75 Books

I read 75 books in 2016. I started 78 books, but gave up on three of them. I signed up in the Goodreads challenge to read 75 books, because I thought I read roughly a book and a half each week. Well, I needed to read a lot of short books to hit that goal.

These are the best books I read last year.

Cover Dispatches Dispatches by Michael Herr, 1977. Reporting from Vietnam was mostly about hills taken and body counts, parroted from press briefings. Michael Herr skipped those briefings and went out into the jungles with the Marines. He reported the emotions, the mud, and the blood. Not an easy read, but an essential one.

 

Cover Sector General Sector General Series by James White (1957 through 1999). If you were a pacifist living in Belfast during The Troubles, what sort of science fiction would you write? James White decided to write stories of a city-sized hospital in space, where races are truly different, humans are not special or better, and the only goal is healing, no matter how difficult. It is easy to see the flaws in these books, but there is something rare and special in them. It is a twelve-book series and I read six of them last year.

 

Cover Influence Influence by Robert Cialdini, 1984 (new edition 2006). Don’t get conned again! Cialdini studied the mechanics of persuasion and describes them with great stories. There are two editions of this book. You want the cheaper, non-textbook edition without the exercises.

 

Cover Our Souls at Night Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, 2015. Haruf’s last book is a gentle story about two people finding a bit of happiness in their old age, for a little while.

 

Cover The Food Lab The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by Kenji Lopez-Alt, 2015. A week after I was given this book, I made Eggs Benedict for the family. I used Kenji’s straightforward method for hollandaise and it was perfect. When I made it the next Christmas, it was just as good. Every recipe in this book is like that, because science. Yes, it is over 900 pages and I read the whole thing. Buy this for that engineer in your life who cooks.

 

Cover Scout Field Book Scout Field Book by James E. West and Daniel Hillcourt, 1948. Short chapters, lots of pictures, something to do on every page, just the thing for the boy who spends his time glued to that new, addictive device, the radio. The current BSA Fieldbook manages to make the outdoors boring. Let’s start over using this and the 2nd edition Fieldbook (1967) as models. For a good example of that approach, get the Outdoor Adventure Manual from the Scout Association in the UK.

 

Cover Just Mercy Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, 2014. It is time to stop reading To Kill a Mockingbird in school and start reading this. “Mockingbird” is fiction about white people, but this is a true story about a black man, a good man, who was accused, convicted, and broken for something he didn’t do. The book weaves together that story and Bryan Stevenson’s personal story about working to free people wrongly convicted. You won’t be able to put it down and you won’t be able to forget it.

 

Cover Brooklyn Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, 2009. This is the only book I’ve read by Tóibín, maybe his others are better. But this was very good. The movie is equally good and follows the book very closely. Both are quietly rewarding, though I might give the edge to the movie for Saoirse Ronan’s fine performance.

 

Cover What s Cooking on the PCT Whats Cooking on the PCT by Martin “Rainman” Leghart, Jr., 2015-2016. A backpacking cookbook with a wide range of cooking and eating styles. If you are not satisfied with your current trail food or just starting out, you should get this book and read how 40+ PCT hikers eat, with one recipe from each. There is a new edition every fall and half the profits go to the Pacific Crest Trail Association.

 

The full list of my 75 books is on line at Goodreads. This year I signed up to read 52 books, so I can read some longer ones. I’ve already finished Moby Dick.

Short Podcasts for the Beginning Ham

Since 2011, Onno (VK6FLAB) has been producing weekly podcasts for beginning Australian amateur radio operators. The podcasts are short, from one to three minutes long. I’m no longer a beginner, but I really enjoy the podcasts. They are full of curiosity, advice, and encouragement. They make me want to get on the air.

The first series of podcasts, What use is an F-call? ran from 2011 through June 2015. These were about operating with with the Australian Foundation Licence, the entry-level license there.

The second series, Foundations of Amateur Radio, is still for Foundation Licence holders, but has a name that makes a bit more sense to non-Australian hams.

Each podcast has a text transcription, which helps with handicapped accessibility. Those are available on the website and I can see them in my iOS Podcasts app.

There are a few terms unique to Australia and amateur radio there, so I’ve compiled a short glossary.

  • The ACMA is the government agency that issues amateur radio licenses.
  • An F-call is an Australian call sign with a four-letter suffix starting with “F”, like “VK6FLAB”. All Foundation Licence holders have F-calls.
  • The Foundation Licence is the entry level amateur radio license. Unlike the US Technician license, it allows operating on HF bands (80, 40, 15, and 10) with voice and Morse at 10 Watts. It does not permit data modes, homebuilt transmitters, or automatically controlled transmitters. Other license classes are Standard and Advanced.
  • Holden is the Australian arm of General Motors, so a “Holden vs Ford discussion” is like a Chevy vs Ford discussion.
  • The LCD (Licence Conditions Determination) is the set of rules and regulations for amateur radio operators.
  • The WIA (Wireless Institute of Australia) is the national association for amateur radio, similar to the ARRL in the US.

Whenever I start one of Onno’s podcasts, I listen to three or four. I’ve listened to over eighty so far and I think I’ll be sad when I finish the backlog and have to wait a whole week for the next one.

An Easy Way to Attach Tags to Dog Collars

Loken has a dog collar for the Christmas season, for other seasons, and his regulation CCI blue collar. I used to break nails on the split rings while moving the tags until I realized I could use a locking S-biner to attach them.

IMG 0184 crop

Put all the dog tags on one loop of the S-biner, then connect the other side to the collar. The lock bar is turned to prevent the S-biner from accidentally falling off.

To switch to another collar, turn the bar to unlock, remove the S-biner, and attach to the new collar.

IMG 0185 crop

Locking S-biners are two for five dollars. I expect you can find a use for the second one. I got my locking S-biners at REI.

Within the Context of No Context

I first read this as an essay in the New Yorker in 1980, then read the book. I’m not at all sure that I have absorbed the wisdom. From the first page: “The most powerful men were those who most effectively used the power of adult competence to enforce childish agreements.”

That is a really creepy observation from 37 years ago when applied to Donald Trump in 2017.

The New Yorker has the first page of the original essay on their website. Check it out: “Within the Context of No Context“.

This book might not be for you. It is written in a strange, oracular style. But for “television” read “the Internet” and you see this.

[The Internet] is the force of no-history, and it holds the archives of the history of no-history. […] The trivial is raised up to the place where this scale has its home; the powerful is lowered there. In the place where this scale has its home, childish agreements can be arrived at and enforced effectively—childish agreements, and agreements wearing the mask of childhood.

If that doesn’t work for you, then you can skip the book. But if it makes you want to read one more paragraph, then go for it. And dang it, it makes me want to read the whole crazy thing again.

His critique of celebrity is unsurpassed. He contrasts the various “grids” (I would say “networks”) of social connections, with gradation from close friends to people you read about in the news. Only celebrities exist in the smallest and largest grids. We make celebrities part of our close friend groups, whether they be Oprah, Ellen, Beyonce, or Tomi Lahren.

The middle distance fell away…Two grids remained. The grid of two hundred million and the grid of intimacy.

The book has been described as “Baffling, cranky, elusive, brilliant.” Not sure I could be more precise than that.

Start with Goodreads and you can get to Amazon or libraries to find Within the Context of No Context.

Building a Dummy Load

If you plan to transmit on your radio, you need a way to test your transmitter without radiating a signal. You do that by transmitting into a “dummy load”. I had a 20 Watt dummy load, but I needed one to handle 100 Watts, so I built a $40 kit in June. This was the first serious soldering I had done in years, maybe decades.

I built the Oak Hills Research RFL-100 kit. A pre-built 100 W dummy load is usually $150-200. This kit is $40.

The dummy load is twenty 5 W resistors in parallel. Here are the first two resistors, ready to be soldered.

Dummy load 1

And here we are, with half of the resistors soldered onto the board.

Dummy load 2

Here we see all the resistors soldered, the board installed in the nice enclosure, and soldered to the the input connector. I chose a BNC connector instead of the standard UHF connector. My ham shack is cabled with BNC. The enclosure is marked up under the connector mounting nuts because I ground off the paint with a Dremel tool. That was much easier than sanding the paint off.

Dummy load 3

Is it 50 Ω? Well, let’s see. Hmm 49.9 Ω is within 0.1%. My Ohmmeter is accurate to +/-0.5%, so I’ll take that as a solid 50 Ω.

Dummy load 4

Finally, let’s connect it to my new 100 Watt power amplifier on the ANT 2 port. Looks great, handling 100 Watts continuous with a 1:1 SWR.

Dummy load 5

If you have a transmitter and need a dummy load, I highly recommend building the Oak Hills Research RFL-100.

International Radio Scouting Badges

Radio Scouting is an international activity, and the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) has patches and pins for it. I love the classic design, and I also love the price, with the current exchange rate.

The WOSM Radio Scouting emblem looks a lot like the World Scout Crest, but with a radio twist. It has the same purple background, but instead of the circling rope, it has dots, like Morse Code. The fleur-de-lis is at the bottom, and the center is a globe with headphones, a neckerchief, and some lightning bolt lines. It sounds complicated, but it says “Scouts on the radio around the world” without using words.

Radio Scouting patch Radio scouting pin

Right now (late 2016), the cloth badge (patch) is $1.29 (£1.04) and the metal badge (pin) is $1.81 (£1.46). You can work out the shipping cost yourself, but I think it is worth it to wear the world-wide symbol of Radio Scouting.

The Magic of Fire: The Next Level for Campfire Cooking

There are many outdoor cookbooks, but The Magic of Fire by William Rubel is the one that makes you want to build a fire in the back yard right now and roast onions.

Let’s hear what he has to say about those roasted onions, the first recipe in the book.

The shock of high heat changes onions. Caramelized sugars combine with a hint of smoke to give them unexpected complexity. The roasting process is a sensual delight. When the charred onions are ready, spear one with a fork and hold it close to your ear. You will hear the juices churning and smell an intoxicating fragrance.

The recipe is simple. This is a trimmed version, leaving out some details (“using tongs”) and adjectives (“aromatic”).

Spread the embers. Place each onion on the embers 4-8 inches from the flames. As the outer shell begins to blister, turn the onions, several times during the roasting process. The onions are done when the outer skin is charred and the onion can be easily pierced with a knife. Aim for a cooking time of 20 to 40 minutes.

Remove the cooked onions from the fire. When cool enough to handle, cut off the bottom of each onion. The burnt outer layers will often slip off like a glove. Quarter, separating the leaves. Drizzle with olive oil, toss with herbs, and season with salt.

Ready to do that on a campout?

Roasted onions

But there is a lot more beyond that first recipe. Here are a few I’d like to try:

  • Roasted eggplant spread
  • Baked beans (needs 8-12 hours)
  • Ember-baked fish (not grilled, cooked directly on the embers)
  • Chicken in a pot (an exuberant version, with onions, heads of garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes, artichokes, and greens)
  • Brisket baked in ash
  • Pot-au-Feu (feeds 15-20!)
  • Ember-roasted vegetables
  • Ember-baked potatoes (on embers or in hot ashes)
  • Ash cakes
  • Flat bread
  • Irish soda bread
  • Grilled grapes (“As the finish to a meal, grilled grapes have no peer.”)

I checked out The Magic of Fire from our local library and I was enchanted. I think I need a copy.

It won a James Beard award. It’s available new and used on Amazon. The author has a website with even more recipes and techniques “William Rubel: Traditional Foodways”.