Archive for January, 2011

Jan 19 2011

Least newsworthy award go to…..

Published by under General

Chihuahua survives owl attack in suburban Chicago
(01-18) 11:59 PST Crystal Lake, Ill. (AP) — An owl attack has left a 4-pound Chihuahua with a healthy fear of the dark. ….

What a waste of bits, ink, or time!

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Jan 18 2011

Borderland: Journey through the History of Ukraine

Published by under Books

by Anna Reid

I knew almost nothing about the Ukraine, but had a slight interest since my maternal grandparents reportedly emigrated to the US from there about a century ago. When I read or heard a short piece on this book, I decided to pick reserve it at the library. Its title is apt in that it is a journalistic mixture of relatively current (1990s) travel based observation of the Ukraine and accounts of historical periods and events. The book positions the Ukraine as a fought over frontier land for over a millenium. Over that time, its people have been pushed this way and that and often massacred in huge numbers with Stalin’s starving of the countryside possibly the worst.
This history begins with the settlements created by the Rus (vikings) who ventured down rivers to trade with and raid on the Muslim empires to the south of the Ukraine, Subsequently, the territory was split up and fought over in various ways by many neighboring empires; Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian, Turkish, Viking, Lithuanian and Polish. Geographically, the Ukraine is similar to the midwest: huge expanses of fertile land originally seen as ‘seas of grass’ which were turned into farm land when sufficient social stability was achieved.
The book offers some lovely examples of capriciousness of history and how seemingly small, local decisions entrain major consequences.
+ An early Rus king chose Christianity over Islam when he decided he needed a ‘modern’ religion for his kingdom. He went looking, but his fondness for wine and pork led to Christianity (or so the story goes). Whatever the reason the choice set the border between Christian Europe and Islamic areas to the east and south which persists even today.
+ A major cossack revolution against the poles ultimately lead to a union with Muskovy. The revolution grew out of an attempt by a local cossack chieftain to redress a personal feud with a Polish neighbor. The Polish rulers wouldn’t redress his grievance and the dispute escalated to a revolt which failed after some successes, and that failure pushed the cossack’s faction into a treaty with Muskovy from which a long and close association with Russia developed.
The book is now a little out of date, but it does go through Chernobyl (a very sloppy test gone badly awry) and the break up of the Soviet Union. All in all it paints an intriguing picture of a country that hasn’t been independent for so long that the people who live there are technically independent but don’t really believe it. Some want to join Russia, some want western Europe, but for both groups the economy is a shambles.

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Jan 11 2011

Google eBook Reader

Published by under Books,General

I don’t have a kindle or an iPad. I have read extended parts of text books and reference books online, but never before read a novel. Decided to try reading a novel and chose Google’s ebook reader for the Mac and for the iPhone. The book was a speculative fiction “Surface Detail” (see prior post) from their ebook store.
What I liked:

  • Easy availability at home or away. Always had the phone so I could ‘pickup the book’ anywhere without having had to plan it or to carry another thing.
  • Easy synchronization between laptop and phone. The applications took care of it.

What I didn’t like so well:

  • Weaker navigation than in a paper book. Harder (slower) to flip back pages to find a detail or look ahead to see how many more pages in this chapter. You can only see two page images at a time on the laptop and less than a ‘page’ on the iPhone.
  • On a computer, the presence of other applications is an invitation to distractions. Harder to get engrossed?
  • Smooth coordination between web and iPhone only works when logged in to google on web.
  • A noticeable transition time (measured in seconds) when switching between devices. Time for them to check the google site for synchronization information. Just picking up a book is quicker restart; but of course you have to have the book in hand.

Overall pretty satisfying but I’m not a convert to eBook readers. I’ll have to try a kindle or iPad sometime. I was positively surprised at how pleasant reading was on the iPhone’s small screen.

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Jan 11 2011

Surface Detail

Published by under Books

by Ian M. Banks.
This book is a continuation of Banks’ “Culture” series of space operas (see earlier reviews e.g. Look to Windward ). The story line is similar, but the setting and characters have changed. A mix of super intelligent entities which are self aware, fully conscious, and operate and build most everything are intermixed with broadly human like (‘trans-human’) characters. The human like beings populate the tale so that readers have some thing to relate to. The story includes some interesting ideas and descriptions of fantastic technologies a zillion light years beyond what is now possible.
‘Surface Detail’ weaves a few characters and tales together around rumination on what death and hell might be like in a world in which consciousness can be transferred and replanted in a new body. Some fun, but parts are a little tedious. It has a quite good description of a Hell consistent with commonplace pictures of fire and brimstone, but that runs on a bit long. However, the book’s hell is populated by ‘real’ souls but takes place within a computer recreation (simulation?).
One of the better characters in the book is a conscious warship that seems to love violence; just like a vicious soldier wanting a good little war.
One question not addressed is why the non biological intelligences would “spend” capabilities coddling the relatively stupid, weak, and delicate human beings! The machine intelligences take care of people in all the Culture books but what their motivation might be is never addressed. Why would machine (silicon?) based intelligences like to deal with and coddle biological beings?
Better than some of the recent books in this series, but not the best one.

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