Monthly Archives: April 2020

Open plan? NO!

When my wife and I bought our first house, the first remodel we did was to put in more walls. We didn’t like the open plan with living, dining, and family rooms all separated only by one pass-through counter. We wanted privacy between the rooms. Our son could practice his trombone in his bedroom while our daughter practiced the piano in the living room while the dishwasher and kitchen fan ran, and while my wife and I watched TV in the family room without anyone bothering anyone else. It worked great.

When we were considering another remodel years later the several architects and designers who came to bid looked askance at the design and recommended opening up the walls for aesthetic or stylistic reasons. Apparently we weren’t cool. Or maybe we’re just tasteless clods. We said no.

My wife just heard a podcast about changes the Covid-19 stay-at-home orders have caused. It seems designers and contractors are getting a lot of calls for sticking in walls to close off those cool open plan designs once construction can start up again. Six or eight weeks cooped up in the house with the kids 24 hours a day (or maybe just with the spouse) changes your outlook. I feel vindicated and can’t help crowing just a bit. We were just ahead of our time.

The Bastard Brigade by Sam Kean

The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic BombThe Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb by Sam Kean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a big fan of science books, but not so much of history, so I was a bit skeptical when I started this book. I found it very enjoyable as I went along, largely due to the author’s very novel-like style. It’s told as a tipsy raconteur might tell war stories to regale the crowd. The author uses humor and slang liberally. Once he wrote that when one of the physicists commandeered a colonel’s Jeep, “a big swinging dick was royally pissed off.” Beers were brewskis and an assassination attempt might be described as trying to bump someone off. When a spy fell for a female physicist, the author observed that “cupid is a perverse little imp.”

He spent more time on the personalities than I would have liked, especially on Joe Kennedy, JFK’s older brother. He was a WWII pilot, and apparently not a very good one, whose only motivation was to become a war hero so that he could win the presidency someday. He was reckless, self-centered, obscenely ambitious, and had almost nothing to do with the central topic of the Nazi atomic bomb. He did, however, give his life on a volunteer mission to blow up what was thought to be a new Nazi superweapon. One aspect revealed in the book that was more troubling than entertaining was how many of scientists who worked for Germany rationalized their continuing to help the Nazi regime, even while claiming they hated the Nazis. Virtually none of the “renegade scientists” in the title were German; those people continued to try to defeat the Allies. It was Dutch, Russian, French, and American scientists who fit that description. That was illuminating, however, and helped solidify the serious side of the book. All in all, it’s a worthwhile read.

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Google Trends – Remdesivir v. Hydroxychloroquine, 10th Amendment v. 2nd Amendment

The searches for the 10th Amendment spiked on April 14, after Donald Trump claimed he had absolute power to reopen the country. The 10th Amendment is the part of the Constitution that says powers not mentioned in the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people. The 2nd Amendment searches spiked after Trump tweeted on 4/17 “Liberate Virginia, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” It is unclear whether he was encouraging gun rigthts activists, which is what the 2nd Amendment is about, or if he mistook the 1st Amendment for the 2nd, since freedom of speech and assembly are located there.

Hydroxychloroquine is the drug Trump has been touting to treat the coronavirus. Remdesivir is the one doctors have been cautiously enthusiastic about due to early results. The map is surprisingly close to the political red-blue maps of 2016. This pandemic is turning out to be fulfilling my prediction as a real-life experiment in natural selection.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

The Dutch HouseThe Dutch House by Ann Patchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This elegantly written story is about a grand house and its pull – and push – on two families. The narrator is Danny, a young boy at the beginning living in the Dutch House, a middle-aged man at the end, a skilled surgeon who never practiced medicine. It’s about ambition, betrayal, love and hatred, grudges and forgiveness. It’s not a beautiful story, but it is beautifully written. Neither is it a sad story, but more of a prism looking obliquely into how different people see things very differently and how that is inevitable and shouldn’t stop people from loving each other or from being happy.

I usually review mysteries and non-fiction books, especially about science or technical matters, so this is a bit of a change for me. There is no deep dark family secret to be uncovered, yet there are a number of plot surprises, and a number of answers to questions that unfold to mysteries that you didn’t realize were mysteries. Although this may not be in my usual wheelhouse, I enjoyed it very much.

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If You Tell by Gregg Olsen

If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of SisterhoodIf You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood by Gregg Olsen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I hated the story, but the author produced what he intended to write in a workmanlike fashion. It’s the horrific story of a sadistic woman who manipulated and tortured others and eventually killed them or drove her weak-willed third husband to do so. The book is much like the many true crime stories on tabloid TV. It is worth knowing that such people exist and that something needs to be done about them. You may be on a jury someday. Still, it was awful to read about, worse than anything I saw as an FBI agent, even the child porn. After about a third of the way through I had to start skipping until I found out how her crimes were uncovered. The sheriff or his deputies in this case failed in their duty shamefully. I could easily have rated this a 1-star, but I think that would be misleading. It gives readers who like that sort of story what they are looking for.

The book was an important lesson for me in one way. I recently joined Amazon Prime largely because the library is now closed and it’s harder to get books. I thought I could get one free book a month, which I can, but only books the author or publisher chooses to be on Kindle Unlimited. None of the books on my reading list are there. After many unproductive searches I decided to “settle” and downloaded this one. It was not a good choice. I have expanded my television viewing choices, though, with Prime video.

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Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids by Paul French (Isaac Asimov)

Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (Lucky Starr, #2)Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids by Paul French
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Isaac Asimov wrote the Lucky Starr series of books for the juvenile market using the pen name Paul French. I only read the first half because I’m not ten years old any more, but I could see where kids would enjoy it. It’s somewhere in the range of a Superman comic to early Star Trek. It’s also quite dated technologically and socially. It does introduce some interesting facts and concepts about space and physics that might inspire youngsters to enter into science more seriously. There were a few things along those lines that I didn’t know, or, more likely, once knew but have forgotten. If you’re an adult who enjoys reading old comics from the 50’s and 60’s, you might enjoy this, too. The book is very short, so a quick read, but stylistically it might try your patience.

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