Vacation Reading 2015

Another year of vacation, and another pile of books devoured, both dead tree and audiobooks. I know there’s a movement to ereaders, but I’m just not a fan of then yet. Maybe I’ll try again next year.

Stats: Twenty-five plus books, 3,500+ pages and over 140 hours of audiobooks (70+ at double speed).

Here’s the list for your perusal:

IMG_2845An astronaut’s guide to life by Chris Hadfield, suggested by @LeilaDancer. [dead tree]A one-day read, full of interesting stories about his journey to being an astronaut and the manner in which he pretty much single-mindedly did everything in his power to achieve his goals.

IMG_2850The Martian
by Andy Weir, suggested by… oh, five people, including my sister. [audiobook]I blew right through this book. I hear there’s a movie coming (trailer), and I know it will be hard to carry over all of the book into two hours, but boy, with Ridley Scott at the helm and Matt Damon as the main character, this could be *awesome*.

IMG_2864Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson [dead tree]I’ve read this before – apparently back in 2004 while on vacation, but it’s been long enough that I only vaguely recalled the broadest strokes of the story.  Enjoyed it again.

51Sx2pXprjL._SL300_Playing Solitaire and Other Stories, by Mark Shainblum [audiobook]The first two stories were good, but I really enjoyed The Break Inspector (third story) – I loved the idea.

415tYy+YfEL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_A Brief History of Humankind Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari [dead tree]The book felt like a bit of a ramble, but I did find the book well worth reading, covering the evolution of our species and how thinking, farming and science have made us what we are today.

51vkEdOFg+L._SL300_My Early Life, by Winston Churchill [audiobook]Covering Churchill’s earliest memories up, through school, into his escape after being captured during the Boer war in South Africa, and his return home.

51dFNtIkQUL._SL300_What If? Serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions, by Randall Monroe. [audiobook]I’ve been a fan of the XKCD webcomic for years and when I heard he was putting a book out from his “What if?” blog, I knew I was going to buy it. When the audiobook came out – read by your friend and Internet hero Wil Wheaton, it was a sure thing. Well research hilarity follows.

61egBtsNiML._SL300_Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek, MD & TJ Mitchell [audiobook]On last year’s trip, I read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadaver, and enjoyed it, so I thought a book about the life of a medical examiner would be interesting, and it was. Morbid humour, stories about murder, death, and her work during the 9/11 crisis.

519Y83MOuPL._SL300_Six Easy Pieces; essentials of physics explained by its most brilliant teacher, by Richard P Feynman. [audiobook]I love physics, and listening to Richard Feynaman is always a treat – this was an introduction to the basics – I know, I know – I already *know* this stuff, but I loved hearing him talk about it. Audio quality is low (recorded on reel-to-reel gear in the 60s. I’d suggest re-recording this so those who would find the poor audio quality too serious of a distraction

51517dPwDcL._SL300_The Battle of Midway, Craig L Symonds. [audiobook]History is one of the topics I keep reading about, and the battle of Midway is regarded as the turning point of the war in the Pacific, and this book goes into deep detail, sometimes minute by minute, into the events leading up to and the battle.

51w0gLyYdEL._SL300_The Tell-Tale Heart & Other Stories by Edgar Allen Poe [audiobook]The Black Cat is one of my favourite stories by Poe (it’s last in the audiobook), and the Tell-tale Heart is brilliantly read.

61gKN36XzGL._SL300_Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity’s Chief Engineer, by Rob Manning & William L Simon [audiobook]Space? Engineering? Robots? Interplanetary missions? Fascinating read.

41RTRiuK5mL._SL300_Orphans of the Sky, by Robert Heinlein. [audiobook]When I was reading this book, it *strongly* reminded me of a TV show I saw as a kid; The Starlost, by Harlan Ellison (as Cordwainer Bird). Orphans of the Sky is tale of people living in a generational starship who aren’t aware of the fact – to them the entire universe is the ship, the “muties” who inhabit other sections of the ship, and how they come to work together to save themselves. Enjoyed!

61mduTCVTSL._SL300_Sherlock Holmes – The Hound of the Baskervilles & the Adventure of the Dancing Men by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [audiobook]
Classic story about Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes unravelling the mystery of a seemingly supernatural chain of deaths involving a huge hound. Probably my favourite Holmes story.

winterwolfThe Seraphimé Saga Volume 2: The Winter Wolf, by SM Carrière. [dead tree]
I read the first volume last year’s, which goes against my typical treatment of series. Long, long time readers will note anytime Robert J Sawyer has had a trilogy come out the Neanderthal Parallax & Wake, Watch & Wonder, I’ve waited until the entire series was out, *then* read the whole thing, usually in a day or two. I wish I’d done with with this series to fill some of the gaps my memory created in the past year. The book is a great end to the story, that left me rather teary-eyed (much to the writer’s pleasure, I’ve been told).

41TQX6Ue9uL._SL300_Spymaster by Tennent H Bagley. [audiobook]
Publication of this story was banned in Russia by the FSB, so it was published in the west, and even then, only after Sergey Kondrashev’s death. This book is a fascinating look into the KGB during the cold war, and some of the crazy operations that were pulled off, right under the noses of the Americans (and others)

51eGBh3jKRL._SL300_Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson [audiobook]
“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest–
…Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest–
…Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”
Need I say more? A classic I don’t think I’ve read in… over thirty years. ouch.

51Vmb71yKPL._SL300_How to succeed in business without really crying; lessons from a life in comedy by Carol Leifer. [audiobook]
The book boils down to dogged persistence, hard work, and Leifer’s sense of humour. Worth a read!

516YzHILAPL._SL300_SevenEves by Neal Stephenson [audiobook]
I inhaled this book in two days even though it was over 15 hours (at double-speed) long. A masterful tale of the end of the world, and how we survive it.

51XX53g78xL._SL300_BBC Cabin Pressure series 4 [audiobook]
Bought this on sale – just curious, but it’s a fast and funny radio series about a tiny charter airline, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and others.

510qnPnlTsL._SL300_At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft [audiobook]
I know, I know. I listened to this last year. But I do *love* this story, and it’s my vacation and I’ll listen to what I want to!

IMG_3227America’s Bitter Pill by Steven Brilliant [dead tree]
This is the story of how Obamacare came to be, and in some ways, how it didn’t really change anything for the companies that reap massive profits on the backs of ill Americans. A cautionary read for Canadians to the dangers of adopting a more American-style heathcare system (it’s a wildly bad idea).

41aheSIoQsL._SL300_The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams [audiobook, read by author]
I read this years ago, and when I saw it in iTunes, I decided it was worth a listen – more so because of *who* was reading it – Douglas Adams. The Dirk Gently story is wildly funny.

IMG_3229Dreamcatcher by Stephen King [dead tree]
This book was homework for me by Bob LeDrew of the KingCast podcast. I’d asked him what modern King novel I should read (I stopped reading him mid-Tommyknockers). Overall, it was formulaic Stephen King, I think, and even though I knew where the story was going, I *did* enjoy it.

51GBk6OfBnL._SL300_2001: A Space Oddessy by Arthur C Clarke [audiobook]
This is a book that was written at the same time as the movie, but diverges in a few interesting way, and I was surprised to hear that the introduction by Arthur Clarke was a recording of him. Obviously, 2001 (and the three sequels) are seminal works of science fiction, and I greatly enjoyed listening to the book version.

Yup, podcasts – I had about twenty left over from the gap caused by my work on the Bluesfest project, so when I ran out of audiobooks to read, I went through all of those. Yay for catching up!

Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola [audiobook]
Technically this is a movie turned into an audiobook, similar to what I did with Firefly the series. I love this movie, and listening to the dialogue of the film took me right into it. Listening to the movie, you “see” many new things – the careful attention to music, background sounds, and I can focus completely on the dialogue.

Three issues of 2600
This is the only magazine that I subscribe to, and I think it’s been a decade now, maybe more. Normally there are four issues (yes, I read a year’s worth of 2600 while camping), but the Summer 2015 didn’t arrive until after we’d left for the park. For those that *don’t* know, 2600 is the “hacker quarterly”, with news and articles of interest.

I’m open to suggestions for 2016’s vacation reading.

Got home, and downloaded 94 podcasts. That’s going to take some time to chew through.

You can peruse some of the trip’s photos on my Flickr album.

Sometimes taking a life is the right thing, even if it feels wrong.

Yesterday was largely a fun day. I woke up, and headed off to train a client on Final Cut Pro X and media management. We have a great relationship – I can read what she’s trying to do, and teach her how to do it. One of the greatest rewards is seeing the light of understanding go off in someone’s eyes, and how excited they get. It’s one of the reasons I love teaching.

Yes. People get excited about media management. Deal with it.

After that, I headed off to training which I haven’t been to in… oh, two or three weeks due to cold-from-hell and a hard work deadline, but I had a really great time, even if I got punched in the face (my fault). It’s a good gang and I got to train with Sonya, who is the person who encouraged me return. Her patience with me is impressive.

I left class in a good mood, listened to some tunes (opening with In This Moment’s Adrenalize which set a tone of walking fast), then talked to a friend on the phone for a bit.

My long walks are a way of forcing me to disconnect and to look at the world around me.

I see wonder everywhere I look, especially in spring, as the world around us comes back to life.

About ninety minutes into the journey home, I was walking through a dark area and took the opportunity to look at the night sky while walking. There’s a bit of a trick to it – surveying the sidewalk for the next few metres, looking up, watching and then checking the sidewalk again. Sometimes I’ll come to a full stop to look more closely at the sky for a couple of minutes.

Like last night. I stepped off the sidewalk onto the grass to look at the sky a bit more steadily. The road was largely quiet, with the wind passing through the trees.

I’d noticed a squirrel leaping around off in the distance – curious (they’re largely diurnal), but I was distracted by the night sky.

In the distance behind me, I heard a car accelerating hard. Not too unusual – people seem to think long, straight roads are race courses.

What I didn’t see was the squirrel head to the street, but as the car passed by me, I heard an odd thunk and a piercing shriek I’ll not forget for some time.

I turned my night-adjusted eyes to the road – all I saw was a dark car heading accelerating down the road. There’s no way for me to describe it any more than that.

Many of you know me from my work in the world of technology. And while I love this work, I share an equal passion for nature. I venerate life. With few exceptions, I will go to great length to avoid killing something (which is how we ended up with a pet mouse for five months some years ago).

The shrieking continued, so I went to see the source, knowing what had happened – car vs squirrel. Usually such contests are instantly fatal, but tonight that wasn’t the case.

The black squirrel had been flung by the impact back onto the grass. I won’t describe the gore of the situation, but it was certainly fatal.

I studied the squirrel for a few seconds, and came to that obvious conclusion.

Somehow, it managed to turn enough for our eyes to meet.

We as humans anthropomorphize our interactions with animals, but I swear to you, it was begging me to end it’s suffering.

So I did the only thing I could; I apologized to the squirrel, then quickly and firmly crushed its skull with my shoe (if I hadn’t been wearing my steel-toed shoes, I’m not sure what I would have done).

The shrieking stopped.

Rationally, I know this was the right thing to do, but irrationally, emotionally, I feel guilty for it.

I *hate* that I had to do it, and I hate the person that made me have to do this.

A new desk with a wacky video

Freshly installed standing desk

Freshly installed standing desk

Since our move in August, I’d been using Tracey’s old desk, and since then I’ve been researching standing desk options. I looked at about ten different manufacturers over the months, and narrowed it down to my final choice:

An UpDesk Maple Series 3 medium standing desk.

The desk lists for $999USD on their site. Taking shipping (~$250USD) and the unfavourable exchange rate, the desk ended up costing me about $1,500 CND.  Not cheap by any stretch, but I’d been putting money aside for it for a while.

I’ve been using it daily since March 9th, and I have to say, I really like it – except that the digital readout is in inches and not metric (come on America, throw off one of the last shackles of British Imperialism), but UpDesk has been working with me to resolve that.

Once I stopped playing with the bubble wrap that covered everything (it’s free fun therapy!), I got the desk assembled pretty quickly.  Then I drilled a couple of extra holes and mounted a power bar underneath the desk to reduce the number of cables going up and down, and zip-strapped the bundle of cables to make it look cleaner.

I also took the opportunity to clean out my Mac Pro and change some things around before reconnecting everything.

Having a standing desk has had a profound effect on me – I love being able to stretch, stand on one leg, two, shift my weight around, and (somewhat alarmingly) has led to a dramatic increase in my dancing on the spot while working and listening to tunes.

I’ve noticed a productivity boost too – I seem to be getting more done, which is always awesome.

One other thing I’ve been trying is twice a day (morning and night) is to lower the desk about ten centimetres and doing horse stance for as long as I could and continue working. Initially, it was a touch over two minutes. As of today, I’m up to three minutes. I’m going to try lowering it another few centimetres to lower my stance, but I’m not that flexible, but I’m working on it.

I don’t stand all day – I still have my fancy-dancy chair which is currently stowed under my desk and I alternate, but I do largely stand most of the time.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that it’s improved my posture considerably. If I catch myself slouching, I raise the desk a bit more, which forces me to stand up properly, with my back straight.

Okay, okay. I promised you a video. Enjoy!

I’m fortunate that my friend Chandra (who happens to be a local professional belly dancer) was here having a new dance costume worked on (for those of you who don’t know, my wife makes bridal wear, dance costumes, and other custom projects), and when I pitched the idea, she didn’t need any convincing that this would be funny.

Sprocket on the other hand wasn’t as keen on the concept, but with a bit of motivation thanks to some bacon bits, she got with the program too.

And of course, Tracey helped out because she’s awesome like that.

Lowertown snow clearing operations: A dance of machines.

Ever wonder what goes into clearing the snow off the streets of Ottawa? I got curious too, and took the opportunity one night to record the whole thing, then edited it down to a manageable two and a half minutes for you:

By the time everything was done, just shy of three in the morning, I was surprised by the number of vehicles required to do the job properly. A dance of machines.

How to rotate video with QuickTime X

This is something that I get asked reasonably often and thought I’d make a quick video to show just how easy it is.

The process is simple; open the video in question in QuickTime, go up to the Edit menu, go down to the Rotate Left or Rotate Right and select it. You’ll see there are also options to flip the video horizontally or vertically as well.

Once done, click to close the window, and save the video. All done!