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.

Ninety seconds of Oh-My-Bear

Bear in area.You know me, I get to wondering about things. And sometimes it gets me into trouble.

While we were camping, I got to wondering how long of a walk it would be to walk past every single campsite in the Pog Lake / Whitefish lake campgrounds.

On one of the last days in Algonquin Park, I had time to do it. Tracey was content to chill at the campsite with Sprocket, listening to a book, so I walked up to the park gate just off highway 60, and headed into Whitefish.

At the far end of the Whitefish group campground, there’s a site that backs into forest, which has a path that connects up to the road that leads into the Pog Lake campground.

Shortcut! But not that day.

Normally, when I’m walking along I listen to audiobooks (in this case, Bitten: Women of the Otherworld), except in areas where I feel I should be paying extra attention to my surroundings, like when I’m entering an area with no one around me for a hundred plus metres.

I’d turned off the audiobook well before I’d gotten to that point as I approached the forest and headed in. About twenty metres in, I heard noise, so I stopped to see what it was.

Then I saw the source less than ten metres ahead of me as it came out of the bush.

An adorable black bear cub.

Then… another one.


At this point, I began looking around me to make sure that the mother wasn’t anywhere close to me – last place I wanted to be was be between the cubs and the mother.

Then, she came out of the bush behind the cubs.




At this point, my brain kicked in high gear. I’ve run into bears plenty of times in my years in the park, and know how to handle encounters with them.

But never an injured mother with cubs. Injured animals are notoriously difficult to predict, and throwing in that it was with its young, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.

I opted to remain still, non-threatening, facing them, hands on my hips, and announced my presence when I cleared my throat.

They all stopped and looked at me for what was probably three seconds, but felt rather longer.

The cubs decided I was boring and continued goofing off in the bushes, but momma bear just kept looking at me. Seconds dragged past. She made a noise I’d best describe as an exasperated huff, then looked at her cubs.

I took that opportunity to take a single, quiet step backwards.

She looked back at me… More seconds crawling by, then back to her cubs.

And I took another step back.

This game continued for about ten steps, at which point mom decided I was no longer an item of concern, and joined her cubs.

The entire encounter lasted about ninety seconds.

Their path was basically perpendicular to mine, but I decided it was just as easy to head back the way I came.

On my way to the Pog Lake campground, I popped into the campground office to report that the bear sighting and (more importantly) that she was injured.

When done there, I fired off a quick text to Tracey to let her know what had happened and continued on my walk, playing the events over in my head.

All in all, it was pretty amazing. And I didn’t have to fight a bear.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the answer to the question that caused all this is twelve and a half kilometres.

Here’s a zoomed-in photo I took with my iPhone once I was far enough away.
Injured momma bear and two cubs

Algonquin Vacation Reading 2014

Every year, I bring a stack of books to read while on vacation. This year was no different; approximately 3,700 pages and 40 hours of listening over the twenty-two days.

TheSummerBirdVolume One of The Seraphimé Saga, The Summer Bird, by S.M. Carriere (2013).
I read this book cover to cover in a single day and am pleased to report that she’s done it again. Last year, I read her The Dying God & Other Stories, she’s one of those indie authors who works hard, edits harder, and deserves success. The book covers the story of Seraphimé, a clan princess who barely survives her clans near-destruction and follows her recovery.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadaver, by Mary Roach (2003)
My friend Susi (by way of friend Sara) lent me this book, but it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting – a more technical discourse of the nature of what happens to corpses (research, I swear!). It’s more of an informal firsthand account of various uses of cadavers, a history of the use of cadavers, cannibalism, and amusing crucifixion experiments. Worth reading!

The SleepwalkersThe Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914, by Christopher Clark (2012)
This book was lent to me by a friend and long-time client, Berel, who said that it was a graduate-level class in political science. He wasn’t kidding. It covers the thirty or so years *before* the outbreak of World War One and into the war, the conflicting allegiances, cultural & racial issues, making it pretty clear that the world was going to fall into war no matter what. I’ll probably re-read this to make sure I got it all straight.

ANightToRememberA Night To Remember, by Walter Lord (1955)
This covers the sinking of the RMS Titanic, using information Walter Lord collected from survivors of the disaster. As a child, I have fond memories talking with my grandfather about the Titanic and he steadfastly maintained they’d never find it, so when finally saw this book in the book store, I couldn’t help but pick up the widely-accepted definitive account of the sinking.

Plague: How smallpox devastated Montreal, by Michael Bliss
Another book from Susi, which showed how a single person infected with smallpox arrived on a train from the US which killed thousands of largely francophone Montrealers, and furthering the rift between the linguistic groups. The book also shows that the tactics of anti-vaccination fanatics hasn’t really changed in 150 years – exaggerate, lie, and rely on the fears of the uneducated. It’s a bit infuriating to read at some points, actually.

Episode 123 – of Penn’s Sunday School, with Richard Dawkins [podcast / audio]
I’d saved this episode of Penn Jillette’s podcast for when I’d have time to listen to the ninety minute hilarious and serious talk he had with Richard Dawkins.

BloodlandsBloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder (2010)
A second book from Berel, who said this would be a difficult read, and it was by far the hardest book I have read in many years not due to prose or formatting but the content. Bloodlands details how between 1933 to 1945, Stalin and Hitler killed approximately fourteen million people – these aren’t combat deaths – largely non-combatants, who were starved in deliberate famines, executed, and death camps. A sombre examination of totalitarian governments working to their goals.

TheAndroidsDreamThe Android’s Dream, by John Scalzi (2006) [audiobook]
After the heavy content of the previous book, this audiobook was a hilariously wonderful reset. It follows a government employee tasked with giving bad news to aliens who is handed a rather special task – finding a specific breed of sheep called “Android’s Dream”. Throw in a made-up religion bend on making it prophecies come true and you have a book that I started and finished in a day. Read it.

TheFeastOfTheDrownedDoctor Who: The Feast of the Drowned, by Stephen Cole [audiobook]
They’ve made a few of these now – short two-and-a-half hour stories read by David Tennant. The story features the Tenth Doctor and Rose Tyler as they try to find out the source of a watery ghosts showing up in the London area. Of course, aliens are the problem. There’s a brief interview with the author at the end as well. Even though the story was abridged (which I normally loathe), this was a fun and fast listen.

DarkSunDark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, by Richard Rhodes (1995)
I read this probably shortly after it came out and thought it was worth a re-read. This book focuses on the development of (you guessed it) the hydrogen bomb, and covers the massive penetration of the Manhattan Project by Soviet spies. In fact, I’d say the book spends more time covering the espionage aspect than the complexities of the Teller-Ulam design development.

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible VoyageEndurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing (1959)
Sir Ernest Shackleton and his team planned a trip across Antarctica – and didn’t get there at all, barely escaping with their lives. A brilliant tale of survival in the face of one of the worst environments on the planet, taking place one hundred years ago. This audiobook was read brilliantly, and kept me on the edge of my proverbial seat even though I already knew how it turned out.

Far-SeerFar-Seer, Robert J. Sawyer (1992)
Everyone who knows me, knows I’m a huge Robert Sawyer fan. I’ve put off reading this book, as I keep forgetting to pick up the other two books in the Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy, but this year, I saw it after we moved and decided I’d bring it along. Cover-to-covered the book in a day. Now I have to pick up the other two to find out what happens. Who doesn’t love the idea of intelligent dinosaurs?

Bitten: Women of the Otherworld, by Kelly Armstrong (2001) [audiobook]
Kelly Armstrong first came to my attention at a panel at FanExpo a few years ago that Tracey and I attended. Tracey picked up the audiobook a few months ago, and I made sure to bring it along for our vacation. It’s not often that I enjoy a book written in the first person, but this was clearly an exception. I did enjoy the story, but I don’t know if I enjoyed it enough for a thirteen book commitment.

Nightface, Lydia Peever (2012)
This is one of the books I’d been looking forward to reading for some time – the tag line “It is gory. It is vicious.” had me. I’ve always thought vampires should be scary, and this book didn’t disappoint. I saw on Twitter that she is nearly finished the sequel (which I anticipate being a bloodbath), so I’m looking forward to my next trip up to the park (unless she also puts out an audiobook).

Four issues of 2600
Usually, I bring a couple of issues of 2600 with me camping for catchup, but this year, I just put them all into a pile for reading while camping. For those that don’t know, 2600 is a hacker culture magazine. Educational, entertaining and enlightening all in one. Well worth the subscription price.

What’d you read this summer?