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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Review: The Hidden Girl and Other Stories

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories is Ken Liu's giant collection of short stories. The stories run the gamut, from the title story (a fantasy set in the tradition of the Chinese martial arts stories), to a series of related short stories about a post-singularity, uploaded human digital world. Many stories explore contemporary technology trends though given the current state of the world, we're seeing how over-optimistic some of those projections are.

Liu cannot compared with his contemporary Ted Chiang --- some of stories (e.g., the ones about crypto currency) clearly do not age well and were probably written in a hurry. One of the stories in the book is actually an excerpt from one of his novels, which I thought was cheating, but obviously intended to sell his novel series, which was sort of lackluster.

But by and large, the stories were decent and made for a good break. Mildly recommended.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Review: The Spindle and the Sleeper

The Spindle and the Sleeper is another one of Neil Gaiman's young-adult/kids books in tandem with a talented illustrator. This is a mash-up of two well known fairy tales (the spoilers are in the title!) though unfortunately it only features 3 dwarves rather than seven.

The language isn't as lyrical as in say, Instructions or The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and the illustrations aren't nearly as beautiful as those in say, Stardust, which also had a better story. The best I could say of the book is that it's rather short (64 pages, and designed for fast reading especially since the many illustrations take up the full page).

Is this the first Neil Gaiman book where I couldn't put a recommended tag on it? yes it is. Good thing I paid $1 for it, but I really should have checked it out of the library, except that the library's closed because of COVID19.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Tactical Canvas Webbing Belt

I somehow managed to replace my all time favorite Eagle Creek money belt.  In between my previous purchase and this time,l I discovered that the price went up to a stunning $17! Too rich for me. I searched for a regular plastic/nylon belt on Amazon, and found a generic, made-in-China, tactical canvas belt.

The tactical part probably means it's black and if you taped it with electrical tape it might become quiet. For me, I just wanted to make sure that it worked. I cut it to the correct size, and then used a lighter to seal off the ends so they don't fray. At $5 a belt you're willing to do that. It works, and I won't make a fuss about it.

Recommended at the price.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Review: Aickar 1200A Car Jump Starter

Some devices are bought mostly as insurance, hoping you'll never need them. The Aickar 1200A is one of them. I already owned the Powerstation PX-3 Jumpstarter/Air Compressor, but it's a bit big to keep in the car all the time, so I bought the Aickar when it was on sale for $45 or so.

A couple of days ago, someone who shall not be named left the car lights on all night, and in the morning the battery was dead. I immediately took out the PX-3 Jumpstarter, but the 6-year old battery  wasn't sufficient to turn the motor. I feared for the worst, but the Aickar, despite having not been charged for at least 6 months, got the car started right away!

I'll still keep the PX-3 Jumpstarter because the tire inflator is too useful, and I'd recommend the Aickar 1200A too, but looking at the Amazon page it looks like it's been discontinued. That's the nature of these devices. I'd look for another similar device by a reputable company on sale and jump (sic) on it.


Thursday, April 09, 2020

Long Term Review: Woom 5 Off

My relationship with the Woom 5 off got off to a rocky start, with major problems that were the manufacturer's fault (wrong pedals), difficult to swap wheels, and a front wheel that never got on correct (due to my inexperience). I've also never had a good experience with hydraulic brakes --- the ones on my Airborne Seeker for instance, would never stop squeaking or making noise, even fresh from a bike shop after a tuneup.

But after a rainy winter Bowen picked up mountain biking again, and he's significantly become more confident and sure-footed on the Woom 5. Steepish descents no longer bother him, and he's attempting flourishes on his bike that he never did before. The brakes aren't squealing at all, and even the rear wheel is beginning to be easier to swap. When I tried working on his old Woom 4 (which his brother is riding), I was immediately amazed by how much worse the brakes were and how much harder they were to work on.

I guess hydraulic disc brakes do have a good use case --- on kids bikes, where nobody sells bikes with caliper brakes, and where the kids weigh so little there's zero chance of them warping the discs and creating noise. There's a $180 premium between the Woom 5 and the Woom 5 off, but it's worth it not to have to deal with V-brakes.


Monday, April 06, 2020

Review: Remington Virtually Indestructible Grooming Kit

I shouldn't have been surprised that one of the items hard to find during the "shelter-at-home" orders turned out to be hair clippers. Amazon was all out of them, with delivery slated for the end of April. Fortunately, I found the Remington Virtually Indestructible Grooming Kit on Walmart, with a week delivery lag, and as of this writing you can still get them.

I got them and then realized that I didn't actually how to do a haircut or even mount the combs onto the clippers. I watched a youtube video, and proceeded to do my kids.
They didn't seem traumatized, and then I did myself (with Xiaoqin helping trim the parts I couldn't see, because I was too dumb to install a mirror outside). It's surprisingly easy to use, and at $25, one use would pay for itself. I might never want to pay for a haircut again!

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Review: 6 Impossible Things

I picked up Six Impossible Things from the library since I was running out of audio books. This is one of the rare physics books you can read as an audio book, since most of time there's no oway it would work: equations and Feynman diagrams just won't work in audio format.

Rather than covering all the details about Quantum mechanics, the book explores 6 different interpretations of the fundamental equations: the Cophenhagen interpretation, the pilot wave/de Broglie wave interpreattion, the Many Worlds interpretation, quantum decoherence, the transactional interpretation. He concludes that they all yield the same results, so you can just choose which one you'd like to use.

It's short, mostly enjoyable, but unfortunately all too easily to forget. Still, it covered certain interpretations I'd never heard of before! Recommended.