February 8, 2014 § 22 Comments
I’m on a post-apocalypse novel jag. Maybe it’s because of the weather. Maybe it’s the drumbeat of news about our impending doom from climate change, or pandemic, or what have you. I should be sitting vigils with the Keystone Pipeline protestors, or volunteering to sign people up for flu vaccinations, but baby it’s cold out there.
So, instead of making myself useful, I’m curled up with books about what happens after the collapse of civilization.
Here’s what’s on my nightstand:
The Dog Stars, Peter Heller. Evocative, terse, compelling. I could keep going with the adjectives. This is a gorgeous book. My husband checked it out of the library, and barely spoke to me for three days while he plowed through it. I couldn’t put it down, either. The author, Peter Heller, is a contributor to NPR, Outside Magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure. He writes like the outdoorsman he is, with spare, almost cryptic prose. Even though the style would ordinarily drive me crazy — no quotation marks, and full of incomplete sentences — somehow, it works. The characters feel utterly genuine. Protagonist Hig flies a small plane across desolate landscapes, hunts, fishes and mourns the loss of trout. Most people, including his wife, have died from a flu-like plague. His companions are a dog and a gun-toting survivalist who keeps the riffraff, i.e. everyone else, at bay. Everything is more or less limping along in an acceptable balance of survival of the fittest, except that Hig is haunted by a mysterious radio transmission that he is dying to check out. Where Cornack McCarthy’s The Road is bleak, Heller’s book balances futility with hope in a way that pulls you almost gently, insidiously, and wonderfully into the story.
Wool, Hugh Howey. Wool is a book for every indie writer’s heart, not just because it was self-published and went on to become a New York Times best seller. It’s gripping. Might as well give up on the chores you’re already putting off and let yourself be sucked in. Picture a devastated, toxic landscape and a community of people living in an underground shelter, a “silo”, hundreds of stories deep. They’ve adapted pretty well, what with grow lights and a pretty good source of energy. The biggest taboo? To ask to go ‘outside.’ The citizens are loosely guided by a mayor, but it quickly becomes clear that she is not in charge. But who is?
As soon as I finished the book, I went right out and got the second in the series.
The Seneca Scourge, Carrie Rubin. Rubin is another indie author and one of my favorite bloggers. She is self-effacing, kind, supportive — and funny. I’m sure she won’t mind if I slip in a link to her Elf on a Shelf post from the holidays. Anyway, in this, Rubin’s first novel, a young infectious disease specialist who finds herself on more or less permanent call during a modern-day plague, discovers a potential remedy, and what appears to be a conspiracy to keep the cure secret. Rubin’s background as an MD makes the story all too plausible, and she spins the story out of the medical thriller genre with a twist of — stop here if you don’t want any spoilers — science fiction. Suffice it to say, I got my first flu shot in 15 years after this one, and now give dirty looks to people who cough on planes. Fire up the tea pot, get out your fleece, put up your feet and settle down to Rubin’s fast-paced thriller. I’m looking forward to her soon-to-be published second book.
What are you reading these days?
January 17, 2014 § 4 Comments
You know what’s creepy? Those ads that show up on the sidebar, which have clearly tapped into topics you’ve searched online. For instance, type “snow” into your search engine. The next thing you know, your e-mail page and search results are loaded with advertisements for ski resorts.
Welcome to the Filter Bubble, where search engines not only share your personal information with advertisers, but also censor what you read by directing you to sites you are already inclined to agree with.
If you regularly click on Huffington Post and Vanity Fair, you’ll get one kind of result.
If you click on the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times, you get different results.
This can be handy if you’re in a hurry and looking for something specific, say violin strings or orthopedic shoes. But what if you want to make an intimate inquiry about, say, Viagra (for a friend of course), and don’t want sex ads in your sidebar? What if you are looking for unbiased information about a topic that is controversial and complicated, say, genetically modified foods?
Check out alternative search engines, that is, alternatives to the big engines like Google, Yahoo and AOL. There are several which do not collect personal data, are free, do a good job of filtering spam and offer the same results for the same searches, to everyone. Here are four:
- YaCy allows searches of the entire public internet, with no censorship. Everyone’s content is equal, and search requests are not stored
- Apache Solr is another stand-alone server, reputed to operate like YaCy. I haven’t done much with this myself, because the language on the website is over my head, but reputable tech websites like Mashable recommend it.
- Izquick allows you to search several search engines quickly and privately. It bills itself as the most powerful and private search engine in the world.
- Here’s the one I chose:
Duck Duck Go (yes, named after the kid’s game Duck, Duck, Goose) does not collect or share personal information. It uses software that directs internet traffic through a network of 5000 or so relays, helping protect privacy. Searches are compiled from about 50 secondary sources such as Wikipedia, Yahoo! Search BOSS, Wikipedia, Wolfram Alpha, Bing and others.
Here’s how to set it up:
- Go to the Duck Duck Go website, click on “add to Browser” (lower left corner), click on the downloaded file.
- Find the newly installed icon in your toolbar
- Click on it. You are given the option to have all your searches done by Duck Duck (by default), or not.
- Note the option to “remember last search” in case you like to retrace your steps; and the “featured bangs,” which allow you to search particular sites, by putting an exclamation point in front of the listed code, !yt for Youtube, for instance.
- The web browser I use, Safari, does not make it easy to install Duck Duck directly, but it does offer it as an extension. To install, click on Safari >> Preferences >> Extensions >> Get Extensions (button in lower right corner) >> More (button on far right) >> Search tools >> scroll down to the Safari approved Duck Duck version and install.
Warning: the Duck Duck Go search engine does a good job of directing you to unbiased search results, but
- It does not protect you from government spying. The NSA can bust through any protective coding (thank you Edward Snowden for getting the word out). If you fill your searches with words like bomb and al Qaeda, you might well become a person of particular interest to shadowy organizations, no matter what search engine you use.
- Duck Duck Go involves internet searches only, not to e-mail. If you mention something like “massage therapy” in an e-mail (like I did this morning) you will find massage ads in your e-mail sidebar.
- If you want to do research directly from original sources, look to some of the other alternatives listed above. Duck Duck is a hybrid that uses other search engines to filter and crowd source information.
- Historical searches are not saved by Duck Duck. If you routinely look up old searches, use an engine that collects your data.
That’s it. Do you protect the privacy of your searches? If so, how? Do you think it’s worth it?
December 29, 2013 § 16 Comments
Hummingbirds can weigh less than a penny, and have heart rates as high as 1200 beats per minute.
How do they stay alive in winter?
They have tricks:
They weave their nests with spider silk, which must be pretty warm.
They sit around most of the time.
They consume more than their body weight in nectar (or sugar water) every day and supplement with insects.
They fiercely defend their territory from invaders.
When food is scarce, they slow down their heart rates, as low as 80 beats per minute.
They train humans. I recently bragged to friends about single-handedly saving the hummingbirds from a cold spell by thawing out the feeder two or three times a day. My friends confessed they had all done the same. We’re foot soldiers to one ounce generals.
FIVE RULES FOR HELPING HUMMINGBIRDS SURVIVE IN WINTER.
(1) Standard fare: 1 cup white sugar to 4 cups water. Heat to almost boiling so the nectar doesn’t ferment and intoxicate the hummingbirds, although that might be funny. In extreme cold, it’s OK increase the concentration of sugar, maybe 1 1/4 to 4, but return to normal concentration when whether warms. Too much sugar will cause harm to the birds.
(2) Healthy sugars for humans are bad for hummingbirds. Brown, raw and turbinado sugars can be fatal over time. Use white sugar.
(3) When it’s below freezing, take your feeder in at night, or rotate two feeders, allowing one to thaw while the other remains on duty.
(4) Change the food every few days so you don’t start any salmonella epidemics.
(5) Pipe cleaners and old tooth brushes work well to clean black stuff, like mold, off the feeder.
Follow these rules and you are qualified to be a hummingbird slave. The birds will reward you by appearing daily, even when it’s twelve below. The Aztecs believed hummingbirds brought sexual potency and skill at war, but there is no scientific proof, so admire and envy hummingbirds for their amazing metabolism, and wish the same for ourselves, especially at this time of year.
December 15, 2013 § 11 Comments
Hurry! Get your Mine Resistant Ambush Protection Vehicle today!
Available now at your local military surplus outlet, this 19 ton vehicle can travel through three feet of water, and is built to withstand ballistic arms fire, minefields, IEDs, nuclear, biological, and chemical environments. Just the thing for the local law enforcement agencies or campus police. Now available for the unbelievably low price of — FREE!
A hundred and sixty five happy law enforcement customers have already taken advantage of this amazing offer, including the campus police of Ohio State University. OSU campus police chief Paul Denton looks forward to using it for officer rescues, hostage situations and bomb calls. When asked if a bomb-proof, machine gun turreted vehicle might make campus police more like military police, Denton, replied — not at all! Mostly it will be used to drive officers around on game days. Besides, the gun turret is being removed.
Better hurry! Unclaimed MRAPs are “cost prohibitive to retrograde and reset,” according to an assistant secretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness, and will be dismantled and sold to Afghan scrap metal dealers. Not that the Afghans won’t put the scraps to good use. They call it ‘gold dust.’ And so will you! As one OSU, student mused, “while giving campus police the authority to operate a vehicle designed for war is incredibly intimidating,” the bottom line? ”This thing is really cool and I want to drive it.”
This holiday, buy something your favorite law enforcement official will really love. Head down to your local military surplus outlet and get your MRAP today!
December 2, 2013 § 27 Comments
In 1984 the local garbage hauler launched curbside pick-up of recyclables in our town. We were issued a small blue box for glass, big blue bin for co-mingled recyclables, gray bin for yard waste, green bin for garbage. It’s a good feeling to get everything all sorted out.
How are we doing? Official statistics look good. In 1992, 9 million pounds of material was “repurposed.” This past year, 62 million pounds. Yeah!
Wait. What does “repurposed” mean?
1. Glass: The machines which sort glass are expensive. Our town doesn’t have one. Best case: glass is crushed and used as drainage material or for roads. Usually it goes to the dump.
2. Plastic: Most is sent to China for recycling. Last year China announced a new Green Fence policy, and stopped taking all but the cleanest, tidiest bales of plastic, and only certain types. If it there is a number 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 on the bottom of a container, China won’t take it, so it’s probably getting dumped in a landfill.
3. Cardboard: Has to be clean. Greasy pizza boxes with cheese stuck on them? To the dump.
4. Block styrofoam. This has never been picked up curbside, but for awhile there were places willing to take it. Not now. Everybody’s storage spaces are full of the stuff.
Luckily, several local breweries offer a waste-free option to drown our sorrows with while we contemplate next moves.
How goes the recycling efforts in your town? Time to lose ourselves in the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch?
November 11, 2013 § 10 Comments
Ninety five years ago, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Germany signed a treaty with the Allies to mark the end of World War I. There were over 37 million casualties.
The Armistice marked hardly more than a pause for breath. Soon after, Japan invaded China, Germany invaded Poland, France and the United Kingdom. Italy teamed up with Germany, conflict spread to Africa and the Soviet Union and Pearl Harbor, and on it went. We’re masters of self-inflicted misery, more like fire ants than the rational beings we’d like to think ourselves. Put up your dukes.
November 11th: remember the War to End All Wars and try to keep a straight face.
Veterans deserve a day of their own. If we don’t want to clutter the calendar with more federal holidays, there’s a good candidate coming up. The ode to pilgrims is getting stale.
Let’s save the moments of silence for the day when we’re feasting with our families. Let’s leave flowers on the graves when it’s darker and colder, use Thanksgiving to thank the soldiers who served and continue to serve, and November 11 to remember the folly of fooling ourselves that wars end war.
October 2, 2013 § 12 Comments
Go ahead. Don’t be afraid. Download that new operating system for your iPhone. Experts galore are online, ready to help. For most of us non-techies, the difference is mostly cosmetic, but the system does seem to work a tad faster, and has some cool/grotesque (depending on your taste) graphics. Warning: BACK UP your iPhone via iCloud or iTunes first! Here’s how: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1766
Five things that might stump you:
1. In G-mail, the spam option disappeared. The new word for spam is “junk.” That seems appropriate.
2. After the update, I had trouble editing notes. Instead of getting the familiar keyboard pop-up and magnifying glass editor, I only got the cut and paste options. The trick? Do not hold your finger on the screen for longer than a millisecond. The lightest tap brings up the keyboard.
3. Your battery might run out of juice faster than it used to, even if you turn off or delete some of the apps you don’t use. Here are a couple of new battery gobbling iOS features that you might want to turn on only occasionally, or maybe even live without.
- AirDrop. This lets you transfer things quickly between Apple devices. It’s not something I’ll use very often. To turn off, go to the home screen, open the Control screen by sliding your finger from the bottom to top on your phone. You’ll get an image like this:
The “AirDrop” icon is in the lower third of the screen. Tap to turn on or off.
- Parallax gives a 3 dimensional look to things on the screen. It is kind of cool, but makes some people carsick. If you’d rather extend the life of your battery, go to Settings > General > Accessibility, and > switch Reduce Motion to “On.”
4. Calendar. Having trouble making sense of the new one? I missed the old “list” feature, which allowed scrolling quickly through events scheduled, day by day. It’s still there! Tap the magnifying glass in the upper right corner to activate it. Note also that by tapping the year in the upper left corner, you get the entire calendar for the year. Tap again, and you return to the current month.
5. In case you decide to do some housekeeping by updating your Apple I.D. from the old e-mail address you used in college to the one you’ve been using for the last 10 years — you’ll discover that editing I.D. via iTunes doesn’t automatically sync everything else, which means that you won’t be able to sign on to see the New York Times, or download app updates, or anything else that requires signing in.
Ignore all the advice floating around about signing into the old e-mail again, and going back and forth with verifications and all the rest. The fix is simple: on your phone, go to Settings > iTunes & App Store > Tap on your Apple I.D. which will be highlighted in blue > tap on Sign Out > Sign in again with your new I.D.
Voila! What tricks have you found to save me hours of frustration?