Shallow Thoughts : : misc
Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.
Tue, 27 Aug 2019
White Rock has a "glider port", which is just an informal spot along
the edge of the canyon where sometimes people fly R/C sailplanes. On
days when the winds are right, gliders can get some pretty good
Last Sunday wasn't one of those days. The wind was coming from
every direction but east, so the gliders were having to use
their motors periodically to climb back up to altitude.
I was mostly trying to stay above the canyon rim, but I noticed all
the other pilots were flying down below, so I decided maybe it wasn't
that dangerous to let my plane get a little below the edge for a while
before starting the motor. Wrong! Below the edge of the canyon,
there's a risk of catching some evil rotors off the cliffs. One of
those rotors caught my glider's wing and tossed it into a spiral. I
was able to recover and get the plane flying straight again --
straight toward the cliff. It smacked hard -- I saw parts flying
I didn't expect that the plane itself was salvageable -- it's only
styrofoam, after all -- though it looked surprisingly intact. In
any case, Dave and I hoped to recover the components: battery, motor,
receivers, servos. Hiking to the plane proved difficult: you can get
fairly near there on the Blue Dot trail, but then you need to climb
three levels of cliff to reach the place where the plane sat. Coming
down from above definitely would have required rapelling gear.
But Dave had an idea: let's go fishing!
It took some experimenting to figure out what sort of hook, line and
pole you need to fish for a thirty-ounce plane that's fifty feet down
a sheer cliff out of sight from the cliff above it. Dave did the
fishing and I acted as the caller, sitting some hundred feet away
where I could spot the plane through binoculars and shout out which
direction he needed to move the line. But we got it in the end!
I shot some quick snapshots while I wasn't busy spotting, which
you can see here:
Amazingly, the plane was almost undamaged. The plastic spinner was
destroyed, but the motor seems fine. The nose of the plane is very
slightly askew but not broken. The battery, after being plugged in to
the receiver for 48 hours, was down to zero volts, but when we charged
it carefully, it took a charge. The canopy went flying off at the
moment of impact and is down there in the rocks somewhere, so I have a
new canopy, spinner and collet on backorder, but in the meantime, the
plane is probably flyable. I'll find out this weekend -- but if we
fly at the gliderport, I'm not letting it get lower than cliff level, ever!
[ 16:57 Aug 27, 2019
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Sun, 13 Jan 2019
And the snow continues to fall. We got a break of a few days, but
today it's snowed fairly steadily all day, adding another
-- I don't know, maybe four inches? Snow is hard to measure because
it piles up so unevenly, two inches here, eight there.
The hiking group I'm in went snowshoeing up in the Jemez last week -- lovely!
The shrubs that managed to stick up above the snow all wore coats
of ice, which fell by afternoon, littering the snow around them with
an extra coat of glitter.
And it was lovely here too, with a thick blanket of snow over everything.
(I need to get some snowshoes of my own, to make it easier to explore
the yard when conditions get like this, otherwise the snow would be
thigh-deep in places. For the hike last week, I borrowed a pair.)
And, of course, there's the never-ending fascination of watching
icicles, snow glaciers moving down the roof, and, this time, huge
curving icicles growing downward above the den deck. They hung more
than four feet below the roof before they finally separated and
fell with a huge THUMP!, leaving a three-foot-high pile
of snow that poor Dave had to shovel (I helped with shoveling
at first, until I slipped and sprained my wrist; it's improving,
but not enough that I can shovel ice yet).
Images of the snowstorm and the showshoe hike:
Snowstorms in January 2019.
[ 16:00 Jan 13, 2019
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Sun, 06 Jan 2019
About fifteen years ago, a friend in LinuxChix blogged about doing the
"50-50 Book Challenge". The goal was to read fifty new books in a year,
plus another fifty old books she'd read before.
I had no idea whether this was a lot of books or not. How many books
do I read in a year? I had no idea. But now I wanted to know.
So I started keeping a list: not for the 50-50 challenge specifically,
but just to see what the numbers were like.
It would be easy enough to do this in a spreadsheet, but I'm not
really a spreadsheet kind of girl, unless there's a good reason to
use one, like accounting tables or other numeric data. So I used
a plain text file with a simple, readable format,
like these entries from that first year, 2004:
Dragon Hunter: Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions, Charles Gallenkamp, Michael J. Novacek
Fascinating account of a series of expeditions in the early 1900s
searching for evidence of early man. Instead, they found
groundbreaking dinosaur discoveries, including the first evidence
of dinosaurs protecting their eggs (Oviraptor).
Life of Pi
Uneven, quirky, weird. Parts of it are good, parts are awful.
I found myself annoyed by it ... but somehow compelled to keep
reading. The ending may have redeemed it.
The Lions of Tsavo : Exploring the Legacy of Africa's Notorious Man-Eaters, Bruce D. Patterson
Excellent overview of the Tsavo lion story, including some recent
findings. Makes me want to find the original book, which turns
out to be public domain in Project Gutenberg.
- Bellwether, Connie Willis
What can I say? Connie Willis is one of my favorite writers and
this is arguably her best book. Everyone should read it.
I can't imagine anyone not liking it.
If there's a punctuation mark in the first column, it's a reread.
(I keep forgetting what character to use, so sometimes it's a dot,
sometimes a dash, sometimes an atsign.)
If there's anything else besides a space, it's a new book.
Lines starting with spaces are short notes on what I thought
of the book. I'm not trying to write formal reviews, just reminders.
If I don't have anything in specific to say, I leave it blank or
write a word or two, like "fun" or "disappointing".
Crunching the numbers
That means it's fairly easy to pull out book titles and count them
with grep and wc. For years I just used simple aliases:
All books this year: egrep '^[^ ]' books2019 | wc -l
Just new books: egrep '^[^ -.@]' books2019 | wc -l
Just reread books: egrep '^[-.@]' books2019 | wc -l
But after I had years of accumulated data I started wanting to see
it all together, so I wrote a shell alias that I put in my .zshrc:
for f in ~/Docs/Lists/books/books[0-9](#c4); do
year=$(echo $f | sed 's/.*books//')
let allbooks=$(egrep '^[^ ]' $f | grep -v 'Book List:' | wc -l)
let rereads=$(egrep '^[-.@\*]' $f | grep -v 'Book List:'| wc -l)
printf "%4s: All: %3d New: %3d rereads: %3d\n" \
$year $allbooks $(($allbooks - $rereads)) $rereads
In case you're curious, my numbers are all over the map:
2004: All: 53 New: 44 rereads: 9
2005: All: 51 New: 36 rereads: 15
2006: All: 72 New: 59 rereads: 13
2007: All: 59 New: 49 rereads: 10
2008: All: 42 New: 33 rereads: 9
2009: All: 56 New: 47 rereads: 9
2010: All: 43 New: 27 rereads: 16
2011: All: 80 New: 55 rereads: 25
2012: All: 65 New: 58 rereads: 7
2013: All: 59 New: 54 rereads: 5
2014: All: 128 New: 121 rereads: 7
2015: All: 111 New: 103 rereads: 8
2016: All: 66 New: 62 rereads: 4
2017: All: 57 New: 56 rereads: 1
2018: All: 74 New: 71 rereads: 3
2019: All: 3 New: 3 rereads: 0
So sometimes I beat that 100-book target that the 50-50 people advocated,
other times not. I'm not worried about the overall numbers. Some years
I race through a lot of lightweight series mysteries; other years I
spend more time delving into long nonfiction books.
But I have learned quite a few interesting tidbits.
What Does it all Mean?
I expected my reread count would be quite high.
As it turns out, I don't reread nearly as much as I thought.
I have quite a few "comfort books" that I like to read over and over
again (am I still five years old?), especially when I'm tired or ill.
I sometimes feel guilty about that, like I'm wasting time when I could
be improving my mind. I tell myself that it's not entirely a
waste: by reading these favorite books over and over, perhaps I'll
absorb some of the beautiful rhythms, strong characters, or clever
plot twists, that make me love them; and that maybe some of that will
carry over into my own writing. But it feels like rationalization.
But that first year, 2004, I read 44 new books and reread 9,
including the Lord of the Rings trilogy that I hadn't read
since I was a teenager. So I don't actually "waste" that much time on
rereading. Over the years, my highest reread count was 25 in 2011,
when I reread the whole Tony Hillerman series.
Is my reread count low because I'm conscious of the record-keeping,
and therefore I reread less than I would otherwise? I don't think so.
I'm still happy to pull out a battered copy of Tea with the Black
Dragon or Bellweather or Watership Down or
The Lion when I don't feel up to launching into a new book.
Another thing I wondered:
would keeping count encourage me to read more short mysteries and fewer
weighty non-fiction tomes? I admit I am a bit more aware of book
lengths now -- oh, god, the new Stephenson is how many pages?
-- but I try not to get competitive, even with myself, about numbers,
and I don't let a quest for big numbers keep me from reading Blood
and Thunder or The Invention of Nature. (And I had that
sinking feeling about Stephenson even before I started keeping a book
list. The man can write, but he could use an editor with a firm hand.)
What counts as a book? Do I feel tempted to pile up short,
easy books to "get credit" for them, or to finish a bad book I'm not
enjoying? Sometimes a little, but mostly no. What about novellas?
What about partial reads, like skipping chapters?
I decide on a case by case basis but don't stress over it.
I do keep entries for books I start and don't finish (with spaces at
the beginning of the line so they don't show up in the count), with
notes on why I gave up on them, or where I left off if I intend to go back.
Keeping track of my reading has turned out to have other benefits.
For instance, it prevents accidental rereads.
Last year Dave checked a mystery out of the library (we read a lot of
the same books, so anything one of us reads, the other will at least
consider). I looked at it and said "That sounds awfully familiar.
Haven't we already read it?" Sure enough, it was on my list from
the previous year, and I hadn't liked it. Dave doesn't keep a book
list, so he started reading, but eventually realized that he, too, had
read it before.
And sometimes my memory of a book isn't very clear, and my notes
on what I thought of a book are useful.
Last year, on a hike, a friend and I got to talking about the efforts
to eradicate rats on southern California's Channel Islands. I said
"Oh, I read an interesting novel about that recently. Was it
Barbara Kingsolver? No, wait ... I think it was T.C. Boyle.
Interesting book, you should check it out."
When I got home, I consulted my book lists and found it in 2011:
When the Killing's Done, T.C. Boyle
A tough slog through part 1, but it gets somewhat better in part 2
(there are actually a few characters you don't hate, finally)
and some plot eventually emerges, near the end of the novel.
I sent my friend an email rescinding my recommendation. I told her the
book does cover some interesting details related to the rat eradication,
but I'd forgotten that it was a poor excuse for a novel. In the end
she decided to read it anyway, and her opinion agreed with mine.
I believe she's started keeping a book list of her own now.
On the other hand, it's also good to have a record of delightful new
discoveries. A gem from last year:
Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour bookstore, Robin Sloan
Unexpectedly good! I read this because Sloan was on the Embedded
podcast, but I didn't expect much. Turns out Sloan can write!
Had me going from the beginning. Also, the glow-in-the-dark books
on the cover were fun.
Even if I forget Sloan's name (sad, I know, but I have a poor memory
for names), when I see a new book of his I'll know to check it out.
I didn't love his second book, Sourdough, quite as much as
Mr. Penumbra, but he's still an author worth following.
[ 12:09 Jan 06, 2019
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Fri, 21 Dec 2018
It's been a while since my last blog post. Partly that's because I've
been busy with other things, like a welding class, learning a lot of
great new techniques. But it's also because I've been trying to
keep typing to a minimum (not easy for me) because of a thumb problem.
It's called "trigger thumb" and apparently is caused by a tendon
that gets stuck in its sheath. It can be caused by repetitive motion,
but in my case I just woke up with it one day, after a day when I
hadn't been doing anything particularly hand-intensive.
Cortisone injections and surgery are the usual treatment.
I may yet try cortisone, but the number of such injections you
can get are severely limited (like, twice in a lifetime),
and the surgery didn't sound appealing,
so I wanted to try other approaches first.
Some discussions I found mentioned splinting. I tried splinting it
with a popsicle stick and tape, but a straight splint made
it much worse: keeping it straight made it want to stay straight, and
after removing the splint it was quite painful to try to bend it.
For weeks it just kept getting worse.
But I finally found something that helped: a bent splint.
I glued two pieces of popsicle stick together at an angle, and
at bedtime I taped them to my thumb so it stayed a little bent overnight.
That helped quite a bit. But it was a pain to set up and tended to come loose.
I wanted something I could just slip on and off, without going through
all that tape, that wouldn't come loose. Preferably with an adjustable angle.
So I cut some strips of steel, got out the welder and made myself
a bent splint.
It's tough to weld thin pieces with the MIG welder, and
I melted it in places. But it worked amazingly well. I lined it with
some Moleskin, and after a few days with it, the thumb definitely
started to feel better. The tendon was still popping, but it hurt
a lot less and I could start using my hand again. And the metal splint
let me adjust how much my thumb was bent,
which wasn't true at all with the popsicle stick approach.
Plus, it had a neat sort of Spanish Inquisition/Hannibal Lecter look.
It looks like a torture device, but really, it's amazingly comfortable.
The only problem: it was heavy. I could feel it dragging down
on my thumb all the time. I wished it was a little lighter.
The hardware store sells strips of brass that looked like just the ticket.
But you can't MIG weld brass, only steel.
Good thing I was taking that welding class!
I asked the instructor, and he brought in some carbon-bronze filler
rod and showed me how to "TIG braze". It's difficult and fiddly:
brass melts very easily, and the trick is to get the base metal hot,
then bring in the filler rod and blip the TIG pedal just enough to
melt the rod so it flows in without melting the base metal.
While my instructor made it look easy,
when I tried it myself I always ended up getting the
temperature too hot and melting some of the brass.
So my splint looks a bit ragged in spots.
Still, the finished product works wonderfully, and it's quite a bit
lighter than its steel cousin. Dave thinks it still looks Hannibal
Lecterish, but that doesn't bother me. I skipped the Moleskin this time:
it's comfy enough without it, and it's a lot easier to slip the
splint on and off.
I'm still trying to spend less time typing until my thumb heals
completely. But with the splint, and occasional ice packs, it's
improving, doesn't hurt any more, and I'm hoping I can get by without
And besides, isn't it more fun to weld up your own medical
equipment? (Don't tell the AMA!)
[ 16:37 Dec 21, 2018
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Thu, 18 May 2017
Wandering the yard chasing invasive weeds, Dave noticed an area that
had been disturbed recently by some animal -- probably a deer, but
there were no clear prints so we couldn't be sure.
But among the churned soil, he noticed something that looked different
from the other rocks.
A pot sherd, with quite a nice pattern on it!
(I'm informed that fragments of ancient pots are properly called "sherds";
a "shard" is a fragment of anything other than a pot.)
Our sherd fairly large as such things go: the longest dimension is
about two inches.
Of course, we wanted to know how old it was, and whether it was
"real". We've done a lot of "archaeology" in our yard since we moved
in, digging up artifacts ranging from bits of 1970s ceramic and
plastic dinnerware to old tent pegs to hundreds of feet of old rotting
irrigation tubing and black plastic sheeting. We even found a small
fragment of obsidian that looked like it had been worked (and had
clearly been brought here: we're on basalt, with the nearest obsidian
source at least fifteen miles away). We've also eyed some of the rock
rings and other formations in the yard with some suspicion, though
there's no way to prove how long ago rocks were moved. But we never
thought we'd find anything older than the 1970s when the house was
built, or possibly the 1940s when White Rock was a construction camp
for the young Los Alamos lab.
So we asked a friend who's an expert in such matters. She tells us it's a
Fe black-on-white, probably dated somewhere between 1200-1300 AD.
Santa Fe black-on-white comes in many different designs, and is
apparently the most common type of pottery found in the Los
Alamos/Santa Fe area. We're not disappointed by that; we're excited to
find that our pot sherd is "real", and that we could find something
that old in the yard of a house that's been occupied since 1975.
It's not entirely a surprise that the area was used 700 years ago, or
even earlier. We live in a community called La Senda, meaning "The
Path". A longtime resident told us the name came from a traditional
route that used to wind down Pajarito Canyon to the site of the
current Red Dot trail, which descends to the Rio Grande passing many
ancient petroglyphs along the way. So perhaps we live on a path that
was commonly used when migrating between the farmland along the Rio
and the cliff houses higher up in the canyons.
What fun! Of course we'll be keeping our eyes open for more sherds and
[ 20:16 May 18, 2017
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Mon, 05 Sep 2016
We drove up to Taos today to see the
Earthships are sustainable, completely off-the-grid houses built of adobe and
recycled materials. That was pretty much all I knew about them, except
that they were weird looking; I'd driven by on the highway a few times
(they're on highway 64 just west of the
Grande Gorge Bridge) but never stopped and paid the $7 admission
for the self-guided tour.
Seeing them up close was fun. The walls are made of old tires packed
with dirt, then covered with adobe. The result is quite strong, though
like all adobe structures it requires regular maintenance if you don't
want it to melt away. For non load bearing walls, they pack adobe
around old recycled bottles or cans.
The houses have a passive solar design, with big windows along one
side that make a greenhouse for growing food and freshening the air,
as well as collecting warmth in cold weather. Solar panels provide
power -- supposedly along with windmills, but I didn't see any
windmills in operation, and the ones they showed in photos looked
too tiny to offer much help. To help make the most of the solar power,
the house is wired for DC, and all the lighting, water pumps and so
forth run off low voltage DC. There's even a special DC refrigerator.
They do include an AC inverter for appliances like televisions and computer
equipment that can't run directly off DC.
Water is supposedly self sustaining too, though I don't see how that
could work in drought years. As long as there's enough rainfall, water
runs off the roof into a cistern and is used for drinking, bathing etc.,
after which it's run through filters and then pumped into the greenhouse.
Waste water from the greenhouse is used for flushing toilets, after
which it finally goes to the septic tank.
All very cool. We're in a house now that makes us very happy (and has
excellent passive solar, though we do plan to add solar panels and
a greywater system some day) but if I was building a house, I'd be
all over this.
We also discovered an excellent way to get there without getting stuck
in traffic-clogged Taos (it's a lovely town, but you really don't want
to go near there on a holiday, or a weekend ... or any other time when
people might be visiting). There's a road from Pilar that crosses the
Rio Grande then ascends up to the mesa high above the river,
continuing up to highway 64 right near the earthships. We'd been a
little way up that road once, on a petroglyph-viewing hike, but never
all the way through. The map said it was dirt from the Rio all the way
up to 64, and we were in the Corolla, since the Rav4's battery started
misbehaving a few days ago and we haven't replaced it yet.
So we were hesitant. But the nice folks at the Rio Grande Gorge
visitor center at Pilar assured us that the dirt section ended at the
top of the mesa and any car could make it ("it gets bumpy -- a New
Mexico massage! You'll get to the top very relaxed"). They were
right: the Corolla made it with no difficulty and it was a much
faster route than going through Taos.
We got home just in time for the rouladen I'd left cooking in the
crockpot, and then finished dinner just in time for a great sunset sky.
A few more photos:
Earthships (and a
[ 21:05 Sep 05, 2016
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Fri, 03 Jun 2016
I love this place. We just got back from this week's free Friday
concert at Ashley Pond. Not a great band this time (the previous two
were both excellent). But that's okay -- it's still fun to sit on the
grass on a summer evening and watch the swallows wheeling over the
pond and the old folks dancing up near the stage and the little kids and
dogs dashing pell-mell through the crowd, while Dave, dredging up
his rock-star past, explains why this band's sound is so muddy
(too many stacked effects pedals).
And then on the way out, I'm watching appreciatively as the teen group,
who were earlier walking a slack line strung between two trees,
has now switched to juggling clubs.
(I know old people are supposed to complain about "kids today", but
honestly, the kids here seem smart and fit and into all kinds of cool
activities.) One of the jugglers has just thrown three clubs and
a ball, and is mostly keeping them all in the air, when I hear a bleat
to my right -- it's a girl walking by with a goat on a leash.
Just another ordinary Friday evening in Los Alamos.
[ 20:45 Jun 03, 2016
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Wed, 13 Jan 2016
It's been snowing quite a bit! Radical, and fun, for a California ex-pat.
But it doesn't slow down the weekly hiking group I'm in. When the weather
turns white, the group switches to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
A few weeks ago, I tried cross-country skiing for the first time.
(I've downhill skied a handful of times, so I know how, more or less,
but never got very good at it. Ski areas are way too far away
and way too expensive in Californian.) It was fun, but I have a
chronic rotator cuff problem, probably left over from an old
motorcycle injury, and found my shoulder didn't deal well with skiing.
Well, the skiing was probably fine. It was probably more the falling
and trying to get back up again that it didn't like.
So for the past two weeks I've tried snowshoes instead.
That went just fine. It doesn't take much learning: it's just like
hiking, except a little bit harder work remembering not to step
on your own big feet. "Bozo goes hiking!" Dave called it, but
it isn't nearly as Bozo-esque as I thought it would be.
Last week we snowshoed from a campground out to the edge of Frijoles
Canyon, in a snowstorm most of the way, and ice fog -- sounds harsh
when described like that, but it was lovely, and we were plenty warm
when we were moving. This week, we followed the prettiest trail in the
area, the East Fork of the Jemez River.
In summer, it's a vibrantly green meadow with the sparkling creek
snaking through it. In winter, it turns into a green and sparkling
white forest. Someone took a photo of me snowshoeing across one of the
many log bridges spanning the East Fork. You can't see any hint of the
river itself -- it's buried in snow.
But if you hike in far enough, there's a warm spring: we're on the
edge of the Valles Caldera, an old supervolcano that still has plenty of
low-level geothermal activity left. The river is warm enough here that
it's still running even in midwinter ... and there was a dipper there.
are little birds that dive into creeks and fly under the water in
search of food. They're in constant motion, diving, re-emerging,
bathing, shaking off, and this dipper went about its business fifteen
feet from where we were standing watching it. Someone had told me that
he saw two dippers at this spot yesterday, but we were happy
to get such a good look at even one.
We had lunch in a sunny spot downstream from the dipper, then headed
back to the trailhead. A lovely way to spend a winter day.
[ 19:01 Jan 13, 2016
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