Audiobooks – April 2018

Viking Britain: An Exploration by Thomas Williams

Pretty straightforward, Tells as the uptodate research (no Winged Helmets 😢) and easy to follow (easier if you have a map of the UK) 7/10

Contact by Carl Sagan

I’d forgotten how different it was from the movie in places. A few extra characters and plot twists. many more details and explanations of the science. 8/10

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough

My monthly McCullough book. Great as usual. Good picture of the project and people. 8/10

Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich

As per the title this spends much of the time on [varied strategies for] Winter adaptation vs Summer World’s more general coverage. A great listen 8/10

A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts by Andrew Chaikin

Great overview of the Apollo missions. The Author interviewed almost all the astronauts. Lots of details about the missions. Excellent 9/10

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

Near future Sci Fi. Similar feel to some of his other books like Makers. Switches between characters & audiobook switches narrators to match. Fastforward the Sex Scenes 💤. Mostly works 7/10

The Neanderthals Rediscovered: How Modern Science Is Rewriting Their Story by Michael A. Morse

Pretty much what the subtitle advertises. Covers discoveries from the last 20 years which make other books out of date. Tries to be Neanderthals-only. 7/10

The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet by Henry Fountain

Straightforward story of the 1964 Alaska Earthquake. Follows half a dozen characters & concentrates on worst damaged areas. 7/10

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Audiobooks – March 2018

The Actor’s Life: A survival guide by Jenna Fischer

Combination of advice for making it as an actor and a memoir of her experiences. Interesting and enjoyable 8/10

One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey by Sam Keith

Based on the journals of Richard Proenneke who built a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness and lived there for 16 month (& returned in later years). Interesting & I’m a little inspired 7/10

The Interstellar Age: The Story of the NASA Men and Women Who Flew the Forty-Year Voyager Mission by Jim Bell

Pretty much what the title says. Very positive throughout and switching between the science and profiles of the people smoothly. 8/10

Richard Nixon: The Life by John A Farrell

Comprehensive but balanced biography. Doesn’t shy away from Nixon’s many many problems but also covers his accomplishments and positive side (especially early in his career). 8/10

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Book I – Arthur Conan Doyle – Read by David Timson

4 Stories unabridged. Reading is good but drop a point since the music is distracting at fast playback. 7/10

Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries by Neil deGrasse Tyson

42 Essays on mainly space-related topics. Some overlap but pretty good, 10 years old so missing a few newer developments but good introduction. 8/10

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein

Good wide-ranging book on nature vs nurture in sports performance, how genes for athletic performance are not that simple & how little we know. 9/10

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower

Gossipy account from interviewing various ex-staff ( maids, cooks, butlers). A different angle than from what I get from other accounts. 7/10

Tanker Pilot: Lessons from the Cockpit by Mark Hasara

Account of the author flying & planning aerial refueling operations during the Gulf wars & elsewhere. A bit of business advice but that is unobtrusive. No actual politics 7/10

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

Account of various people who made billions shorting the mortgage market in the run up to 2008. Fun and easy for layman to follow. 8/10

Driverless: Intelligent Cars and the Road Ahead by Hod Lipson

Listening to it the week a driverless car first killed a pedestrian. Fairly good intro/history/overview although fast changing topic so will go out of date quickly. 7/10

Journeys in English by Bill Bryson

A series of radio shows. I found the music & random locations annoying. Had to slow it down due to varied voices, accents and words. Interesting despite that, 7/10

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Audiobooks – Background and February 2018 list

Audiobooks

I started listening to audiobooks around the start of January 2017 when I started walking to work (I previously caught the bus and read a book or on my phone).

I currently get them for free from the Auckland Public Library using the Overdrive app on Android. However while I download them to my phone using the Overdrive app I listen to the using Listen Audiobook Player . I switched to the alternative player mainly since it supports playback speeds greater the 2x normal.

I’ve been posting a list the books I listened to at the end of each month to twitter ( See list from Jan 2018, Dec 2017, Nov 2017 ) but I thought I’d start posting them here too.

I mostly listen to history with some science fiction and other topics.

Books listened to in February 2018

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu – Pretty good Sci-Fi and towards the hard-core end I like. Looking forward to the sequels 7/10

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham – A very nicely done biography, comprehensive and giving a good positive picture of Bush. 7/10

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein – A pretty good version of the classic. The story works well although the politics are “different”. Enjoyable though 8/10

Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars 1955-1994 by David Hepworth – Read by the Author (who sounds like a classic Brit journalist). A Story or two plus a playlist from every year. Fascinating and delightful 9/10

The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road by Finn Murphy – Very interesting and well written about the author’s life as a long distance mover. 8/10

Mornings on Horseback – David McCullough – The Early life of Teddy Roosevelt, my McCullough book for the month. Interesting but not as engaging as I’d have hoped. 7/10

The Battle of the Atlantic: How the Allies Won the War – Jonathan Dimbleby – Overview of the Atlantic Campaign of World War 2. The author works to stress it was on of the most important fronts and does pretty well 7/10

 

 

 

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Donations 2017

Like in 2016 and 2015 I am blogging about my charity donations.

The majority of donations were done during December (I start around my birthday) although after my credit card got suspended last year I spread them across several days.

The inspiring others bit seems to have worked a little. Ed Costello has blogged his donations for 2017.

I’ll note that throughout the year I’ve also been giving money via Patreon to several people whose online content I like. I suspended these payments in early-December but they have backed down on the change so I’ll probably restart them in early 2018.

As usual my main donation was to Givewell. This year I gave to them directly and allowed them to allocate to projects as they wish.

  • $US 600 to Givewell (directly for their allocation)

In march I gave to two organization I follow online. Transport Blog re-branded themselves as “Greater Auckland” and is positioning themselves as a lobbying organization as well as news site.

Signum University produce various education material around science-fiction, fantasy and medieval literature. In my case I’m following their lectures on Youtube about the Lord of the Rings.

I gave some money to the Software Conservancy to allocate across their projects and again to the Electronic Frontier Foundation for their online advocacy.

and lastly I gave to various Open Source Projects that I regularly use.

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Passengers vs “50 Girls 50”

Spoilers: Minor for Passengers, Major for 50 Girls 50.

In late 2016 the movie “Passengers” came out staring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. The movie is set aboard a sleeper spaceship and the plot centers around the two leads characters waking up early. I won’t say more about movie but there is summary of the plot in the wikipedia entry for the movie. You can compare it to the comic below to see the similarities and differences.

When I first saw the trailer it reminded me of a Sci-Fi comic I read years ago, others noticed it was similar and gave a name of the comic as “50 Girls 50” by Al Williamson. I couldn’t find a summary of  short story so I thought I’d write it up here.

50 Girls 50 by Al Williamson – Plot summary

The story is a 6 page comic with one off characters. It is set in the distant future aboard a spaceship making humanity’s first journey to a nearby star. Since the trip will take 100 years the the crew/passengers of 50 women and 50 men (hence the title) will be frozen for the whole journey. However the freezing technology used only works on a person once, if you attempt to refreeze somebody they will die.

The plot of the story is partially told though flashbacks but I’ll tell it is chronological order.

The main character is Sid who before the voyage starts is attracted to one of the other passengers Wendy. Wendy notices his attraction and they get together. After a time Wendy has proposition for him. She suggest that Sid sabotage the Deep-freeze (D-F) units so that  he wakes up early. He can then wake her up and they can wake up the others one at a time and “make them our slaves”

Sid however as his own idea. What he wants to do is just have a series of girlfriends. He’ll set his clock for two years into the voyage. Then he will wake up Wendy and live with he for a while, when he gets tired of Wendy he will get rid of her and move to the next girl and so on.

Once the voyage starts things go to Sid’s plan. He thaws out 2 years in but instead of waking up Wendy he decided to thaw out Laura first. He then pretends to Laura that they both accidentally thawed out.

“Almost a year” later he gets tired and Laura, shoots her with a “Paralyzer” gun and stuffs he back in a Freeze-chamber to die.

He then prepares to wake Wendy. First he sets the Ships clock to say they will reach the destination in 3 years to give him enough time to get tired of Wendy. Things don’t go according to plan however when Wendy wakes up:

Not really a happy ending for anyone, although it is not like Sid or Wendy really deserved one.

 

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Donations 2016

Like last year I am doing all my charity donations at once and blogging about it. The theory with doing it all at once is that is it more efficient and less impulsive, while blogging about it might encourage others to do similarly. Note that all amounts are in $US

I found one downside of doing it all at once (especially around midnight) is that my bank suspended my card for suspicious activity. All sorted out with a quick phone call though.

Once more this year I gave the majority of my money to those charities recommended by Givewell. This year instead of spreading my donation evenly among the top charities I followed their recommendations ( See right sidebar on the link above ).

Next were a series of Open Source projects, trying to concentrate on software I use:

And some tech content or advocacy groups

Additionally I gave some money to MSF via a campaign by Zeynep Tufekci highlighting Yemen

Hoping to do the same again next year, feel free to recommend other organizations you think might be a good place for me to donate towards. I’m thinking about

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Priorities for 2016

This is a almost New Years resolutions page but not quite. It is a list of the stuff that will take priority over other things in 2016

  • Chess – Aim to play regularly in tournaments, do weekly coaching and study at least 7 hours per week on tactics, endgames and openings.
  • Programming – Continue improving my programming skills, finish the book I am on, do a few exercises and create a few things
  • Blogging – At least 1 post each month to both my personal blog and the Auckland Chess Centre website
  • Driving – Get my Restricted Driver License
  • Reading – Read books (not online) at least half an hour per day
  • Health – 7500 steps every weekday plus get to goal weight
  • Conference – Run successful Sysadmin Miniconf at Linux.conf.au 2016

Stretch Goals – If I am keeping up with the above

  • Start working my way through Shakespeare’s plays
  • Do a couple of new website projects I’ve been putting off
  • Watch a 2-3 of hours of TV each week.
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Studying for Driver license test with Anki

In 2014 I decided to do a bit or work to finally get my New Zealand driver license. The first step towards this was passing the theory test which is a 35 question test given on computer. You have to get at least 32 questions right to pass.

After spending a bit of time looking at the roadcode book I decided to go with just learning the questions. I did this by:

  1. Buying some of the official practice exams
  2. Grabbing other questions for unofficial sites
  3. Entering some other questions manually from the books

I took all these questions and created a Anki Deck. Anki is some spaced repetition software that I use to learn things. I tell it to ask me a few new questions every day, if I get them wrong it asks me again tomorrow, if I get them right it asks me again next week. Gradually as I learn something it asks me less often (see the more technical explanation here)

A typical question on an Anki deck looks like these screenshots:

Screenshot_2015-12-10-21-05-24 Screenshot_2015-12-10-21-04-24The left on the left shows me being asked the question. Once I pick my answer I look at the actual answer (see rightmost screenshot)

If I get it wrong I get the card again in 10 minutes and depending on how easy I judged it if I got it right I’ll only see it again in months.

I ended up entering just on 400 questions and told Anki to give me 5 new cards every day plus whatever old ones I had to review. After a few months I had gone though all the questions and had a good feel for them. I also did some of the official practice exams.

Eventually in December 2014 I sat the exam and got 100 percent correct.

I’ll make my deck available at the link below. There are just over 400 cards in it, some with pictures. There are a few duplications but no errors as far as I am aware. They are current as of late 2014 (including the give-way rules change that year).

To use them you’ll need a copy of Anki and it is probably easiest to use the desktop edition to import the file and then use an Ankiweb account to Synchronize to a copy on your phone.

Download NZ Driver license Theory Anki Deck (2MB .apkg file)

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Donations 2015

Up until a couple of years ago my main charity was a regular payment to Oxfam. However I cancel this after I decided I disliked their fund-raising methods and otherwise read they were probably not in the top few percent of charities. Since then I’ve been tending to do things all in one go.

I just finished doing this year’s so I thought I’d document it here. It does feel a little weird to post about it but I’ve seen others do it. The theory I guess is that you the reader might be convinced that giving to charity is a good thing and do likewise.

My main donation was to the the top four charities rated by GiveWell:

  • Against Malaria Foundation                   $US 150
  • Schistosomiasis Control Initiative         $US 150
  • Deworm the World Initiative                  $US 150
  • GiveDirectly                                                 $US 150

Next were a series of Open Source projects

  • Debian                                                              $US 50
  • Freedesktop.org                                              $US 30
  • LibreOffice                                                       $US 30
  • OpenBSD                                                          $US 30
  • Python                                                              $US 30
  • Gnome                                                              $US 30

Interestingly enough I hadn’t originally intended to donate to LibreOffice and Freedesktop.org but Debian handles donations via Software in the Public Interest and those two showed up on the same donation page.

and some others

I thought about a few others including The Internet Archive, Anki and Mozilla. Perhaps next year

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Reading the Lord of the Rings aloud

The reading project that I am working on is a re-read of the Lord of the Rings. I’ve read the book/trilogy around a The_Lord_of_the_Rings_Trilogydozen times over the years but the two main differences this time are that I am reading it aloud and that I am consulting a couple of commentaries as I go. The references works I am using are The Lord of the Rings: A Reader’s Companion and the The Lord of the Rings Reread series by Kate Nepveu. The Companion is a fairly large book (860 pages) that follows the text page by page and gives explanations for words, characters and the history/development of the text. These can range from a simple definition to a couple of pages on a specific topic or character. The reread has a quick synopsis at the start of the article for each chapter and then some commentary by Kate followed by some comments from her readers (which I usually only quickly skim).

I started my read-aloud on February 15th 2015 and I am now ( April 7th ) just past the half-way point ( I completed The Fellowship of the Ring on March 27th) . My process is to read the text for 30-60 minutes ( I’m reading the three-book 1979 3rd edition paperback edition, which amusingly has various errors that the Reader’s Companion points out as I go) which gets me though 5-10 pages. I read aloud everything on the page including chapter titles, songs, non-English words and footnotes. A few times I have checked the correct pronunciation of words ( Eomer is one ) but otherwise I try not to get distracted. Once I finish for the session I open the Reader’s Companion and check the entries for the pages I have just read and at the end of each chapter ( chapters are usually around 20-30 pages) I have a look at Kate’s blog entry. I try an read most days and sometimes do extras on weekends.

One thing I really need to say is that I really am enjoying the whole thing. I love the book (like I said I’ve read it over a dozen times) and reading it aloud makes the experience even better. The main difference is that I do not skip over words/sentences/paragraphs which tends to happen when I read normally. So I don’t miss phrases like the description of Lake Hithoel:

The sun, already long fallen from the noon, was shining in a windy sky. The pent waters spread out into a long oval lake, pale Nen Hithoel, fenced by steep grey hills whose sides were clad with trees. At the far southern end rose three peaks. The midmost stood somewhat forward from the others and sundered from them, an island in the waters, about which the flowing River flung pale shimmering arms. Distant but deep there came up on the wind a roaring sound like the roll of thunder heard far away.

LOTR_Readers_Companion
Nor do I skip the other little details that are easy to miss, like Grishnakh and his Mordor Orcs leaving the rest of the group for a couple of days on the plains of Rohan or the description of country leading up to the west gate of Moria. Although I do wish I’d seen the link to the map of Helm’s Deep halfway down this page before I’d read the chapter as it would have made things clearer. The Companion is also good at pointing out how things fit in the chronology, so when somebody gazes at the horizon and sees a cloud of smoke it will say what event elsewhere in the book (or other writing) that is from. You also get a great feel for Tolkien’s language and words and his vivid descriptions of scenes and landscape (often up to a page long) such the example above. Although I do find he uses “suddenly” an awful lot when he has new events/people break into the narrative.

The readers companion is a great resource, written by two serious Tolkien scholars but intended for general readers rather than academics. Kate Nepveu’s articles are also very useful in giving a more opinionated and subjective commentary. I would definitely recommend the experience to others who are fans of the Lord of the Rings. I’m not sure how well it would work with other books but certainly it enhances a work I already know well and love.

At the current rate I am expecting to finish some time in June or July. The next project I’m planning is Shakespeare’s plays. I am planning on reading each one (multiple times including possibly at least once aloud) and watching the BBC Television Shakespeare and other adaptations and commentaries. My plan is that I’ll cover the majority of them  but I’ll see how I go, However I’d like to at least get though the major ones.

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