Archive for October, 2010

New Feature on my Hold Quiz

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

A couple years ago, I wrote an interactive quiz for aviators to practice determining hold entries – mainly because I sucked at it.  At the suggestion of a user, I added a display mode to it.  You can check out the quiz.

Review: Founding Faith

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Steven Waldman’s Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America is exactly the kind of writing I like to see on difficult matters of history.  The topic is charged because of the constant battle between Church and State and the politicizing of faith on both sides, but there are real lessons to learn from history.  Waldman leads the reader toward those lessons by looking at several key founders and examining both their personal faith and their contemporaneous opinions about how religion and the republic should interact.  He also provides the context for these decisions in terms of the religious and political forces of the times.

Though Waldman uses a few well known founders to motivate his discussions, he never forgets that these were extraordinary men who created popular political consensus.  Madison may have believed in a wall between Church and State, but he never lost sight of the fact that other positions had to be considered and ground conceded.  Appeals to Jefferson’s position on an issue should not ignore the fact that all of the founding documents and many actions on which we base that position were products of consensus.  The frustrating ambiguity of the First Amendment exists partially so that different constituencies can see what they want to in it and support it.

Despite that caveat, this is not a wishy-washy book.  Waldman calls the history as he sees it, whether he’s providing supporting evidence that Jefferson meant what he said about a wall between Church and State or arguing that none of his selected founders were Deists or Atheists.  Partisans on either side of modern Church and State debates will find some of their historical support kicked out from under them.

This is as it should be.  Waldman’s interested in a real understanding of the issues – religious and political – in the early years of the nation.  There are important differences in how religion was practiced that shape the founders’ views that imply those views require context, but not so much context that appeals to God are anything but what they seem.  Furthermore the founders do not speak with one voice.  Adams and Madison have very different views of the role of religion in moral and public life.  Beyond that their personal faith and their positions on how the government should deal with religions differ as well.

Overall this does a great job of getting the historical issues in place and showing how both the most respected minds of the era addressed them as well as how the country as a whole approached things.  I came away with a much better understanding of the period, the pressures, and how the decisions of the time were influenced.  Waldman does not pick a particularly strident position on any side and try to defend it.  These are some facts that will help the reader form their opinions, not positions to adopt or refute.


Little things: Painted Gas Caps

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Last week 32169 went in for annual inspection, followed by a week of rain so that I couldn’t fly her.  Today I went out and flew around a little to make sure all was well.  You’d think that right after a big teardown inspection everything would be perfect, and usually that’s true, but it’s always a flight I approach with extra caution.  That’s why I didn’t fly her in the rain – something I’m usually just as happy to do.

Anyway, the flight was great and everything was pretty much perfect.  There was an added bonus.  I’d asked about painting my fuel caps and that had been done.  I’d picked up a new cap a couple years ago when on the road and had never gotten it painted.  Now it looks beautiful.  I feel like the plane has doubled in value!  Of course it hasn’t; used airplane values are not doing well lately.

Gaze on the beauty of my painted cap:

A white gas cap!

A white gas cap!

Incidentally, you know you fly the same plane a lot when you realize that after painting the caps, your mechanic has put them on the “wrong” wing tanks.  You know you’re whack-o when you fix that.

Review: How The States Got Their Shapes

Monday, October 4th, 2010

How The States Got Their Shapes, by Mark Stein, is an odd little book about history and geography of US states.  It’s fun to hang a little history lesson how each jog of the various state lines reflects a human interaction that’s fairly permanently etched into the landscape.  I was also happy to have found and read this on the Kindle.

The US is a federation of semi-autonomous states that joined together to gain their freedom.  This has a surprising effect on the shape of states.  The original 13 (or maybe 14 depending on how you feel about Vermont) were laid out according to the needs and sometimes the whims of the British monarchy.  As they came together, the disparities in state layouts and populations influenced the creation of the bicameral legislature.  That’s interesting enough, but the reaction of Congress was to attempt to maintain size and population parity of subsequent states.  That logical and surprising decision is one of the revelations of How the States…

There are others, from the concessions made to absorb Texas and California, to the multiple surveying errors – intentional or accidental – to the effects of the various natural features on the economy and geography of states.  Unsurprisingly, the Missouri compromise is visible in state boundaries, and the Civil War plays a role in Nevada’s borders.  There are surprisingly many good stories to tell about state lines.

The layout of the book makes it more a reference than a narrative.  After a short overview of principles and key national events, Stein proceeds state by state and border by border around the country.  The states are considered in alphabetical order, which means the same story gets told at least twice.  It can make it a little difficult to follow themes.  The fairly brief length also means that on some occasions, only the beginning of the story is in here. Still, this is a book that I expect to return to occasionally, when I forget why a particular blip is there on a boundary.

I was happy to see this on a Kindle for two reasons.  First, I found this odd thing in the Kindle store.  I was afraid that as I did more shopping on-line, the opportunities to run into interesting things like this would be reduced.  Apparently this is not the case.  Secondly, the book is chock full of maps that were generally easy to read in the Kindle.  I hadn’t been looking for a book full of maps to evaluate the Kindle’s illustration rendering, but I found one, and it was an enjoyable read.

One bit of Kindling that would have been nice would be better indexing.  Frequently part of a shared border’s story is told in one state’s entry and referenced in another.  These are not set up as Kindle cross references, so looking up the end of the reference is more painful than it needs to be.

Overall a fun book that told me a bunch about my country and my Kindle.


Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Like every other Kindle owner, I downloaded the free version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from Amazon. While I do have some criticisms of the collection, they’re mitigated by the facts that 1) this is a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories and 2) it’s free.

I was about to claim that I’m not much of a mystery reader, but I’ve been gushing about Raymond Chandler for a while now, so it’s probably pointless to try to defend that position.  I will say that I almost never read a mystery to try to beat the detective to the solution, but to see what the author brings to the story outside the genre trappings.  I’m not trying to stay ahead of Holmes – which would be difficult for no other reason than I don’t know enough minutae from the Victorian Age – but to visit his world.

I do genuinely enjoy Doyle’s stories.  His characterizations of Holmes’s cantankerous and logical character as well as the leads’ mutual affection are effortlessly communicated.  The tales and the company quickly become enjoyable, and Doyle mixes up the genre elements well enough that the stories never become completely formulaic.

That said, this isn’t a great collection either in terms of content – there are many missing stories – or in formatting for the Kindle.  Almost any unusual character is misrendered, to the point where any reference to currency was simply a blob with a number somewhere in the middle that may or may not be related to the sum in question.  While this did not pose an insurmountable problem for the stories, it was annoying.  Not that I remember the Victorian English Currency system, anyway.

Beyond the formatting of the text, the book itself didn’t take advantage of any of the Kindle features for navigation or visualization.  Iorich, which does, was a more pleasant navigation experience.  I like knowing roughly how far it is to the next chapter break, or, in Adventures, story conclusion.  Since it’s clear from the Kindle store that everyone gets this book, I was expecting more of a showcase.

As I say, my gripes should be taken as minor.  This is a free collection of Holmes stories; you can’t go wrong.


Review: Star Island

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Carl Hiaasen writes some world class light fiction, and Star Island is no exception.  It’s a fast moving send up of paparazzi and their targets where everyone’s a bit larger than life and the plot’s twisty enough to hold your attention without being confusing.  Writing such a thing is harder than it looks.  Striking the right tone, keeping the characters likeable but interesting, and keeping the plot’s clockwork running but obscured is all a challenge.  Hiaasen does all that and adds the South Florida flavor that he’s well known for.

All that said, Star Island is a trifle.  I’d forgotten I’d read it until I was looking through my kindle’s book list to see how far behind I am on these reviews.  Fun, while it lasted, though.