Monthly Archives: July 2023

Give a Boy a Gun by Jack Olsen

Give a Boy a Gun: The True Story of Law and Disorder in the American WestGive a Boy a Gun: The True Story of Law and Disorder in the American West by Jack Olsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This remarkable book tells an astounding true story in riveting prose. Claude Dallas was a poacher and trapper in the I-O-N (Idaho, Oregon, Nevada) area who shot and killed two game wardens. He then fled and was a fugitive for years. The book describes how it happened, according to an eyewitness, according to Dallas, according to various people in the legal system, according to press reports, and according to many rumor-mongers and gossips. It is a prime example of how everyone believes whatever they want to believe. The outcome of the pursuit and what happened thereafter are artfully concealed until the very end. There are more twists and turns than in any John Grisham novel. I can tell you I was totally surprised twice in the final pages.

I’m surprised this book doesn’t have more reviews and ratings. It’s top-notch and told skillfully. I recommend that you do NOT look through the photographs in the middle until you’ve finished the book, because there is a spoiler there. The book spends quite a bit of time setting the stage and introducing the characters, so it’s not exciting right off the bat, although there are some heart-stopping moments. Stick with it and you won’t be able to put it down by the last third.

View all my reviews

Murder Your Employer by Rupert Holmes

Murder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to HomicideMurder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to Homicide by Rupert Holmes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This very silly book can at best be considered a time filler. The premise is that there exists a “conservatory” devoted to homicide, or, according to its own jargon, deletions. It teaches its students the art of poisoning, disguise, creating alibis, and much more. It is run much like a British prep school, although its actual location is kept from the students, who are taken in blindfolded. I listened to the audiobook which is narrated by Simon Vance (in a very stuffy Etonian accent) and Neil Patrick Harris, who plays Cliff, the male lead, a student bent on killing his employer.

Cliff’s target is the company CEO who modified Cliff’s aircraft design in a way that saved money, but created a deadly flaw that could lead to airliners falling from the sky. He also fired Cliff for pointing out that the change was deadly and framed him so his career was ruined. Other students had equally just reasons for wanting to delete their employers. The incongruity of the stuffiness and propriety of the school while advocating and promoting murder is amusing for a premise, but it doesn’t sustain the book beyond the first page. The students finish their courses and are set forth in the world to complete their “theses,” i.e. the deletions for which they trained. The rules of the school are such that if they fail, they must be deleted themselves as they know too much and pose a threat to the school. Somehow this is only if they fail but not if they succeed. A smidgen of suspense is added by inserting some students who seem deserving of deletion themselves and some innocent people who might be killed or blamed by botched deletions. I’ll leave the outcome of these attempts to you to find out on your own.

The whole idea is ludicrous and so are the convoluted schemes the students, or, I should say, graduates, attempt. Another odd choice of the author is to set this book in 1950. For a while I thought I must have stumbled an old mystery book from that era, but, no, it’s first published in 2023. I can’t recommend the book, but it provided some background noise while I did my email or played solitaire on my computer.

View all my reviews

Tesla Model 3 vs. Volvo XC40 Recharge

I own a Volvo XC40 Recharge, an electric vehicle (EV). When I was doing comparison shopping for it in 2020 I took a look at the Tesla Model 3, another EV. They’re close to the same size and price, although the Volvo is shorter and taller and is a small SUV, while the Tesla is a sedan. At that time I didn’t care for several features of the Tesla and I’m now very happy with my choice. But last week I was in Texas visiting family and I rented a car, which turned out to be a Tesla Model 3 (although that’s not what I asked for). So I drove one for a week and formed a more educated opinion.

The bottom line: I really didn’t like the Tesla. Before I tell you why, let me say what I liked about the Tesla. First, it’s an EV. That’s a huge plus with me and should be with you. Their charging system, especially the superchargers, are much superior to the CCS fast charge system used by Volvo and most European carmakers. Tesla’s public (i.e. not home) chargers are faster, easier to handle, and more reliable, too. That’s important if you plan to drive it on long trips, but if you’re like me and able to charge every night at home or work, then that’s not very important. The Tesla navigation system is excellent, I was in a strange city and needed guidance. The voice directions were clear and perfectly timed. Volvo uses Google Maps and it’s very good, too, but I think Tesla’s system is slightly better. Warning: on one occasion it told me to make a U-turn at an intersection marked with a No U-turn sign.

Now for my complaints. The roof is not opaque!!! The sun shines right through it. It is darkened plastic, but still lets in enough bright sun to be annoying. I had to wear a hat in the car several times. What could the designer possibly have been thinking! That alone was one original deal killer in 2020 and driving in 102°F heat with the sun in my peripheral vision proved to be as bad as I had imagined. Along those lines: the air conditioner was inadequate and can’t be directed. To be fair, I’m not sure how well my Volvo would do in that heat, but at least I know how to lower the temperature, move the directional louvers, and increase the fan speed on mine. The Volvo uses the Google Automotive app and I can just call out climate control commands to it while driving. It’s usually perfect. I didn’t know how to change anything on the Tesla, certainly not by voice. I did see the temperature was set at 66° but inside the car it was easily 95°. That big screen control system also made driving difficult. Some controls, like the bluetooth, were located on the far right of the screen, basically in front of the passenger seat. I had to use it several times to change the volume of the music that was playing from my phone and that was dangerous as I had to take my eyes completely off the road. My Volvo has a small nav screen right in front of the steering wheel so I can see my next turn while still looking ahead. On the Tesla I had to look off to the right.

The key system on the Tesla is ridiculous. It’s a big honkin’ card about the size and shape of a pack of bubble gum baseball cards. By itself, that might not be too bad if you could fit it in a pocket or purse (which I couldn’t because the rental people fastened a big plastic tag to it), but you have to hold it flat against the outside of the doorpost in order to lock or unlock the car door. That’s really inconvenient, especially when you have your hands full, which I do quite often when getting in or out. It’s quite glitchy, too, and sometimes required me to put everything down and try repositioning it multiple times before the car recognizes it. My Volvo key stays in my pocket the whole time. I just reach for the door handle and if I have the key, it unlocks; to lock I just touch my hand to the outside of the handle. I can do this on my Volvo without letting go of whatever I’m carrying, and it’s 100% reliable. On top of that you have to slip the Tesla card into the center console area to get the car to start (the Volvo just starts when you sit). Then as soon as you start, the key card slides into the cup holders. It would be easy to forget the key when exiting. What’s wrong with an old-fashioned push-button remote to pop open the doors or trunk? Tesla just has to be “cool” at the expense of utility.

The door handles are yet another disaster on the Tesla. They’re flush with the body. This may be to reduce wind resistance, although I can’t imagine it makes much difference there. You have to press one end with your thumb and that levers out the rest of the handle, which you can then grab. If you can see it, that is. One night it was very dark out and I could not see the handle. I heard the door unlock, but without exterior lighting the car looked totally black (even though it was a red car with black handles). I felt around for the handle and only felt a smooth surface. It’s no problem finding the door handle by feel on the Volvo. With the Tesla I finally had to put everything I was holding on the ground, get out my phone, and use the flashlight just to find the door handle.

The interior door handles are even worse, at least in the back seat. There are none! Once at the supercharger I decided to wait in the car (est. 20 min). At first I sat in the driver’s seat and listened to my music through bluetooth. But the car faced south, full sun coming through the windshield, and it was blazing hot despite the A/C. So I decided to get in the back seat where the semi-transparent roof provided some shade at least. When I did that I discovered the car stopped the A/C and the music, presumably because no one was in driver’s seat, so I decided to get out and go to a nearby store. But when I reached for the “handle” I found it was just a fixed grab bar. There was no release lever like in the front, which had a normal pull-up door release. I felt all over and could not find a lever to pull. The door was locked and the window wouldn’t roll down. I actually started to panic. I tried both doors and the roof lining, the back of the center console, … everything, and could not find a door release. I’m over 75 and I could have been trapped in there. Fortunately I’m agile enough to climb between the front seats and exit out the front passenger door. That’s not just stupid design, it’s positively life-threatening. After I got out, I went into a store and searched for how to exit the rear of a Tesla and found a video. Apparently there is a small button (black on black, naturally, so you can’t see it) that one is supposed to slide forward. I never saw or felt that button. Sure, if you owned one of these cars and read the manual, you’d be aware of it, but this was a rental. I had only one minute of orientation to it, and I certainly didn’t think of asking directions on how to get out the car. Yet another idiocy in the name of coolness.

The car was too low and long. That’s the other major reason I didn’t consider the the Tesla in 2020. It wouldn’t fit in my garage and visibility is terrible since all the cars around you are taller. The seating height in my Volvo is nine inches higher and the car is shorter. The Tesla design is not a flaw, just a choice to go for less wind resistance (meaning longer range) but it was deal killer for me. The rear window on the Tesla is set too high and is too narrow. I was constantly readjusting the rear-view mirror trying to see behind me. It’s a safety problem.

So you may think I’m biased, and perhaps I am, but I spotted several of these problems back in 2020  when I didn’t have any investment in a Volvo. My mind was open then at least, and I didn’t like what I saw. Now I know why. And in case you’re wondering, I love my Volvo.

Bitch by Lucy Cooke

Bitch: On the Female of the SpeciesBitch: On the Female of the Species by Lucy Cooke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by something I subscribe to (NYT?) and I like science, so I grabbed it for something to read while on a trip. The writing is professional and at times entertaining. There are a good number of curious animal facts and stories. But the book really has only two main points: first, Female animals have historically been given short shrift by the male-dominated science world which considered them dull and unworthy of study when in fact they are often the more aggressive and dominant of the sexes. Second, female researchers have been discriminated against by male academic higher-ups and journal editors. They are biased against anyone, basically limited to women, who suggests point one.

To bolster these points she fills the chapters with stories of female spiders who eat their mates, alpha female chimps, various species where the female has the more impressive and male-like genitalia, lesbian albatrosses, and so on. The women who submit articles about these things are routinely told by journal editors that they can’t or won’t publish the research documenting these studies because they “can’t be true” or “I don’t believe it.” Basically male chauvinism prevails in the science world.

I don’t disagree with the substance of these points. I just didn’t find it very entertaining after the eighth or tenth species. Every page or two I wanted to scream, “Okay, I get it.” I thought I was checking out a science book, not a feminist tract.

View all my reviews

The Big Picture by Sean Carroll

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe ItselfThe Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself by Sean Carroll
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I disliked this book, but that’s probably slightly unfair. It’s not badly written. The research seems thorough and reliable. What bothers me is the arrogance of the author and the condescending style. He writes like he’s talking to 9-year-old who has just been rescued from a cult and living in the jungle. I skipped Jonestown, thank you, and don’t need to be told the basics everyone learns in junior high science class and the rest of life. It’s quite repetitive and I found myself wanting to say, “Well, duh!” multiple times per page. He uses stupid hypotheticals to illustrate obvious points. For example, he writes that if you were to step into your bathtub and find an accordion there, you would assume some one put it there, or there was another identifiable cause. “Well, duh!” It’s not that I disagree with him; at least I don’t think so. My world view is probably pretty similar to his, but I don’t like the attitude of, “Just forget everything you thought you knew, and I’ll tell you how to think about everything.” I skipped liberally to about page 120 or so and then jumped to the end, so I didn’t give it a full chance, but I read all I could stomach.

View all my reviews

“Good job!” = “Old!”

Four years ago I wrote about how I was officially old because young women now smile at me when I’m running on the trail. They can tell I’m too old to be a predator. Today, as I was finishing my run (only five+ miles, but short of the usual 6) when I passed a couple in their 60s, I estimate. They made room for me on the trail, so I said thank you as I passed. The man replied, “Sure thing.” Then he took a good look at me and added enthusiastically, “Good job!”

There are only two categories of people who are praised that way for accomplishing an ordinary activity: young children (I’m including those with the mental capacity of young children), and old people. In particular, I refer to old people who are perceived to be feeble of body or mind. Admittedly, I am looking more and more feeble at 76, but I’m actually pretty healthy. My “running” is a euphemism these days. It’s more of a trudge and often interspersed with some walking, but, hey, it’s five or six miles. At the time I passed them, it was downhill and I was actually moving along pretty well. Still, my running days are numbered; I can tell from my joints. So I don’t blame the young whippersnapper (with gray hair) for his well-intentioned words, but it was a bit dispiriting to be tagged with that unspoken sobriquet: Old man.