Exclamation points burst into my head as I went to see it, but the he meant the latch plate was loose again. I tightened it again, and he headed for the bus stop. But I knew I would have to figure out a way to permanently tighten the plate, but I figured that was a task for, you know, daylight.

Thirty minutes later, my youngest, whom I had not yet awakened, came to my office to say that the door was open, and he found Roark (yes, an orange-haired tabby named after that Roark) out front.
Continue reading “If It’s Thursday, It Must Be The Door Latch”

Adventures In Dryer Troubleshooting: A Prose Poem, Sort Of.

I got to use my digital voltage multimeter today.
I set the voltage detection to 200V in testing a 240V appliance dryer outlet.
I got to use my new digital voltage multimeter today.
It autodetects the voltage and AC or DC, which protects it from mayhem like me.
The woman at the hardware store offered me an extended protection plan;
I said it should protect itself from my mistakes.
I think it’s the thermal fuse.
I have ordered a thermal fuse and cycling thermostat based on this diagnosis.
I guess we shall know sometime Friday whether the diagnosis was correct
and can maybe relax sometime Sunday or Monday that my repair
will not burn the house down.
Meanwhile, I will be visiting a laundromat for more adventures
this week
and maybe next
until we get a new dryer.

Book Report: Subzero by Jeff Patrick (2013)

Book coverI picked up this book at ABC Books in June at another author’s book signing. As you know, I had read My Name Is Rock, the first book in this young adult series, earlier that month. I thought I might get another one someday, but that turned out to be sooner than I had anticipated.

At any rate, what I could say about the first I can say about the second: It’s a young adult novel with a Christian protagonist who prays before going into the set piece battles. It has the kind of set pieces connected feel you get out of the more obviously outlined-and-filled men’s adventure paperbacks, but with simpler language, even less connective tissue, and a whole lot more explanation points.

In this book, Rock Rodgers has to go pretty immediately from Egypt (his doings there described in My Name Is Rock) to Siberia. The leader of The Agency, the clandestine black ops group Rodgers works for, has been kidnapped by the wife of the US Senator whose son was kidnapped in the earlier book. The wife, before she married the Senator, owned her own mining and shipping company and was a worldwide trafficker in drugs before The Agency started disrupting her operations. So she’s going to try to get the head of The Agency to reveal its operations, and Rock has to figure out where to find the Colonel before he does.

So we get a series of set pieces: Infiltrate deep into Russia, go to such and such place, shoot some people, find a clue, go to another place, do a hard probe / hit the enemy compound while the bad guys play off of each other.

So it is a lot like an Executioner novel, but with a prayer or two thrown in.

When I was writing novels, I kind of had an idea where the things would go and what scenes would arise, but I didn’t work from a hard outline, so I’d like to think my scenes didn’t feel like set pieces. Perhaps I should, though, as people who outline novels seem to have some succes in finishing them.

But back to this series: I am not sure I’ll read the next book. When I bought this book, I bought a copy of My Name Is Rock for my boys. I am not sure they’ve read it yet. When I was their ages, I had transitioned to adult novels. Maybe I should instead get them some early John D. MacDonald work.

A Trip to the Laundromat

So yesterday, I went to the laundromat to launder our oversized comforter. I’d like to say that this is a tradition, that I do this every autumn when I am employed less than full time and we’re transitioning from summer weight bedding to the autumnal anti-anxiety weight (not actually designed for that purpose, but it is too heavy for mere mortal laundry appliances). I would say this is a tradition, but it’s a good news/bad news situation: This was my second trip; apparently, I only have this free time in October or November every two or three years, and the free time soon ends when I catch onto a full time position or contract right after doing the comforter. Well, that has happened once so far. So I had better enjoy this free time while I can.

So I went to the laundromat with my large comforter and started it up. As you might expect, gentle reader, I am not the sort of person who leaves his clothing or large comforter unattended at the laundromat, so I brought a notepad and a book to read to settle in for a couple hours’ of watching tumbling laundry and wishing I was writing.

But the people in the laundromat held my interest if not my impolite gaze.
Continue reading “A Trip to the Laundromat”

Book Report: One Good Deed by David Baldacci (2019)

Book coverOn a recent visit to the Kansas City area, my aunt said she was looking to get rid of some books that someone had given her, so I took the lot. Which was good, as I was staying in a hotel that night and had somehow failed to bring a book to read. Atop the stack was a book by David Baldacci; I kind of recognized the name because my beautiful wife has been known to get his books from the library from time to time. So I started with this one.

It starts with an ex-military man named Archer getting dropped off a bus in a small town, and I thought, Aw, man, I’ve already read this book. But it’s different: Archer is getting released from prison and taken to a starter town where he will be on parole. He gets offered a job by a rich and somewhat shady fellow, the town’s leading citizen, collecting the collateral on a debt from the the other rich man in town. As Archer investigates, his employer is murdered across the hall in the hotel the night after Archer has relations with his employer’s mistress, who happens to be the daughter of the man whose car he is supposed to collect. So he finds himself arrested for the murder and has to work to clear his name. As he investigates, he finds a plot not unlike those you’d find in Chandler or (the author featuring the other Archer) Ross MacDonald.

The book is set in 1949 or thereabouts, so it has a bit of an anachronistic feel but with modern sensibilities and prose styles–it’s definitely less dense than Chandler, MacDonald, or even Hammett.

It’s a little thick, though, in keeping with modern times that charge $17 for a mass market paperback, and to be honest, I had a little trouble getting into it as a lot of the front of the book was lavish in the description, building the world of Poca City and the post-World War II milleiu for those of us not steeped on novels of the time or books from the 1950s and 1960s. But after a while, the descriptions lighten into the action, so the pace picks up. But the author still likes to go long on descriptions at times–Archer walks into a lavishly appointed room, and we get three or four long paragraphs describing the opulence of the furnishings before mentioning the man in the room. You know, I would track the description a little closer to how the protagonist’s attention would track: Man, things around the man, and maybe then other things not near the man. But this book is told in third person, so I guess you don’t have to jibe description with attention exactly, but it’s something I would do.

At any rate, I enjoyed the book enough that I’ll watch for other books from this best-selling author at book sales in Nixa and Ozark (the Friends of the Christian County Library book sales, should they ever happen again) or at garage sales. I don’t like them enough to run out and spend $17 or $30 on books new, though. To be fair to this author, I don’t really buy many books new, at full prices these days. Although perhaps in a frenzy at Barnes and Noble or Books a Million, I might buy his work for $8 or $10 from the discount rack. When I am in a frenzy. Because when I am caught up in that moment, $10 for a book doesn’t seem too much.

The Real Problem Is

Confession: I read the Agony Aunt columns in the British tabloids, particularly Dear Deidre in The Sun. Do I do it for the salacious and seamy/unseemly details? Do I do it to feel morally superiour (the British spelling, if I had my druthers) to the people who might write into Dear Deidre not so much for advice but for some sort of validation that what they did was not wrong, or at least no so wrong:

Of course that’s why.

I have to wonder how much popular culture, from Dear Deidre to Melrose Place (what, that’s not popular culture now? Gentle reader, I don’t want to make you feel old, but the most recent reboot was eleven years ago already, so it’s ripe for another comeback–if there is one boon from dearth of fresh ideas in modern popular mythmaking, it’s that any cultural allusions will be perennially fresh as the same old shows and movies get endlessly recycled), where was I? Oh yes, that popular culture has fictively normalized bad behavior. But that’s neither here nor there.

What I wanted to point out is how the answers to a lot of such letters feature first and foremost the condemnation not so much for how people have betrayed sacred vows or presumed trust but rather for putting people at risk of getting Wuhan Flu. Continue reading “The Real Problem Is”

Easily Confused, To An Algorithm

So I was trying to play Naz’s album Time After (yes, the one with "Time After Time" on it, not that Naz has made a second album for you to confuse the two).

But on my Portable Device, I tapped and held the artist, and it came up with a photo.

Wait a minute, that is not Nazia Chaudry.

So I did a little bit of Internet sleuthing, which means a search for naz musical artist, which came up with Naina Naz:

Who is apparently an electronic traditional pop Pakistani singer:

Who hails from a land where only men go to concerts or something.

The image on my phone does not look like her.

So I did a new fangled image search, and I discovered this is Japanese electronic pop artist Naz.

Since I have great affection for Japanese/Japanese American fusion jazz, I gave it a listen just in case, but no.

Not my thing, but it would have been right up Charles’ alley.

You know what is my thing? Wishing the right Naz would put out another album since her cover of Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” is not on Time After:

On The African Experience: From “Lucy” to Mandela by Professor Kenneth P. Vickery (2006)

Book coverTo be honest, I’ve struggled a bit with writing the summation of this course, or at least what I learned about it, because it’s Africa, which is where [Some] black people come from. I say “Some” because Australian aborigines are dark skinned to the point they might be considered black and not merely southwest Asian brown and because Americans who are black can come from Australia, Africa, the Caribbean, America, or anywhere else. What a freaking loaded topic this is.

So anything disparaging or dismissive I might say about this course, African history, or anything else will undoubtedly mark me as a Racist. Although, to be honest, the fact that I grew up a minority in the housing projects of Milwaukee or the fact that I announced to a comely young lady who would later discover that she was an Indigo child as we left a mandatory university diversity thing that I was 21 the first time I could claim my best friend was white (Mike) does not factor in my Racism. Only the 21st century definitions and sensibilities will do.

Now that we’re all comfortable with that, understand some things I will say about sub-Saharan African history might be taken as disparaging or dismissive; however, that is not a factor of Race. It’s more a factor of history. Well, written history. Which is what we mean by history, ainna?

So. Continue reading “On The African Experience: From “Lucy” to Mandela by Professor Kenneth P. Vickery (2006)”

The Mark of Quality

As I mentioned, I have not worn cloth masks because I refuse to accept permanence of masking orders (although I’m starting to wonder if they’re permanent or just until rioters in the streets are no longer covering their faces). The box of paper masks I’ve been drawing from was getting low, so I clicked on an Instapundit Amazon link so he would get a couple coppers from my purchase.

The link says 50 Pcs Disposable Face Mask 3-Ply Breathable & Comfortable Filter Safety Mask, Protective Blue Masks for Indoor and Outdoor (Blue Face Mask). The headline of the Amazon item says the same. I did not look closely at the image.

Because it’s Chinese-made:

Disposal Face Masks.

Me, I’m just hoping they’re not covered in cadmium.

The Earliest Christmas At Nogglestead

I am not saying I am that guy or we’re that family; generally, we decorate for Christmas around Thanksgiving here at Nogglestead. But this year might be different.

I played the first Christmas carols of the year last Friday because I got a disappointing email and because, well, 2020, man, although I am hopeful the worst of 2020 is over by Thanksgiving, although I am afraid it will not. Can one be hopeful and frightened at the same time? If one has a reason-based or perhaps will-based hope but an emotional fear, I reckon. I played Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’s Christmas Album and Jessy J’s California Christmas downstairs, and I’ve recently played the Reader’s Digest Christmas set I got in September as it was on the desk. I don’t tend to put away the records I just got until I listen to them, and besides that, I have nowhere to put the records any more as I have filled the current storage which was going to be enough for some expansion, but that was a couple years back.

This year, recently bought Christmas carol LPs aside, I am eager to get the Christmas season started, albeit with a whiff of desperation mania.

I even baked pumpkin pies last night. Continue reading “The Earliest Christmas At Nogglestead”

That Would Make An Interesting Movie, Perhaps

From Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War:

Among the prisoners brought to this place was a woman, clad in rebel gray. She was taken, mounted astride a bony steed, apparently performing the duties of a scout, but claimed to belon to a battery of artillery. A degraded, wild specimen of humanity, of Irish extraction, with a shock of tangled black hair hanging in elf locks down to her shoulders, she proved the centre of interest to idlers of the camp.

Sounds like a role for Natalie Portman.


At these should would occasionally hurl stones, being particularly hostile towards the negroes, who gave her a wide berth, to avoid the missiles, which she threw with considerable force and accuracy.

Well, that could be left out of the movie. Along with the fact that this woman was a Confederate, which is also right out.

So, never mind. Maybe another super hero movie will do the trick. Why haven’t we rebooted Howard the Duck yet?

Book Report: Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the Civil War by Alexander Gardner (1866, 1959?)

Book coverYou might have thought I already read this book, gentle reader–I could see how I might have gotten that impression, as I have already perused Brady’s Civil War. As you might recall, gentle reader, that book was a collection of photographs taken by Matthew Brady in the eastern theatre of the Civil War. This book collects very similar photos from Alexander Gardner, who at one point was Brady’s assistant–even during some of the Civil War photo shoots. So perhaps the books share some of the photos, as Gardner took photos that he had taken when he left. I really did not do the analysis myself to see if they had any overlap.

At any rate, the text included is ascribed to the photographer himself. Unfortunately, it is in about six point font in the book; tiny print, and I’m starting to get to the age where tiny print in poor light makes me think I am getting to the age where, if you know what I mean. So it was slow reading. The text is definitely on the side of the North, as it calls the Confederates traitors and treasonous and whatnot.

Like the Brady book, it reminds me that I own a lot of history about the Civil War (and live within a musket shot of) a national battlefield, but I really haven’t kept the history of the conflict fresh in my mind.

Perhaps I should look for a course on the Civil War or two–although I am pretty sure those are the first to go at the book sales around here.

Counter to the Narrative

One of these things is not like the others:

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Missouri adds 1,500+ cases; Arkansas up 800+ cases!!!!

Hospitalizations rising in Missouri, prompting worries!!!!!

Springfield-Greene County Health Department reports 4 additional COVID-19 deaths!!!!!!!

Nixa, Mo. Mask Order: Mixed thoughts on new masking ordinance!!! and City of Ozark, Mo. enacts masking ordinance after cases spike, wherein two nearby towns went through the whole legislative process, where the city councils met, had citizens make their voices known, and ultimately decided to not have a masking ban, but the news and the executives at the hospitals are now SHOUTING EXCLAMATION POINTS, so the mayors, modern day Cincinnatuses (Cincinnati?) have unilaterally taken EMERGENCY ACTION.

But: Mo. State COVID-case downturn leads to ending lease with Q Hotel:

Confirmed cases of coronavirus have dropped off substantially at Missouri State University so that the school no longer needs to use a local hotel to house students who’ve tested positive.

The “Q” in The Q Hotel & Suites stood for “quarantine” when Missouri State announced in August that it was leasing the then-closed 120-room building next to Hammons Field as a place to house students who contracted COVID-19.

* * * *

At its peak on August 31 the university was housing 122 students in either quarantine or isolation.

Now that number is 10.

Where are the exclamation points for this data?

Does anyone else here draw parallels between counting deaths and casualties in the Iraq War, with Grim Milestones based on context-free metrics, every day up until a different party took the White House and today? Will Karens become the Cindy Sheehans of 2020 and disappear should Biden win?

Ask me in a couple of months!

How Quickly They Forget

Does anyone else here remember gas over $4 a gallon and high unemployment during the last administration? Remember how the former president said we could not drill our way out of high gas prices?

I mean, I saw a Biden ad during a football game that said he was going to “punish” corporations and bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States. Kind of like what has been happening over the last couple of years minus the “punish” part.

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills over here. By remembering.

Book Report: Hawaiian Heat by The Executioner #155 (1991)

Book coverSixteen years after Hawaiian Hellground, Bolan returns to Hawaii to rescue comrade and comedian Tommy Anders from a Chinese triad that’s holding him hostage because he’s building up a network of Chinese and Japanese business people who are tired of paying of their countrymen.

So Bolan gets involved to help the businessmen disrupt the Triads and Yakuza who are co-existing on the islands, with a precarious truce as long as the organized crime people stick to their ethnic constituencies. As part of his plan, Bolan nudges them toward a full scale war as long as he can protect the innocent.

So I can see the plot as outlined, and it could have been handled better. Some of these later books must have had more elaborate plots, perhaps more in line with the Super Bolan titles, as the page count increases, but some of the authors don’t execute them as well. In this book, it looks like the author was used to the old 180 page limit. The action moves from set piece to set piece fairly well, but you can kind of see where some plot points are left unaddressed or just mentioned in passing.

The book contains a couple of tactical problems. Of course, everyone has a different kind of gun, again, which means no one can swap ammo if needed. And he carries two spare magazines for a combat assault. Cmon, man. Kim du Toit takes two spare magazines to the bathroom. Also, Bolan takes “cover” behind a couch. It’s a heavy couch, the text says, but, this is the 21st century–we all know the difference between concealment and cover, ainna? I wonder if kids these days steeped in first person shooters could write more intelligently about military tactics and concepts. But probably not the “everyone has a different gun” thing.

Ah, well. It’s not Shakepeare. It was a quick, enjoyable read. Not as good as Firebase Florida, but not bad enough to put me off the novels for a while. I kind of think I’m on a tear here; I am down to 18 titles in the Executioner series. With “dilligence,” I could finish them by the end of next year. However, I would still have dozens of related paperbacks to go, not to mention thousands of other better things to read. So I won’t predict or promise that I’ll finish them out any time soon, gentle reader–you still have several years of intermittent Executioner book reports to look forward to.

On The Aeneid of Virgil by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver (1999, ?)

Book coverThis audio course, I wish to remind you, gentle reader, cost me a mere fifty cents at the recent Friends of the Springfield-Greene County book sale because it is on audiocassette. I, dear reader, have an audio cassette player in my truck, so I can still enjoy audio courses and books on tape (literally). And when they’re fifty cents, I enjoy them ever so much more.

This book covers, in twelve lectures (roughly six hours), The Aeneid, Virgil’s epic poem about how Aeneas escapes the sack of Troy, sails the Mediterranean, settles in Italy, and eventually wins a war with the Latins to found Rome. It’s a poem chock full of Roman gods interference, much like The Illiad and The Odyssey–to which Virgil’s master work owes a great depth. In addition to reviewing the books in the poem for plot points and character, four of the lectures provide context to when it was written, its influences, and its position in the canon.

The lectures include:

  1. Introduction
  2. From Aeneas to Romulus
  3. Rome, Augustus, and Virgil
  4. The Opening of the Aeneid
  5. From Troy to Carthage
  6. Unhappy Dido
  7. Funeral Games and a Journey to the Dead
  8. Italy and the Future
  9. Virgil’s Illiad
  10. The Inevitable Doom of Turnus
  11. The Gods and Fate
  12. The End of the Aeneid and Beyond

The professor recommends you read along once the lectures get into the meat of the poem. I did not, though, as was driving and listened to a number of the lectures back to back. I am not sure that I even have a copy of Aeneid–certainly I must, with all the Classics Club editions and Harvard Classic books that I have lying around. Well, standing cheek-to-jowl on the to-read shelves of Nogglestead, anyway.

I did get a better, fresher sense of the structure and the incidents in the piece, though, and I hope I can retain them. That Aeneas recounts his escape from Troy whilst in Carthage, talking to Dido; their love affair, broken when the gods remind him of his duty to found a new city; his trip to Sicily, the underworld, and finally to Italy; and the war with the Latins over the hand of Livinia.

The book made me want to read it–and “re”-read The Illiad and The Odysessey–I am not sure I read them in translated poem form, but I have probably read them in adapted prose somewhere along the line. However, given how I bog down with long poems, it probably won’t be any time soon, unfortunately.

Book Report: Notre-Dame de Paris by Jacques Perrier / Katharine Ball (1986)

Book coverIn keeping with the tradition, I am tearing through the travel and art books I’ve bought this summer and autumn on Sunday afternoons, Monday evenings, and occasionally Thursday evenings as I “watch” football games (which is more and more meaning I look up from my book to check the score from time to time). The weather has again turned to autumn at Nogglestead, and I like nothing better than lighting a fire (okay, a Duraflame log as I have fallen back into all of my dollars-a-day habits even as I have left my full-time position), watching a little football, going on parenthetical digressions in my writing, and looking at pictures in books.

This short souvenir edition describes Notre Dame, that one, in the middle of the Parisian river. It has a pretty heavy text to photo ratio, and the photos aren’t actually captioned, so you have to kind of guess where the text refers to some of the artifacts depicted. The text includes a little history and a bunch of step-by-step, here’s what you see on the tour text which might help jog your memory if you took the tour, but if you have not, the words are wasted. And not helpful.

Still, a bit of an insight into the setting for The Hunchback of Notre Dame–a book that this book mentions on more than one occasion as perhaps the savior of the then-declining church.

It did not make me want to visit Paris as much as All Montserrat made me want to book a cheap flight to Barcelona. On the balance, though, there is a difference sometimes in travel books that are supposed to make you want to go somewhere and souvenir books that make you remember where you have been. The best of the latter should also have the function of the former, ainna? To make you want to go back? I don’t know. I am not a travel writer. For the nonce, I am merely a blogger.

Where, Exactly, Does She Live?

It’s supposed to be a heartwarming story of people getting out there and voting [the right way], I guess: Michigan woman travels 300 miles to vote:

A 94-year-old Michigan woman went more than the extra mile to vote in this year’s election.

In fact, [redacted] traveled over 300 miles to make sure her vote was counted.

She’s apparently been an activist in Detroit for most of her life, but:

[Redacted] is staying with family in a suburb of Chicago and when she did not receive her absentee ballot, she asked her son to drive her to Detroit so that she could vote.

Questions abound outside the text of the “news” story, such as:

  • Does she live with relatives in Chicago?
  • Did she not get issued an absentee ballot because she had no residence address in Detroit, and Michigan would not mail it to Chicago?
  • If so, why was it so important to vote in what might be a swing state this year and not in Chicago, which is in a pretty solid Democrat state?

Those questions come to my mind, but cynicism is my life, not just my vocation. And I am not a professional journalist who is trying to drum up voting on one side of the political equation (see: cynicism is my life above).