Category Archives: Uncategorized

Reapportionment

The U.S. Constitution requires that every ten years a census be taken (actually the word “enumeration” is used) to determine the populations of the various states and that the results shall be used to apportion the number of Congresspersons allocated to each state. As the population shifts, states may gain or lose the number of representatives they are allowed. Consider the following chart, compiled from U.S. Census data. The dark orange states are those that lost two or more seats from the previous census period. Light orange is loss of one seat. The light blue is no change, medium blue is a gain of one seat, and dark blue, two or more. For a clearer version, click on the image.

It is obvious that the Northeast and Midwest in general have been losing representatives, and thus influence, in recent decades. This appears to be continuing. The West gained greatly in 1980 – 2000, but that trend seems to be slowing. Texas and Florida have been steadily and rapidly gaining. Next year there will be another census taken. It should be very important in determining the balance of political power in the future. This is not only because of the number of congresspersons changing from some states to others, but because that number is also the basis for the Electoral College. In other words, it can also influence the presidential elections in 2024 and 2028. One question that comes up in the news is whether people need to be U.S. citizens or eligible to vote to be counted. The answer is no. It’s based on sheer numbers, including children and non-citizens residing in each state.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads SingWhere the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story is set primarily in the 1950s and ’60s but covers decades. Kya has lived in a shack in a North Carolina swamp since her childhood. She is abandoned first by her mother, and eventually by the rest of her family. She is left alone as a teenager to fend for herself, digging mussels to sell to an elderly black man named Jumpin’. Kya loves the marsh and its animals, as does Tate, a boy who turns into her childhood love and teaches her how to read. Then Tate goes off to college and Kya feels abandoned once again. She takes up with Chase, the local roue. Kya eventually becomes a recognized expert on marsh flora and fauna. There’s a murder and an investigation and a trial. I won’t say more on the plot to avoid spoilers.

Kya’s character is very sympathetic, unbelievably so. Everyone except Jumpin’ and the black residents call her The Swamp Girl and make fun of her. The local whites treat her as retarded when in fact she is, of course, the smartest one of them all. The writing is almost poetic at times but the politically correct bias (poor black = good; rich white = evil) grates and as a law enforcement retiree, I felt the author could have treated the sheriff better. It’s a worthy read, but its flaws forced me to drop a star from its rating.

View all my reviews

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Ask Again, YesAsk Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The lives of two neighboring families intertwine in many ways in this well-written story. Two NYPD cops, partners for a brief time as rookies, end up living in the same small town upstate. One has a son the same age as the youngest daughter of the other. Relationships are close … until they’re not. This genre is not in my normal wheelhouse, but I enjoyed it very much. If I could give half stars I’d give it four and half, but I’m rounding it up to five. It’s a love story of sorts. Not a romance, but a love story. There’s no bodice-ripping, no lustful bedroom – or kitchen table – scenes.

The time frame covers 1973 to the current day. You could call it a family saga – or perhaps better, a two-family saga. Some of it is heart-warming, other parts heart-rending. It doesn’t always go where you want it to, but it ends up where it should. My wife doesn’t recommend very many books to me as our tastes are different, but I say to you men, listen to your wife if she recommends this one.

View all my reviews

Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and DreamsWhy We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book can be summarized in three words: get enough sleep. Beyond that, there isn’t much in the book that will surprise you. The author does a thorough (too thorough, in my opinion) job of describing all the ways sleep helps your body and how many ways lack of sleep hurts you. It really comes down to the same thing: get enough sleep. That’s what your mother told you. He describes many experiments, some of them ingenious, sleep researchers have done to prove the benefits of sleep. Sleepy drivers are more likely to die in a car crash. Duh. And so on. The workmanlike prose is very readable and understandable to the lay reader. I doubt reading this will change anyone’s behavior, especially since those who believe they function well on four hours a night aren’t likely to read it and will scoff at it if they do.

View all my reviews

Geocache Longevity

I was curious how long the average geocache lasts, so I did a little research.

I examined all of my finds (from GSAK) that have been archived, excluding events, CITOs and other event-type caches. The chart shows the median number of days between placement of the cache and the final log, which was normally the archive log.

I have a theory, several of them in fact, to account for the results. First of all, I think 2001 is a special case. Caches placed back in the very early days achieved a sort of iconic status and have been kept alive by others long after the original owner has left the geocaching world. This is true for the two year 2000 hides I found, both of which are still active. It is also true for many year 2001 caches that are still active, but not shown on the chart. I checked about half of my 2001 archived caches on the chart and three of those had been adopted during their lifetime. The same did not appear to be true (or as true) for the 2002 caches.

For 2002 and 2003, I believe the short duration was due to the learning curve of the flood of new cachers entering the sport. I know my early hides were not well-chosen spots. After a few that were lost to gardeners, thieving muggles, or construction crews I learned what kind of spots worked better. The period 2004 through 2008 shows pretty good consistency, with a median lifespan of about 2200 days (a little over six years). Remember, these are median lifespans. Half of the archived caches lived longer than that, and of course many are still active. For those years after 2008, the apparent shorter lifespan, I believe, is explained by the fact that longer-lasting caches are cut off by the simple fact that it hasn’t been long enough since those were hidden for them to live out a normal span. Put another way, one end of the bell curve of longevity (caches that last 8 years or more) is cut off by insufficient passage of time, causing the median age to be lower. I suspect that if this same exercise were to be done in five years you’d see caches from 2008 to 2013 or so have the same median of around 2200 days.

There could be other explanations. Since these are my finds, maybe I cached differently in the years 2005 – 2008 from later years. Maybe the changing rules from Groundspeak have caused people to hide caches differently. Feel free to posit your own theories in the comments.

Murder With Peacocks by Donna Andrews

Murder With Peacocks (Meg Langslow, #1)Murder With Peacocks by Donna Andrews
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I only got about a third of the way through this book, so I may not have given it a fair chance, but it should have hooked me in by that point and it didn’t. Meg is a blacksmith (although there was no evidence of that in the first third) who travels to Yorktown, Virginia to help out (meaning do all the planning work) for not one, but three, weddings, including her mother’s. She’s a total patsy. She meets a sensitive, gorgeous guy who is helping out his mother run the local bridal shop and despite drooling over him she believes her mother when she tells Meg he’s gay. Why? Because he is sensitive and helps his mother run the shop when she’s out of town. So Meg is an idiot and a bigot, too. At least I think so, but I can only assume that at some point later in the book Michael (who follows Meg around like he’s infatuated with her) will be revealed to be straight. Gasp! Who would have thought? Or maybe not. That’s not a spoiler since I haven’t read that far. Maybe I’m wrong. The murder (if it is a murder, since it still hasn’t been ruled a homicide at the time I quit) only takes place almost a third of the way in. The rest is reading about wedding stuff – themes, dresses, fittings, flowers, venues, etc. I had my fill of that and just had to stop.

I only picked up this book because the library recommended list described it as witty and the first of a long series (26 books according to Wikipedia). It won a bunch of awards, although I have no idea how as it was not very witty or funny. Maybe the mystery part was interesting, but it was too slow to develop for me. When you find that you can’t read more than 15 minutes of a book at a time, you know it’s time to move on to something else. In its defense, it was inoffensive and very much like every other cozy mystery I’ve read, so if you like cozies, go ahead and pick it up and ignore my review.

View all my reviews

#Safe70

I run regularly at a local county park with a lot of trails in the foothills. I’ve noticed something about running there that changed in the last few years. When I was in my 20’s I was in good shape and when I passed an unaccompanied girl on the trails (okay, feminists, a “young woman”) she would sometimes make eye contact and smile at me or return mine. Sometimes she would initiate it, sometimes I would. I suppose I was a potential boyfriend candidate in their minds. By my 30’s, and lasting through my 60’s, they seldom made eye contact or acknowledged a wave, nod, or smile. I remained in good shape through those years, and I’m still very fit for someone in his 70’s. But that didn’t seem to matter. I’ve noticed that now that I’m there, pretty girls (I’m including quite a few 40- and 50-year old “girls” in that term, since one’s perspective does change with age) will once again often smile at me or at least acknowledge a wave or nod. They usually are passing me nowadays, but whatever.

Recently a very good-looking young woman named Elisha (phonetic) caught up to me from behind and started chatting when she drew alongside. She ran with me for almost a mile before splitting off a different direction. I could take this as a compliment since she was obviously a serious runner preparing for a race and probably took me for the same, since I was wearing my half-marathon T-shirt, but I could also take it as an unintended insult. I think she and other young women are now willing to make eye contact and smile because they no longer see me as a potential threat. I just look too old. My hair is almost totally white, and despite being slim and fit, my age is evident. I don’t blame them for ignoring me all those other times; there are a number of creeps out there and all the experts say to avoid eye contact with men, etc. I was just as harmless then as now, but they had no way to know that. Now I appear to be a #safe70. It makes me a bit rueful to be perceived that way, but on the other hand, I enjoy having a run and chat with a pretty girl from time to time, so I should consider myself fortunate, I suppose, because it can now happen again.

Fall or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson

Fall, or Dodge in HellFall, or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stephenson’s latest novel is both highly imaginative and somewhat creepy. Lurking somewhere between plausible sci-fi and total fantasy, he posits a world where the human population is slowly diminishing and being replaced by robots, but at the same time cryogenics and quantum computers are giving people the option upon death of having their brains scanned and being uploaded into digiworld to achieve a sort of immortality. The action switches back and forth from the real world (meatspace) to what’s going on in the computing miasma, a world incorporating the Earth’s entire computing power. In turns out there’s quite a lot going on there as two computing giants, i.e. people who in life had been tech billionaires (imagine Gates and Bezos, or Jobs and Musk if you prefer), are fighting it out for dominance. At the same time, their families and loyalists back in meatspace are at odds over computing resources.

Once again the author has needlessly subjected readers to a massive tome (over 800 pages) that could have been better written in 250 pages. It’s very readable and contains some satire worth reading, but it can be a slog. The last third or so of the book focuses too much on the digital world which becomes increasingly like a video game or even the board game Quest, populated by giants and fanciful shape-shifting creatures with lots of world-building and slaying going on. The author rather boldly, or perhaps grossly, goes into how the digital beings discover sex, described clinically always as copulation. This ground has been well-trod already in movies and books (Wall-e, Tron, Wreck-it Ralph, Ready Player One). All in all it filled some hours with entertainment. That’s about the highest praise I can give it, but perhaps that’s all it was shooting for.

View all my reviews

Google Trends

Here are some recent Google Trends results I found interesting. The maps show which search terms are the most popular in which states over the last five years.

The scuba/snowboard one was mostly a test and the north-south split was much as expected, but I was a bit surprised by a few states. California has some great snowboarding, I’m sure, but I would have thought there would be more interest in scuba. In fact, depending on the season, the popularities switched. But really, it’s Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas that fooled me the most. Sure, you can scuba in lakes, and they may be too flat for much snowboarding, but Minnesota and Colorado are close and it’s awfully cold there.

The middle one, falafel/grits is rather interesting and surpising to me, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from it. I’m not sure why the distribution on the three mainstream TV channels, but it’s probably unfair. The term ABC is common for other uses while the others are not, so the overwhelming red may be misleading. In fact if you add the term “network” after each, you get very different results. See below. Then there’s issue as to whether you’re thinking of news, sports, or regular programming,

Recursion by Blake Crouch

RecursionRecursion by Blake Crouch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In this time shifting novel the two main characters, Helena and Barry, meet and re-meet under varying and mostly frightening circumstances in different timelines. Deaths happen and then unhappen. It took quite a while for the premise to become fully obvious and the book went downhill at that point. The plot became so preposterous and irritatingly repetitive that I skimmed and skipped liberally through the second half. So much of sci-fi literature is really just fantasy or pseudo-science and this book, unfortunately, falls into that category.

View all my reviews

Natural Palindromes

There are lots of artificially constructed palindromes out there, easily found on the Internet. Inspired by an email from Anu Garg at Wordsmith.org i decided to search for palindromes that occur naturally in various books, documents or forms of literature. A palindrome is a word or phrase (or set of sentences) that reads the same backward or forward, although usually it is permitted to ignore spacing and punctuation. The best-known English one I know of is “Madam, I’m Adam.”

Here are some examples I’ve found:
sensuousnes(s) – this appears in many, many works. I’ve seen “is sensuousness – I” and several variations.
“la minima minima+ (L” part of the scientific name of a gray-cheeked thrush)
“name not one man”
“kramer’s remark”
“drawn inward”, “drawn onward” – full-word phrases
“Palamala, Talamala), p” – at 17 letters, the longest I’ve found, tied with the next one.
“e madame! Vive madame”
“no man; even amon(g)” is the longest in the King James Bible (Isaiah 41:28)

There were many cases of long repeated sequences like “No, no, no,…” etc. that I dismiss as not in the spirit of what I am trying to find. Feel free to paste any natural palindromes you find in the comments. Please, no constructed ones.

wit’s end by James Geary

Wit's End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need ItWit’s End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It by James Geary
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The author muses at the beginning that an analysis of wit or any form of humor may kill the pleasure of it. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what he has done in this book. I had hoped it would contain many amusing examples of wittiness, but there are very few. Instead there are lots of quotes and opinions about what wit is or should be. That and a series of bizarre typographic choices like new typefaces and font size for every chapter, changing from one to two columns and back again, italics, colored background, etc. made this book somewhat irritating to read. It was a disappointment to me although there were a few interesting moments. I can barely squeeze out a 3 for this one.

View all my reviews

The 39 Steps by John Buchan

The 39 Steps (Richard Hannay, #1)The 39 Steps by John Buchan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The author wrote this now classic book intending it to be in the genre he called “a shocker.” Today we’d call it a thriller. You could call it a murder mystery, but really it’s more of a pursuit book, in the same category as the popular TV show The Fugitive or the Australian TV series Wanted. The main character is an innocent man who finds himself in an unlucky circumstance leading to the police pursuing him for murder and at the same time the bad guys out to kill him for what he may have learned from the victim.

It takes place in England and Scotland in the time just before World War I. The appeal it may have had to readers back then has been superseded by a nostalgia of sorts today’s readers will experience for a time when life was simpler, more direct, and devoid of the kind of political correctness we have today. There are lots of descriptions of the Scottish countryside and inhabitants that will make modern readers gape in surprise or yearn to see first-hand. The plot is quite implausible, but full of suspense and action. It was made into a very successful movie by Alfred Hitchcock and subsequently by several other directors. One of my five stars can be chalked up to that nostalgia, so it may be more of a four star book, but I enjoyed it greatly.

View all my reviews

22556 W Ravensbury Avenue, Los Altos, CA 94024

Every month Google sends me an email notifying me of my Google Maps Timeline. If I click on the link it takes me to a map with red dots showing places I’ve been during the preceding month. Every month it shows me visiting 22556 W Ravensbury Avenue, Los Altos, CA 94024. That’s a valid address, a house in a very expensive area. According to Zillow, it’s worth about $5,000,000, consists of 2.5 acres, and has 3 bedrooms and 4.5 baths (that last fact seems odd to me, one and a half times as many bathrooms as bedrooms). I don’t know who lives there and I’ve only been on that street two or three times in my life, years ago.

I’ve figured out what’s going on. Every week I run in Rancho San Antonio County Park, usually on the Rogue Valley trail, which runs parallel to Ravensbury for a short stretch. It’s not all that close to the street, and there is another trail, also parallel to Ravensbury and closer to it, on the other side of a creek. Apparently, though, my phone gets close enough on those occasions to pick up the wi-fi signal of that house. The house is on a ridge looking down on the trails, with nothing but air and a few bushes between them. My phone then notifies Google Maps which in turn knows where that wi-fi is located. Those cars you see with the cameras on top also record where all the wi-fi signals they detect are. It’s a popular hiking and running trail. It makes me wonder how many other people Google thinks visit that house.

So here’s where I’m going with this: if the Russians really want to screw up America, they should have some dodgy Russian exchange student or “businessman” rent or buy that house. The NSA will provide the FBI with a massive list of people visiting with the suspected Russian spy den, many with clearances from NASA, Lockheed, or the many other defense contractors nearby, and be too distracted or overwhelmed to focus on the real spies. Maybe the owner of that house will search his or her address online and come up with this blog. If enough other people discover this same issue and mention the address, they may find their privacy too invaded to continue living there. Isn’t the Internet wonderful?

Unpopular movies

I’ve got one! Passengers (2016) starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. It gets a whopping 30% on Rotten Tomatoes from the critics. Viewers give it 63%, so maybe that doesn’t count. My wife liked it, my daughter liked it and a friend of mine and his wife liked it. I haven’t met anyone who didn’t like it. For some reason critics don’t like romantic comedies. They love trash filled with violence, sadism, gore, pornography and anything politically correct (i.e. to those of liberal persuasion) but not so much things that are actually fun to watch.

Interestingly, the critics gave Isn’t It Romantic  a 69% positive, but the fans gave it less than 50%. It’s also a romantic comedy, but I think it must be the fact that it satirizes rom-coms that made the critics like it. My wife and I liked it, too.

Pangrams

Once again I’m playing around with words, this time with pangrams. A pangram is a sentence or phrase that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet. I found all of the following in various public domain works in gutenberg.org. The length and source is provided for each. Feel free to add your own in the comments, although if they’re already well-known they’re probably not worth adding. Shorter is better, of course.

(43) William Jex quickly caught five dozen Republicans
from A COLLECTION OF SALUTATORY, VALEDICTORY AND
OTHER ADDRESSES DELIVERED AT THE FIRST FIVE COMMENCEMENTS OF THE FEMALE
STENOGRAPHIC AND TYPEWRITING CLASS OF THE GENERAL SOCIETY
OF MECHANICS AND TRADESMEN OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
W.L. MASON 1892
This one was a well-known typist’s exercise as far back as 1892

(86) Ivory Knife Handles, with Portraits of Queen Elizabeth and James I. Englis
The “Milkmaid Cup”
Saxon Brooch
from Arts and Crafts in the Middle Ages by Julia De Wolf Addison (Table of contents)

(110) “You — you — ” and Jack glanced at his father perplexedly; “you exhibited him in the store!” he said. ” Why, yes, as a great Velasquez I had just bought.
from Over The Pass by Frederick Palmer

(114) John Knox.–His uncompromising character.–Knox’s interview with
Mary.–His sternness subdued.–The four Maries.–Queen Elizabeth’s
insincerity.
from Mary Queen of Scots, Makers of History by Jacob Abbot

Here are a couple from more widely regarded sources of literature:

(180) “I am in a manner bound to do so as the representative of the attorney of the late Sir Joseph Mason ; and by Heavens, Mr. Cooke, I’ll do my duty!” “I dare say you’re right,” said Mr. Crabwitz, mixing a quarter of a glass more brandy-and- water.
Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope

(172) In the narrow side-street dance rooms of Florence and in the great avenue restaurants of Paris they were performing exactly the same gyrations—wiggle, squirm, shake. And over all the American jazz music boomed.
One Basket by Edna Ferber

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alexander, aka “The Count,” is a nobleman in Moscow at the time of the Russian Revolution. He manages to survive the purge, but is subjected to a sort of house arrest in his residence at the luxurious Metropol Hotel. He is exiled to a small attic room. Undaunted, he lives out a full life within the confines of the hotel, conferring his wisdom and opinions on food, wine, and pretty much everything else to the staff and visitors.

There’s nothing inherently objectionable in the book, but it just didn’t capture my interest. The writer seemed to have an obsession with food and drink, which wines pair with what, and that sort of thing. The Count is goodnatured but rather pretentious and condescending at times. At 719 pages (for the large print edition) it was way too long. Perhaps its biggest shortcoming, though, was the lack of a real plot. Rather, it is more like a book of fairy tales – individual small, very implausible, stories that are unrelated but always have a happy ending.

View all my reviews

Human Errors by Nathan H. Lents

Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken GenesHuman Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes by Nathan H. Lents
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fascinating book lists and explains many of the human body’s flaws from structural to genetic to psychological. The author is a biologist with a detailed knowledge of how the body works – or doesn’t. For example, he explains why mammals’ retinas are installed backward and why humans are one of the very few animals that don’t make their own vitamin C and thus must eat fresh fruits and vegetables regularly to avoid scurvy. His predictions, or perhaps speculations, as to the future of human evolution are especially riveting and very plausible to me. I found his section on human brains a bit too pop-culturish. The fact the people’s memories are not accurate is old hat as proven many times. Yes, people gamble even knowing they’re going to lose and they smoke cigarettes even though they know that they taste terrible, make them sick, and will eventually give them cancer, but these are not errors of the brain, they are results of risk-taking mate-attracting behavior that has, or at least had, an evolutionary advantage. Aside from that one chapter, I thought the book was chock full of fun, good stuff.

View all my reviews