The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart

The Haunted Lady (Hilda Adams 4)The Haunted Lady by Mary Roberts Rinehart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rinehart truly deserves her epithet as the American Agatha Christie. This story is a classic locked-room mystery. An old woman is found dead in her room that is tightly sealed and guarded by a nurse outside the door. It’s a traditional Victorian style house with many rooms, family members, servants, and regular visitors who may or may not have motives. Nurse Hilda Adams is the protagonist cum detective. The writing is sharp, old-fashioned, and refreshingly free of swearing and gore. The plot is convoluted and far-fetched. I doubt anyone figured it all out until the final reveal but I managed to guess one small piece in advance. It may be too tame and complex for some, but I enjoyed it.

The author does have one original stylistic trait that I found interesting: overt foreshadowing. For example, Hilda would meet someone and the author would write something like “She would later describe the person to the inspector as looking ill and upset,” thus suggesting that this physical state is important to the mystery. Or maybe you’re supposed to wonder if Hilda is mistaken or even intentionally describing the person inaccurately. She could have written that Hilda met the person and he looked ill and upset. Why write that she later told the inspector at that point? She could mention it later when Hilda actually talks to the inspector. The point is to alert the reader that this is a clue (or maybe a red herring!) She’d begin a chapter with “Mrs. Fairbanks was murdered on Saturday night.” At that point in the story, it was still Saturday morning and the author proceeds to write about everything that happened on Saturday, but you’re forewarned that you’d better pay attention to where everyone is at every point because you know the murder is about to happen. These are not spoilers because you are told very early on who is going to die. You lose the surprise element to an extent from the foreshadowing, but instead you get a sort of foreboding suspense which is at least as entertaining.

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The Greatest Invention by Silvia Ferrara

The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious ScriptsThe Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts by Silvia Ferrara
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I am very much interested in the subject matter, or at least I thought I was. But the writing in this book was so atrocious I couldn’t finish it. Halfway through I gave up. The author is a chatterbox and fills the pages with digressions and blather. I expected a serious discussion of the various scripts mentioned in the title along with many illustrations and comparisons of the unique features of each. Instead we get the author’s opinions about almost everything backed up with nothing more than “It’s obvious that …” or “Everyone agrees that …” except it’s not obvious to me and I doubt everyone agrees.

The chatty informal tone is totally inappropriate and her meanderings make it hard to follow her points. She uses metaphors mercilessly and is constantly telling us what she is going to tell us instead of just telling it. Here’s an example from page 42 shortly after she’s told us a few paragraphs earlier that Linear B is of little interest since it’s been deciphered:

Earlier I mentioned Linear B – let’s talk about it, at least for a bit. The truth is Linear B isn’t of all that much interest to us, since it’s been deciphered. For now, we’ll spare it only a few measly lines. Though we’ll come back to it, I promise, since it’ll be of help when we look at the process of deciphering scripts. So then, Linear B.

Not only is it repeating what she’s just told us, but she takes an entire paragraph to tell us that she’s going to start writing about something. Just start writing about it, for Pete’s sake! You’ve already used up those “few measly lines.” This can’t be explained away by a bad translation.

She punctuates the text with pop culture references and compares rocks and clay tablets to iPhones and bedsheets. She’s also dismissive of all opinions that differ from her own. She typically says things like “this is generally referred to as X but really it is Y” without a convincing explanation as to why conventional terminology is wrong. She mentioned some Japanese term and said you could tell what it means just from the sound of it. No, I couldn’t, and I speak some Japanese. You get the idea. She’s a perfect example of Often Wrong But Never in Doubt.

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Deep Water by Emma Bamford

Deep WaterDeep Water by Emma Bamford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book, but perhaps not for the same reasons as most other reviewers who did. I found the descriptions of life aboard a sailboat to be the best part of the book. The sense of adventure, romance, and self-reliance are evoked very eloquently. The author obviously knew a great deal about boats and sailing and I loved that part of it. I used to devour Horatio Hornblower books, reveling in the minutiae of all that was necessary to know in order to sail and stay safe. She conveyed the danger and uncertainties that go along with that lifestyle just as well. It reminded me of the old saw that the two best days in a boat owner’s life are the day he buys it and the day he sells it.

On the other hand, I did not get the sense of foreboding or suspense that the cover blurb and many reviewers mention. It seemed like a pretty nice travelogue for the first two-thirds of the book, a vacation in a tropical paradise. Even when things start to go wrong, you get the sense that they’re fixable. Another detraction was that the two main characters aren’t very likeable, or at least, not very sympathetic. They make some very bad decisions. In fact, none of the characters were particularly likeable. When you don’t care much what happens to the characters, it’s hard to maintain a sense of suspense.

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Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but I also felt it really should have been two books. In a way it was. One book is the saga of Marion Stone, the narrator, the illegitimate son of a nun in Ethiopia. He is raised in a hospital there along with his identical twin brother Shiva. Marion becomes a surgeon. The story of his family, his career, the lives and trials and tribulations of his extended hospital family are engaging and beautifully told. The book is worth it for that alone.

The second book is really a collection of medical stories, many no doubt true, perhaps some experienced by the author, a surgeon, or read about, and others probably imagined. These are fascinating and equally enjoyable, at least for me. My one complaint is that they were crammed into one book instead of two. The book is too long, and the plot of the saga is convoluted too often in order to fit in some unusual medical tidbit or suspenseful life-saving surgery. There’s a limit as to how many times I can suspend my disbelief. Even so, I can recommend the book.

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Cold Snap by Marc Cameron

Cold Snap (Arliss Cutter, #4)Cold Snap by Marc Cameron
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Two stars may seem like a put-down, but in the Goodreads systems, that’s labeled as “It was OK.” I don’t have major complaints about the book or its style beyond the fact that I just couldn’t get into it. I got halfway through before I realized I was reading it out of a sense of obligation rather than enjoyment. You know, I’ve checked it out from the library and I chose it, so I should be reading it. I had trouble following all the different characters and plots that didn’t seem to be connected. The opening scene was great, but then that was dropped from the plot. Apparently it was just a hook. So I gave up and stopped halfway through.

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Acquitted Conduct Sentencing

In my last post I mentioned that Holmes could be sentenced more harshly than Balwani because the judge could take into account evidence from all the counts charged, even the ones of which she was acquitted. This practice seems unfair to some and is a recent controversy in legal circles. A recent editorial by the ultra-conservative Koch brothers’ organization urged the Supreme Court to make it illegal in the Osby case. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case and it remains legal in all twelve federal circuits.

The federal sentencing guidelines mandate that all relevant conduct proved at trial shall be considered by the sentencing judge. Proof need only be by a preponderance of the evidence and the sentencing judge is the one who determines that. So even if a jury finds that a crime wasn’t proved beyond a reasonable doubt doesn’t mean that it wasn’t proved by a preponderance of the evidence or that she didn’t do it. The Holmes case is a perfect example. One juror has said the jury acquitted her of the patient-related counts because they felt she didn’t intend to provide them false test results. But that’s not an element of the offense. To be guilty she only needed to have knowingly provided false statements on which the patients relied and which resulted in their harm. If the juror is right, then the jury misunderstood the instructions.

In broader terms, though, holding people responsible for foreseeable harm they cause is a long-held and standard practice in the law, and I believe rightly so. This is true in both criminal law and civil law. The felony murder rule is a good example. If person A conspires with person B to rob a bank and in the course of the robbery B murders someone, A is guilty of the murder too. This is true even though murder requires a mens rea, or guilty mental state, i.e. forming the intent to murder. B’s mens rea is considered adopted by A when they conspire.  In effect, the law is saying once you choose to commit a crime, you take responsibility for everything bad that happens, even if you didn’t intend it or personally do it, at least if a reasonable person could have anticipated the possibility.

On the civil side a good example is the eggshell skull rule. If person A punches person B in the stomach and B falls down and cracks his head open and dies or is rendered a paraplegic, A is civilly liable for the death and the medical expenses. This is true even if B had an unusually fragile skull and even if A was merely negligent in knocking him down. This applies generally to all torts. Even if A did not expect person B to die from a stomach punch, it is foreseeable that severe injury or death could result from being knocked down. In short, if you intentionally do a bad thing, you pay the price at law for the results. You take your chances on how bad it’s going to be. It’s a necessary policy to deter all bad conduct. It also would not be good policy to allow a defendant to escape punishment by claiming he or she “didn’t mean to.”

Another way of viewing it is to consider the established roles of judge and jury. Other than the death penalty in some sates, the jury is not a sentencing body; it is only a fact-finding body. The court, i,e. the judge, with help from the supporting staff (like U.S. Marshals in federal cases), decide the sentence and at least in federal cases must consider all relevant conduct. This could even include behavior during trial such as lying, disrupting proceedings, etc. that aren’t necessarily crimes, or at least not charged crimes. Sentencing is a judge’s prerogative and always has been.

Holmes and Balwani verdicts

Some people are having trouble reconciling the verdicts in the cases of Elizabeth Holmes and Sonny Balwani. I don’t see a problem with the verdicts, and this explanation may help you understand them.

Both were charged with twelve counts of federal crimes. Counts one and two were conspiracy counts – one conspiring to defraud investors and the other to defraud doctors and patients. Both were convicted of the first count. Only Balwani was convicted of the second. They acquitted Holmes on the second count. That’s the only inconsistency that’s difficult to explain, since the allegation was that they conspired together, but the explanation given below on the remaining counts sheds light on it.

All the other counts were wire fraud counts. Six of those were for defrauding investors and three were for defrauding doctors or patients. One of the patient counts was thrown out by the court in the Holmes case due to a technical error by the prosecution, so Holmes was not tried on that one. Holmes was acquitted of the other two patient counts. Balwani was later convicted of all three, so I presume the prosecutors corrected their error on that one count. A juror from Holmes’s trial has said that the jury did not think Homes intended to provide patients with bad results, i.e. to defraud them. Knowing there could be problems with the test is not enough. She also did not communicate with the doctors or patients directly, thus the doctors or patients did not rely on her statements, a necessary element of the offense. Apparently the jury in Balwani’s case found he did. This can be explained by evidence showing different levels of involvement by the two defendants, or by different evidence presented in Balwani’s trial. One important witness testified only in Balwani’s trial.

That leaves the six investor counts. Holmes was convicted of three while Balwani was convicted of all six. But Holmes was NOT acquitted on those other three. The jury deadlocked on those. So it is not really a significant difference there. For all we know the deadlock was 11 – 1 for conviction on those remaining three counts. There may have been one or two jurors with a bit more skepticism than others on that jury. In addition, different investors heard different presentations and communicated via phone or email to different extents with the two defendants, so it is really quite normal for one to be found guilty and the other not on any specific charge.

Holmes is scheduled to be sentenced in October, Balwani in Novemer. I believe she may actually get a longer sentence, primarily because she testified. She denied the charges on the stand and did not accept responsibility. To the contrary, she testified falsely, obstructing justice. The same judge heard the evidence in both cases and may very well find her conduct was more egregious than his even though she was guilty on fewer counts. He can even take into account the evidence of harm to patients and doctors despite her acquittal on those counts. Even if he accepts that she did not intend to provide false results, there was plenty of uncontradicted evidence that her actions or negligence caused the harm during the course of her crime. Unintended harm, if it’s reasonably foreseeable, can be used in sentencing. I doubt he will cite that as contributing to his sentencing decisions, but it’s difficult for him to dismiss it entirely in his thinking.

Friends Spoiled Triennially – answers

Here are the answers to the puzzles in my last post. All of these involve words formed by the odd and even letters of each of the examples.

TRIENNIALLY is the longest English word in which all the odd-numbered letters spell a word (TINILY) and the even ones do, too (RENAL). In this case, both spell the words forward, but other examples do not. FURRINESS, BALLOONED, and FLEETNESS are the next longest ones with this property.

FRIENDS has this same trait, but with a twist. The two odd/even words, FINS and RED have letters in alphabetical order. FINS in forward order, RED in reversed.

SPOILED has the same trait except its words SOLD and PIE both have letters in reverse alphabetical order.

SINNING is interesting in that its internal words SNIG and INN have the alphabetical orderings reversed/forward, but it also has the property that SNIG (which is a British slang term) also spells a word backward (GINS).

The longest word I’ve found where the two words are both spelled backward and in alphabetical order is UTOPIA (IOU, APT) if you count IOU as a word. If you don’t care about the alphabetical order, the longest words I’ve found with both odd/even words spelled in reverse order is THICKEST (SKIT, TECH) and GIANTISM (STAG, MINI) although there were dozens of words of this length with one word forward and one backward. I may have overlooked other examples.

Friends Spoiled Triennially

The three words in the title are all odd. They have unique characteristics. Try to guess what they are. I’ll give you some hints and in a few days I’ll post the answers.

Hint 1: Each is the longest English word with a particular trait.

Hint 2:  the latter two words’ traits are each unique at that length, i.e. no other English words of that length has those traits.

Hint 3: Friends has two other words of the same length with its trait:  innings and moonset

Hint 4: Afield and heists, as well as several other words, have a related property.  The word sinning has yet another, if you’re British.

Hint 5: the traits of these words are related but each differs from the others except as indicated in Hints 3 and 4. There are multiple shorter words that share the same traits with all of these.

Go ahead and put your guess in the comments section.


Anyone following the news in the U.S. will be aware of two recent horrific mass shootings, one racially motivated one in Buffalo and one slaughter of schoolchildren in Uvalde, Texas. Both were committed by disturbed teenage males. Since that time there have been two significant changes in gun laws. First, the U.S. Supreme Court declared New York’s restrictive gun law unconstitutional, effectively wiping it off the books. The other was a federal law adding new restrictions to gun purchases and giving aid to states who pass “red flag laws”.

America is something of a pariah in the developed world for its archaic gun laws, and understandably so. We suffer many times the per capita gun deaths of nearly every other developed country. But there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about our gun laws. The question I hear asked the most often by talking heads on TV is “Why is America so out of step with the rest of the world on guns?” That has an easy answer and it’s the answer to almost every question critics put up: The Second Amendment.

It’s right there in the Constitution that Americans have the right to keep and bear arms. Legislatures can’t overrule the Constitution by passing laws. Laws that restrict that right keep getting struck down by the courts. The only real solution is to amend the Constitution and that’s politically impossible since it is very difficult to do even for very popular policies. Let’s examine for a moment why we have that right in our Constitution. America was born in revolution. It was oppressed by an English king and fought for its freedom by arming itself. Americans wanted to make sure that could never happen again, so they made sure they would always have the right to take up arms against their own government. It’s a stupid, short-sighted provision passed in the heat of passion out of hatred for England. Blame lies at least as much with King George (and for that matter all the European colonial powers) as it does with America’s founders, but there it is. Personally, I believe it was unwise to make the Constitution so difficult to modify, but I also believe it is wrong to expect courts to disregard its plain language because they disagree with it.

People on both sides of “the gun issue” are right and both are wrong. The pro-gun people are right that they have a constitutional right. They’re wrong when they say things like “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” or that restrictive gun laws wouldn’t prevent these mass shootings or gun deaths in general. Both are proved false by the death rates in other countries that have enacted such laws and restricted the number of guns. Those on the opposing side are wrong when they say it shouldn’t be legal to own guns, especially assault weapons. The whole point of the Second Amendment was to make sure Americans could take up weapons of war to fight an oppressive government, not for personal protection, hunting, or recreation. However, they are right that the court could interpret the Second Amendment differently. I haven’t yet mentioned its preliminary language: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, …” A progressive court could very well interpret that to mean that the keeping of arms is guaranteed only to the extent it is part of a militia dedicated to protecting a free state, not individuals. So those assault weapons should be part of a well-regulated militia of a state. The Supreme Court has not adopted that view, but it could, and many constitutional scholars do.

The only practical way America will ever be able to change this is to elect Presidents and Senators who will appoint and confirm multiple Supreme Court justices who have this view.

The Perfect Weapon by David E. Sanger

The Perfect Weapon: How the Cyber Arms Race Set the World AfireThe Perfect Weapon: How the Cyber Arms Race Set the World Afire by David E. Sanger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sanger has done an excellent job of reporting, and now accumulating, accounts of cyberwarfare for many years now. History has shown that generals and presidents or rulers the world over have always prepared for the previous war, not the one that confronts them. Today’s war is being fought remotely through networks. Sanger does a good job of explaining how devastating an all-out attack could be. The United States is more vulnerable than any other nation because we are more connected than any other. Just consider what life would be like permanently without electricity or your local water system. Gas stations will have no gas or no way to pump what they have, so even generators won’t work long. The book is not written with an alarmist aim, but it is sobering. It can seem repetitive, but it is informative and readable.

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The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

The Rose CodeThe Rose Code by Kate Quinn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This absolutely delightful novel of WWII Bletchley Park is marvelously researched and skillfully plotted. I’m a true nut for codes and ciphers, but you don’t have to be to enjoy it. The plot centers around three very different British women, each of whom served at Bletchley but in different capacities: one, a shy spinster-in-the-making with little education but with a cryptographer’s brilliance, the second a tall Amazon whose main asset was the height to operate the top levels of the bombe machine, and the third, a wealthy debutante/linguist who has a dalliance with Prince Phillip.

The relationships among the women change drastically throughout the book and bring human interest to the forefront of the story. It is about the very human and very British victims of the Nazi bombing and threat to invade, not a technical treatise on the Enigma cipher machine. At the same time, the operations of Bletchley Park and its enormous contribution to the Allied victory are richly detailed. I learned more about the nuts and bolts of how it all worked from this novel than I have from reading several dry non-fiction works about it. Don’t let my enthusiasm for that part dissuade you from reading the book as pure fiction. It’s full of love, suspense, violence, humor, and tragedy. It is every bit a war story worth reading.

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Anyone following the news at all is aware of several recent truly awful incidents of mass shooting in America, in particular, one in Uvalde, Texas and one in Buffalo, New York. It’s not clear what motivated the Uvalde shooter, but the Buffalo shooter was quite candid about his motivation. He went to shoot black people because he believed white replacement theory. I’d never heard of it before. It’s clearly racist, false, hateful, and disturbing. But having said that, we should be hesitant to demonize the theory or anyone who believes it. For that matter, the same caution applies in other cases of hate crimes. Let’s look at the causes if we can and remove them.

What many liberals don’t want to recognize are the natural human instincts and demographic reality of a changing America, that are behind such beliefs. Fear of change is a natural instinct. Violent response to change, especially sudden change, has been with us for millennia. The Luddites are a prime example. The haters are correct about one thing: America is becoming more diverse, and that means less white. They’re ridiculous in thinking it’s a Jewish plot and incapable of grasping the reality that migration is a constant throughout history. It’s inevitable, and therefore not a bad thing. We should try to educate people to that fact. Everyone in the world, with the possible exception of a soul in Olduvai Gorge, is descended from immigrants.

Take my block, for example. We live in what is now known as Silicon Valley. When my wife and I moved in in 1981 there were twenty houses and twenty white families, ten on each side. So far as I know, all were born and raised in America. I don’t remember anyone having an accent. On the Fourth of July, one of the neighbors would rent barricades and get a license and we would all come out and barbecue, visit, and get to know each other. American flags would fly. All of them, I think, owned their homes and many were long-time residents. The neighborhood kids would play in our pool. The first change was a German man, an engineer. Then he married a Chinese woman. No one thought a thing about it. Both are still our good friends today. But over the years, things inevitably changed, driven largely by the tech boom. Most of the houses were extensively remodeled or leveled to be replaced by bigger, fancier ones. Next to us now is an Indian family with a nanny. Next to them: an Irishman with an Indian wife. Then two more Indian families, then the German man and on the corner, a Russian. On our left we’ve had a slew of renters from various countries including China and Israel. There’s a Russian family on that end, too. Across the street we have two Chinese families, a Japanese-American, two more Indian families, and a Pakistani family. We’re the only house that flies the flag on any national holiday. The street parties are no longer, although one of the Indian families has attempted to resuscitate them. I believe they are the only ones I called Indian who were born and raised in America. The house directly across from us is owned by an Indian family but is about to be rented to a Mexican family. Many of the immigrant families come and stay for two or three years at a tech firm and move on. Many are renters, not homeowners.

I can understand how people bemoan the loss of cherished traditions they were comfortable with. People feel safe with sameness and distressed at feeling like an outsider.  Some people react with fear and loathing. I miss the shared traditions we used to have, but I also enjoy the diversity of my “new” block. When the house across from us went up for rent, I chatted with two Japanese fellows who were interested. I was hoping they’d rent it so I could practice my poor Japanese. They were able to understand it. Instead, my wife, who speaks Spanish, will be the one to practice her language skills when the Mexicans move in. She regularly walks with a French neighbor and speaks French with her. My wife is the linguist in the family. My neighbors are all good people. I feel fortunate to live in such a wonderful neighborhood. I’m able to accept and welcome change even while missing the old. Not everyone can. I don’t condone any sort of hate crime or racism, and certainly not these awful murders, but demonizing the instinct to make American white again is unproductive. We should be educating, not vilifying.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1)All Systems Red by Martha Wells
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SecUnit is a rebuilt murderbot rented out as security to an NGO survey team exploring a new planet. It was designed as a ruthless killing machine, but prefers to sit in its cubicle and watch the entertainment feed, especially Sanctuary Moon, which appears to be some sort of sci-fi telenovela. SecUnit (he? she? it?) tells the story of the survey in the first person as all hell breaks loose. The new planet is not uninhabited and dangers await. We find SecUnit to be painfully shy about showing any emotion and almost apologetic that it feels an obligation to actually protect its clients. A murderbot, it seems, is mostly robotic but also has “organic” (never “human”, god forbid) parts, although without its armor and inorganic parts showing, it can pass for one. Its worst nightmare is having to converse with humans, make eye contact, and answer their questions about whether it is okay and especially how it is feeling. Entering into mortal combat with man-eating fauna or other murderbots is all in a day’s work, but showing emotion? … no way. Despite all its denials, SecUnit’s soft heart peeks through.

The book is ridiculously short and all fluff, but I really enjoyed it. All the artificial techspeak about feeds and hubs and governor modules and beacons is very well done and somehow plausible if you let yourself suspend disbelief and enter into the story. It’s the first in a series (The Murderbot Diaries) but I doubt I’ll read more of them. Any future ones are bound to be a disappointment after this charming introduction.

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Safe sad 75

Three years ago I wrote a blog post called #Safe70 lamenting slightly about how I’ve reached that age where attractive young women now find me old enough to be harmless. When running back then, a good-looking young redheaded lady ran with me and chatted for a bit before leaving me in the dust. I very much enjoyed it.

Today I had a similar moment, but with a sadder twist. As I was running, a young woman came running by and called out from just behind me “You’re doing great!” in the tone of voice used by mothers to toddlers who successfully used the training potty and then she went zipping on by. I looked around to see if there was someone else she was talking to, but, alas, I was alone, and no, she wasn’t on the phone. She also didn’t bother to jog along with me. At 75 I suppose I am even slower than I was at 72, but I didn’t think I quite yet looked like a doddering old fool in need of confirmation I wasn’t on my deathbed. I was three miles out from the nearest parking lot, which meant it was at least a six mile run.

My ego won’t let me post this without at least mentioning that I ran the San Jose Rock ‘n’ Roll 10K five years ago and even with an injured leg, placed first in my age group. True, there was a guy in the 75+ group who ran faster, and several in the half-marathon group my age who ran faster for twice the distance, but still. This girl (and she was only about 20 or so) called out her disheartening praise before she even saw my face. My running cap was covering my bald spot, too. I would have thought I could have passed for 65 or so from behind. I suppose we all need a reality check and today was mine. But I’ll settle for any attention from a pretty girl. Thank you, miss, for that at least.

Cliff Knowles rides again

A number of people have been asking me when I’m going to write another Cliff Knowles novel. Well, I’m writing one now. No promises on when it will be done. My best guess is December, but if I’m lucky it might be as early as September.

The Song of Our Scars by Haider Warraich

The Song of Our Scars: The Untold Story of PainThe Song of Our Scars: The Untold Story of Pain by Haider Warraich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The book was somewhat disappointing for me. Like many others, I have chronic pain (osteoarthritis, off and on lower back pain) and my wife does, too (Peripheral neuropathy). I was hoping to read about breakthroughs, promising treatments or at least experiments, in short, a beacon of hope. It is not that. The book is largely an outpouring of the author’s own experience as a chronic pain sufferer and as a pain doctor. It focuses largely on the psychological aspects, e.g. the difference between nociception (the biological process of detection of pain) and suffering, which is the broader mental effect the nociception has on the sufferer. There are many stories of individuals who experience chronic or severe pain (which are different things) but that becomes little more than a series of anecdotes. Some of it was interesting, but I believe the main purpose of the book is the catharsis the author felt in offloading his lifelong anguish.

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The Underground Man by Ross Macdonald

The Underground Man (Lew Archer #16)The Underground Man by Ross Macdonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Macdonald writes with an earthy Chandler-like style. His main character Lew Archer is a tough but decent private eye in Los Angeles. The book is written in the first person. It’s my first MacDonald novel. I enjoyed the writing style, despite some quirks. He never met a simile he doesn’t like and has no compunction about creating more, sensible or not. There’s a lot of dialog, so in that sense it’s an easy read, but there are many characters who have, or in the past, had, relationships both open and hidden. This makes it hard to follow. There are multiple murders but Lew Archer is on the job. The detective work is rather simple but also pretty realistic, speaking as an ex-FBI agent. That makes it more enjoyable for me. It reminds me of the Sue Grafton alphabet series in that respect. In fact, it also reminds me of that same series because it takes place largely in Santa Teresa, the fictional city representing Santa Barbara that Grafton also uses. The ending was a bit too neat and tidy for my taste, but I enjoyed how the author worked in the investigation of Archer with the local murders and the ongoing wildfire that served as a backdrop. It was unrealistic the way everybody seemed to tell Archer whatever he wanted to know, whether officials revealing official info, or involved persons who repeatedly told him to get lost and clammed up, only to start blabbing again and answering all his questions. If only it were that easy.

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Lands of Lost Borders by Kate Harris

Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk RoadLands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Road by Kate Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This very interesting book is a combination travelogue, history lesson, philosophy primer, and farce. The author, a Canadian, and her best friend Mel biked across Asia along what is loosely the modern vestiges of Marco Polo’s Silk Road. Beginning in southeastern Europe and proceeding through the Stans to Tibet and China she experienced the trials, tribulations, and joys of adventuring in a land of skyscraping mountains, corrupt governments, warmly hospitable people, and extremely open landscape. At times it borders on being ponderous but it is frequently punctuated by light moments of mistranslation, bike crashes, stomach-turning food offers, lecherous men unused to seeing white women, or any women unaccompanied by men. There was enough sameness to much of it as to lose my interest from time to time, but it was an enormous benefit to have along with me in audiobook form as I made my own journey by car from the Bay Area to Olympia and back. There was an unmistakable touch of braggadocio permeating the story, but the author’s academic credentials are impressive, assuming she represented them truthfully. I found the reader’s breathiness a weak attempt at inserting suspense where there wasn’t any, but all in all she did a good job.

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Road Trip in my Volvo XC40 Recharge – Part 2

My return trip to California taught me a few lessons. I’ll be giving some hard numbers and recommendations at the end. But first, this trip was different from the first leg. To start with, I contracted Covid somewhere on my trip north. I was feeling under the weather by the time of the return leg, but not horribly sick. Fortunately, my son and his wife tested negative, and still do, so I must have picked it up in one of the crowded restaurants I visited en route. Still, I was traveling alone and could buy food at drivethroughs so as not to infect anyone, so I decided to make the journey home.

My first stop was at Woodburn Premium Outlets in Woodburn, OR. This mall is very long and the app only said the towers were near the Coach store. Of course, I had no idea where the Coach store was, but I will say that’s a good idea to include the store because as tall as the charging machines are, they are not as tall or obvious as the store signs. I found the station at the very end and charged easily. It was fast (23 minutes) but I only charged to 56% full. In a continuing trend, my first stop was dictated more by my need for a bathroom break than a charging stop.

Stop 2 was the same Target store as before in Springfield. I took in 57 kw in 57 minutes, the longest on-road charge of the whole trip, but I knew staying an extra fifteen minutes would obviate the need for another stop before Grants Pass.

Back at the motel that night I charged 69 minutes to get 71 kw. My symptoms were getting worse. I hit the road the next morning with the battery 95% full. One odd thing was that my car’s range indicator said I had only 140 miles of range. It normally showed 190 miles when charged to 90% or more. I thought it was an error that would correct itself once I started driving. I was hoping to make it to Anderson without a stop, but the car kept warning me I wouldn’t. The range is estimated based on the past 100 miles of driving, or so I thought. I expected it had been uphill to Grant’s Pass, skewing the number. However, I was mistaken. The motel was at less than 1000 feet elevation. The high point ahead was Siskiyou Pass at over 4000 ft. The range estimator must actually have taken into account that long climb. The car performed great on that climb, as it had the entire trip, but I’ll forgo the non-charging review for this post.

I heeded the warning and asked Google to find me a charging station. It recommended a Chargepoint station in Weed, CA. I was ready for another break and some coffee anyway. Once again, relying on Google’s directions sent me in a circle around the truck stop because it was telling me to turn where there was no obvious turning spot. The Chargepoint station turned out to be a single machine dwarfed by nearby trucks, so it was hard to spot. I found it in the parking lot of a motel. It was well-placed for my car, so I backed up to it and plugged it. I have a Chargepoint account and app on my phone but had no card with me. Supposedly the machine can read the account info with near field communication (NFC) if you hold the phone to the scanner panel, but that didn’t work. I wasn’t sure if it took credit cards, but I remembered reading something about Chargepoint accepting other EV cards. I had my Blink card, but that didn’t work. I got a little nervous. I had one more with me, an EVgo card. I tried that and the charger started right up. Whew! The screen on the charger said Welcome to EVgo, even though it was a Chargepoint machine. I was also pleasingly surprised by the speed of charging, a decent 63kw. My impression was that EVgo chargers, which I had used once before, all had a maximum of 50kw, usually much less. In 37 minutes I left with 38kwh and 92% charged.

At Anderson I used the same EA charger as before and dared to go inside the Safeway briefly to pick up some food. I wore a mask, used self checkout, and hoped I didn’t infect anyone. In 67 minutes I pulled down a disappointing 43KWh charging to 96%. Those last few percentage points really kill the average charging speed. I’ve seen the charge rate drop to single digits after 90% even on EA machines.

I had planned to charge at Dunnigan again, but once more I made a fateful error. I still had 50% of a charge as I approached there, so I thought I’d let it get down more and charge at Vacaville, which I had seen on my EA app and knew I had the range for it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know my geography well and missed the turnoff for 505, the straight shot from Dunnigan to I-80. I thought it was farther down the road. So when I asked Google to navigate to Vacaville, it said I didn’t have the range. That confused me until I looked at the map and realized that I was headed all the way into Sacramento before turning west. So I asked for it to find me another charging station. It told me of three EVgo stations. I chose the closest. It turned out to be in an urban park. The machines were right at the curb. The first one turned out to be dead. I called the service number for help and was on hold for almost 15 minutes. I was directed to another machine next to it and plugged in there, but it didn’t start up for me. The service rep kept giving me directions based on what was on the screen of the charger, but I kept replying I couldn’t read anything on the screen because it had been vandalized and was totally unreadable. With considerable effort, together we got it going and it was charging. I soon saw that it was charging very slowly, though (36kw). In 15 minutes I got only 9 kwh. I checked the range and saw I could make it to Vacaville, so I unplugged early and left.

This turned out to be a smart move. At Vacaville Premium Outlets  I had trouble locating the chargers among the 87 stores. I found the Tesla ones right off, but eventually found EA in front of the Coach store. This charger turned out to be the fastest of the entire trip. Even though it was rated at 150kw maximum, my app (and the car, which was always consistent with the app) showed it at 153-154kw for a long time. I left there after 18 minutes of charging and got 36 kwh of energy, enough to get me home.

Total time charging for the round trip (not counting at home): 695 minutes. If you exclude the ones at the motel when I wasn’t in on-road mode, it’s 545 minutes. That’s roughly 9 hours stoppage for 1800 road miles, counting the navigation errors I made, or a half hour of stoppage time for every 100 miles of travel. Much of that, but not all, is time I would have spent getting food, using the bathroom, etc., in any event, but it’s definitely more than I would have in a gas car. The cost of gas, though would be much greater than the electricity cost. I’ll leave that calculation to you, since it varies a lot by car. The total kilowatt-hours received was 636 for a total cost of $275.77. [Edit: I realized later that this could have been cut by at least $100 if I had joined the EA monthly plan for $4.] A round-trip ticket from San Jose to Seattle-Tacoma Airport runs about $197. But then you have to account for extras. Driving, there’s two nights of lodging. Flying, you have the last mile problem. The lowest Lyft fare one-way from Sea-Tac Airport, the closest to my son’s house is $127 and takes two hours. Or a rental car, if you can get one, would cost even more. On my end an airport shuttle ride could be had for $60 or so, or long-term parking is available, so add $350 or so for ground transportation unless you have rides from friends or relatives on both ends.  That’s more than the motel cost. Then there’s the problem of the heavy stuff we wanted out of our garage and had no way to ship. One was a treadmill mat I could barely squeeze into my car and could never have packaged for shipping. Paying for a moving company to come pic k it up would have been prohibitive. It would have had to have been thrown out, sold or given away. My son would have had to buy another, and there were sentimental items as well. All in all, I think I made the right choice driving. Having done it, I know I could do it a lot more efficiently the next time, even on a different trip.

EA chargers are by far the fastest units around here, but only when your charge state is low. They quickly level out to a similar speed as Chargepoint or EVgo once you get over 80% or so. Route planner apps like ABRP take this into account and recommend charging when you’re in the range of 20%-80%. Chargers are also inconsistent, ranging from 36kw to 154kw for me on this trip with similar initial states of charge. When you add in the time finding the charging stations, waiting to get service help sometimes, or waiting for a slot to become available, you need to add at least five minutes for every stop, probably ten, unless you’re very familiar with the station. A Chargepoint station right by the freeway exit may be quicker than an EA station in a Walmart or mall parking lot three miles away and hard to find. Staying and charging an extra 15-20-30 minutes to avoid another stop may be worth it. The most important lesson to take from this is that electric cars have made it. They can replace gas cars even on road trips and the Volvo XC40 is a fine car for that.