Friday, November 30, 2012

Letters of Thanks

Today's the last day of November and, for much of the month, people have been giving thanks publically for a variety of things in their lives. I think that's a fine idea, but I've been pondering a variation of the theme.

Like many of the November thanksgivers, I'd like to focus on the people I'm thankful for. Naturally, this includes my parents, siblings, wife, friends and extended family, but there are also others who've touched, shaped and improved my life in a variety of less personal, though still very important, ways. I'd like to thank those people who, despite not (or just barely) knowing me personally, have made my life what it is today.

I'm slowly putting together a list that at the moment consists primarily of authors and founders of organizations I've benefited from. There are undoubtably other categories and persons I should consider and I welcome suggestions.

Many of these people are quite advanced in age, so I'm going to prioritize such that I first address those whom I worry are nearest death. The oldest member of the list so far is former Mississippi governor William F. Winter who established Mississippi Governor's School -- a revolutionary influence on my life -- in 1981.

My wife's card project has shown just how meaningful a single letter or card can be, particularly today when phones and the internet are the preferred media for casual conversation. So, for now, the preferred tool of expression will be a written (well, typed, my handwriting is atrocious) letter. In Winter's case, that leads to the question of how to send him a letter as I haven't found a mailing address for him. I appreciate any suggestions.

I think a regular pacing, perhaps a letter every one or two weeks, makes a good practice.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Some Books Worth Reading

I put together a list of books worth reading for a friend of mine. It's based on a mix of his and my tastes and intended to introduce him to new works. Originally, it was more balanced, but I decided to flesh out some more of the speculative fiction works (which is my favorite genre, no doubt).

I've read everything on the list. I limited it to one book per author (mostly, an author might show up more than once due to collaborations).

It's not a ranking or anything. Many of the books are my favorites by a particular author, but not all. (For instance, Prelude to Foundation is probably my favorite Asimov book).

Note: Categories are fuzzy with overlap. Very Rough. I'd love to get feedback.

Non Fiction


  • QED, Richard Feynman
  • The Age of Entanglement, Louisa Gilder
  • The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene
  • The Black Hole Wars, Leonard Susskind


  • Group Theory in the Bedroom, Brian Hayes
  • The Drunkard's Walk, Leonard Mlodinow
  • An Introduction To Information Theory, John R. Pierce


  • The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, Henry Petroski.
  • Roving Mars, Steven W. Squyres


  • This Is Your Brain On Music, Daniel J. Levitin

Speculative Fiction

Hard Sci-Fi

  • The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein
  • Red Thunder, John Varley
  • A Deepness In The Sky, Vernor Vinge
  • Snow Crash, Neil Stephenson
  • Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds
  • Footfall, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
  • The Integral Trees, Larry Niven (This is an edit. Originally, I had listed A World Out of Time.)
  • Neuromancer, William Gibson
  • Tangents, Greg Bear (specifically for "Blood Music")
  • The Uplift War, David Brin


  • Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
  • The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • The Complete Compleat Enchanter, L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
  • David Starr, Space Ranger, Isaac Asimov

Fantasy (fairly broad definition of Fantasy)

  • His Majesty's Dragon, Naomi Novik
  • Small Gods, Terry Pratchett
  • American Gods, Neil Gaiman
  • A Spell For Chameleon, Piers Anthony

Alternate History

  • Death Is Lighter Than a Feather, David Westheimer
  • A World of Difference, Harry Turtledove
  • 1632, Eric Flint
  • Lest Darkness Fall, L. Sprague de Camp
  • Birds of Prey, David Drake

Friday, November 23, 2012


Components of my backpack. Eventually, I'd like to go as modular as possible with my backpack system, but I still like to be prepared for unexpected events.

Front compartment

  1. Zagg USB Wallcharger/Backup battery
  2. Mini USB cable
  3. Micro USB Cable (long)
  4. Sandisk Sansa Clip Music Player (with 16 GB Micro SD card)
  5. MicroSD to SD card adapter
  6. Stanley 4 in 1 pocket screwdriver
  7. 2 black ballpoint pens
  8. 1 blue ballpoint pen
  9. 1 mechanical pencil
  10. Tire gauge

Middle compartment

  1. Business Card holder
  2. Stanley Small Screwdriver set
  3. Kindle in case with reading light
  4. Small Umbrella
  5. Vivatar 5x30 Binoculars
  6. Small electrics bag
    1. Small, cheap LED flashlight (3xAAA batteries)
    2. Sprint Wall and Car outlet to 2x USB charger
    3. Mini USB Cable
    4. Micro USB Cable

Main Compartment

  1. Ultrabook (Zareason Ultralap 430)
  2. Ultrabook power adapter
  3. Various notebooks, usually Moleskins
  4. Overnight/Emergency supplies bag
    1. Bag of bags: Multiple sandwich and gallon sized ziplock bags
    2. 2 Toothbrushes
    3. Notebook bag: old moleskin datebook, mechanical pencil in ziplock
    4. deoderant
    5. 2 toothbrushes
    6. triple antibiotic ointment
    7. Eton Hand crank Flashlight/Weather radio/USB charger
    8. Hotel Bar soap
    9. Hotel shampoo bottle
    10. Spare underwear
    11. Spare socks
    12. Small items subbag
      1. Matchbook
      2. several rubber bands
      3. 4 AA batteries
      4. 7 AAA batteries
      5. 1 9V battery
      6. Spare headphones

At the moment it's not overly heavy, but I can still add more stuff.

Things I'd like to add:

  1. Small bottle of sunscreen.
  2. Hat
  3. Spare glasses
  4. Towell
  5. Shorts
  6. T-shirt
  7. Toothpaste
  8. Multitool
  9. Deck of cards
  10. High calorie snack of some sort.
  11. Tablet (Nexus 7?) probably replacing Kindle

A Ham radio would be cool, too, but I'd need to learn how to operate one and get a license.

I don't think all of that is going to fit in my current backpack, though at the moment, I could accomdate a couple of full size textbooks as well. The towel, in particular, would need to be cleverly done.

What else should I have?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On Secessionists

A note on the minor seccessionist movement and it's responses.

Ok, a set of notes. Please feel free to not read. I won't be offended.

  1. When I say minor, I mean it. Let's consider Mississippi. As a write this, the petition on for Mississippi to secede from the US "Peacefully grant the State of Mississippi to withdraw from the United States of America and create its own NEW governmen" has 16330 signatures. Out of an adult population of roughly 2.25 million people. That's seven signators per thousand adults in the State.

Less than one percent. And that's assuming they're at all serious. Or that they actually live in Mississippi, neither of which we can easily verify. As it stands, they're an incredibly small and thus unrepresentative portion of the population. Schizophrenia is more common, but we're not talking aout a schizophrenia epidemic.

  1. It's clearly an attempt to vent frustation rather than actually do anything. Possibly mixed in with utter incompetence, I concede. They keep referenceing the Declaration of Independence, which very much wasn't a petition. I presume that if this was in any way serious, they'd follow the parallel and issue such a declaration themselves.

  2. Self determinism isn't a bad thing. After all, the US is founded on the idea, and reaffirmed it as a member of the UN. It's not relevant here, of course, as less than one percent of a population isn't anywhere near enough selves.

  3. What's truly represehensible (to whatever extent these petitions can be) are the petitions to strip petitioners of their rights or citizenship or otherwise punish them. Free speech and the right to petition for a redress of grievances are explicitly protected rights under the Constitution and the idea that anyone, particularly the President, ought abridge them should be anathema to anyone who actually believes in the principles Americans claim to love.