Monthly Archives: October 2022

Pacific Glory by P.T. Deutermann

Pacific Glory (World War II Navy, #1)Pacific Glory by P.T. Deutermann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was expecting a book crammed with naval combat action and I got all that. The two main navy men are academy graduates, one a bomber pilot, one a destroyer man. The writing is unabashedly gung ho with political correctness out the window. It’s written in the vernacular of the WWII navy, so if you’re shocked by the term Jap or upset by violence and gore in general, this isn’t a book for you. There are also two navy nurses as secondary, but important, characters. What I didn’t expect was the well done character development and love stories. Since it’s a WWII story, we know mostly how it comes out in the big picture, but the lives of the characters are uncertain throughout the book, just as they were in the war. The author managed to keep me in suspense throughout, and to pluck my emotional heartstrings rather surprisingly. I’d give it another half star if Goodreads would allow it. If you liked Clancy’s early works or the Hornblower series, you’ll enjoy this. The authenticity and detail are mind-blowing.

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Norton Safe Search – now OK

I recently posted a link to this blog and someone told me they were alerted by Norton that it was an unsafe site. I filed a dispute with Norton they removed the rating and declared it safe:

It’s really annoying to find that I’m the victim of a mindless and inaccurate algorithm. I wonder how many people have avoided my blog or links to it due to this?

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New WorldThe Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This non-fiction book is part biography of a major scientific figure and part an exploration of how scientific ideas percolate through the scientific community. Alexander Humboldt was a giant in his time throughout Europe especially, but also in the U.S. Right here in California we have Humboldt County and Humboldt Bay, both named for him. Yet not many Americans are familiar with him. He had a major influence on other scientists and naturalists like Charles Darwin and John Muir. This is all detailed in the book. Although it centers on Humboldt, it goes into some detail about other thinkers and explorers. It may be said that Humboldt invented the science of ecology.

The book’s strength is the sheer volume of information about Humboldt and the others who took his ideas and expanded on them. It is also its main weakness. There is a great deal of repetition in this nearly 500-page tome. The author spends a too much time detailing what other scientists and luminaries of the day have said or written about Humboldt, especially about his wonderful prose writing about nature. Yet there is not a single example of that wonderful prose quoted. It’s not protected by copyright, so there’s no excuse for omitting it. I would rather read one paragraph about the plants of South America than five paragraphs quoting people saying he wrote beautifully about the plants of South America.

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Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard

Finding Gobi: The True Story of a Little Dog and an Incredible JourneyFinding Gobi: The True Story of a Little Dog and an Incredible Journey by Dion Leonard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This story is a heartwarming tale of a small dog in the Chinese desert finding someone to love her. That’s the main story and there isn’t much else to say about that. The rest consists of the author talking about his tough childhood, his own ultramarathon competitions, and the bureaucratic problems of getting a dog out of China and into the UK. That was not particularly interesting to read. If you can find a ten minute interview of the author online somewhere, you get the best part and don’t need to read the book, not that there’s anything particularly wrong with it.

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Craiyon images

I just learned about a new free toy on the web called Craiyon. It generates images using artificial intelligence (hence the AI in the name). When I checked out the site it asked me what I would like to see. I named the first two things that came to mind.

I wouldn’t hire it to illustrate my books, but it’s worth a chuckle.

Declining ACA membership

I’m a member and past president of the American Cryptogram Association. I joined back in the 1970s. It’s my main hobby. The membership numbers have steadily declined since the digital age began. Here is a graphic representation of ACA member counts state by state in 2014 and 2022. The graphs are to scale with the numeric counts shown on the sides.

The distortion is caused by the fact membership is not proportional either to state population or geographic size. The outsized states of Virginia and Maryland are no doubt due to the influence of the intelligence community there. Perhaps the most noticeable decline is in Pennsylvania. That can probably be explained by the fact one member, LIONEL, made an effort back around 2014 or before to get seniors in nursing homes or senior residential facilities interested, which resulted in a disproportional representation there at that time. Age, health, or lack of interest must have taken its toll. There are some states missing from each graphic; those states had no members in the years indicated. E.g. South Dakota in both years, Wyoming in 2014, Kansas in 2022.

Varsity Blues update: Interesting lessons

Remember the college entrance exam scandal, code named Varsity Blues by the FBI, where Rick Singer was caught charging parents large sums and using the money to bribe coaches or test proctors to get kids into colleges? Almost all the parents pled guilty and have now been sentenced. Most of the coaches or others on Singer’s side of things have also pled guilty and been sentenced. For the parents, most got a minimal amount of jail time, measured in days or weeks, probation, and hundreds of hours of community service and fines, usually in the tens of thousands of dollars. You can see the results to date at the Department of Justice Varsity Blues website.

There are some exceptions. Some of the more egregious cases got several months in jail and larger fines, especially those who didn’t cooperate and who took a while before deciding to plead guilty. Some parents were more actively and knowingly committing fraud than others which is another reason sentences varied. Then there are those who went to trial. All but one were convicted by a jury. They all got harsher sentences, no doubt based their failure to accept responsibility, i.e. plead guilty. John Wilson and Gamal Abdelaziz are such examples with sentences over one year and fines or restitution ordered in the hundreds of thousands. The one parent who went to trial and was acquitted (Khoury) was an oddball case. He gave money to a coach and his daughter got into the college, but he’s the only one who didn’t use Rick Singer. He paid the coach directly, and it appeared the girl got in on her own merit, not because of the payment to the coach. Those who cooperated with the FBI early, testified against others, and pled guilty early got the lightest sentences. Take a look at Bruce and Davina Isackson for an example of that. No jail time, minimal fines. The only other complete oddball is Robert Zangrillo, a wealthy Florida real estate mogul who was pardoned by Donald Trump just before he left the presidency. I don’t know if he was just a kindred soul or money changed hands, but Zangrillo looked every bit as guilty as all the others.

The pattern is similar for the coaches, test proctors, and other non-parents. Those who pled guilty got short sentences, often home confinement instead of prison (Covid may have played a role in that since their sentences generally came later). Gordon Ernst, the Georgetown tennis coach, pled guilty but still got 30 months jail time and was ordered to pay over three million in restitution. He was obviously the most active and corrupt of the coaches, conspiring directly with Singer on multiple occasions. One coach, Jovan Vavic, went to trial, was convicted by the jury, but won the right to a new trial on appeal. He’s not out of the woods yet. He can be retried and it is cases like this that keep the case alive. He’s also on the hook for another long round of legal bills, win or lose. Rick Singer has yet to be sentenced. Once he got caught, he cooperated fully with the FBI, but he is clearly the mastermind and guiltiest defendant. They’re waiting for the last case(s) to be resolved so that he can testify against Vavic and possibly a coach named Ferguson who has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement. Many of the coaches probably lost their jobs and will never find another in the field, but I don’t have statistics on that. Those sentenced all had to repay the money they or their schools received. The schools mostly got the money and got off scot-free.

There is much criticism of plea bargaining and its role in our justice system, but like it or not, this case is a great example of how it works. Admit your guilt, testify against your fellow defendants, and get a light slap on the wrist along with some embarrassment not only for your criminal acts, but also maybe for being a “rat” or “narc”. Take your chances at trial and live through years of legal costs and probably end up with a longer sentence at the end along with more public humiliation for yourself, and in this case, your family.

Los Altos Idiots

I went running at Rancho San Antonio today, a nice six-miler. The weather was perfect and I even saw a coyote today. On the way home I saw a couple of stupid humans, which is par for the course. Here’s a video.


Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Dear Committee MembersDear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This thoroughly entertaining novel is unique in content and form. Jay Fitger is a pretentious, acerbic, cynical, and very witty professor of creative writing at a Midwestern college. The story is told, or rather insinuated, through a series of letters of recommendation he writes for various students, colleagues, and staff members. The letters overflow with rib-tickling asides on his personal life and academic insanity, such as:

Yesterday on the metal bookshelf in my office, I came across a cluster of insects – a beetle, two moths, a centipede, and several bluebottle flies – writhing together like dirgeful companions in their final death throes, presumably poisoned by vapors from the second floor. But never mind: I am sure our foreshortened life spans will be made worthwhile on the day the economists, in their jewel-encrusted palanquins, are reinstalled in their palazzo over our heads.

Don’t be fooled by the format. Though short and fun to read, and cut into apparently unrelated chunks, it contains a full plot and character development nicely camouflaged as humor.

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