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Journal of No. 118

December 26th, 2006

Recent Reading and Miscellany @ 09:52 am

Survived Christmas dinner with mom and the stepdad. The lasagna was a big hit -- one of Em's recipes suitably changed for sane people.

Thanks to lencrenoire, I can help introduce more of the world to Accordion Hero, though my tolerance for Christmas carols is now reaching its nadir.

Just finished Jack O'Connell's Wireless. I much preferred The Skin Palace by the same author. Wireless suffers the same defects I noted, but I think to a greater extent. Radio aficionadoes, ethnic gang violence, and a deranged ex-G-man mush themselves together until a requisite number of people have been damaged or killed. It's still a neat setting, with the Massachusetts town of Quinsigamond being kind of an anti-Newport of Charles DeLint. Instead of a half-fairy woman who bakes tasty cookies around every corner, there's a seedy drug-addicted monomaniacal trainspotter around every corner.

Just before Christmas, three magazines arrived in a thick bundle: Smithsonian, Scientific American and the Skeptical Inquirer. So now I review the neat-o stuff from the three S's for you.

Smithsonian mentions in its historical milestone section the story of Thomas Stevens, who (120 years ago) in January of 1887 became the first person to bicycle 'around the world' (taking the occasional steamer as necessary). All he needed was a strong will, a penny-farthing, an extra pair of socks and a .38 Smith & Wesson. Stevens wrote a book of his travels, which is available in print or online from Project Gutenberg

There's also an article by Dava Sobel (who wrote the excellent Galileo's Daughter) on sundials, ancient and modern. The article mostly centers on William Andrewes, who has been involved with time, clocks and sundials for sometime, and who (not so incidentally) helped provide photographs and other materials for the illustrated version of Sobel's book Longitude.

Skeptical Inquirer has a great article on Carl Sagan by David Morrison, whom I mentioned in my own blogathon post. It provides a great insider's view of both the personal and professional side of Sagan. It also features a great photo of Sagan and Velikovsky at the AAAS symposium.

Scientific American was packed with good stuff:

"Running a weak electric current through the brains of sleeping student volunteers improved their performance on a word-recall task."

"As the chart shows, the popularity of virginity has grown somewhat among all [teen] groups except for 18- to 19-year-old females." God bless them.

An article on ethanol demonstrates that really no significant gains will be achieved unless and until we can devise ways of converting cellulose into ethanol, rather than just corn kernels. Cane sugar is another viable source, but it doesn't really grow in the US - however, Brazil is successfully using it as a fuel crop.

Even Bill Gates offered an interesting article on the future of domestic robots. According to him, they will soon be in ur house, mowing ur lawns, feeding ur elderly, monitoring ur perimeter, folding ur laundry, etc. And then SkyNet will take over.

Okay, now in news of the extremely creepy, we have dog cancer: specifically Sticker's Sarcoma, which is contagious: "A team of scientists ... found that the tumors are much more genetically similar to one another than they are to the dogs in which they grew. ... It represents the evolution of a cancer cell into a successful parasite of worldwide distribution."
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Date:December 26th, 2006 07:23 pm (UTC)
I'll be curious to see what you make of Word Made Flesh, if you have any interest in finishing the quadrilogy.

I'd argue that doubt vs. certainty is the theme of Wireless, just as the power of the image is the theme of The Skin Palace. It's not just "a lot of stuff happened." But I have to do something with my English major.

Date:December 26th, 2006 08:52 pm (UTC)

Jack O'Connell

Jack O'Connell is one of my favorite authors. I have a theory about his four Quinsagamond novels. I think that he picks a different sense and makes it the centerpiece of each of the books. Box Nine is speech (lingo). Wireless is hearing (radios). Skin Palace is seeing (movies and photos). Word Made Flesh is writing (books and comic books). Something like that.
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Date:December 27th, 2006 05:12 pm (UTC)

Re: Jack O'Connell

I think your theory is sound, but I don't see that O'Connell does anything particularly interesting with this set-up. Sure, one can be mesmerized by images or sounds, but the novels do not dig into this fact, they just use it as a lever to shove characters around on stage.
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Date:December 26th, 2006 11:09 pm (UTC)
Accordion Hero = AWESOME!!!!

Journal of No. 118