Thursday, September 27, 2012

Further notes on the Nexus 7

Battery Life
I've read some articles suggesting a battery life of about 11.5 hrs for the Nexus 7. This is of course with continuous usage, but this isn't how I need to or actually do use mine.

Typically I shut it down at night, since I don't use it then, and even during the day I am mostly leaving it in suspend, then periodically using it -- I turn it on about 7:30 in the morning, and then shut it down at about 8-9 pm. I'm not streaming video or music, not doing a lot of emailing. I find I can easily use it for 2 days without recharging, and even at the end of the second day there is still 30% or so of the charge left. So this means a typical day runs about 30-40% of the battery down.

The external keyboard I bought is mostly unused, but this doesn't mean I wish I hadn't bought it. When I got my new "black bag", I was carrying the keyboard in it, but space was a bit cramped, and after I noted that I rarely needed it, thanks to the TouchPal soft keyboard, I took it out, so my black bag is that much lighter -- not a lot, but clearly noticeable.

I was on the verge of buying the Pro upgrade of Jota+ (simple text editor), but then I saw that the ONLY benefit is being able to load more than 2 files. I'd rather fish around for more feature-full editors, but in the meantime, 2 files at a time is adequate.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Android vs Linux

On the surface, this might seem like a nonsequitur, since in a sense Android is Linux, but the ecosystems are different.

On Linux there are a host of utilities and applications, all full-featured, and FREE in all the senses of the term.

Yes, there are free apps for Android, but most are shadows of their incarnations on Linux, and beyond that, the free versions are typically crippled in one or more ways to encourage you to buy the PRO (or whatever) version. Example: the Jota app I mentioned only allows 2 files open at a time.

So Android wants to compete on the mercenary Apple playing field, and metrics are generated which measure Android's success by how much money is spent on apps.

But I can manage. The only app I've purchased was one that more time passed than the allowable 15 minutes for me to decide it wasn't going to work for me to decide I wanted a refund, since it was of no use to me. So in addition to my basic attitude,  I now also have a bad taste in my mouth from a purchase I did make. At this rate I may never use up my initial $25 credit at Google Play.

15 minutes?

(incidentally, this post is the first done with my Nexus 7)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Nexus 7 and Files

The Nexus 7 doesn't come with any built-in way to look at files, as in looking at the files in the various directories. I'm using File Manager HD, and this does what I need, such as getting a look at the directory structure, seeing what files are where, and so on. But what about transferring files to or from the tablet?

The presumption seems to be that you will use the internet, either by transferring them as email attachments or maybe using something up there in the cloud. But you may want to be a bit more private that either of these.

There is a capability of transferring via the USB socket, but the filesystem is an MTP format, not native to anything, so you have to go througn some steps to do this. I decided I didn't want to bother.

I've used ssh (secure shell) at home for years for transferring files, signing onto another computer remotely, and also the related sftp means of uploading files to my site. It took me a while to get the syntax right. Generally speaking I am using my desktop to interact with the tablet, so given that the wifi address of my tablet is, I can type

ssh -o Port=2222 root@

to remotely connect to the tablet, and

scp -P 2222 somefile.jpg root@

to send the picture somefile.jpg to the tablet.

sftp -o Port=2222 root@

sets up an sftp connection to the tablet, where you might serially send and receive a number files to/from the device. For example, after connecting with the sftp command above, I could type

put somefile.jpg

to accomplish the same thing I did with the scp command, but afterward, I'm still connected to the tablet, until I type 'bye'.

get anotherfile.jpg

would download anotherfile.jpg from the device.
Once I have the file there, then typically I may use File Manager HD to move it where I want to. It's helpful to know which directories your files are in, since some apps have minimal ability to search directories.

SSHDroid is only setting up your tablet to be a receiver from other computers, it's not loading an ssh binary on the tablet.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Google Nexus 7

After a considerable delay in getting any tablet at all, reading a lot of reviews, picking up various tablets at stores, I finally decided to get a Nexus 7. The specs and various reviews sounded good. Without saying anything more about it, I do not expect to ever own an iPad or an iPhone, just as a personal choice.

The idea with the Nexus 7 was to find a replacement for the laptop I carry on my medical rounds. I still have the laptop, still use it daily for generating EMG reports, but I wanted something smaller and lighter for rounds. The key thing was that I needed to have access to the hospital charts via the free wifi the hospital has.

Getting to the Chart
Some time ago, the hospital switched from a Windows-only means of hooking up (and required IE 6 and XP), but they began using Citrix for connection, and Citrix has receivers not only for Windows, but also MacOS, Linux, and Android. I knew the Android works because I have it on my phone. The screen size of the Samsung Galaxy S is not conducive to navigating and reading hospital charts, however, let alone trying to see a CT or MRI scan.

I thought I was going to have to use a browser to connect, since I didn't know all the settings for the standalone receiver, so at first I connected through Firefox, since Chrome didn't work. Later, I found out what to enter in the domain setting, so now just use the receiver. It takes a little while to get all the usability issues resolved. While the Nexus 7's screen is much bigger than my phone, there is still limited real estate. Except for some of the larger targets, many of the clickable things on the hospital chart UI are quite small, and yes, you can zoom in, zoom out, but it's annoying to be doing that constantly.

I'm guessing it comes from the Citrix receiver, but it turns out there is a small tab to click on at the top of the screen, and tapping this slides down a number of choices, including a soft keyboard and a mouse pointer. You use the pointer by sliding it around the screen over a target, then tapping anywhere on the screen is like clicking where the cursor is, so this is what most navigating is done with. You can also simultaneously activate the keyboard with this pointer active.

The biggest problem with the keyboard is that it shoves the screen contents aside, so you tap out something, then slide the keyboard away. Fortunately, there isn't so much data entry involved with the UI, and sometimes holding the tablet in portrait orientation works Ok.

A Real Keyboard
After a couple of days I bought a bluetooth keyboard (Targus), and this is handy for doing something more than tap-tap-tap. Even with the predictive nature of keyboard entry guessing words, typing is slow. The Targus keyboard works fine right out of the container. At first I seemed to have some trouble with something like keybounce, where tapping a key enters the character twice, but I believe it was because I was hitting the keys too hard, so it seems less a problem now.

A Better Soft Keyboard
I thought maybe I would try out a Swype keyboard like I use on my phone, where you just wipe your finger over the keys to enter words. I works surprisingly well even with pretty sloppy swiping, since it also is looking for words, and gives choices if it isn't sure. What I found at the App store was actually something better, called TouchPal.

TouchPal has the swiping down pretty well, and also briefly shows a blue trail where you have swiped. It has more available keyboards, even one which has arrow keys, an ability to select, copy, cut, and paste text, plus Home and End keys. You can also download and use keyboards for other languages. I'm still working on my technique, but another cool feature, aside from a dedicated keyboard with numbers and symbols is that on the QWERTY keyboard the top row shows small numbers in the upper right corners -- for example, the Q has a 1, the W a 2, and so on. If you press firmly on the Q key, then slide up to the corner where the number is, you type a 1. I'm getting better at it, but still making some mistakes.

My Census and Charges
This took a while to sort out conceptually. What I have been doing for years, many many years in fact, is to use a database to keep track of my hospital patient census and the daily charges and patient diagnoses. On my Linux computers I learned how to use Postgresql, and so used that, even though this is a pretty trivial database. I thought maybe there might be an Android port, but not yet, at least anything that works.

One thing about the Nexus 7 is that you cannot directly print from it. Someone might figure out how to use the USB port, but you have to find software to handle the task. So right away I needed some other path. I found Jota+ for a simple text editor, and so far am still using that. The next step after creating some file is then to email it so that I can either get the attachment at my laptop or a desktop. But do I just do plain text files, then edit later after emailing?

Then I remembered that my favorite program Scribus can import CSV files. CSV stands for comma separated values, and is a way of saving spreadsheet data, as well as importing it to a spreadsheet or maybe even a database. The first thing I had to do was to review CSV files and Scribus, then I played around by exporting some Postgresql data as CSV files. Since I have Scribus not only on my laptop running Linux but also on my office computer running Windows, it was easy to come up with some styles which would display the information in the appropriately distanced columns. After that, it's just a matter of playing around with fonts and labels for that right "look". Now that I have the TouchPal keyboard, generating these files is quite easy, and actually simpler than the process I had for Postgresql.

In Postgresql you use commands like "update census set mon='31' where lname='Johnson';", whereas with CSV (using semicolons as separators), I just add "31;" to the line with Mr. Johnson's name on it, and I can copy and paste to other lines.

If I had some initial anxieties about keeping the Nexus 7 safe, they were underscored by dropping my previous unpadded canvas medical bag in which I was carrying the tablet 2 or 3 times in just a few days. I had no intention of running a test on the toughness of Gorilla glass. So, carrying my tablet with me, I went shopping for a bag at a luggage store (Taylor Trunk, here in Louisville), and found a nice heavily padded one, with a pocket sized exactly right for the Nexus 7. And there are several other pockets, so the only thing in the tablet pocket is the tablet. 

So at this stage, I'm right where I wanted to be, making my rounds with the tablet, and only needing to carry my medical bag, no additional laptop. I'll have some comments on some other apps I've found useful in the future.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

eReadings 19

The Sea-Hawk
Rafael Sabatini
When I started reading this I didn't know anything about it. Later I found that the author was English, in spite of his name suggesting otherwise, and that he was a somewhat prolific writer of swashbuckling tales. Another of his works is Captain Blood.

We can assume that he was fascinated by the early days of sailing, and must have spent some time learning about the history of the time. This isn't a history book, but a novel about a privateer turned gentleman, after having been given a title by Queen Elizabeth for his help in defeating the Spanish Armada. It so happened that I had read, though perhaps scanned might be more accurate, a nonfiction book, How Britannia Came to Rule the Waves, by WHG Kingston, and in it he credits the various privateers for their help in building the Royal Navy and in defeating the Spanish.

But The Sea-Hawk is of course a novel, about Sir Oliver Tressilian, who has amassed some wealth through piracy to go along with his title. It is full of dialog, both between people and the various characters with themselves, and rather verbose dialog it seemed to me.

Nonetheless, this is compelling storytelling, perhaps getting off to a slow start as we read what seems like it's going to be a book about the interfamily goings on revolving around Sir Oliver's plan to marry Rosamund Godolphin, then taking some quite amazing turns, so that we abruptly leave England and head off to the Mediterranean, quite active with Arab corsairs raiding Spanish and other ships. both for the riches, but also for the slave market. Suddenly we are introduced to Sakr-el-Bahr, an infamous corsair with the interesting past.

The story here is interesting, riveting at times, but seemed to bog down with the ever-heavy dialog.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

eReadings 18

Common Sense
Thomas Paine

Yes, this is that famous book, a pamphlet really, published in 1776 as the Revolution was taking shape. You know a book is small when you click to the next page and each Kindle page is 1% of the book.

I'll be honest, it's not such an easy read. The language is a little thick, with some unusual words to be sure, but the sentence structure very heavy with clauses and loaded with commas. One might think that this was the English language of the time, which in some respect may be true, but one can read works by Samuel Johnson or Boswell's Life of Johnson and find a very different readability of 18th century English literature. I read Life of Johnson some time ago and found it quite easy reading.

Look at this passage from early on in the book:

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least. WHEREFORE, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows, that whatever FORM thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.
It's not that this isn't understandable, but reading page after page like this is certainly tiring. We have a way of getting to a point much quicker these days.

I would have probably stopped reading early on, but then I realized that July 4th was coming up so I persisted. One of the things which struck me in the early pages was that, if one translated to a more modern English, this was basically a rant such as one might read on the internet these days, or perhaps see on some news report. It becomes quite clear that Paine has no good words for monarchy, and in particular King George.

I did appreciate reading first hand some of the concepts that formed our country and its subsequent government, where he talks about creating a land governed by the rule of law rather than the rule of a man. It becomes a bit repetitious, but he sets out to bring up the many objections to the current state of affairs, the possible remedies, with the only sensible one being secession from England and formation of a new country with its own government, and finally that the time was NOW to do these things.

As a reminder of the history of the time, the thoughts of people at the time, this is a very enlightening book. Be prepared for slow reading of this formal 18th century English.

eReadings 17

The Innocents Abroad
Mark Twain

Having previously read A Tramp Abroad, I was reluctant enough to read this one that I read a bit first with a browser before downloading to my Kindle.

This book predated A Tramp Abroad, being published in 1869, after a chartered excursion to Europe, sailing around the Mediterranean. It differed quite a bit from the cruises popular now, since one might be let off somewhere in Italy and then go travelling for a month to Paris and other inland sites.

One certainly gets quite a bit of commentary of the mercenary nature of travel at the time. Everywhere you go, there is someone to pay some fee to, some guide to hire, and many a beggar along the way.

Not so different from sightseeing now is the pressure one feels and the ease of being shuttled around from sight to sight, and we hear Mr. Twain railing against the fatigue that sets in as you visit yet another church, with its collection of relics, with so many churches professing to have pieces of the Holy Cross or the Crown of Thorns. The artwork, the sculpture, at least for him, became numbing.

It's necessary to remember that this was the world before World War I, so a very different sort of place from today. He lost his passport somewhere in the middle of the journey, but that never appeared to be an impediment to travel. A number of ports were closed due to fears of cholera.

One could no longer travel as he did from Turkey to Syria to Palestine on horseback, camping out in tents as they went. He certainly appreciated the depth of history in Palestine and especially in Egypt, but the terrain and climate were awful. In addition, beggars were everywhere in the Middle East.

In the end, this is a very enjoyable book, full of insights into a time we think we know but have never heard about what it was like from a first-person perspective, hearing not only about the history and famous architecture and art, but the lives of the people in the lands he visited.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

eReadings 16

The Lost World
Arthur Conan Doyle

This is a book initially serialized in 1912. It introduces the character Professor Challenger, a man of great intellectual and physical strength, who is something of an outcast in the scientific community. Challenger also figures in the subsequent story "The Poison Belt" (eReadings 11).

Professor Challenger has already made the outlandish proclamation that so-called prehistoric beasts remain alive in an isolated part of the Amazonian basin, though since various proofs of his personal expedition were lost or ruined on his way back to civilization, he is generally considered a charlatan, and therefore has isolated himself from the scientific and public community, and has been known to physically assault various members of the press who have tried to interview him.

Edward Malone, a young athletic Irish journalist, is sent to attempt an interview, already knowing about the fate of others. He is indeed assaulted, but in the process somehow manages to break the ice with the professor, who confides his experiences, and invites Malone to a public presentation where he will expound his experiences before a scientific audience.

Once again, things go badly for Professor Challenger, and another man, Professor Summerlee, steps out as his chief antagonist. In the end, Professor Challenger proposes an expedition back to South America to settle the issues, consisting of himself, Professor Summerlee, and with a couple of other volunteers, one being Lord John Roxton, an accomplished explorer and game hunter, and on an impulse, Malone.

Eventually the group, along with a number of guides and native helpers, make their way to a high plateau, somehow isolated from the surrounding jungle ages ago, and indeed, an abundance of life seen nowhere else in the world for ages is found there. The science of it seems more than a bit distorted, with a curious mixture of dinosaurs, mammals, and even "anthropoid ape-men" being found there. Challenger is vindicated, yet he and Summerlee continue to have many things to argue about as they explore the plateau.

At the time this book was written, just coming out of an era of exploring and plundering various parts of the world, it probably seemed sensible to consider how things went on the plateau. To the modern mind, it seems odd to read about how readily the group falls into killing so much of the life there, including the ape-men, who are depicted as quite savage. I suppose at the time there was thought to be little difference between studying a dead specimen and a live one.

But Conan Doyle is a good story teller, and this makes for good reading, with some well-developed characters.

I thought that I recalled that this story had probably been made into a movie, but even so was astonished on finding that not just one, but numerous movies have been made, the first a silent film in 1927! There have also been a number of radio adaptations, and other tangents, such as Michael Crichton's borrowing of the title for "The Lost World: Jurassic Park". Seemingly without exception, these movie adaptations take a number of liberties with the original story, for example finding a way for a woman to accompany the men on their expedition.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

eReadings 15

A Tramp Abroad
Mark Twain

There most likely is a double-entendre in this title word tramp, but this is not the tale of a hobo roaming around Europe, but rather the travels of a well-heeled American making his way through Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.

It's entertaining to a point, especially getting something of the gist of these areas as they were in the 1870s. There is a lot of great satire here, and I found myself laughing from time to time.

At the same time, because of the satire, one would need to know more specifics about Europe of those times to understand the depth of various jokes. To say the least, there is a great deal of exaggeration for entertainment purposes, and I found that this became silly and tiresome with the recounting of hiking stories about Switzerland.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

eReadings 14

The Seven Poor Travellers
Charles Dickens

This is an odd little story, about a charitable inn in Rochester, set up to allow poor travellers a free night's stay and a meal, with the narrator venturing in as a seventh poor traveller, adding his assistance with meals and company.

For the entertainment of the travellers he tells an extended story within a story on a completely different topic.

As a whole, it is enjoyable, yet still remains an oddity.

eReadings 13

In Defense of Women
H L Mencken

The title interested me here, knowing that this was written in the very early 20th century. It took some time to finally decide that this book is a satire. It is written in an intellectual style, ostensibly by someone who has figured out women, and men, and a good number of other things.

There are aspects, which if serious, would offend many, since there is a lot of negativity in all directions. Women are held up to be more highly intelligent than men, yet in more than one part of the book prostitutes are noted to be an example of the high intelligence of women.

There is a good deal of entertaining wit here, but for the topic and content, I found it got quite tedious, and could have easily been half its length or shorter.

eReadings 12

The Black Tulip
Alexandre Dumas - père

This book begins with the description of a historical event, the gruesome murder of the brothers DeWitt in The Hague, in the Netherlands. This was a time of great antagonisms, between religions, between countries, and the DeWitts were in the middle of one of these moments when power changed hands, and were mercilessly slaughtered (literally) by a mob. The descriptions are graphic.

After this, the scene now shifts to a nephew of the DeWitts, Mynheer Van Baerle, living a simple life in the town of Dort, and very much a tulip fancier. Thus we find our way to knowledge of the great challenge of the time, growing a black tulip, for which a prize and great prestige is promised.

Van Baerle isn't alone in his quest, with the Netherlands full of tulip mania, but one in particular is a neighbor, Isaac Boxtel, who envies his skills at creating new varieties of tulip. So, with the machinations of Boxtel, Van Baerle becomes entrapped in the public antagonism for the DeWitts, and ends up in prison, but not before he has managed to create a true black tulip.

The bulk of the story, then, is about the intertwining of these events, these characters and others, and the eventual presentation of the black tulip. A very enjoyable story.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

eReadings 11

The Poison Belt
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This book was published in 1913, and has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes. It figures another of Doyle's characters, Professor Challenger, a large and boisterous man who is able to see phenomena and make some startling deductions, such as the impending demise of all life on earth, which he communicates to the London Times at the beginning of this story.

The story relies on a holdover from prior generations of scientific thought that there is some ill-defined "ether" that permeates the universe, which somehow plays a role in the maintenance of life.

Professor Challenger, noting reports of some aberrations in Fraunhofer's lines – these are the gaps in the visual spectra of light which depend on the light's source – attributes this to some disruption of the ether, and anticipates this will be lethal to the human race, this being accompanied by some coincidental epidemics being reported in faraway parts of the world.

Indeed, there is something spreading over the world, from south to north, with everyone falling lifeless as it comes upon them invisibly.

The story is a relatively short one. Although I can't imagine someone making a movie from the concept, something like an episode of The Twilight Zone could have been made.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

eReadings 10

South Sea Tales
Jack London

This is a collection of short stories by this famous author. While there is some range to the territory this covers in these tales, there is an emphasis on the area around the Solomon Islands.

As depicted by Mr. London, these people were savages, untrustworthy, and liable to cannibalism and head hunting. I'm not sure how true this was at the time he wrote these stories. To the modern eye, the various white people who travel the South Seas are hardly less barbaric, capturing the natives into virtual slavery for use on plantations and as crew on ships.

There is a gruesomeness which all this lends to the stories as a whole, and one could not say these are uplifting stories in any way. It also seems likely that there is more than a little exaggeration for effect.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

eReadings 9

Selected Prose of Oscar Wilde

This collection of essays, articles, and stories by Oscar Wilde was put together by an admirer, seemingly to counteract the various negative public opinions of him which came about and preceded his premature death. There is no explanation of any of that in this work, so consult Wikipedia or other sources for the details.

He was an infamous character in late 19th century Britain, with a flamboyant lifestyle and sharp tongue. He had been a top student at Oxford, and made a name for himself there, and later, with his most famous work being for plays such as "The Importance of Being Earnest".

As you begin this collection, you quickly get a sense of his wit and the sharpness of his tongue as he derides one person after another. As you read along, you see in contrast his exuberance about things he holds in high esteem, one being the supremacy of literature over all kinds of other artistic media, such as painting or music.

Some of the included material are his own attempts at prosaic stories, so there is a mix of critical commentary and his own creative output.

Mr. Wilde was by reputation a very entertaining person to be with or even just observe, based on what one can read about him, and one certainly gets a sense of his wit in this collection. At the same time, while he certainly was skilled at turning a phrase, there seems to me a shallowness to his own works, so that they lack the depth of character and story development that he admires in others.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

eReadings 8

Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa
David Livingstone

I suppose there are ways to get some sense of the length of books in the Kindle, but generally I don't bother. I do notice after having read a dozen screens and see that the progress indicator shows that I've read just 1-2%. This is one of those sorts of books.

I considered quitting at several points early on, since this was not so interesting reading at first, covering particulars of the domestic life of a missionary and doctor. It gradually became more interesting reading, either because he began going on his exploratory travels, or perhaps his writing improves (or both).

David Livingstone was an interesting person, whose early life is given in some detail in a review from Harper's after the end of the book (in this Project Gutenberg version). He was deeply religious, which must have been the source of the audacity with which he ventured through wild and dangerous areas of Africa unknown to Europeans at the time (the mid 19th century). It's rather amazing he did not succumb to the recurrent "fevers" (I presume this was malaria), or some injury, or some hostile tribe. He was the first white man that some tribes had ever seen.

Since this was a decade before the US Civil War, slavery still existed in various parts of the world, though the English had abandoned it, and were intervening where they could to stop the slave trade. In the far south of Africa the Boers saw the indigenous people as part of the bounty of the land, who they could enslave to run their farms, and thus they would regularly engage in raids on villages for the capture of new slaves. The animosity between the Boers and English was further inflamed by the English trading guns for ivory, thus making the natives less defenseless against the Boers.

To the north, the Portuguese were engaged in the slave trade, which commonly involved buying them from various tribes. In some areas, there were some tribes more aggressive than others, with chiefs extending their domain by attacking and plundering their neighbors, taking captives back with them. These captives were then likely to be traded to the Portuguese for items like calico or beads. Livingstone found that in these areas highly travelled by the Portuguese that chiefs would demand "an ox, a tusk, or a man" for passage through their regions. Passage typically and most importantly involved being supplied with a guide to help choose the paths which led in the direction one wanted to go.

Yet there was much generosity along the way. In areas not involved with the slave trade, the people were quite generous, supplying large quantities of food. In return, there was a tacit expectation of some goods in return, such as calico, ivory, and such. Money had no value here. Making friends with various chiefs was key to Livingstone's success, since they could send messages to assist him on his way, and even supply porters for his trips.

In spite of the antagonism between the English and Portuguese about the slave trade, Livingstone found great hospitality among the Portuguese in the populated areas on the west and east coasts of south central Africa.

Among the surprises in this book is that Livingstone carried with him a sextant, and periodically in the text was able to note the latitude and longitude of some location, which can be taken to Google Earth to show where he was at that point. Even in Google Earth's latest images, these are mostly sparsely inhabited areas. There is also a listing of these measurements as an appendix at the end.

This was a highly interesting book, full of many insights into southern Africa and its people as they were in the 1850s.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

eReadings 7

History of Science

This is a series of 4 volumes starting in prehistoric times (yes, I said prehistoric times), and carefully covering the advances of science. I think there were 2 eras in which the accomplishments were quite amazing. Keep in mind that I'm reading out-of-copyright books, and this series was written in the late 19th century.

First, the Greeks. Their powers of reasoning and investigation are astounding, and there was very little to match them for centuries after the Greek decline. The Romans added very little to what the Greeks had already discerned. In spite of their limited knowledge about the extent of the world, the Greeks had determined that the Earth was a sphere, even though they had no idea as to where land was, where sea was on this sphere. There was the first notion of heliocentricity of our solar system, forgotten and discarded for many centuries. And of course we have people like Pythagoras and Euclid, who came up with important principles we still learn today. But we also get a sense of the attitude of some of these Greeks, a fair amount of hubris and jealousy, so this series is more than a recitation of dry facts.

In the 19th century, abetted by some very clever people in the 17th and 18th centuries, we see the beginnings of modern science as we know it, with careful experimentation, the discovery of new elements, the early development of the atomic theory, and again the various rivalries, co-discoveries, and they way that some became famous quite deservedly, some who did so less deservedly, and some who should have been famous but were overlooked.

It takes a while to go through these volumes, but for those interested in science and science history, it's well worth your while.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

eReadings 6

The First Men in the Moon
H G Wells

The title's "in" seems like a typo, but eventually you realize that it's very much intended by the author. We live now with the reality of space travel and men having actually gone to the moon, so keep in mind this book comes from the 19th century, when the moon remained a source of great speculation.

There are some inklings of the scientific knowledge at the time, as far as the lower gravity on the moon, the "thinness" of the atmosphere, but there are plenty of suppositions that are way off base, and if you can't separate yourself from what we now know about the moon, then you may find the book just silly.

There is the expected eccentric scientist, who comes upon some form of alchemy involving helium to create a substance which blocks gravity, much as an opaque object blocks light. Thus, we have a means of leaving the earth to arrive at the moon, with some curious, primitive means of survival on the way, yet Wells does manage a decent description of the implications of being in a state of zero gravity.

But there is an idea that the moon has a breathable atmosphere, and that at least as long as the sun is shining on it the temperature is such that one can walk on the moon without protection, and we might say the second surprise after that is that there grows a profusion of plants on the surface of the moon, at least while the sun shines. Somehow Wells had the idea the the sun shines on the moon continuously for many of our earth days, which figures in the events as the adventures on and in the moon unravel. Surprises continue as you read about the goings on beneath the moon's surface.

Of course, now science fiction and fantasy have to travel to distant planets and galaxies to give us believable stories of life outside of Earth, but if you cast away your prejudices about what it's really like on the moon, the story is nonetheless interesting to read.

eReadings 5

Hard Times
Charles Dickens

It doesn't take long into this book to really feel the grime, grit, and bleakness of a small English manufacturing town, covered with coal dust and soot, where most people's lives belong to the factories and owners.

This is really the backdrop, though, for what is going on with the main protagonists, Thomas Gradgrind, and his friend, Josiah Bounderby, both wealthy, both in control of their lives and those around them. Mr. Gradgrind raises his children at home, filling them with facts, so much so that there is no allowance for dreaming, wishing, reading novels, anything not based on facts.

Mr. Bounderby is a self-made man, and reminds those around him incessantly of that fact -- abandoned by his mother, scraping out an existence, to finally make himself what he is today, a wealthy manufacturer and banker.

By the end of the book, each man receives his comeuppance in his own way, and at least Mr. Gradgrind is the better for it. Meanwhile, the story details the inequities of the rich and poor, part of which rests in the way the rich think of and treat the poor, yet at least some of the poor have qualities the rich will never attain.

Dickens is quite the creator of interesting characters, one of whom, Mr. Sleary, provides the challenge of reading through the depiction of his lisp, "Well, Thquire", he returned... "Ith it your intenthion to do anything for the poor girl, Thquire?" Some of Mr. Sleary's long-winded moments are a bit mind-numbing to read, seeming like a poor trick Dickens plays on his readers.

It may be a bit syrupy and sappy in the end, but overall very satisfying.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

eReadings 4

David Copperfield
Charles Dickens

Dickens writes in his preface that, at least of the time of the writing, this was his favorite book, since he really enjoyed the character.

My sense after reading it is that, interestingly enough, even though the story centers around David Copperfield and the things that happen to him as narrator of the story, it's not really about him. It's about all the strange and interesting characters in his life. There is much tragedy, various moments of happiness, sorrow as he tries to make his way through life, and the strange ways that people keep coming back into his life.

One of the most interesting families are the McCawbers, a family always on the verge of yet another financial calamity, going from one ruinous debt to the next, yet happy the whole while.

And now I see where the rock band Uriah Heep got its name, and quite a character he is.

Maybe the ending gets to be a bit of too much goodness, but this is a book full of enjoyable reading.