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Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Review: Silca Synergetic Wet Lube

 There all sorts of web-sites that go crazy about chain lubrication, and if you believe the experts, the only way to lubricate your chain is to strip the chain of oil and then bathe it in hot wax. I'm not quite interested in that kind of extra work, so I don't do that. I go for web lubricants and sometimes neglect the lubrication until the chain starts to squeak.

Some of those web-sites will recommend the Silca Synergetic Wet Lube as the best lube for someone who can't be bothered to wax. The claims are hyperbole, as I've discovered the hard way that the lube like all other lubes attracts dirt and gets gunky. What caught my eye, however, was the dispensing bottle. When the lube first came out, the bottle came with a needle dispenser. This lets you get the lube exactly where you want it, especially if you're not lubricating the chain, but pivot points on other bicycle components. Having a needle dispenser also means that you aren't wasting lube --- it's easy to get exactly one drop of oil per link.

Alas, all good things come to an end and if you buy the lube from Amazon at this point it comes with a standard applicator which is much harder to control. Fortunately, I kept an old dispenser and poured the oil over to the new one. (I should have just moved the cap over) So I expect that if I break or lose the dispenser I'm going to hunt around for a new lube.

Does the lube make the chain last longer? Beats me. My switch to 11-speed is relatively recent so I've yet to wear out a chain. And chains are so cheap anyway it's probably not worth spending $20 worth of lube for a $20 chain.

If you can find the old dispenser, get it. Otherwise, I'm not sure this is worth the steep price.

Monday, February 06, 2023

Review: Acceptance - A Memoir

 Acceptance is Emi Nietfeld's memoir about her childhood and tertiary education years, topped with her successful career at Google and Facebook as well as a bestselling author. A childhood where her father decided to become a woman, her mother being described as a "hoarder" (you quickly discover what it means and it's not a good thing), followed by spells of institutions mixed in with forster care but then success at getting a full scholarship as a boarding school.

Many parts of the books are dramatized --- there's a definitely vibe that comes from being a person who's successfully marketed herself to Harvard and other Ivy League schools. For instance, she mentions that she wrote her college applications while sleeping in her car. When you get to that section you realized that she did it only for a couple of days before her pro bono famous college counselor told her to get to a shelter to get evidence for it so she could write a statement of extenuating circumstances. (I had no idea that that was a thing!)

That's not to detract from Nietfeld's achievements --- she did win national writing competitions (including the Horatio Algier award --- which she successfully turns into a skewering of the kind of person who sponsors those kind of awards). It's also a statement about how important a prestigious university like Harvard is --- she claimed to be the kind of student who got Bs and A-s in an institution where due to rampant grade inflation, it would have been an equivalent to be a C elsewhere, but the aura of Harvard was such that she managed to get a $130K/year job offer from Harvard, which she turned into a $200K offer by getting a second offer from Yahoo, where she had interned and been compared to then-CEO Marissa Mayer.

Nietfeld also describes her rape with unflinching detail. It took place in Budapest where she stayed at a hostel where there were only 2 men, a red flag which she hadn't been taught to avoid. It happened to her in between her high school and starting college, which led to her taking a gap year, which incidentally also made some of her sponsors from the Horatio Algier writing competition withdraw their support!

Her description of Harvard reminded me of the time when I went to graduate school and everyone else had an NSF fellowship but I had no idea what one was:

Harvard’s hands-off approach might have been ideal if I wanted to “explore” and “find myself.” But after everything, I mainly wanted to explore lucrative careers and find myself incredibly wealthy. Given my lack of parental guidance and ignorance of elite social norms, the freedom that Harvard offered didn’t feel like freedom at all. Instead it felt like another way other people knew the rules and I was in the dark. (kindle loc 4167)

Right at the end of the book Nietfeld got access to her childhood records and realized that much of what she thought was her fault turned out to be just how the system worked:

I  saw in the records that from my very first therapy appointment after my parents’ divorce, discussions of my mom’s diagnosis and potential treatment took up as much space as my own. Professionals knew she was sick, but they didn’t hesitate to medicate me rather than her. When I found my descriptions of our living situation, I wondered why no one had investigated. A decade after Ingrid first showed up at our front door, she told me she was glad I hadn’t let her inside. She knew Child Protective Services would’ve taken me away: “It would have made a bad situation worse.” One downside of a broken child welfare system is that no one wants to use it. While some families, largely those of color, have their kids taken away because they’re poor, other families who need interventions, like mine, do not get them. Much later, Annette told me she’d filed at least one maltreatment report. They told her there was nothing they could do since I wasn’t in immediate danger. As far as she could tell, no action was taken. (kindle loc 5010)

All in all, I found the book compelling reading.  It's probably going to be used as a defense of how the current systems work, since clearly it's possible for someone to work herself out of the horrible situation she found herself in. But obviously that's survivorship bias. There were probably many kids like Nietfeld who didn't get her successful outcome and we'll never know their story.

Recommended, but you'll need a strong stomach to get through many sections of it.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

Review: Lone Traveller - One Woman, Two Wheels and the World

 I picked up Lone Traveller at the library donations box for $1. When I picked it up I had no idea who Anne Mustoe was, but the first chapter had such a fresh attitude that I brought it home and read it in 2 days.

The book is not a linear travelogue, and so jumps around in time and trips. Mustoe starts off the book modestly, explaining that she always wondered why Devla Murphy chose to set off across Europe in the middle of winter rather than waiting until Spring so she could have good weather. Of course, by the middle of the book you're traversing the great Australian outback with her followed by stories of her traversing the silk road, and then you realize this is one tough cookie!

The big difference between British women writing about their travels and American women writing about their travels is the complete lack of incompetence in the British. They don't go for the self-pitying, I'm in such a mess that I need to do something crazy and totally incompetent in order to make up for a poor childhood, bad ex-husband, or some unsatisfactory relationship with a parent. Even when she is being harassed by the Chinese police and put on a bus and warned that bicycle touring in China was illegal, she would simply accept it, take the bus ride, and then after other adventures of a non-cycling nature, she would just get on her bike to keep going.

Mustoe travels in a much different style than I do. While I wouldn't feel comfortable cycling without knowing how to fix a flat, she flat out asserts that in most places you can find some mechanic who can fix your flats for you for pennies, a small sum for you but enough to make a living for them, and that there's no point learning how to fix a flat! That drives Mustoe to make certain decisions that I wouldn't have made --- for instance, she buys heavy bikes with heavy duty tires to minimize flat tires, and so travels slower while taking more time to do her trips (she quit her job to do her first big round the world trip and apparently her books made her famous enough and sold well enough that she never went back to work). As a result, while I look for mountains and views and try to stay high and cool, she goes for the flattish deserts and historical routes like the Silk route. Her knowledge of history is impeccable, and she clearly does a lot more studying of the history of the land she travels through than I do.

A surprising amount of the travel in the book is her putting her bicycle on buses, boats, and so on to get around obstacles or to get to the start (or finish) of a ride. Like myself, she eschews reservations, doesn't like camping, but carries a tent anyway. In many cases, she starts by asking if she can pitch a tent outside somebody's home and by the time evening rolls around she's invited into the home to stay for a night.

As a former principal of a school, she deals with potential predators with verve. She says she's perfected the icy stare and confident manner with which to scare of would-be harassers. Her stories in this regards are great. I think many people who are put off from traveling solo would do well to read her book. Recommended!

Monday, January 30, 2023

Review: The Peripheral

 I bought The Peripheral back when it was a $2 special.  I bounced off it and put it away without a thought. Then I started watching the Amazon TV show and decided that hey, I can read a book way faster than watching a TV show, so I tried again.

I realized now that William Gibson is actually not a very good writer. He's a great ideas person, with certain characters like Molly Millions which have obviously become iconic and will stick with you long after you're done with the book or story. But the actual writing style is detached, and the characters actually never develop during the story. What it's replaced by is a world-building style where the in-cluing is done densely, at a fast clip, and without long exposition. That style was innovative and unique when Gibson introduced it in the 1980s, but to be honest more modern writers have surpassed even Gibson at this point.

It's a cliche that the book is better than the TV show, but in this case the TV show is actually quite a bit better than the book. So I'm stuck watching video anyway in addition to reading the book. A win for Gibson, not so much a win for me.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Review: Growing up Human

 Growing Up Human is written by an archaeologist. The question behind the book is to ask why childhood takes so long for humans, and how the various pieces of it comes together. The early part of the book is fairly straightforward and no doubt you've heard about how puberty onset is affected by body fat. The details are interesting:

A study carried out by Taipei Medical University researchers found that for every extra gram of animal protein eaten a day, the age of a girl’s first period moved forward two months. This is something of a cycle, it seems, as mothers who hit puberty at an earlier age go on to have bigger children – and they are more likely themselves to have an earlier puberty. Somewhere in us is an insistent little voice telling us to accrue fat – so we can have more babies...Not only do we have critical levels of body fat for reproduction, we need much, much more fat than other primates. Our female rhesus macaques from the lab hover between 8–18 per cent body fat; human females struggle to reproduce with less than 17 per cent. (kindle loc 1054-1064)

There's quite a bit of section devoted to debunking the recent fad behind attachment parenting and all the baggage that goes with it, as well as an interesting factoid about how your teeth effectively have a scar in there which indicates your growth line:

 Being born is sufficiently traumatic that a baby’s body sort of stop-starts normal growth, and that stop-start shows up as a neonatal line, which is a scar through the inside of your teeth where all the little cells had their moment of existential panic. It exists in all of your kiddie teeth and even in ones you have as an adult – the first big chunky adult chewing tooth that comes in was actually forming before birth, so you can see the scar there too. (kindle loc 1933)

Brenna Hassett has a good sense of humor, especially when it comes to methods of baby carriage and how the body wrapping fad doesn't mean much:

 Babies who have gone on to lead full and happy adult lives have been positioned strapped to chests, strapped to boards, hung on walls, in their parents’ arms, in slings or even – and this is a personal favourite – strapped to a board and then hung on a wall. (kindle loc 2068)

There's a huge long section about breast feeding. She debunks all the myths about how easy breast feeding is, and notes that even macaques have difficulty with it:

It’s not just humans – research has shown macaques struggling and many monkeys are just, quite frankly, very bad at babies the first time around. But the rather cruel thing is that human mothers are made to feel particularly bad about it.

Mammal milk maven Katie Hinde and anthropologist Brooke Scelza were able to discuss breastfeeding with Himba mothers from Namibia, where every single mother was able to breastfeed, something that certainly isn’t true in most Westernised cultures. The authors picked out two key factors that accounted for this remarkable success rate: the support of other mothers, and the absence of any taboo or stigma associated with breastfeeding in public. The things that inhibit breastfeeding in other societies – like working hours or social rules that prevent frequent feeding – are simply not a part of Himba life, along with the stress or even the guilt associated with not breastfeeding. (kindle loc 2458-2465)

 I loved the section about the invention of grandmothers:

While male strategies for reproduction appear to consist of both making a bloody mess and captivating primatologists, the more subtle strategies of the female have often been overlooked. Some strategies aren’t even that subtle. While the rest of our primate relatives have been merrily living out the spans dictated them by sensible models of energy in, energy out, and fitting appropriate periods of dependence and maturity into their size-appropriate life spans, humans have been busy developing a world-changing evolutionary female adaptation. Something so radical that it may be single-handedly responsible for our reproductive success and the subsequent overrunning of the planet; something so unlikely so as to be almost unbelievable: grandmas...An incredibly small number of animals live past the ability to reproduce – even our own species’ males maintain some generative capacity until nearly the end of their lives. Here are some animals with grandmothers that are done having babies: Orcas, short-finned pilot whales, us. Here are some animals without grandmothers: every other animal in the world.13 There are plenty of species where some animals don’t reproduce for whatever reason – perhaps they are not the dominant breeding pair, perhaps their mate has died – and continue to live without reproducing, but this is a very different thing to what we (and those whales) do, which is to live past our biological capacity to reproduce. (kindle loc 3001-3025)

There's even a casual debunking of why human males are slightly bigger than human females:

 We might actually be mistaking the reason human males are a teeny bit bigger; perhaps rather than trying to become an ultimate fighting/loving champion, males are just bigger because females are smaller. And females are just smaller because they stop growing earlier so they can put that energy into babies because, as you may have picked up from the theme of this book, babies are important. (kindle loc 3307)

 The last part of the book covers the effects of poverty on childhood:

if poverty was ever classed as a cause of death it would be number one in the world – in every country. Poor children are more likely to suffer preventable childhood diseases, more likely to have growth falter and to die before they reach adulthood. When it comes to childhood, there is just the one real difference to reckon. It is the one that was there between the snarky schoolboys of Aristophanes and the slaves that served them, and it is still present today, and that is the time we give it. (kindle loc 4818)

The book points out that the history of human evolution is our gradually increasing investment in childhood, and the recent trends in American society to de-emphasize education and childhood is an aberration.  I read this book and highlighted many sections of it. It's definitely worth reading.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Review: Existential Physics

 Existential Physics is Sabine Hossenfelder's book about what is or is not scientific. Her beef with physicists is that sometimes they speculate without actually explicitly saying that they're doing so, and that some of those speculations have no evidence in support of them. There's chapter after chapter of this relatively short book where some of these questions (such as what happened before the big bang) are explored, and the answer is probably somewhat boring, but it's very likely that she is right --- there's so much that we don't know, and the scientific evidence only takes you so far. Past that, you get into the realm of religion or philosophy, and Hossenfelder points out that scientists aren't better equipped than the typical lay person to speculate in those realms.

The book is short, and it explores things like AI, quantum physics, cosmology, and math. One interesting insight is that it's kind of pointless to try to translate mathematics into plain English, because if it was easy and possible, then there wouldn't be a need for mathematical notation. So your best bet for actually understanding those topics is to dive into the math. But of course, not everyone has the time or inclination to put in that much time into math, so we end up with these stories that attempt to translate say, the Schrodinger Wave Equation into English, which then has the problems she describes, people stretching those analogies into talking about what the actual science doesn't say.

When I was going through this book, I kept saying to myself, "What she's saying is obvious. Why does she have to write it down?" After I finished the book I realized that what she saying wasn't always obvious, it's just that she said it in such a way that you see the reasoning. That's the hallmark of a great teacher, which makes this book worth reading. Recommended.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Review: Pixel Stand 2

 I've had a few friends buy the Pixel 6a over the holidays using my Superfans code, which grants both them and I a $100 coupon from the Google Play Store. The coupons aren't stackable, so you can't stack 3 of them to get yourself a free phone or anything like that --- they pretty much either get you a Pixel Stand 2 or a Google Pixel Buds Series A for free (or a $100 discount off say, the Pixel Buds Pro).  Unfortunately, the coupon is a discount off the regular price, so sale prices, etc do not apply.

The Pixel Stand 2 comes with a 30W charger, and can charge your Pixel phone at either 21 or 23W depending on whether you have a Pixel 6/7 or Pixel 6/7 Pro. The reason to use wireless chargers over regular wires is that the USB-C port is the first thing to go on most phones, and if you get your phone wet, it's not a good idea to plug it in. The standard Qi charging standard is set at 10W, which means the Pixel Stand 2 charges twice as fast.

In practice, you don't get the fastest charging speed unless your phone is below 50%. But that's fine. Even above 50% it's still faster than my old Qi charger. There's a fan in the stand which spins up to cool the phone (or maybe it's the charger that needs cooling). If you're in an office (for those of us who still visit offices), the Pixel Stand is great --- you'll drop it in for the time between the meetings and your phone charges as fast as when you plug in a wire, but without the hassle.

As a bonus, the stand lets you pick Google Photo Albums to display as a screen saver. Using Google Photo's face recognition feature, you can pick members of the family you'd like to see displayed and you'll get a random selection of those photos. This is especially great for me since I stopped using Google Photos as a data sink a few years ago when Google started charging for photo storage, so my screensaver only shows me pictures of my kids back when they were tiny.

At full retail price of $80, the Pixel Stand 2 is too expensive for my taste. But if you're looking for a good use of the Superfans coupon, I think this one is awesome! Recommended.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Review: Chivalry

 Chivalry is Collen Doran's graphic novel rendition of the Neil Gaiman short story of the same name. The story predates Doran's rendition of it by several years, and Doran reveals in the end-notes that it was her pandemic project, discussing how she envisioned it originally as an illuminated manuscript before giving up after many technical difficulties to render it in a more conventional format.

What is to Doran more conventional is for anyone else simply an amazing piece of comic book art. The book juxtapositions conventional side by side panels with entire full page (or in many cases an entire spread) illustrations that overwhelms the eyes with richness, detail, and story. Your eyes could linger on multiple details that serve the story while reading, and the story while simple (and short!) is charming and perfectly set off by Doran's illustrations.

The story is well worth your time, as is the amazing art. Recommended.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Review: Gorewear Shakedry Cap


I was so impressed by the Gorewear Shakedry Jacket, that when the Shakedry Cycling cap went on sale I bought one.  Little did I know that I would use it almost right away as a series of atmospheric rivers arrived during the California winter. I used this under my helmet, and one time I made the mistake of putting on the cap and forgetting to put on the helmet --- the feel of the cap means that I can't really feel any ventilation of the helmet when I'm wearing it!

As you can see from the above picture, water beads up nicely on the helmet and it doesn't let any water in. This is perfect since the Shakedry jacket does not have a hood. The brim of the cap doesn't quite protect your glasses from getting water on them, but on the other hand, there is a little bit of shielding. When worn under a helmet it can get hot if it's not raining, but if it's raining you don't mind. If it's not raining, don't wear the cap!

At full price no way would I consider this worth the money, but at the current $33 discounted price I consider it a reasonable purchase. It's light enough that I will carry it on tour.


Review: Anker Nano 3 511 Charger

 Chargers are unsexy technology, to the point where smartphone makers no longer ship them in the box because your'e assumed to have a billion of them at home. The Nano 3 511 Charger, however, is exceptional. I bought one over the holidays for $18, and it's tiny. 30W is more than sufficient for most smartphones, but what amazed me was that I plugged it into a Dell XPS 13, and it would charge that as well while it was running! If you do reboot the XPS 13 while plugged into the charger, it would complain about being plugged into a not very powerful charger, but it would still boot, run Windows Updates, etc. The charger does get hot, but what charger doesn't when maximum load is being pulled from it?

The charger is light enough that even when plugged in upside down it doesn't fall out, and the foldable prongs prevent damage when travel. These are way better than the 18W bulky chargers that came with previous iterations of Pixel phones. Well worth the money.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Review: Lamy Toothpaste Squeezer

 If you squeeze toothpaste out of a tube, you know that it's a pain to deal with different people squeezing different parts of the tube so you always end up having to squeeze it from the bottom again when it's your turn. The toothpaste squeezer solves this issue.  This particular one also turns into a stand for your toothpaste, which means it dispenses nicely. It also has a key that lets you get toothpaste out by turning a key. I tried it and it really works. Recommended.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Review: Far Sector

 When I saw that Far Sector was written by N.K. Jemisin I checked it out of the library. It's a green lantern novel, but about an unusual lantern with an unusual ring. This green lantern is a black woman, and is investigating the first murder in 500 years in an alien city far from home.

The setup is unique, but unfortunately, the alien civilization doesn't feel very alien --- it has all the conflicts and power struggles of contemporary New York, and the injection of cyberspace with some bitcoin jargon as well as the introduction of the default state of being emotionless (with a counter-drug to alleviate that) not helping things along. We don't get a good explanation of how people can be motivated without emotions (or even how society would reproduce), nor are the characters and power groups within the society interact well enough to get invested in them or believe that they are real.

The protagonist, Jo Mullein, is much more fleshed out. Unfortunately, we don't get any idea as to why she was selected to be a green lantern, nor do we get a good understanding of how committed she is to the green lantern corps.

Part of this is the high expectations I had coming into the comic. Consider what Alan Moore was able to do with the green lantern corps in 23 pages, and I expected far more from Jemisin in a 12-issue run. It's probably very good compared with the standard writers the green lantern books get nowadays, but it's far less interesting than anything by Alan Moore.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Review: Nulksen Tire Inflator

 The battery on my costco purchased jump starter (bought in 2014) is dying to the point where it couldn't even inflate one tire when fully charged, so it was time to get another one. The Nulksen Tire Inflator was on sale for $40 during the holidays, so I picked one up.

It came with a cloth case, a hose for Schraeder valves, a pin for balls, and a couple more weird nozzles for whatever other thing you might want to use it for. The hose screws into the device, and I immediately took it out of the box and air'd up all 4 tires of the car with no problems. The device vibrates while doing so, enough to move the inflator and scratch it on the ground, but otherwise it worked.

The USB C plug recharges it using USB C which is very nice, and it can act as a flash light as well. I tried the ball inflator and it worked, and I even tried it on my wife's e-bike in Schraeder mode, and it checked out with decent accuracy. I don't dare try it for high pressure presta tires, since I already have good floor pumps for those. Besides, exercise is good for you.

For $40 + tax, getting something that works well is fine! It's way lighter than what it replaced!

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Review: Fairy Tale

 Fairy Tale is Stephen King's novel of a world crossing adventure. It describes a 17-year old who in the course of helping a mysterious neighbor, discovers that the neighbor's shed contains a well which leads to another world. Like many examples of the world-crossing genre, it turns out that he has a special role to fulfill in that world.

The story builds slowly, and Charlie Reade (the protagonist) has a transparent, cheerful, interesting voice which makes for great reading. King is probably at his best when convincing you that Reade is a real person, and establishes the milieu he lives in as no one else can. The protagonist being an almost adult rather than a young child makes the book different than many other examples of the world-crossing genre, and lends the story believability.

Once the story crosses over to the world of Empris, however, a lot of the world building feels lacking. There's definitely no sense of deep history, and many set pieces or important plot points feel like superficial objects meant to act as MacGuffins rather than something real. For instance, one major motivation for Charlie to enter deep into the enchanted capital explicitly draws inspiration from Something Wicked This Way Comes, but at the end of the book the explanation is a huge disappointment.

All throughout the book are sprinkled references to Bradbury and HP Lovecraft, and there are many pieces of brilliance in the novel --- more than enough to keep me reading. It's not a coincidence that the novel is set in Illinois, the same locale as in Bradbury's novel. The climax feels like it comes a bit too easy, but the easy to read prose and moments of brilliance kept me going anyway. Recommended.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Men's Carpis

 I had a pair of Men's Capri pants I had somehow found online ages and ages ago, which were perfect for cycling and bike touring. They were light, had belt loops, and didn't extend far below the knees so you could ride in them and not worry about pants legs getting trapped in the chain. One of them completely fell apart during a tour one year, forcing me to buy women's capris when I was in Bolzano, but those were so narrow-waisted that even Arturo told me that I wasn't allowed to gain weight during that tour. (Perish the thought!)

I could not for my life of me find replacements. "Men's capris" returns crappy results. I eventually learned that the manly term for carpis is 3/4 pants! Jack Wolfskin was the first to come up with their Desert Valley 3/4 pants.  Their standard price of $70 was too much for my blood, and even at $49 on sale it was barely tolerable. I got them and they ride well, with side-pockets that are perfect for a phone and a wallet, as well as two button-up pockets on the outside of the thighs for things you don't need while riding. I like them enough, but they were so pricey I didn't think it's worth a second pair.

Amazon is full of knock-off Chinese products, so I looked on amazon, and 33,000ft has a Men's Hiking Golf Capri pair of shorts for a much more reasonable (though still expensive) $35. These come with double zipper pockets on each side. The belt loops are a bit wide (for clipping say, a badge for going to the office), but the premium feature on these are the cuffs at the bottom of the hem. There's a QR cord there for cinching them down tight so they don't rub against brake cables along the top tube while riding. These are a clear winner and it's worth getting a second pair or watching if they go on sale.

If you hike in California, there are many good reasons to wear full-length pants --- tick protection and mud protection makes sense. But those same pants are annoying to wear on the bike and frequently get chewed up by bicycle gears and chains, so for the daily cyclist, these are the pants to get. I'm glad I found them!

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Review: HeCloud Diving Flashlight

 I've had poor experiences with underwater flashlights in the past, and they've never survived more than a couple of trips. I knew I was going to need flashlights for the Puerto Rico trip because of the bioluminescence tour we wanted to go to. The HeCloud Diving lights came in a set of 2, and at $27 seemed worth the risk.

I was very impressed when I saw that the lights came not only with AAA battery holders, but also rechargeable lithium ion batteries that are custom fit for the flashlight. You can't carry those in checked baggage, so be careful! But having both meant that we could carry the lithium ion batteries in carry on, and also carry the AAA battery holders (preloaded) and not bother carrying the chargers.

The lights were bright, easy to use even for Boen, and robust --- we didn't have to be careful with them or baby them. We didn't actually dive with them, but they were also light. And if one flooded, we had a spare right away. I wish they hadn't bothered with the strobe feature, but in any case these were good lights and I can recommend them.

Monday, January 09, 2023

Review: The Big Questions of Philosophy

 After listening to David K Johnson's Sci-Phi, I picked up The Big Questions of Philosophy expecting similar levels of entertainment. But I was disappointed.  This wasn't because he's any less competent as a lecturer or that the ideas he explains are wrong or badly defined, but because of how much time is spent on Religion rather than philosophy. While I get that some people who study Philosophy might want to spend a lot of time thinking about omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence, since I don't actually think God exists, that's like spending time thinking about the physics of how Santa Claus gets down chimneys.

The rest of the course is reasonable, the discussion of free will, the existence of government, and the quick tour of Rawlings and his detractors, but I wish he'd spent more time on that instead of religion.

I definitely recommend Sci-Phi a lot more than this great courses series.

Review: Troy

 Troy is the third book in Stephen Fry's Greek Myths trilogy, and to my surprise it doesn't include the Odyssey, just the Iliad. As a retelling, it's much more detailed than Rosemary Suthill's children's books, and goes into details about Achilles and the backstory in gruesome detail. The narrative voice is enjoyable, and I had a lot of fun. Recommended.

Friday, January 06, 2023

2022 Spanish Virgin Islands: Epilogue

We celebrated Xiaoqin's birthday at a restaurant with Mark Brody, with both Bowen and I having swordfish burgers, an exotic specialty we'd never had before. 

 We spent the next day touring Old San Juan's forts, where Boen and Boen got inducted as junior rangers. The weather was warm and beautiful and we got some great food in old San Juan. The condo we'd rented was in fact, exactly in between the awful first place we rented and the noisy hotel we'd stayed on the second night, but this place was quiet and had great facilities.

Our return flight was marred by an unusual snow storm in Seattle that cancelled hundreds of flights out of that airport and delayed our return to San Jose by 6 hours, but after all that we got home. Our casualties on this trip were limited to my diving mask from my 2007 dive certification, and my pair of Keen sandals.

I would agree with my wife that it was ok doing the trip once, but we felt like we exhausted all the possibilities of the Spanish Virgin Islands and had no need to return for another visit.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Review: Great Courses - The Theory of Everything

 I started watching The Theory of Everything as a bit of a lark --- Dr. Don Lincoln of Fermi Lab is an experimentalist, and I that it's a very different perspective from the purely theoretical physicists' take. The video covers everything from Relativity to Quantum Chromodynamics, Quantum Electrodynamics, the Standard Model the Electroweak Unification, and all the details therein. What it provided that's somewhat unique in terms of presentation is a perspective on the difference between (for instance) Grand Unified Theory (GUT) and the Theory of Everything (TOE). It also provides a historical perspective on physics and all the successful unifications in the past, as well as the unanswered mysteries such as Dark Energy, Dark Matter (they're not related), why we still don't have a theory of Quantum Gravity, why we still don't know what caused inflation and what topics of ongoing research are happening. The approach is light on math (though yes, equations still happen) but the presentation is engaging.

It's a great way to consolidate the lots of little pieces of understanding I picked up here and there, and was definitely worth my time. It's available on Kanopy, and therefore free to most people who have access to a library.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

2022 Spanish Virgin Islands: Punta Arenas to Punta Del Rey Marina

 Waking up pre-civil twilight, I did my morning routine, making coffee for everyone, including one last pancake for Boen. By first light, everyone was awake and ready to raise anchor and set sail. Weighing anchor was easy, and raising sail was also easy because of the light wind. In fact, once the sails were up I started worrying about whether that 2.5 hour journey would end up being much longer, since we did no better than 3 knots!

Fortunately, once we cleared Punta Arenas the wind picked up significantly. It also changed direction frequently, requiring us to constantly adjust our sails and course as we tried to head up as much as we could to avoid having to come about. We got to see sunrise from the Yamuy, and constantly adjusted the auto-pilot. At one point the auto-pilot started to give CAN bus errors, and we'd have to sail manually while the darn thing rebooted itself.

To our surprise, the wind picked up and gave us 5-6 knots of speed, and by the time we rounded Cabeza De Perro, we were doing the better part of 7 knots and debating whether we had time to sail further so as not to arrive at the marina too early! We called the Sail Caribe and they said they would be waiting for us so we sailed directly to the harbor entrance, dropping sails at the last minute and then motoring in slowly to give ourselves time to mount the docklines and fender lines so we were ready to dock at the fuel dock.

At the fuel dock, we were greeted by the crew members and I was relinquished of the responsibility for the sailboat. The diesel bill turned out to be $94, surprising Arturo and I as well as the dock crew. "Did you sail alot?" asked the crew to Arturo. "As much as we could for the last 3-4 days, but we ran the generator every night to make water." It was a gratifyingly cheap diesel bill.

The crew cast off, turned the boat around, and immediately docked opposite the fuel dock, surprising me. We were plugged in with the AC turned on and told that the dock taxi would be here to pick us up 15 minutes before our taxi arrived. There was nothing to do but clean up the boat, get our $500 cash deposit returned, and eat lunch. It was Xiaoqin's birthday and Google was kind enough to grant us such an amazing deal on a trade-in that she got a new Pixel 7 for her birthday.

The offboarding onto the taxi went without incident, as did Arturo's departure at the airport. Our sailing trip was over.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

2022 Spanish Virgin Islands: Bahia Isla Chiva to Punta Arena

 We had a leisurely breakfast, turned on the engines, and raised the sail. With a tail wind behind us, we easily made 5 knots past the tip of Vieques, going 3 miles out to dump the septic tanks again, before turning into a beam reach and arriving at Punta Arena in less than 3 and a half hours. Upon arrival, the point seemed to be filled with boats, but we would later find that one boat after another would depart, leaving us with only 2 other boats to share the bay with. What got us to stay despite the apparent crowd was that most of the boats looked like they would not support anyone on it staying overnight, so we were confident that it wouldn't be a loud party.

We dropped anchor in 15' of water, and snorkeled around in what looked like mediocre water. The water was calm, however, making me eager to make use of the paddleboard. To deliver the kids to the beach. I discovered that the approach to the beach was very steep, so ended up delivering Bowen and Boen to separate parts of the beach as I found a better entry later. I decided I join the snorkelers, but the snorkeling was fairly mediocre.

The beach was unlike any of the other beaches we'd seen in the Spanish Virgin Islands: the sand was coarse and easy to clean off. We walked the length of the beach heading South, and unlike the beach at Bahia Isla Chiva we pretty much had it to ourselves, as one boat after another pulled off --- the only other sailboat, a Catamaran, pulled off to join a BBQ on Puerto Rico proper.

When we were done, I swam back to the boat, got out the paddleboard and ferry'd the kids back to the sailboat, making them jump from the paddleboard to swim the last 10 yards so that they'd be sand free when they got to the swim ladder. I then used the paddleboard to explore more of the Bay to the North, and found some places that looked quite a bit clearer. It would have been a pain, however, to move the boat, since the coral was interspersed with sand, making it tricky to find a good place to anchor.

Arturo and I went snorkeling to see if the snorkeling was any better --- it was indeed a lot better, and he spotted lots of stuff, but I was tired and the visibility still wasn't great --- the water had looked much better from the paddleboard than it did from snorkeling. Besides, we had to pack! The next morning had to be an early start as we had been warned that it took 2.5 hours of sailing from Punta Arenas back to Punta Del Rey Marina. We extracted all the luggage out of one of the V-berths after showering, and started packing away everything that could be packed.

That evening, we enjoyed our last beautiful sunset from the beach, had dinner, and did a little bit of star gazing before clouds came over and occluded our views. I would wake up in the middle of the night to pee and would see one last shooting star in the early morning before waking up for real the next morning.

Monday, January 02, 2023

Review: Heroes - The Greek Myths Reimagined

 Heroes is part two of Stephen Fry's Greek Myths books. This book covers Heracles, Orpheus, Perseus, Theseus, and many of the heroes from Greek mythos. It's all told in a modern style, with many entertaining asides and snide remarks, and is just heck of a lot of fun to read. It's completely uncensored, so I'm sure many people would have issues reading it to their kids, but you know what, that's what makes the book so good. If you've always wondered about all the Greek mythology references being made here and there in popular literature, this series is well worth your time.