So I started using a Kindle

For as long as I can remember, I’ve traveled with a book or two. Whether I’m taking the bus to work or spending a few weeks in Europe, there’s always an omnipresent bunch of flattened trees sitting around that I’ll have my eyeballs process. When I was growing up the weekly trip to the library was a highlight, and the discovery that the green phosphor computer monitors allowed me access to even more books via a library hold system was essentially akin to finding the Holy Grail.

I’ve always been somewhat wary of eBooks. I liked the concept that they’re fairly portable, but there was the nagging concern that the kind of books I liked to read were either unavailable in the format, or translated poorly to the smaller format.

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After a bunch of light hearted mocking from my reading friends, I decided to grab a Kindle Paperwhite that was on sale. I figured I’d try it out for a month and if I didn’t like it, I could send it back and consider it a failed experiment.

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Recreational Reader

Six weeks in, most of my initial suspicions were more-or-less confirmed: graphic novels, technical books, and those with more complex graphics failed miserably in the format.

However, the Kindle does excel in allowing recreational reading to be less of a hassle. You all know these books: the kind you’ll read once and that you can finish in a couple of days without having to put much thought behind them.

It’s nice to not be penalized by having to carry around multiple books in case you finish the first one (a common occurrence). Going to the library isn’t required in most cases, as you can simply pick up and return the book online. eBook pricing is sporadic: usually you can find a pretty good deal for a book that you’ll like, but often prices will hover around the same price as a mass-market paperback.

An unexpected side effect of a Kindle is that it makes it a lot harder for strangers on public transit to figure out what you’re reading. Despite the fact I have my headphones on and reading a book, people loved to come up, stare at the book, and then decide to start asking me about it. A Kindle eliminates a lot of those interactions.

I still travel with two books: one more complex tome, and the Kindle. Together they complement each other rather nicely. I’m not entirely sold on the concept as a replacement for all physical books, as my curated print library attests to, but the Kindle has a utilitarian benefit that allows for another tool in the reader’s toolbelt.

A good rule of thumb seems to be is if you think it’ll be a book you’ll read actively by scribbling notes in the margins, highlighting passages, or quickly jumping around to other sections, you’ll want to get a paper copy of it. Otherwise, it may work well on an eBook reader.

Finally, if you’re into this sort of thing, I have a Goodreads profile where I offer all sorts of poorly written literary criticism.

Reviewing Nikky v2015

Some people post year-end summaries on Facebook. Others type up a letter to be included in a Christmas card. I write belated blog posts. Let’s talk about 2015. Specifically, my 2015.

This whole “being an adult” thing continues to largely elude me. Perhaps the thinly cohesive theme to this post is how I’m mostly pretending on this front.

Edit: It appears WordPress has built-in gallery support. It also appears that this support is absolutely terrible and it just kind of randomly stretches images as it sees fit. Hopefully you can forgive me one day.

Livin’ Efficiently

2015 found Tracey and I settling into a new (smaller) apartment. Our previous few residences were fairly large 2-bedroom units that made us pay dearly for space that we were largely underutilizing. After a few rounds of donations, and close scrutinizing of our possessions, we found that maybe being an adult isn’t about owning lots of things, but instead owning a small amount of really useful things that are reliable, used frequently, and utilitarian in nature. To that end, we packed up and went a few blocks north to a brand new 1-bedroom apartment that featured around 560sq. ft. of well-designed space to work with. It’s a new look, but we saved ourselves quite a bit of time spent cleaning and acquiring possessions while staying in our favorite neighborhood. Maybe people were right about location being the most important attribute to housing after all.

Cat Wranglin’

People are having kids and buying houses while I largely stumble through co-owning a single cat. We’ve managed to keep Minerva largely healthy and 100% alive through her second year of being with us, and that seems largely to be the major goal of owning a cat. She keeps the apartment rodent free, although I think that’s largely due to the wonders of modern sanitation rather than her constant vigilance. Making due without live prey, Minerva instead practices on our legs and arms when we’re not paying her enough attention. Continue reading

Discovering our Astronomical Past

An ongoing decades-old project to clean out my disorganized archives of childhood found in my old bedroom at my parent’s house reveals all sorts of unusual finds.

Deep in one of my closets, sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard, I found a packet of astronomical photos addressed to one of my cousins.

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A closer look revealed a bit about their history.

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Maxine Morse was married to my grandfather’s first cousin. Commissioned as an officer in the Navy WAVES in 1943 after graduating from the University of Washington, she was stationed at Sand Point Naval Air Station. in Seattle. Sand Point NAS is now Magnuson park, and I’ve visited the place many times without knowing a relative had been stationed there. During World War II, Maxine found time to order a number of prints from Mount Wilson Observatory.

I’ve scanned the four enclosed photos and included them below. These are unaltered from the originals besides small amounts of cropping and surrounding whitespace: printing wasn’t an exact science in the middle of a war, it seems!

Captions provided are as included on the back of each individual photograph, if available.

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N.G.C. 6960. Mount Wilson Observatory. Cygnus, Network Nebula (south part), exposure 12 hrs., July 12, 13, 14, 1915. 60-inch Reflector.

 

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G-101 Mount Wilson Observatory
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N.G.C. 6992. Mount Wilson Observatory. Cygnus, Larger Network Nebula, exposure 10 hrs. 15 min., July 2, 3, 4, 1910. 60-inch Reflector
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G80. Mount Wilson Observatory. Star clouds in Sagittarius, exp. 3 3/4 hrs., July 21, 1922, Tessar Lens

Maxine was a remarkable person. She met her future husband Lloyd Morse at Sand Point, and after the war she got her teaching Certificate at University of Puget Sound before working as a teacher, illustrator, and Girl Scout leader. With Lloyd, they established the Morse Wildlife Preserve.

High-Resolution Copies

High resolution copies can be found on my flickr.

 

Who Programs the Enterprise?

Star Trek: The Next Generation follows the adventures of over a thousand crew members on their highly advanced Galaxy-class USS Enterprise. As flagship of the Federation, she was designed to go on deep-space exploration missions that may involve being out of contact with Starfleet for periods of time We see a lot of pseudo-engineering on the show: Geordi ‘n pals have academic-levels of knowledge regarding warp drive propulsion and are often pressed into service maintaining these highly complex systems.

Aiding them in it all is a highly refined computer system that utilizes a rather sophisticated AI which allows command staff to verbally create miniature programs by speaking in natural language. This all seems natural: programming is largely rooted in logic, and especially for small programs it should be expected that most of the crew would be familiar enough with the systems to create small functions on-the-fly.

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This guy? His job was to stare at this button and occasionally press it.

What we don’t see any of, however, are the software engineers on-board the enterprise. It’s not a stretch to assume that Starfleet regularly patches software onboard its ships, and likely would rely on the skills of deployed engineers to diagnose and patch bugs while on missions. New features seem also quite likely: probes need to be programmed, diagnostics modified, and research applications developed.

So who are they? The propulsion engineers almost certainly don’t have in-depth knowledge in computing software: they frequently seem limited to only running diagnostics on the computers, and may not even have write access to production source. Data appears to have slightly more skills and access to the computing systems, but he’s unique: other starships don’t have that kind of dual-purpose engineering talent that he possesses.

It’s likely they just weren’t anticipated during TNG and the subsequent shows of that generation. And even if they were, they’d be like Stellar Cartography: sometimes mentioned and rarely seen.

Seattle Mariners 1995 ALDS Radio Call

Almost twenty years ago on October 8th, 1995, the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees were in a pivotal game 5 of an American League Divisional Playoff. After falling behind in the series 2-0, the Mariners fought back to tie it at two games each. In front of the home crowd, the Mariners came back to tie the game in the 9th inning and force it into overtime.

The game, of course, features one of the most well-known radio calls in Seattle history as Edgar Martinez hit “The Double” to win the series.

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The local radio call was handled by Dave Niehaus. Finding a copy of the precise call isn’t difficult, but I always wanted to get the local radio broadcast of the entire game. Turns out this quest wasn’t impossible, but it involved ordering a series of cassettes from a fellow over on the East Coast. Following some delightful conversion of these tapes into digital, you too can listen to prelude to the call.

I started this clip in the middle of the 9th inning, when the Mariners pulled their starting pitcher and replaced him with Randy Johnson.

If you’re impatient, the bottom of the 11th inning starts at 49:00.

Boxscore

Adventure in the Alps

For our vacation this year, Tracey and I decided to go on a more hike-oriented trip through the Alps. Hitching a ride on one of our My Way Alpine Tours, we packed our bags, left scorching Seattle, and started our adventure in even more scorching Salzburg!

The itinerary roughly went East-to-West, and is likely best visualized with a very handy map.

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The Handy Map

Salzburg

Flying out to Munich via Reykjavik, we landed Saturday afternoon, cleared customs, and immediately took Munich’s hybrid commuter rail system to the main train station in town. Grabbing our tickets, we settled our tired selves into one of the hourly trains to Salzburg, Austria.

Arriving in the very warm and muggy Salzburg was especially fun. Trudging to our AirBnB we quickly settled in before going off to buy groceries and water. Lots of water. The time is 17:40. We quickly find that the store closest to our apartment closed at 17:30 and reopened on Monday. Well, okay, so we started walking to the center of town: surely there is a store open later there, right? Spending our energy in the form of sweat, we discover that this is indeed a terribly incorrect assumption: everything is closed until Monday. Things are not looking so great when I dash off a quick tweet of forlorn sadness about our current situation. And then an angel appeared in the form of a coworker who had edited our book section on Salzburg a few months before and noted that the Spar in the train station was open until very late in the evening. We were saved! The recon was correct! The night was warm, but we settled into the warm apartment at least on the road to hydration as the skies filled with rolling thunderstorms.

Continue reading