Books of the Year: 2017

Gnome carrying pile of booksHere are my picks for the best books of 2017, fiction and nonfiction. These aren’t the best books published this year, but rather the best I’ve read in the last twelvemonth. The winner in both categories is barely distinguished from the pack, and the runners up are all worthy of reading. Runners up appear in alphabetical order by their author’s surname. Each title is linked to my review of the book.

Fiction:

Winner:

Runners up:

Nonfiction:

Winner:

Runners up:

I should note that due to demands on my time from other clamant priorities, I have accumulated a number of books which are candidates for this list which I haven’t yet had time to review. The rules for Books of the Year are that the book must both be read and reviewed to be listed, but here are books worthy of your attention which would have made this list had I time to write the reviews they deserve. I had to work in great haste, with frequent interruptions by a variety of other tasks. You may see these books in next year’s Books of the Year: so sue me. Since I haven’t published reviews of these books, I’ll link directly to Amazon should you wish to purchase them.

What were your books of the year for 2017?


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

TOTD 2017-12-31: New Year’s Eve Photos

This photo is two different entrances to the same shrine. The sign says “First Visit” in red. To start the New Year off right you visit the shrine and get the gods on your side. People buy amulets.

 

The nest photo I think is self-explanatory. New Year’s Eve is for cleaning.

(The little sign tells every one when to throw away certain things. The top two are every Wednesday for plastics. The next one says second and fourth Thursday for non-burnable trash. The last one is every Tuesday and Friday for burnable trash.)

 

These next photos are taken near the shrine by my house at about 8 PM New Year’s Eve. It is a fair type atmosphere.

Candied apples anyone? Only 300 yen.

Roasted corn for 400 yen.  Golden fried chicken at 300 yen for the Single, 500 yen for the Double, 800 yen for the Mega, and 1000 yen for the Giga. (Send money to my PayPal and I will send back a low-calorie picture.)

 

What do you think?


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Book Review: The Hidden Truth

“The Hidden Truth” by Hans G. SchantzThis is a masterpiece of alternative history techno-thriller science fiction. It is rich in detail, full of interesting characters who interact and develop as the story unfolds, sound in the technical details which intersect with our world, insightful about science, technology, economics, government and the agenda of the “progressive” movement, and plausible in its presentation of the vast, ruthless, and shadowy conspiracy which lies under the surface of its world. And, above all, it is charming—these are characters you’d like to meet, even some of the villains because you want understand what motivates them.

The protagonist and narrator is a high school junior (senior later in the tale), son of an electrical engineer who owns his own electrical contracting business, married to a chemist, daughter of one of the most wealthy and influential families in their region of Tennessee, against the wishes of her parents. (We never learn the narrator’s name until the last page of the novel, so I suppose it would be a spoiler if I mentioned it here, so I won’t, even if it makes this review somewhat awkward.) Our young narrator wants to become a scientist, and his father not only encourages him in his pursuit, but guides him toward learning on his own by reading the original works of great scientists who actually made fundamental discoveries rather than “suffering through the cleaned-up and dumbed-down version you get from your teachers and textbooks.” His world is not ours: Al Gore, who won the 2000 U.S. presidential election, was killed in the 2001-09-11 attacks on the White House and Capitol, and President Lieberman pushed through the “Preserving our Planet’s Future Act”, popularly known as the “Gore Tax”, in his memory, and its tax on carbon emissions is predictably shackling the economy.

Pursuing his study of electromagnetism from original sources, he picks up a copy at the local library of a book published in 1909. The library was originally the collection of a respected institute of technology until destroyed by innovative educationalists and their pointy-headed progressive ideas. But the books remained, and in one of them, he reads an enigmatic passage about Oliver Heaviside having developed a theory of electromagnetic waves bouncing off one another in free space, which was to be published in a forthcoming book. This didn’t make any sense: electromagnetic waves add linearly, and while they can be reflected and refracted by various media, in free space they superpose without interaction. He asks his father about the puzzling passage, and they look up the scanned text on-line and find the passage he read missing. Was his memory playing tricks?

So, back to the library where, indeed, the version of the book there contains the mention of bouncing waves. And yet the publication date and edition number of the print and on-line books were identical. As Isaac Asimov observed, many great discoveries aren’t heralded by an exclamation of “Eureka!” but rather “That’s odd.” This was odd….

Soon, other discrepancies appear, and along with his best friend and computer and Internet wizard Amit Patel, he embarks on a project to scan original print editions of foundational works on electromagnetism from the library and compare them with on-line versions of these public domain works. There appears to be a pattern: mentions of Heaviside’s bouncing waves appear to have been scrubbed out of the readily-available editions of these books (print and on-line), and remain only in dusty volumes in forgotten provincial libraries.

As their investigations continue, it’s increasingly clear they have swatted a hornets’ nest. Fake feds start to follow their trail, with bogus stories of “cyber-terrorism”. And tragically, they learn that those who dig too deeply into these curiosities have a way of meeting tragic ends. Indeed, many of the early researchers into electromagnetism died young: Maxwell at age 48, Hertz at 36, FitzGerald at 39. Was there a vast conspiracy suppressing some knowledge about electromagnetism? And if so, what was the hidden truth, and why was it so important to them they were willing to kill to keep it hidden? It sure looked like it, and Amit started calling them “EVIL”: the Electromagnetic Villains International League.

The game gets deadly, and deadly serious. The narrator and Amit find some powerful and some ambiguous allies, learn about how to deal with the cops and other authority figures, and imbibe a great deal of wisdom about individuality, initiative, and liberty. There’s even an attempt to recruit our hero to the dark side of collectivism where its ultimate anti-human agenda is laid bare. Throughout there are delightful tips of the hat to libertarian ideas, thinkers, and authors, including some as obscure as a reference to the Books on Benefit bookshop in Providence, Rhode Island.

The author is an inventor, entrepreneur, and scientist. He writes, “I appreciate fiction that shows how ordinary people with extraordinary courage and determination can accomplish remarkable achievements.” Mission accomplished. As the book ends, the central mystery remains unresolved. The narrator vows to get to the bottom of it and avenge those destroyed by the keepers of the secret. In a remarkable afterword and about the author section, there is a wonderful reading list for those interested in the technical topics discussed in the book and fiction with similarly intriguing and inspiring themes. When it comes to the technical content of the book, the author knows of what he writes: he has literally written the book on the design of ultrawideband antennas and is co-inventor of Near Field Electromagnetic Ranging (NFER), which you can think of as “indoor GPS”.

For a self-published work, there are only a few copy editing errors (“discrete” where “discreet” was intended, and “Capital” for “Capitol”). The Kindle edition is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. A sequel is now available: A Rambling Wreck which takes our hero and the story to—where else?—Georgia Tech. I shall certainly read that book. Meanwhile, go read the present volume; if your tastes are anything like mine, you’re going to love it.

Schantz, Hans G. The Hidden Truth. Huntsville, AL: ÆtherCzar, 2016. ISBN 978-1-5327-1293-7.


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

New Year’s Customs

The biggest holiday of the year is New Year in Japan. It outranks Christmas by a lot. People prepare for the New Year by cleaning their houses and preparing Osechi. The holiday last from the first of January to the third.

Japanese want to start the New Year right so that means get the house in order. Not a light cleaning for guests but a thorough cleaning. Some people I have heard change their light bulbs at this time of year.

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=682235

The traditional New Year’s meal is Osechi. As you can see by the picture it is beautiful. There is a wide variety of dishes and it is served cold.  For the New Year’s meal it is put into trays. Later the trays are stacked on top of one another. The top tray is has a lid. Depending on the size of the families it the number and size of the trays differ.

 

As I wrote it is served cold so the only thing that is hot is tea and Ozoni. What is Ozoni? No, it is not a San Francisco treat. It is a type of soup with lumps of rice in it. The cooked sticky rice is smushed together to make a patty. This patty gets put in the soup. Sometimes it is one lump sometimes it is two lumps. This soup must be eaten carefully because you may choke on it. People have died.

 

 

By yoppy – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2778924
By SjschenOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

My first New Year’s meal was around a kotatsu.  This is a low table with a electric heater in the middle and a blanket (blue in the picture) to keep the heat in. In the old days they used charcoal for the heat. We ate the meal and watched special New Year’s day TV programs. Also we would eat mikan. Mikan are easy to peal oranges.

It used to be that was about all you did on New’s Years day besides visit a shrine. I live near a shrine so I see a lot of people pass my house to go to it every New Year’s. They even close off the street and restrict parking.  Now there are a lot of businesses open during the holidays.

How about you?  What are your New Year’s customs?

 

 

 

 

 


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

The Rules of Ratburger

I have shared the principles and some of the ways to navigate around Ratburger. Now is the time to share the top secret Rules of Ratburger. To make sure they don’t fall into the hands of our competition I am putting it behind a click.

 

 

For those who had the guts to click and wade through all the rules, please memorize them for there will be a test on Friday.

Like 13+

Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Pretentious Words

Recently I have been thinking how pretentious these words are when related to a web site.

  1. Banned [Organ music of foreboding doom.]
  2. Suspended (It reminds one of school, doesn’t it?)
  3. Redacted (Who uses redacted in normal conversation? And why not call yourself a Redactor instead of an Editor?)
  4. Code of Conduct (John Walker pointed this out to me early on as not the way to go.)
  5. Moderated (Update from Mike)

Can you add to the list of pretentious words?

What are some more humble words to get across some of these thoughts?

If I have to use these words I expect at least the rank of Colonel and an uniform with plenty of medals. And also a Winter and a Summer Palace. Hey, maybe these words aren’t so bad after all. 🙂


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Book Review: Order to Kill

“Order to Kill” by Kyle MillsThis is the second novel in the Mitch Rapp saga written by Kyle Mills, who took over the franchise after the death of Vince Flynn, its creator. In the first novel by Mills, The Survivor, he picked up the story of the last Vince Flynn installment, The Last Manright where it left off and seemed to effortlessly assume the voice of Vince Flynn and his sense for the character of Mitch Rapp. This was a most promising beginning, which augured well for further Mitch Rapp adventures.

In this, the fifteenth novel in the Mitch Rapp series (Flynn’s first novel, Term Limits, is set in the same world and shares characters with the Mitch Rapp series, but Rapp does not appear in it, so it isn’t considered a Rapp novel), Mills steps out of the shadow of Vince Flynn’s legacy and takes Rapp and the story line into new territory. The result is…mixed.

In keeping with current events and the adversary du jour, the troublemakers this time are the Russkies, with President Maxim Vladimirovich Krupin at the top of the tottering pyramid. And tottering it is, as the fall in oil prices has undermined Russia’s resource-based economy and destabilised the enterprises run by the oligarchs who keep him in power. He may be on top, but he is as much a tool of those in the shadows as master of his nation.

But perhaps there is a grand coup, or one might even say in the new, nominally pious Russia, a Hail Mary pass, which might simultaneously rescue the Russian economy and restore Russia to its rightful place on the world stage.

The problem is those pesky Saudis. Sitting atop a large fraction of the Earth’s oil, they can turn the valve on and off and set the price per barrel wherever they wish and, recently, have chosen to push the price down to simultaneously appease their customers in Europe and Asia, but also to drive the competition from hydraulic fracturing (which has a higher cost of production than simply pumping oil out from beneath the desert) out of the market. Suppose the Saudis could be taken out? But Russia could never do it directly. There would need to be a cut-out, and perfect deniability.

Well, the Islamic State (IS, or ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever they’re calling this week in the Court Language of the Legacy Empire) is sworn to extend its Caliphate to the holiest places of Islam and depose the illegitimate usurpers who rule them, so what better puppet to take down the Saudi petro-hegemony? Mitch Rapp finds himself in the middle of this conspiracy, opting to endure grave physical injury to insinuate himself into its midst.

But it’s the nature of the plot where everything falls apart, in one of those details which Vince Flynn and his brain trust would never have flubbed. This isn’t a quibble, but a torpedo below the water line. We must, perforce, step behind the curtain.

All right, we’re back from the spoilers. Whether you’ve read them or not, this is a well-crafted thriller which works as such as long as you don’t trip over the central absurdity in the plot. Rapp not only suffers grievous injury, but encounters an adversary who is not only his equal but better. He confronts his age, and its limitations. It happens to us all.

The gaping plot hole could have been easily fixed—not in the final manuscript but in the outline. Let’s hope that future Mitch Rapp adventures will be subjected to the editorial scrutiny which makes them not just page-turners but ones where, as you’re turning the pages, you don’t laugh out loud at easily-avoided blunders.

Mills, Kyle. Order to Kill. New York: Pocket Books, 2016. ISBN 978-1-4767-8349-9.


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar

TOTD 2017-12-29: Marching with Raised Fists

A year or two after emigrating, she happened to be in Paris on the anniversary of the Russian invasion of her country (Czechoslovakia).  A protest march had been scheduled, and she felt driven to take part.  Fists raised high, the young Frenchmen shouted out slogans condemning  Soviet imperialism. She liked the slogans, but to her surprise she  found herself unable to shout along with them. She lasted only a few minutes in the parade.

When she told her French friends about it, they were amazed. “You mean you don’t want to fight the occupation of your country?”  She would have liked to tell them that behind Communism, Fascism, behind all occupations and invasions lurks a more basic, pervasive evil and that the image of that evil was a parade of people marching with raised fists and shouting identical syllables in unison. But she knew she would never be able to make them understand. Embarrassed, she changed the subject.

— Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Isms Over Ers

It is important to keep this site civil and keeping with our principle of not attacking people it is best to go after the Isms and not the Ers.  This has been said in many ways. Such as: Play the ball not the man. Hate the sin not the sinner.  It is a subtle difference but an important difference.

Here are some examples (picked at random) of the Okay followed by the Not Okay.

Christianity is [Fill in the negative]      Christians are [Fill in the negative]

Feminism is [Fill in the negative]          Feminists are [Fill in the negative]

Neo-Conservatism is [Fill in the negative]   Neo-Cons are [Fill in the negative]

Leftism is [Fill in the negative]         Leftists are [Fill in the negative]

I hope in the comments we can flush this out more. We love a free exchange of ideas.


Users who have liked this post:

  • avatar
  • avatar
  • avatar

Knowledge Base: Spoiler Warnings

When you’re writing a post, for example a book or movie review, and you don’t want to give away plot or ending spoilers to those who haven’t yet encountered the story, you can wrap the spoilers in the [spoiler] and [/spoiler] shortcodes.  These will cause the text they enclose to be hidden unless the user explicitly displays it by clicking on the title of the spoiler box.  You can specify any title you wish with the “title=” attribute in the [spoiler] shortcode.

For example, if you write in your post:

[spoiler title="Show plot spoilers"]
Darph Nader was Fluke’s father.
[/spoiler]

the post will appear as follows:

You can use the [spoiler] shortcode anywhere you wish to hide some text from readers, for example punch lines of jokes and answers to puzzles.

This only works in main posts and main post comments, not in group posts and comments.