Monthly Archives: April 2021

The Falling Woman by Richard Farrell

The Falling WomanThe Falling Woman by Richard Farrell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Erin, recently diagnosed with incurable cancer, is en route across the country when her plane comes apart midair. Incredibly, she survives the fall, landing still strapped in her plane seat, the fall broken by tree branches, a rotting barn roof, hay bales and soft mud. She is taken disoriented to the hospital as a Jane Doe, but her injuries are minor. The NTSB investigators arrive at the debris field, but by the time they get to check out the stories of a survivor, she has disappeared. This is a great premise for a mystery. Where did she go? And why? Who was she?

Unfortunately, the author drops the ball well short of the goal line. He writes well enough for a thriller of this type. The problem is with plausibility, and I don’t mean the idea of a survivor. The book cites several real life cases of airplane fall survivors. The greatest implausibility is the notion that she could disappear and not be identified. She may have been a Jane Doe missing her clothing and too stunned to give her name, but she was ambulatory and communicative. There would have been X-rays and blood tests that would provide DNA and reveal both the cancer and chemo thus pinning down who she could be. Security cameras abound in Wichita’s major hospitals, I’m sure. She was so unique not only because she was a passenger from the exploded airplane having fallen though the barn roof, but she was a very good-looking woman (her lover was described as “Hollywood handsome” and in her thrall, so she had to be a stunner) and dying of cancer. Everyone at the hospital would have remembered her, yet only a day later they could give only a vague description and couldn’t pick her out from a lineup of photos of only a handful of women yet to be identified. This is preposterous. Her photos would have been plastered all over the Internet and TV news. Her family and friends would have identified her immediately. Despite having no clothes or identification she “settles up” at a bar. With what? She still had a credit card? Someone gave her cash? I could go on, but you get the point.

Even more incredible were the actions of the lead investigator, Charlie Radford. I won’t bother with all the details because they’re spoilers and it doesn’t matter all that much. Despite the silliness and mandatory eye-rolling, the book was still a fun read. The plot premise was just compelling enough that I was forced to keep reading to see whether, when, and how she would be identified. There were other families, those whose loved one’s remains had not been found or positively identified, who held out hopes from the rumor of a surviving woman that she might be their relative. Would they finally be spared the agony of not knowing and be allowed closure? It’s a quick easy read with a killer premise and that’s enough for some good hours of entertainment for me, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending it.

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Volvo Recharge – geographic interest

If you read this blog, you’ve seen a couple of posts about my new electric SUV, the Volvo XC40 Recharge. I got curious about where the car would be most popular. Of course I was pretty sure California would be a hotspot since it has very “green” policies and mild weather ideal for EV batteries. So I checked Google Trends for a 7-day stretch. The map below shows where there were searches on that specific model. The darker blue areas mean more searches.

After two weeks I still love the car.

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

Ready Player Two (Ready Player One, #2)Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unfortunately RP2 suffers from sequelitis. The author has tried to recreate the charm of his hit RP1 by loading it up with mementos and trivia from the video games, movies, songs, and TV shows a person who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s might have experienced. RP1 had that, too, but in smaller doses. Its selling point is nostalgia and for some, it will be a wonderful read for that reason, but for me it was “been there, done that.” I loved RP1 but it was more because of the poor boy makes good theme of the real life Wade. I didn’t grow up in that era and never played any of the games mentioned in the book.

Slight spoiler here if you haven’t read the first book: Wade, the protagonist, raises himself from poverty through his skill at playing video games. Here, he is more of a dilettante and much less sympathetic. He, or his avatar, still must fight through the levels of a horrific video game of sorts, since an AI bot gone wild has taken control of Wade’s physical body and those of millions of others. But the charm is lacking. Rather than conveying the thrill of a good video game, it’s hundreds of pages of trivia, mostly of movies, TV, and pop songs and celebrities, especially those of Prince, that must be mastered. I found myself clicking ahead on the audiobook while playing solitaire. The reader was very good and kept me awake with his enthusiastic reading, and there always the fun of watching the good guys defeat the bad guys, so the book wasn’t a waste. It was just too formulaic.

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Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge – further impressions

A week ago I posted about my new car, a Volvo XC40 all-electric small SUV. Now that I’ve driven it a bit, I’ll add a few things. I really like the adjustability in the car. The front seats are five-way adjustable electrically and even have a pull-out seat extender for greater thigh support, both for the driver and the front passenger. The steering can be adjusted to be soft or firm. I chose the firmer feel. The steering wheel can be adjusted in height and extension. I’ve had trouble with other cars where the steering wheel covers the speedometer or other important gauges. I had the same trouble with the Volvo at first until I realized the steering wheel covered the battery level at the bottom of the screen. A simple adjustment took car of that. Fine-tuning the air conditioning and heat have been a breeze.

The integrated Google Automotive infotainment system is the car’s most unique feature, but it’s a two-edged sword. The Google Assistant with voice commands does many things very well, like adjust the air conditioning, heat, fan and other climate controls. It has been excellent in understanding my commands. However, the system falls short in the area of music. The salesman and online reviewers promised the ability to plug in a USB drive to play music from a thumb drive. In fact, I can’t do that – not yet anyway. Even Volvo Consumer Support told me I could, but then retracted that by email. The brochure promised Pandora was available from the Play Store, but the system won’t let me download it. When I search for it there, it just brings up Spotify instead. I can play my songs from the phone, but my phone no longer supports Google Play Music and instead tries to get me to sign up for You Tube Music. I bought a bluetooth mp3 player so I could play my playlists and WMA files which my phone won’t. But the car, although it recognized the device, and vice versa, could not connect with it. The car seemed to think it was a phone and couldn’t get past the screen asking me to allow access to my contacts for phone and text in the mp3 player. In short, the system isn’t ready for prime time. I’m hoping they’ll take care of these things in the near future. Software updates are supposed to be possible over the air (OTA) so that it won’t be necessary to take the car in for service.

It’s a great car and I’m patient about such things. I knew there would be glitches on a brand new model. The same kind of thing happened with the Leaf. I charged up to full the day I got it and I’ve been driving it for eight days. I haven’t had to recharge (pun intended) since. I still have over 60% of battery capacity. I’ll post again when I have a good idea of the true range.

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African ChildhoodDon’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This memoir by an African-raised white British ex-pat, now living in America, details an extraordinary upbringing in various African countries. The stories are often wild, hard to believe, or simply depressing. The author’s style can be described as in your face. It is certainly unconventional. Her family seems to have done nothing but drink beer, smoke, farm tobacco, and survive the most horrid conditions imaginable. Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi – they lived in all of them. They seemed to be always on the brink of insolvency, yet they always had money and position superior to the Africans, many of whom were their servants. I get the impressions that they both loved Africa and Africans yet were staunch racist white supremacists, if that is possible. I certainly didn’t admire their lifestyle or life choices as depicted in the book, but it’s difficult to know how much was hyperbole. In the end I can only say I found it a relatively original and entertaining read.

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Impressions: Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge

I bought a new car yesterday, a Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge. Actually I bought it over a year ago, or at least reserved one with a deposit, but it was delivered yesterday. It’s Volvo’s first foray into all-electric vehicles (EV’s). The XC40 refers to body size and shape and is consistent with the regular gas XC40, their smallest SUV. The P8 refers to it being all-electric and distinguishes it from the T5 which is a plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV). Both share the Recharge name.

I drove it to the gym and back today, the first time I drove it, although I’d taken a demo model on a test drive a few weeks ago. I’m not ready to give it a real review, but I’ll give some first impressions. Since I’ve been driving a 2011 Nissan Leaf (another EV) for the last 10 years, I’ll do a few comparisons.

The Volvo is small for an SUV but still has a heftier, bigger feel than the Leaf, a hatchback. The suspension feels firmer. I sit higher in the Volvo, and I like that better visibility. The interior is much more luxurious than the Leaf as you would expect at its hefty price tag. The Volvo’s seats are 1: electrically 3-way adjustable, 2. leather, and 3: heated. The Leaf’s are none of the above. The Leaf has a lousy heater, so when I’d go to the gym in my shorts and T-shirt on a cold winter morning I’d shiver all the way there, which is why I always wore sweats and stripped those off once at the gym. Today in the Volvo I needed no sweats. It wasn’t too cold, but chilly enough that I turned on the seat heater. Within a minute, probably less, I was very comfortable. In fact, I had to turn it off after a few minutes.

Driving on local streets, I decided to turn off the one-pedal driving mode, which is Volvo’s version of regenerative braking. I didn’t like it on the test drive with the demo. I’ll discuss that more in another post later after I’ve driven more. One thing I didn’t like is how I had trouble seeing all the controls and indicators. The interior is mostly black. The controls on the door, black buttons on black background, are invisible to me when I’m wearing my sunglasses, which is 98% of the time. I had to park in the sun, take off my sunglasses and put on my regular bifocals in order to adjust the side mirrors. The button for the seat heating is easy to see, but there is a small red light next to it that indicates whether it is on or off. It’s very dim, though, and I couldn’t see that either until I took my sunglasses off. When I pushed it to turn it off, it felt like heat was still on, and, in fact, I had only turned it down. Fortunately, since Volvo’s infotainment system is integrated with Google, I just told Google assistant to turn off the heat seating and it did. Yes, that’s right, the car is an Android device and many function will respond to voice commands. Neat.

When I pulled into the parking spot at the gym the car’s parking assist feature warned me as I got almost up to the tire stop. I really like the 360º camera view feature which makes parking in a tight spot a breeze, even backing up. The Volvo is a much superior car to the Leaf and I’m learning more about it every day. There will be a learning curve. These are my first impressions, and I’ll leave it at that for now. I’ll post more about it from time to time after I’ve driven it more.

Water is on at Rancho San Antonio!

I went for my bi-weekly six-mile run at Rancho San Antonio (RSA) today. It’s the hottest day this year for running and I was thirsty by mile 5. Finally I could drink and douse myself with cool water. RSA has drinking fountains at strategic locations, but those have been turned off for months. First for COVID safety they bagged and taped them, but people just ripped through the bags and drank anyway, so then they turned off the water completely. The bags and tape are long gone. It’s been like that for months. I’ve checked them a few times and none of them worked until today.

I parked in the Horse Trailer Lot. I didn’t check the fountain by the rest room since I was at the other end by the trailhead. There is one drinking fountain right at the trailhead where the stretch bars are, but that one had no water pressure. It just dribbled.  The one at the beginning to the Permanente Creek Trail coming out of the main parking lot, however, had plenty of good, cool water. There is also one at the west end of the farm, which is also on. I’m not sure when the change happened, but at least there is water available on the trail.