Saturday, September 13, 2014

Erik the Red's Saga

Erik the Red's saga is a nice adventure story that includes people getting lost, engaging in hyperbole to sell real estate and deciding it is better to leave in peace than stay and fight. It also has bits about conflict between Christianity and the "old" religion. Everything together makes for an interesting story.

What makes it even more interesting is the setting and passing remarks about location. These guys just happened to voyage from Norway out to Greenland. That is quite a trip. But that what was not all. They also made it even further, out to what seems to be Newfoundland. They seemed to like it, but decided they would have to spend too much time fighting the natives, so they stayed away. It all seems so Scandinavian. Sure, they discovered all this stuff way before the other Europeans. But, they didn't want to rock the boat, so they never made a big deal about it. We only know about it, because it just happens to be part of a good story.

The Long Shadow of the Ancient Greek World

The Long Shadow of the Ancient Greek World covers Greece from early civilization to Alexander the Great.

The Greek society has been an important base for modern western thought. These lectures start with early Greek thinkers from the "archaic" age. We get the originator of democracy. He did not necessarily create it out of some high-minded ideal, but merely thought it was a could we to keep order and reign in some of the problems in his current society. It didn't really hold, but was eventually restored.

We also get the origins of "Draconian" law. The law was finally written down. However, the punishment for nearly everything was death. Well, at least that was what was going to happen without the law. At least now, there is some support of the state.

Then we have the history of Sparta. They evolved into a warrior state. Even the women had to be strong in order to birth strong babies. They were able to keep their warrior state going by enslaving some of the neighboring communities.

There are many details of Greek history that we just don't know for sure. We do have plenty of records, but they tend to be very opinionated. You could easily argue both sides of an issue and find some support.

The Persian wars were a dividing line between archaic and classical Greece. Athens got a little too cocky in the end. Greece had a very slave-driven economy, thus giving people free time to engage in things like arts, war and democracy.

Ian Worthington had a very personable opinionated style of lecture delivery. He would present the "common" historical view, but also give balanced weight to his "heresy". His views often run somewhat counter to historical consensus, but are well supported. He also presents them in such a way that makes it easy to pick to believe in either view (or adopt one of your own.) He tends to view people like Alexander the Great as being overrated, while some others as underrated. It makes for a very well done series of lectures that not only teaches that facts but also gets you thinking.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Oh Strava, why did you not start?

I turned on the Strava app and set out on a bike ride. Today, I went over the Aurora bridge. There were a couple cyclists and a jogger on the bridge today, but all gave way really well to make it work. At the end, I decided "what they hey!" I'll just continue on Aurora.

However, they do not make it easy to do so. While there is a crosswalk from the bridge sidewalk to the sidewalk on Aurora, there is a drop of almost a foot down. Not the easiest thing to do on bike.

I eventually made it down. Since it was after 7, the bus lane had "opened up". There were a few cars parked in it. (Love how it works. It takes just a couple cars to eliminate an entire travel lane.)

I saw a RapidRide bus go by. Since it was after rush our there would probably not be any more going by. (and there weren't) So, I just continued down Aurora. The bus lane made for a great bike lane, with cars also avoiding it.

I was cruising fast down Aurora. There were no lights until I got past Green Lake. The few red lights after there turned green quickly. It was a nice fast cruise. I couldn't wait to see how fast I'd gone.

Then I pulled out the GPS.

There was the Strava app, showing 0. Ok. That sometimes happen. It will quickly refresh and show the current time.

Only it didn't. It had never started.

Ugghh! It often takes a few seconds to "really start" after I press the button. I had gotten into the habit, and thought that it had started. Only this time, it never did.

I pieced together some other activity from the phone to guess when the start time was. But, it is just not the same to not be able to get personal records and see exactly how fast you are going. And it would have been nice to see the line down Aurora.

Oh well.

Maybe this means it is time to get a new (more powerful) phone.

Catch the Lightning

Meh. A girl moves from the Mayan homeland to Los Angeles and gets mixed up with physics students and gang bangers. The toughs try to take advantage of her and kill her friends. Then she runs into a mysterious dude who causes her to run into the same issues on an intergalatic imperial scale. She marries the guy and they have some narrow escapes before somehow surviving.

The story had a few distinct divisions. There were numerous places where it felt like it could have been all wrapped up. Then something would come and it would get all wound up again. When it did finally end it seemed abrupt and left you wondering, "huh?"

The author seemed intent on showing off scientific knowledge that didn't help the story. The main character was a Mayan girl who moved to LA and had her family destroyed by gang members. Oh, and she happened to have a bunch of friends at Cal Tech who would spout off all sorts of advanced theoretical physics to explain things. Ok. I get it. You try to contrast a couple very different worlds. It was cool for a bit. But when they keep going on about the physics of time travel and other things, it just starts to get old. We really don't care. And the character of the protagonist doesn't seem to care either. It just seems like a bunch was interjected into the story to make it "hard" science fiction. Does it hurt the story if you take it out? Nope, it doesn't. Axe it.

Then there is the smutty romance. Too much information. We even get extreme responses. A bad guy gets drugged up and rapes her, so they end up nuking his entire planet. Extreme punishment, right? Oh well.

This book is simply a bad book. The story gets sidetracked with pointless junk. The characters are not well developed. There are a few interesting ideas, but they are just not executed well. This is a book well worth skipping.