Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Monday, November 10, 2014

Literary Geography

Google Street View camera car
Image Credit:  Google

I love geography, maps, and books.  I also love Google Maps, especially the satellite and Street Views.  Google constantly has a fleet of camera cars (and walkers with back pack units, small push trolleys for museum interiors, trikes, snow mobiles, but mostly cars) driving about taking simultaneous photos in all directions every so many feet.  I haven't seen a specification of how far apart each photo is taken, and I would suspect that it depends on the visual information density of the surroundings. Hence I would expect that Manhattan would have far more photos per mile than a rural region.  Google then stitches the images together giving an almost seamless 360 degree view of the world at that spot and a view that will move right on down the road.  It appears seamless, but I have found that given the luck of the draw, a sign or detail that I am interested in is usually caught on the border in-between two images.  You click on the sign to read it, and you can only see it from a distant shot.  You click on it again and you blast past it and must turn around again to only see it in the distance from the other side.  Again I would imagine that Google regulates the distance between shots with the density of information.  If you are driving through a cornfield, there is a good chance that the address on a mailbox may be too distant to read, in contrast to being able to read the storefronts of every business on Main Street.  Despite the occasional frustration, it is truly an amazing application.
Pegman is the little orange guy
standing on the zoom slider.
Image Credit: Google Maps

Because I am old and cranky, I refuse to download the New Google Maps.  I did try it, and I didn't like it, so old coot that I am, I can address only the old version of Google Maps.  To activate Street View, you need to grab Pegman.  Pegman sits on top of the zoom slider.  When you grab him with your mouse all the streets that have street view content turn dark blue.  You will want to zoom in first to ensure a good placement.  So grab Pegman and drag him to the street you want to view.  The map will drop into Street View and you will see Pegman in the lower right corner sitting on a green disk with a pointer on a small section the map.  Now Pegman shows you where you are at and the direction you are facing.

I have only seen a Google Street View car once.  With old age and increasing decrepitude, I have taken to driving my leaf and grass clippings up to the compost pile on top of the cliff that is my back yard.  Unfortunately I block the one lane alley while dumping my cans, but there is seldom a car.  In the summer of 2013, I was dumping some grass and I look...there is the damned Google car waiting behind me.   My fat ass made the world wide web for about a month, and then curiously I was edited out.  I magically was in only one frame, a month later gone.  Google beautifies the world.  Alas--my 15 minutes of fame.

Google Maps Street View of Pittsburgh from the inbound portal of the Fort Pitt Tunnel.
Pegman is in the right hand corner looking north east.
Image Credit: Google Maps.

Anyhow my purpose here with Literary Geography is to show some instances in fiction where the author provides accurate descriptions of real places.  It sounds like a Jeopardy category.

For two hundred dollars in Literary Geography, how does Lisbeth Salander escape from Carl-Magnus Lundin?

What is she steals his motorcycle, Alex.

Ohhhhhh, noooooaaaahhhhh, sooorry!  She runs up the steps to the upper Lundagatan.

Saved By The Steps

Our first Literary Geography lesson is from The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson.  Through out the Millennium Trilogy, Larsson provides detailed descriptions of the scenes of various Stockholm streets.  In the following excerpt, a member of a motorcycle gang has been hired to kidnap the heroine Lisbeth Salander:

Blomkvist saw Salander lash out with her fist. At the instant she struck her attacker she dropped to the ground and rolled beneath the car. 
Seconds later Salander was up on the other side of the car, ready for fight or flight. She met the enemy’s gaze across the hood and decided on the latter option. Blood was pouring from his cheek. Before he even managed to focus on her she was away across Lundagatan, running towards Högalid Church. 
Blomkvist stood paralyzed, his mouth agape, when the attacker suddenly dashed after Salander. He looked like a tank chasing a toy car. Salander took the steps to upper Lundagatan two at a time. At the top of the stairs she glanced over her shoulder and saw her pursuer reaching the first step. He was fast. She noticed the piles of boards and sand where the local authority had dug up the street.
Larsson, Stieg; Reg Keeland (2009-07-20). The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium Trilogy) (pp. 152-153). Vintage. Kindle Edition. 
You can see this place with the steps and Högalid Church in the distance.  Go to Google Maps and copy and paste the following coordinates into the search bar:

59 19.085 N 18 2.649 E

I prefer the coordinates because it gives more accurate results, but you can also search:

49 Lundagatan Stockholm Sweden

The spot will be marked by a red balloon and possibly a green arrow.   Zoom in so that you have easy mouse access to the street.  Now grab Pegman on top of the slider and drag him so that he is slightly east of the balloon or arrow head.  Google Maps will drop into Street View.  Now look at Pegman in the lower right corner.  Grab the photo with your mouse and rotate it so the the Pegman faces west.  You should see the red balloon icons, a white painted crosswalk on the street, the spire of Hogalid Church in the distance and the steps that Salander took two at a time to the right.

Salander ran up these steps from the lower Lundagaten to the upper.
Högalid Church is in the distance.  Pegman is looking WNW and is about
 to trip over the red marker balloon. Image Credit:  Google Maps.  

Our next visit will be Salander's new swanky apartment building from the same book:

Blomkvist looked at the attached documentation for the purchase of an apartment in a building at Fiskargatan 9 in Mosebacke. 
Then he almost choked on his coffee. The price paid was twenty-five million kronor, and the deal was concluded with two payments a year apart.
Larsson, Stieg; Reg Keeland (2009-07-20). The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium Trilogy) (p. 451). Vintage. Kindle Edition. 
Using the method above, copy and paste the following coordinates into Google Maps:

59 19.080 N 18 4.600 E

Slander's swanky new digs at 9 Fiskargatan.
Image Credit: Google Maps

Number 9
Image Credit: Google Maps

Plop old Pegman down near the green arrowhead and rotate the resulting image until you see the building with the red balloon.  If you move about and look over the doorway, you will see a 9.

Death By Tide

In her book The Wheel of Fortune, Susan Howatch describes in detail through the book a natural formation that plays a huge role in the book:

The Worm’s Head is Gower’s most striking claim to fame. It is an extension of the south arm of the bay; the cliffs beyond the village of Rhossili slope steeply to sea level and there, across the tidal causeway of rocks known as the Shipway, a long narrow spur of land arches its way far out into the sea. It has all the allure of a semi-island and all the glamour of a myth. “Worm” is an old word for dragon, and with a little imagination one can look at this unusual land formation and see a monster thrashing its way into the Bristol Channel. 
The Mansel Talbots of Penrice who owned the land kept sheep on the Worm’s Head, and it had been on his way to inspect this flock that Owain Bryn-Davies had met his death in the tidal trap of the Shipway. Bryn-Davies, born and bred in the Welshery of northeast Gower, had misjudged the dangers awaiting those unfamiliar with the landscape in the southwest. 
Howatch, Susan (2012-10-09). The Wheel of Fortune (Kindle Locations 1524-1530). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition. 

There are no streets on the Worm's Head but while reading Howatch's blow by blow description of a psycho-thrilling weird walk out on the Worm's Head, I followed along with Google Maps satellite view.  It was uncanny.  I could tell exactly where the characters were in their walk.

To find this one, type in Rhossili United Kingdom.  Find the red balloon in the village of Rhossili and then pan the map to the west.  You should see the Worm's Head about a half of mile west of the village.  Click on Satellite View in the upper right corner.  You can zoom into 3/4 of an inch of photo = 20 feet.  You can easily see the foot paths and rock formations.  The shadow in the water on the western end gives a hint to how high this formation stands above the surface of the sea.

The Worm's Head Rhossili UK in Google Maps Satellite View
Image Credit: Google Maps


 I have added some white space, if you haven't read the book yet skip the following.  The images below contain spoilers of sorts.   

Maps of  Mark Watney's Road Trips

Poor Mark Watney is literally in a world of shit.  If you don't like my description, don't read the book, Mark's language is considerably worse than mine.  Mark is one of six astronauts on a manned mission to Mars called Ares 3.  A storm brews up that threatens to destroy their ascent vehicle.  The mission is aborted by Houston and they are ordered to leave immediately.  In the walk from the living module, the Hab, to the ascent vehicle, Mark is stuck with a sharp piece of the antenna array used to communicate to Earth.  His suit is punctured and Watney is killed by the sudden depressurization.  The wind threatens to topple the ascent vehicle and they take off just in the nick of time and leave Mark behind.  Miraculously Mark wakes up some period of time later.  The wind blew him faced down on the puncture and his weight resealed the suit, the suit re-pressurized itself, again just in the nick of time.  Long and short, Mark is marooned on Mars with a finite amount of food and no way to communicate with his crew or Earth.  That is a summary of the first chapter.

Now here comes the spoiler parts.  Read no further.

Mark is a very clever botanist / mechanical engineer and he starts growing potatoes in the Hab which other than losing its antenna is otherwise fully functional.  Mark starts planning and he decides the only way he is going to get off this planet is to do a road trip to the next mission's, Ares 4, landing site which has a fully functional MAV (Mars ascent vehicle) already in place.  The trouble with MAVs is that it is a row boat for getting off the surface Mars.  Then you have get on board an interplanetary steamer to make it back to Earth. The story goes from there.

When you read books on a Kindle. They automatically open to the beginning of the text on your first read, not the cover.  So you never have to page through the beginning pages of the book.  I usually page backwards to check for forward, illustrations, maps and so forth, but in this book failed to do so.  The whole time I read the book, different craters and canyons were named and I was thinking I wished I had a map.  Little did I realize that the book has a map at Kindle location 27, before the table of contents.  Its a crappy map but still better than nothing.   I thought several times that I should go to the NASA website and see if I could find these features mentioned in the book.  I distinctly remember thinking ugh too lazy, I am spoiled by the convenience of Google Maps.

The other day I opened Google earth, it is Google Maps running on diesel.  It has far more features than Google Maps, but I have always found it clunky to use, and I don't like the surface looks too "computer gamish" to me.  It does has some nice features though, namely pin point latitude and longitude readouts, and a cool ruler for measuring distances.   Plus you can save place marks, look at GPS tracks, and a dozen other things that I am too lazy to fool with.  It is a wonderful piece of software, but for me Google Maps does the trick most of the time without all the brouhaha and better imagery (in my opinion).  Anyhow I opened it up looking for some coordinates here on Earth when I happened to notice a button on the tool bar with Saturn on it.  What's this?  Low and behold there is a Google Mars, a Google Moon, and a Google Sky all embedded in Google earth.  Now we are talking.

So I fire up Google Mars although the application is still called Google earth.  I want to see where the Hab is located.  I type in Acidalia Planitia.  Google Earth takes me to a place that doesn't quite jive with the crappy map in the book.   So I search in the book for Acidalia Planitia and I find this excerpt.  It is Mindy Parks, Mars imaging specialist reviewing incoming satellite images from Mars:

A flicker on her screen announced that another set of images was ready for dispatch. She checked the name on the work order. Venkat Kapoor.
She posted the data directly to internal servers and composed an e-mail to Dr. Kapoor. As she entered the latitude and longitude of the image, she recognized the numbers.
31.2° N, 28.5 ° W… Acidalia Planitia… Ares 3?”
Out of curiosity, she brought up the first of the seventeen images.
As she’d suspected, it was the Ares 3 site. She’d heard they were going to image it . Slightly ashamed of herself, she scoured the image for any sign of Mark Watney’s dead body. After a minute of fruitless searching, she was simultaneously relieved and disappointed.
Weir, Andy (2014-02-11). The Martian: A Novel (pp. 52-53). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
From a story aspect, this is a little ridiculous.  It has been 5 weeks since the weather aborted a manned Mars mission costing 197 gazzillion dollars and resulting in a crew fatality in which the body has been left behind, and NASA is just now getting around to have a look with all their Martian satellites.   Hmmm.  The NASA of the future must not have the CYA (cover your ass) mentality that it has now.  I drift from my mission.  But now we have something to work with to locate the Hab.  Copy and paste    31.2° N, 28.5 ° W into the Mars search bar and voila.  We have a location.   Apparently the Acidalia Planitia is the Martian equivalent to the Great Plains, it is not very specific, but the coordinates zooms you in to a specific spot.  When Google Mars zooms, it zooms like it does for Google earth which is too much for the imagery.  It goes way beyond the resolution of the satellite imagery and you get a screen full of mashed pumpkin.  Zoom back out until the image makes some sense.  While you are at it put a place mark with the push pin icon, so you don't lose your place.  BTW you don't have to put in the little degree symbols if you are typing in coordinates, although don't forget the letters.

Anyhow our marooned hero makes two road trips in his rovers.  The first is an 800 km trip to the US Pathfinder site (an actual NASA mission).  Along the way Mindy tracking his progress reports that he is at  28.9 N  29.6 W.  Search those coordinates and you get another point on Mark's first road trip.  He reports seeing Hamelin Crater.  Another point plus you can search Pathfinder to find his destination.  So Mark's first road trip looks like this.

Mark's first road trip to the Pathfinder site.
Non-annotated Image Credit:  Google earth.  

All the orange square brouhaha over in Mawrth Vallis is not my doing.  It indicates further detailed images of specific features.  I couldn't figure out an easy way of getting rid of them, like some sort of layer control.  My annotations are the red place markers and yellow line.  So the story proceeds and our hero makes a second road trip to the location of the next Mars mission, Ares 4, with the hopes of hot wiring a ride back is a bit more complex than that but let's concentrate on the road trip.  The next mission is located in the Schiaparelli Crater.  The crater is real and you can search it.

Schiaparelli Crater.  Red pins are my place marks.
Non-annotated Image Credit:  Google earth.

You will notice that it has a small unnamed crater on its north western corner.  This second crater and wind erosion has provided Mark with an entrance ramp down into the Schiaparelli Crater.  So that is the end destination of a 3200 km road trip.  Watney goes through the canyons of Mawrth Vallis, and into the "Watney Triangle" defined by the Rutherford, Trouvelot, and Marth craters (all real).  He gets diverted by a potentially deadly dust storm at Marth Crater and must detour due south.  He then heads east to Schiaparelli, overturns the rover on the entrance ramp, recovers and arrives to Ares 4 and his ticket home, if he can strip of the excess weight and add more fuel to meet the flyby of the Hermes mother ship (the slow boat to Earth).  So I searched all those places and plotted a probable course for Marks trip:

Mark Watney's second road trip denoted in blue.
Non-annotated Image Credit:  Google earth.
I enjoyed this book immensely and I had even more fun tracing Mark's fictional trip across Mars.  Does he make it off Mars?  You will have to read the book and find out for yourself.

Edit 11/16/2014:  

Per a request from a member of my book club I have included an image showing Watney's Triangle.

The Watney Triangle
Non-annotated Image Credit:  Google earth.
Here is the text defining the triangle from the book:

I’m in the middle of a bunch of craters that form a triangle. I’m calling it the Watney Triangle because after what I’ve been through, stuff on Mars should be named after me.

Trouvelot, Becquerel, and Marth form the points of the triangle, with five other major craters along the sides. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem at all, but with my extremely rough navigation, I could easily end up at the lip of one of them and have to backtrack.

After Marth, I’ll be out of the Watney Triangle (yeah, I’m liking that name more and more). Then I can beeline toward Schiaparelli with impunity. There’ll still be plenty of craters in the way, but they’re comparatively small, and going around them won’t cost much time. 
Weir, Andy (2014-02-11). The Martian: A Novel (p. 293). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

I would assume the Watney Triangle is defined by the centers of Trouvelot, Becquerel, and Marth craters at the the vertices.  I drew the triangle somewhat larger to not obscure the crater images and place mark names.  The blue line is Watney's route. 


Thursday, October 30, 2014

How To Live

THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY is full of people who are full of themselves. A half-hour’s trawl through the online ocean of blogs, tweets, tubes, spaces, faces, pages, and pods brings up thousands of individuals fascinated by their own personalities and shouting for attention. They go on about themselves; they diarize, and chat, and upload photographs of everything they do. Uninhibitedly extrovert, they also look inward as never before. Even as bloggers and networkers delve into their private experience, they communicate with their fellow humans in a shared festival of the self.
Some optimists have tried to make this global meeting of minds the basis for a new approach to international relations. The historian Theodore Zeldin has founded a site called “The Oxford Muse,” which encourages people to put together brief self-portraits in words, describing their everyday lives and the things they have learned. They upload these for other people to read and respond to. For Zeldin, shared self-revelation is the best way to develop trust and cooperation around the planet, replacing national stereotypes with real people. The great adventure of our epoch, he says, is “to discover who inhabits the world, one individual at a time....”
By describing what makes them different from anyone else, the contributors reveal what they share with everyone else: the experience of being human. This idea—writing about oneself to create a mirror in which other people recognize their own humanity—has not existed forever. It had to be invented. And, unlike many cultural inventions, it can be traced to a single person: Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, a nobleman, government official, and winegrower who lived in the Périgord area of southwestern France from 1533 to 1592.
Bakewell, Sarah (2010-10-19). How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (Kindle Locations 75-99). Other Press. Kindle Edition. 
Image Credit:

I almost fell out of the chair laughing at the self reflection presented in the first paragraph from the introduction of Sarah Bakewell's How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer.  After the initial laugh, I felt somewhat admonished.  Indeed what is my blog but a festival of self?  Perhaps it is time to tear this down and become respectably reticent.  But as I read on, I found that I am simply presenting self in the fine tradition of the inventor of the essay--Montaigne.  

I haven't read this book yet, only started it, but I was so amused with the opening quote that I thought I at least have to point to my dear readers that this book is on the Kindle Daily Deal for $1.99.  Alas because it is a Daily Deal, it will only be on sale for today, October 30, 2014 at that price.   Amazon further sweetens the deal, if you buy the Kindle edition, you can get the Audible version for 99 cents (which is Whispersynched to the Kindle edition and you can do "immersion reading" on devices that support it, predominantly Kindle-Fire Tablets-the current Kindle e-readers do not have audio).  If you do buy both, be sure to buy the Kindle version first.  Otherwise you will be charged the full price for the Audible version.  I am not sure but you may want to restrict your Audible purchase to the Amazon website rather than using Audible's website to ensure you get the 99 cent price after buying the Kindle edition.  Audible has Apps that you can download for a variety of devices here:

Again the Kindle version is only available today at the reduced price of $1.99.  Available here:  

One thing about Kindles, they are cash registers for Amazon.  Good God!  My blog is turning into an Amazon advertisement.  No I am not getting paid.  How dumb is that?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Several Short Book Reviews

Soul to TakeSoul to Take by Helen  Bateman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have often read in my flakey New Age readings that Souls between lives sort of "hang out" with the prospective new parents immediately before and during a pregnancy.  Well here is an excellent short novel that speculates on the Soul observing and possibly choosing parents.

Bateman has wonderful character development and she has provided an interesting contrast between the lives of the prospective couples and the Soul's last few incarnations.  Bateman wisely avoids getting caught up in any kind of technical details about how all this works.  With her excellent writing skills, Bateman packs a lot of story in a compact and concise package.

Being a New Age flake, this story nicely coincides with my particular beliefs, but I don't believe that you need to be a flake to enjoy this well written novel.  Excellent debut novel!   I will be looking forward to reading more from this author.

View all my reviews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Actually not a bad story.  She just took way too long to tell it and the book ends in a bit of a cliff hanger, thus ensuring the reader will read the rest of the series.   I get cranky when authors do that, so my 3.5 stars rounded down to 3 stars.  I knew it was a series before I started reading it and I also knew that I probably would not read any additional books in the series.  The book was one of our book club selections and I read it to see what the big whoop was about.  As I predicted before starting the book, I have no interest in reading the rest of the series.  

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
 I am not sure what to make of this book.  I think it would have been more convincing if it had been either written in third person or the author had been a woman.  Coelho writing in a woman’s first person voice just came off less than true to me.

I tried to be sympathetic to the protagonist but she resisted my best efforts.  She has a wonderful life and is seemingly willing to throw it away because she is bored.  Perhaps we should feel sorry for her because she does not have one negative thing in her enchanted life to occupy her and life, marriage, career, success, extreme wealth, security, and happy healthy normal children are, well boring--although she loves her husband, her life, and her children.  OK this happens.  To alleviate her boredom she finds herself unwittingly drawn into an affair with an old high school lover, gently at first.

Caution Spoiler:

He treats her like an appliance, which she seems to alternately hate and like. Then she gets into a snark fest with her lover’s wife and decides that she has to destroy this woman for being haughty and having the audacity to be concerned about her husband. The protagonist spends 5000 francs on cocaine to plant in the woman’s desk. My sympathy for her goes out the window.

She then has a sort of confession to her husband who makes it easy for her and indicates that he loves her and if there is anything to forgive, she is forgiven. OK all should be well, if her husband can forgive her, I can too. But then a week after this confession of sorts, she has one last wild and wooly tumble in the hay with her lover because she needs closure. Goodbye to all sympathy. 

The book closes with a loving discussion of the love of love that will survive in the universe for all time after all the humans are long gone. It should have restored my sympathy to the protagonist but instead, sort of reminded me of Nicholson Baker’s mystical orgasmic spheres that float through all eternity in his book Vox.

It was not a bad book but it could have been a lot better.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Kindle and Audible Editions of Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics)Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book.   The flowery language takes some getting used to for the modern ear but the book was excellent.  I thoroughly enjoyed her feminism, her class commentary, her religious sensibilities, and her practical views on marriage (adjusted for the times).  With the huge numbers of reviews done by those with far more literary finesse than I possess, swine should not attempt to cast pearls.  Five stars for Miss Bronte.

My purposes here are to comment on the following editions of this book:

the Kindle Penguin Classics edition:   Jane Eyre (ASIN*: B002RI9XEC) and

the Audible Brilliance edition:   Jane Eyre (ASIN*: B001I7RRUK).

I feel that both of these editions were very helpful to my understanding and enjoyment of this work.  Due to the fact that these are the only editions of the book that I have read / listened, the following should not be regarded as a critical comparison to other editions but rather simply a favorable mention of the strengths of these particular editions.  For me the Penguin Classics edition is very helpful because of two features.  1) The volume is extensively footnoted.  These footnotes are useful to the literary inept (such as myself) to explain the various literary, classical, and Biblical references and common terms of the time and setting (mid 19the century Northern England) that have since become anachronisms. These can be as simple as describing an Amazon hat to extensive passages out of the Bible.  Also included are references to Bronte’s other works giving the reader a better grasp of Bronte’s thinking.  For example:

“All John Reed’s violent tyrannies, all his sisters’ proud indifference, all his mother’s aversion, all the servants’ partiality, turned up in my disturbed mind like a dark deposit in a turbid well. Why was I always suffering, always browbeaten, always accused, for ever condemned? Why could I never please? 7  Why was it useless to try to win anyone’s favour? Eliza, who was headstrong and selfish, was respected.”

Brontë, Charlotte (2006-06-29). Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics) (pp. 6-7). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

And the corresponding footnote:

“7 . Why could I never please: This theme is presaged by Charlotte Brontë’s thinly veiled confessional account in a Brussels essay of 17 October 1843, entitled ‘Letter From a Poor Painter to a Great Lord’: ‘Throughout my early youth the difference that existed between myself and most of the people around me was, for me, an embarrassing enigma … I believed myself inferior to everyone, and it grieved me’ (Belgian Essays, p. 362).”

Brontë, Charlotte (2006-06-29). Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics) . Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

A Kindle (or other electronic reader) has a decided advantage for such extensive footnoting in that it only requires a click (or screen tap) to go back and forth between text and footnotes.  Such footnoting would be extremely laborious in a printed version.

The second feature is a very good Introduction which explains the novel in context to the time and why it was important.  Alas this Introduction has spoilers for the book.  As such a first time reader should leave the Introduction for the end of the book.  If one has read it before and remembers the story, the Introduction may very well be helpful to read in advance of the book.

My only complaint with this edition is minor.  For the second generation Kindle and Kindle for Mac, there are no chapter listings in the table of contents.  The entire novel appears under one line.  This is not true on the second generation PaperWhite or Kindle-Fire HDX,  all of the chapters are listed even though the same Kindle file was used on all of the devices.   On those devices that do not support the chapter listings, the problem can easily be solved by searching "chapter."

In conjunction to reading the Penguin Classic Kindle edition of this novel, I also listened to the Audible edition Jane Eyre [Brilliance Edition] narrated by Susan Ericksen (ASIN*: B001I7RRUK).  I am a neophyte to Audible so take my comments with a grain of salt.  This edition uses Amazon’s Whispersync (as do some of the other Audible versions) to allow synching your progress with other Kindle devices to the Kindle edition discussed above. It also allows “immersion reading”  on devices that support it.  Ms. Ericksen does an excellent job of narrating this book.  She uses different voices for the various characters which delineates each character in the narration very well.  She also employs what I considered to be a proper amount of theatrical embellishment where required.  I did not find myself gritting my teeth due to an overly theatrical production, but rather a very enjoyable use of her excellent voice to establish the proper emotions being conveyed.  One gets the feeling that it is indeed Jane Eyre, not reading a book, but telling you a story.

I found that I thoroughly enjoyed the process of “immersion reading.”  After downloading both files into my Kindle-Fire HDX, I was able to open the Kindle version of the book and play the Audible version simultaneously.  The line being spoken is highlighted on the Kindle screen.  Pages turns occur automatically.  With the extensive footnoting, if a footnote was tapped, the narration automatically stopped.  It had to be manually restarted (requiring two screen taps) upon returning back to the text.  The only complaints I have with the immersion style reading is that it runs just a bit too fast for me at the normal speed, and for some reason a page change often butchers the first syllable of the first word spoken on the following page.  It appears that the page flip interferes with the narration.  The narration speed can be slowed down, but with the 25% steps that the Kindle-Fire offers, at 75%, it is painfully slow and the narrator begins to sound a bit drunk.  I would like a user inputted variable setting or at least more steps.  I think 90 to 95% would work well for me.  

Audible Version Narrated by Susan Ericksen
Image Credit:

There were some minor differences between the narrated text and the Kindle text, but these were infrequent (bearing in mind that I did not employ immersion reading for the entire book which is the only time that one would notice these differences).  Usually these were single words or short phrases that appeared in the text but not in the narration.  They caused no synching difficulties.  

All in all, I believe that the Audible version was critical in helping me get through the unfamiliar literary language of the book.  Five stars to both of these versions of this great book.  When you consider that I spent 99 cents for each version (you have to buy the Kindle version first to get the Audible version for 99 cents), I believe I got one hell of a book reading bargain.

View all my reviews

*Note!  ASIN is Amazon Standard Identification Number, by searching the ASIN at Amazon instead of the book title, the correct edition should be assured.  ASINs that appear here are only guaranteed at Amazon US.  Other Amazon markets may use different ASINs.


Amazon, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, Penguin Classics, Kindle Edition

Amazon, Jane Eyre [Brilliance Edition] [Unabridged] [Audible Audio Edition] Charlotte Bronte, Narrated by Susan Ericksen

Monday, September 1, 2014

Nifty Cool Tool? Perhaps.

Image Credit:

So what happens when you mate a yankee drill with a ratchet wrench?  You get yatchet wrench.  Obviously I had better remain retired and not seek employment as the creative genius in a tool advertisement agency.  So what happens when you hand a yatchet to such a creative genius?

You get the:

3/8-IN Drive Ratchet

Registered Trademark: Sears Brands LLC.

Oooooohhhh, the Sears Craftsman MACH Series 3/8-IN Drive Ratchet! I feel a tingling in my nether regions.  It sounds so much more MACHo than a yatchet.  Poor Ernst Mach, once again his name is misused on a product that he has absolutely nothing to do with--he died 98 years ago.   Other examples of this misuse are the Mustang Mach 1, an arguably fast car, and the Gillette MACH3 razor, a device for shaving that apparently can reach velocities of 3 times the speed of sound.  

Ernst Mach 1838-1916
Obviously had little use for the
Gillette Mach3.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
Ernst Mach was an Austrian physicist that studied the properties of sound in regards to projectile physics.  He discovered the shock wave (sonic boom) produced when a projectile exceeds the speed of sound.  Mach number is a ratio of an object's speed to the speed of sound.  As such, the Mustang Mach 1 is patently false advertising.  Let's give the Mach 1 the benefit of the doubt and say that it can go 200 mph.  The speed of sound in dry air at 68 degrees F at sea level is 767 mph.  So our 200 mph hour Mustang is actually a Mach 0.261 (200 / 767).  Our Gillette Mach3 has to be traveling at 2301 mph (3 X 767).  How this relates to shaving, I have no idea.  But I think in both cases that they just forgot to add the o turning mach into macho.  BTW (according to the Wikipedia article) take the same razor, change the color of the plastic and packaging and call it Venus, and you can sell it to women. 

So getting back to our yatchet, errrr MACH Series 3/8-IN Drive Ratchet, it is so named because it is fast, 16 times as efficient as their traditional ratchet.  This seems to be based on the 72 teeth resulting in a 5 degree "arch" (I think they meant arc).  So I looked at their run of the mill 3/8 ratchet that is priced at 1/3 the cost and it had 36 teeth resulting in a 10 degree arc.  Smaller arcs allow wrenches of the same length to ratchet in tighter quarters.  So how do we get a 16 X (a whopping 1600%) improvement in efficiency when the handle is actually longer than a standard ratchet, and only has twice the number of teeth?  Well it is efficiency and they haven't really defined what they mean by efficiency.  In one place they say "compared to our traditional ratchet, measuring the distance the handle travels to rotate the socket."  In the sales web page they state:

 "The 72-tooth Mach Series 3/8-Inch Drive Ratchet is built for SPEED turning sockets 16X's Times more efficient than a regular ratchet with a swing arch of 60-degrees."   

I am still mystified by the 16,  60 / 5 is 12.   To get a 60 degree arc you would need a 6 tooth ratchet.  The oldest Craftsman ratchet I have is dated to 1967, it is a 1/4 drive and does not have a release button.  It has 24 teeth (15 degree arc).  By my calculations to get a 16 X improvement in efficiency only looking at teeth, the traditional ratchet would have to be a 4.5 tooth ratchet resulting in an 80 degree swing.  Perhaps the traditional ratchet is the one that Sears sold during the Spanish American War?  But I quibble, it is faster.  The question is in my mind, is it at three times the cost and much lower torque more efficient?  

Gimbal mounted head.
Image Credit:

So here is what this thing does. The head is a standard ratchet mechanism although fine toothed, but it is gimbal mounted.  This allows the head to swivel 270 degrees in relation to the axial center line of the handle.  So you get a high degree of flexibility of the handle position relative to the head.  Where it shines is that you can position the handle directly over the head so that the centerline of the handle matches the center line of the fastener rotation.   This allows you to turn the handle like a standard screwdriver. If the torque goes up, you can swing the handle down ward to pick up some mechanical advantage through the handle behaving like a lever arm.  The second nifty feature is that the handle itself can ratchet in either direction or lock (white icons on the black collar in the image to the left).    And the third cool idea is that shaft and handle is a "yankee drive."  By pushing the handle down and holding the red collar near the head, you get a fast rotation action, one and a half turns of socket rotation per stroke.  The ratchet mechanism in the handle allows the handle to remain fixed in your hand on the return stroke.  They claim the shaft is "expandable."  I am not sure what they mean by that but it appears that you can use the ratchet in a short handled or a long handled configuration.  

Short Handle
Image Credit:

Long Handle
Image Credit:
Due to the complexity of the helix and ball mechanism in the yankee drive, I would be loath to use this ratchet for anything other than very low torques with the shaft fully retracted into the handle.  I fear that applying torques that would be well within a normal range for a standard ratchet would significantly shorten the life of the yankee drive in this ratchet if not result in outright breakage.    So what! It is guaranteed forever!  Perhaps, but forever is a long time and my prediction is that this wrench is going to have a short life and Sears will  discontinue it.  So if you like the yankee drive action, take care of your wrench, do not use it for anything other than very modest torques.

So yes the wrench is kind of cool and nifty.  But one man's nifty is another man's gimmicky.  Yep it is that too.  It kind of strikes me as cool solution looking for a problem.  Its fast, but not as fast as a drill with a bit driver or an impact gun.  It will deliver torque but not too much torque.  So it is kind of limited to those in-between jobs where you have a need for a lot of rotation but not much torque.    At 50 bucks it is priced a way too high for my budget. But I did get one.  It is on sale for $25 for Labor Day.  That is the price for the ratchet alone, the full mechanics set which includes 20 sockets, and 30 bits and a case is $99.99 on sale for $49.99.   For the most part this thing is a little too gimmicky for my tastes but it just so happens that I have a problem that I think it will work great for.  Rotating my tires.  I have fancy lug nuts that I am loathe to use an impact wrench.  I think this thing will be great for removing and installing those lug nuts.  I will use my 1/2 inch drive breaker bar as usual to un-torque the nuts and this ratchet's yankee drive action to remove them.  Likewise I can install the nuts again with the yankee drive action with this ratchet and slightly torque them using it as a ratchet wrench.  Then I can apply the full torque value with my torque wrench.   OK, I'll admit, I wanted the is kind of cool, but if it were not for my lugs nuts, even at 25 bucks, I think this is a pricey gimmick looking for an application.  I hope to be proved wrong.

The wrench is available at Sears and K-Mart retail stores and on line at:  


Introducing Craftsman MACH SERIES

Craftsman 3/8-Inch Drive Mach Series Ratchet

Monday, June 9, 2014


When Dreams are CallingWhen Dreams are Calling by Carol Vorvain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The description of this novel states that it is based on a true story.  A look at the author's website confirmed that the story is very similar to the author's life.  It reads very much like a memoir, but a very lively and entertaining memoir.  Its pointless to wonder how much is true, but I found myself not reading a fictional character but a very real one.

I doubt that I am in the author's target demographic...I am a 65 year old guy that retired out of a factory.  Other than a 4 year stint in the military and a collection of business trips I have traveled very little.  Rather than taking life by the horns and controlling my destiny, I have always reacted to what life handed me.  At this point in my life, my dreams are more on the order of avoiding yet another hurting joint and staying the hell out of nursing home for as long as possible.  So while Dora's adventures and travels inspired perhaps a little regret that I personally never threw caution to the wind and just lived life to the fullest, I am also old enough and wise enough to realize that there are the adventurous and then there are homebodies...I fall into the latter, as Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz "there is no place like home."  

That said I am also an old romantic.  I have often used the term that I am in "love with love."  The car rental woman that takes Dora on a tour of Havana, says that of the people of Cuba.  So what I really found interesting in this book was Dora's romantic life.  While her descriptions of her pursuit of "lust" are not explicit, they were frank and to the point.  She shares the erotic excitement of being in a relationship with the "Stallion" but ultimately rejects the notion of being in a relationship for "just sex."  Dora finds that "that something is missing" and that relationships built solely on lust are operating on borrowed time.   Dora wants something more and what she needs and finds is love.  It was this part of Dora's story that I identified with and to the Doras of the world, I would say it works!  I have been with my wife for 39 years and married to her for 37.  That woman has taken me on adventures to realms that have no air service...there is no place like our bedroom.  So along with my dreams of avoiding nursing homes, I have a dream that I am mid-trajectory in the adventure of life as husband and wife, but only taking off as soul-mates.  There is no place like eternity.

So what does an old cranky introverted curmudgeon like me get out of reading a book about a perky, young, vivacious, intelligent woman with both wander and lust? Dora is full of life, lust and love.  She is intelligent, but also wise well beyond her years.  What Dora did for me was to strum my heartstrings for the daughter that I never had.

View all my reviews

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Cool Pillow

Image Credit: cafe press

Here is a cool gift idea for the person who has everything.

The Scrotum Thermogram Throw Pillow.

Not only is it a colorful work of art but it is a scientifically factual.  The image is a thermogram,  imagery produced by an infra-red camera.  The colors are produced by the camera's software, and are used to delineate variations in temperature. The red areas are the warmest, and the blue are the coolest.

Typical body temperatures are not conducive to sperm production.  As such the testis are descended in warm blooded mammals, and as this pillow so dramatically illustrates, are a good bit cooler thus ensuring fertility.  Thermograms can be used as a clinical aid in fertility and urology.

Show the world that you are cool, get your Scrotum Thermogram Throw Pillow at cafe press for $24.50.

cafe press, Scrotum Thermogram Throw Pillow   

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Destruction of the Nuclear Stick Family

I know this will come as shock to my steady readers, but yes, I am getting old and cranky.  Excessively cutesy really gets under my skin.   So it was with great delight that I noted this decal on the back of a mini-van yesterday.

Image Credit:

It nicely capture's my opinion of the propensity to emblazon the rear of mini-vans and SUVs with stick figures, sports participation, and academic brilliance decals and bumper stickers.   It is sort of a polite protest for those of us who are klutzes, not too bright, and hale from or preside over dysfunctional families.  

And for those of us who reside in that region in the bell curve where the clapper hangs, at last, a bumper sticker and front plate for we the dung encrusted masses of the mundane, usual, and mediocre.

Image Credit:   cafe press

And finally a parting story involving a bumper sticker.  My wife and I took one of our cats to the vet.  There was a single car in the parking lot with its headlights on.  It had a bumper sticker “F--- nice people” except the u c k were not dashes.  We went into the waiting room and there was a rather attractive, well dressed, young woman sitting with no animal.  I said to her “At the risk of being seemingly nice, I believe you left your headlights on.”  She politely thanked me and went out and turned off her lights. 


Get your decal or sticker at:


Aim For Average:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Create a Caption

Image Credit:  Stacy Innerst, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

We have all seen the ads.  We have all seen the couples lying in their individual bathtubs blissfully staring off into a beautiful sunset.  And we have all wondered, what the hell is with the bathtubs?

Here is your chance to poke a little fun at the tub logo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Caption Contest. You provide the caption for the cartoon.   The official contest is over but you can still have fun here at Navigating The Finite.

Think of a caption for the cartoon and post it in the comments below.  Alas there are no prizes.

For the real contest and the winning captions, see:

Pittsburgh Post Gazette, April 26, 2014, Caption contest 235 ... and the winners of 234

Image Credits:

Cartoon:  Pittsburgh Post Gazette, April 26, 2014, Caption contest 235 ... and the winners of 234

Monday, March 31, 2014

How To Get Gray Hair and Save Money Doing It

A magnificent tire inflator.
Pay full price with cash in the store.

I always carry a tire inflator in my car.  It is a small 12 volt powered air compressor that plugs into the cigarette lighter plug and will re-inflate a flat tire providing that the leak is small such as a nail.  It can't work miracles, if your tire suffers a blow out from a large puncture or the bead becomes unseated from the rim you are SOL.  But those are relatively rare incidents.  More common is just the lowly nail, and having an inflator has saved me from having to change a tire under less than ideal circumstances.  I simply inflated the tire and then drove to the tire place to get it repaired. 

A couple of years ago the cord on my then inflator went bad.  I had a low tire and was at K-mart so I went in and found a cheap Craftsman unit (K-mart now being in cahoots with Sears)  that I although I was not satisfied with bought anyhow because I had a damn near flat tire in the parking lot and it was on sale for only $22, so what the hell.  It turned out to be the best unit I ever bought.  It is small, but relatively fast compared to my older units that I spent a lot more for and it has a very nice digital tire gauge.  I have been quite pleased with the unit.  Yesterday I saw that K-mart had the unit on sale on the Internet for $19.99.  Normal internet price is $34.99.  So I decide I am going to be a responsible father and buy my son one of these for his car. 

 I do the Internet buy here at home flawlessly. I will pick it up at a K-mart on the way to my son's house.  I wait for the return email to come which took a lot longer than when I have done similar transactions at Sears, but still within 90 minutes I got the Your Package is Ready For Pick-up email.  So I called my son and said hey I want to drop this off.  When is a good time for you?  He says he will stick around if I can bring it now.  He lives 40 minutes from me and the K-mart I selected is on the way to his place...I am smart that way. HA!  OK, I will get it now, see you in hour.  Yeah right.  

So I get to the K-mart but I have no idea where to go to pick it up.  I go to customer service desk which is staffed by one person.  Two women are in line in front of me with bundles of returns.  The service rep is taking care of the customers, answering the phone, and  has an inter-store communicator with a head set that he keeps talking into as problems arise in the store.   So I wait for about 10 minutes.  Finally one of the registers calls him to clear a register, so I catch him enroute and ask him where to pick this up.  At the registers.  Thanks.  

So I have blown 10 minutes.   Two registers are open, so I get in a long line that surprisingly moved fairly quickly.  In front of the registers are these big locked cabinets that scream in bright red THANKS FOR SHOPPING KMART AT THE INTERNET.  YOUR PURCHASE IS HERE!  JUST LOOK ABOUT STUPID YOU DON'T HAVE TO STAND AT CUSTOMER SERVICE FOR 10 MINUTES.  

So I get to the register and hand over my email and the cashier smartly goes up unlocks one of the cabinets and gets my purchase.  There is a receipt print out with the package that has my name and a bar code and the fact that I paid for it on line with my credit card.  I have piece of paper that says the same thing, I have the credit card, and my photo drivers license.  The only thing I could have done better was to have my birth certificate and a passport.  

Yes! It is me picking this up.  Yes! The inflator is available sitting on the checkout counter.  Yes! I am properly identified.  Yes! I have the credit card used to pay for it on-line.  No! Nothing is expired.   Yes! I and the store both have the documentation.  The flesh and blood employees of this store want to give my my tire inflator.  Everything is in order.  The computer, however in its infinite wisdom, will not release the item. Yes he did make this purchase, yes you have it here at the register and yes it is him.  TOO BAD YOU CAN'T RELEASE THIS SALE.   So the cashier, bless her heart tries and tries.  She goes over to the other cashier who knows how to do this.  She is doing it right.  She talks to the guy at customer service on the walky talky.  Yes she is doing it right.  The mood of those behind me in line is souring.  I start to fear for a little for my personal safety.  I am tempted to say screw it, but I have 25 minutes of driving, a gallon of gas, and 20 minutes of waiting already invested in my 15 dollar savings, plus I still have to drive home and a busy son waiting for his kind but somewhat fuddy duddy father to show up with this stupid tire inflator so he can get on with his day.  I soldier on.   

"I can't do this. You have to go to the customer service desk."  So I said OK and I go to grab the inflator.  She says,  "I'll get that."  I said "Oh, that's OK, I'll carry it over, and you can take care of everyone who have been patiently waiting" trying to ingratiate myself to the impatient hordes behind me.   "No you can't, I have to carry it."   I guess they were worried that I was going to dart out of the door with the tire inflator that I paid for on the Internet.  More huffing and aheming in the line behind me as we walk away.  

So now I get back in line at the customer service desk.  The guy is on the phone with a customer that insists that K-Mart should cash their check with an expired photo ID.  On and on it goes.  Meanwhile the guy is taking care of the customer returns.   Finally I get up to the counter.  The paperwork gets scanned yet another 43 times.  I am still me, I still have my photo ID, I still have my credit card, they still have a piece of paper with a barcode that says that this inflator is mine already paid for and I have the same piece of paper...but the computer remains unmoved.  I do not deserve this inflator, and it will not be cajoled into releasing my already paid for inflator into my very present awaiting well identified hands.  The guy says in exasperation, "I can't give you this."  I said very cooly, "There has to be a way."   He said "You're right, you have been very patient."  So, after perusing all the documentation, we agreed to do it the old way.  I signed and dated the email with a note that I received the material, like I did hundreds of times with industrial suppliers in my career of buying things worth hundreds and at times thousands of dollars.  I walked out of the store triumphant with my purchase having only spent 30 minutes, to save 15 dollars.  Fifty cents a minute.  Not bad!   

Now all I have to do is watch my credit card bill.  I should be charged 19.99 plus tax.  I have a sneaking suspicion that I will get a bill for something on the order of $1,668.37 which will account for my original purchase and the other 77 times the bar code was scanned trying to appease the computer.   When I am at my trial for refusing to pay more than $21.39, I hope common sense will prevail that the local K-mart could not possibly have had 78 units in stock.  Perhaps my lawyer will be able to subpoena store security cam footage with me standing in lines for 30 minutes and leaving the store with one small bag. However, I estimate legal fees and court costs will probably be on the order of $5,000 so maybe just paying the bill will be the smart move.   

If I were to repeat this transaction today,  I would go to the bank and get fifty bucks in small denomination bills.  I would then go to the K-mart and pick up this inflator off the counter and walk it to a register.  It would probably cost $39.99 in the store.  I believe 34.99 is the normal internet price.  If the sale went flawlessly, I would give the cashier a 5 dollar tip.  I wished I had done that yesterday.  It would have been so much simpler.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith By Barbara Brown Taylor

An Altar in the World: A Geography of FaithAn Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a sucker for any book that has the word geography in the title.  I enjoyed this book but ultimately it disappointed me.  It does a very good job of helping people with a crisis of church or religion.  Her lesson seems to be that one should be and do rather than think.  Taylor reminds us that we have a body and the body is Sacred.  She shows us many ways to express one's spirituality by stopping and smelling the roses, fully experiencing life, and performing service to others.  She states, correctly I believe, that one can find God and the Sacred anywhere in the world and in nature.  You don't have be in a church or go off to an ashram.  There are altars throughout the world where you place them.  Inspiration from a beautiful sunset is an altar that is just as spiritually valid as a ritual performed in a church, if you allow yourself to see that Sacredness.  You don't have to discount your own spiritual experience to a religion.  Taylor proceeds to then show how we may find God and the Sacredness of our existence in the aspects of ordinary life...our jobs, family, health, pain, and loss.  Digging for potatoes can be a spiritual exercise in the value of dirt and remembering that we are made of the same.  Hanging underwear and bath towels on a clothes line to dry is flying prayer flags.  "Pain makes theologians of us all."

What I found disappointing in the book was that it did not, for me at least, seem to address a crisis in faith.  Being fed up with church--the rules and regulations, the obsession with sin, the constant promoting of the brand (to enter the kingdom of God you must do _______), the gossip, congregational politics, national organizational politics, the dinners, Bible classes, ad infinitum--is one thing.  Yes!  Chuck it all and go find God in nature and self revelation.  But a crisis in faith, deeply felt doubts about the existence of God and the debilitating suspicion that you have been hand fed a line of BS is something altogether different.  One is not going to look for altars for something that does not exist.

James Fowler wrote Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, a book that I have, shamefully, attempted to read more than once and set down out of laziness and lack of intellectual discipline.  Fowler describes 7 stages of spiritual development, which you can find a nice summary at Wikipedia:

M. Scot Peck offered a simpler model in The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace reducing Fowler's 7 stages to 4 based on his own experience.  Peck's description is more compact and easier to understand.  You can find a good abridged version here:

According to Peck, level 3, skepticism, doubt that may express itself in various degrees of agnosticism or atheism is a necessary stage within spiritual development.  One must suffer a period of doubt or disbelief in God as well as organized religion in order to advance to level 4 that of a mystic.  While I can not vouch for the general truth of this statement, I can vouch that it reflected my spiritual experience--not that I have approached anything close to a mystic,  failed mystic perhaps.

In the abridged version of Peck's stages of faith in the link above we find:

  Despite being scientifically minded, in many cases even atheists, they are on a higher spiritual level than Stage II, being a required stage of growth to enter into Stage IV. The churches age old dilemma: how to bring people from Stage II to Stage IV, without allowing them to enter Stage III.

There in lies the problem for me with An Altar in the World.  Taylor seems to solve the age old dilemma by simply ignoring it.  She wonderfully provides a solution for those who are fed up with the church, but she does not adequately address the problems of those who are fed up with God.  Must we doubt God before we can find Her in a sunset, the flowers of the field, or the joy of hanging wet clothes on a line and see prayer flags?  I am not smart enough or spiritual enough to say.  But I do know that 50 years ago when the church drove me away with its obsession with sin, rules and regulations, showing me a sunset was not going to persuade me that God exists.  I had to have my period of being pissed off at not only the church but God as well.

Perhaps her new book to be published in a few weeks Learning to Walk in the Dark will address a crisis in faith.  

View all my reviews