Aaron's blog

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

By aaron.axvig, 12 October, 2021
Date completed
10 hours 2 minutes ago

Ehhh...let's just say I mostly agree with the two or three out of five reviews.  At 40% I was reasonably certain I wouldn't finish the book, but I guess I just needed a little break (also motivated to finish a book to mark that goal off of my list).

This book is notably lacking of interesting science concepts.  Also, I can't remember anything truly interesting about the ways in which the alternate history deviates from real history.

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American Gods by Neil Gaiman

By aaron.axvig, 2 October, 2021
Date completed
1 week ago

I picked this book out at the library as the one to read to complete my goal of reading a book during my four weeks off between jobs.  I wandered the shelves looking for books that looked like sci-fi (somehow it seems like one can pick them out pretty easily by the title, font, and imagery on the spine...I can't quite explain it) and found this one, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it won Hugo and Nebula awards.  Should be a good one!

Unfortunately I did not enjoy it and stopped in the middle of chapter six.  This is where you final get the reveal that the book is about old gods versus new gods.  I had been dragging myself through the book up to hear and at this point I realized it was not going to be interesting.  As a final check I read the plot summary on Wikipedia and even that was boring.

Learning about the House on the Rocks in Wisconsin was very interesting, and I plan to try to find a list of other interesting locations like that which are mentioned in the book.  IIRC the intro alluded to people doing road trips tracing the characters' travels so there must be a few other good destinations.

The version I had was the one with annotations by Leslie S. Klinger.  I did enjoy the presence of the annotations even though they slowed down my pace of reading, and would readily read another annotated book.

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Start of the house project
Electric heater trying it's hardest in the utility room
aaron.axvig Tue, 02/02/2021 - 19:34

Yesterday we closed on our new house on 6th Avenue in Mandan.  It was a HUD house, having been foreclosed on sometime in 2020.  A stream of thoughts:

  • It's an old house, built in 1890.  So there is a neat radiant heating system, high ceilings, large wooden trim, and a pretty traditional floor plan.  Overall it seems to have been kept up to date over the years.
  • Who knows what happens during foreclosures!?  Supposedly some things were winterized, but the heating water pipes are burst in two visible places and the potable water system doesn't hold pressure.  So the most interesting part of the next week or two will be seeing how we do in the frozen pipe lottery.  Hopefully not too much plaster repair is needed once we are through with that.
  • Today before work I stopped by and turned off all of the breakers.  This way nothing funny would happen when the power company came over and turned on the power while I was at work.  Then after work I went and dug through the pop-up camper at my parents' house to get my small electric heater, but could not find it.  $20 for a new one and I was on my way over to the house.  Some lights came on as I flipped the breakers, which was exciting.  I set up the heater in the utility room with the door halfways closed and left for the night.  It should get pretty warm in that room and at least take the edge off in the rest of the house.  At one point today I estimated that the heater (1500 watts running continuously) could heat the house to about 40 degrees above the exterior temperature but further though leads me to revise that down much further.  1500 watts = 5,000 BTU-hours and a typical furnace seems to be 60k-100k BTU, running at probably under 1/2 duty cycle unless it is super cold.  So maybe 30k BTU-hours to maintain about 60 degrees?  It's a pretty rough estimate.  I think it is probably not a linear scaling of BTU-hours per degree of temperature difference.  So I'll guess a 25 degree rise.
  • Tomorrow I will see about getting a couple different parties in to look at the pipes.  One is the (plumber friend of the?) husband of a neighbor that my mom knows, the other is a mechanic that my dad knows.
  • The house is in the Mandan Renaissance Zone and I confirmed with the city that the property has not previously participated in the program, which can only be done once ever.  So that will be a significant tax savings if everything works out well on that.

 

The past 5 months aaron.axvig Sat, 12/05/2020 - 08:03

We left the boat on the hard in Deltaville, VA in early August with plans to return to Minnesota and North Dakota to see family and do a couple weddings.  Hopefully by the end of the two months I would find a job in Bismarck or Fargo.  The drive was just over 20 hours and since we left the boatyard at about 11:00am we spent the wee-est hours of the morning sleeping in the rental minivan at a rest area.  After a week or so in Rosemount we left Louise and headed to Dickinson to meet Tyrel and then ride with him to Whitefish for a wedding.  I recall that we really enjoyed cleaning out Tyrel's car in the morning before we left.  It's weird how it is fun to clean someone else's car!

The wedding (and hiking, Cold Smoke, mountain, shared lodge, etc.) were all great.  Then we had a blast volunteering in Medora where I worked outside service (moving golf carts around and cleaning them) and Anna worked laundry and retail.  Then after settling in for one night at my parents' in Bismarck we decided that it was now the best time to go see Anna's grandparents in Minot.  So we spent a few days there and then returned to spend a week preparing for my sister's wedding in the back yard.  That wedding was a great success too!

My job search was not so successful.  I had done a few video interviews but gotten no offers.  My mom tested positive for COVID and we were still living with her so we had to quarantine for her 10 days of possible contagiousness PLUS 14 days of time after that during which we might develop out own cases.

Quarantine was an interesting experience, and I can easily look back on it with positive or negative overall feelings.  The facilities (their house :)) were very nice so we were fortunate there, and had plenty to do.  I worked on job applications and interviews, and made a lot of OpenStreetMap contributions in south Bismarck.  I played some Minecraft: Dungeons, went on walks and bike rides, and worked on building a wooden bucket with my dad.

After quarantine Aaron went pheasant hunting and Anna went to Minot.  Then we headed to Rosemount to help Anna's mom move.  I did a lot of painting in the old and new houses, and then made many trips back and forth moving stuff.  I had brought a trailer down to pick up some unused used appliances for our house remodeling project, so that was handy to have for moving furniture and things.

About one week into November we rushed back to Bismarck on the last day of the warm spell.  The idea is that we would get the furniture off of the trailer and load some dirt from digging out an egress window into the trailer.  But about 20 minutes after we got the appliances unloaded the weather front came through, bringing cold, wind, and drizzle.  So I ended up loading the dirt a couple days later.  And then I finally got a job offer, and then a second one on the same day!  I accepted the one in Bismarck/Mandan and we are living in my sister's condo while we renovate it.

Aristocrat of the West by Larry Woiwode aaron.axvig Wed, 09/30/2020 - 17:52
Date completed
1 year ago

As I am a former employee of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, both summers during college and 4.5 years full time, this book told some stories I had heard already but also filled in a lot of very interesting history that I knew very little about.  I really should have read it while I still worked in Medora.  I would also recommend it--more mildly but still--to residents of Bismarck who are interested in history.  Relatedly, my occasional search queries about the book led me to stumble upon readnd.org which seems like a nice resource for finding books related to North Dakota.

The biography is well split in topics between personal and Gold Seal.  Likewise the balance in coverage of Harold's two marriages is good.  The almost entirely linear narration means that cuts to a backstory (a literary device that I find quite annoying) are graciously kept to a minimum, and I enjoyed the frequent foreshadowing at section and chapter ends.  Though there were a few that I couldn't figure out even with my substantial existing knowledge-base.

I'll say that my great rating does include that the topics covered are of great interest to me, and for the average person it would probably be ranked as a good biography.

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A personal portrait

By aaron.axvig, 11 August, 2020
Aaron and Anna in front of a wrecked house on Cape Fear

I few years ago I wrote this as part of some leadership training, specifically a program by Mel Nelson. The assignment was to write a personal portrait of (I think) how you function at work.

I have a personal portrait that centers on accuracy, finding facts, and making information-based decisions. Things like direct conflicts, rushed conversation, and failure to pragmatically evaluate problems will frustrate me.

Doing things accurately and precisely is important to me. I dislike it when people do just enough to solve the problem for now—a fix of the root issue is usually worth spending additional time to me. Naturally, other people may have a different view of the problem (customer-facing, therefore urgent, for example) and not agree with that sometimes. In such a case a great way to communicate that to me would be to ask for my time estimate and give feedback if that is outside your expectations.

Resolving conflicts with D or I type people is challenging to me. When people become emotional or aggressive while communicating with me I go into a defensive mode where I very carefully say only statements that I am certain are accurate and only say the minimum necessary to appease them and end the confrontation. Later, I will “catch up” and be able to competently debate the issue. Related to this, I often pause for several seconds to think before speaking. Some of the people I enjoy being around the most are those who wait for me to say what I am thinking about rather than taking it as an invitation to fill in the gap themselves.

So, in summary I like to work in non-surprising conditions with plenty of time to solve problems. Pressure applied in the wrong way may still motivate me or get results but will leave a lasting impression on me.

If I make the jump from work to personal and rigorously evaluate my fiancee (who I did not know at the time) against this writing, the labels "frustrating", "challenging to me", and NOT a "person I enjoy being around the most" would need to be applied.  Also I described a perfect comfort zone of "non-surprising conditions with plenty of time".  Everyone thinks they want some perfection like that but it can be a boring way to live life.  Opposites attract, variety is the spice of life, etc. and I think our life together is greatly interesting.

So I think this writing was some ideal of me but it is good that life is not ideal.

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Freedom's Rush by Foster Kinn

By aaron.axvig, 3 August, 2020
Date completed
1 year ago

These stories and thoughts of the author's travels around the western US capture the experience of long-distance motorcycle riding in an incredibly great way.  I found myself nodding in agreement so often, having had many of the same thoughts, encounters, and feelings on my trips.

A lot of the writing is very good--so expressive, yet there are a few instances where some camp or amateurishness pokes through.  I guess many editors would fix that, but would it lose some authenticity in the process?  I think so, and I think overall the result is great.

There are philosophical sections, and the first thing that comes to mind when I heard motorcycles combined with philosophy is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I recommend Freedom's Rush 100x more unless you are a philosophy major.  Long ramblings about Phaedrus are out and replaced with relatively simple wonderings and views inside the author's head.  That's all I need.  And the ratio of motorcycle to philosophy is much better too.

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TT-RSS plugin notes

By aaron.axvig, 29 July, 2020

The class name of your plugin must match the name of the folder which your plugin sits in.  If not, there will be no error but the plugin will not show up in the plugin list.  When I was testing with TT-RSS running in a Docker container in WSL2 I had issues with capitalization.  It should work if the folder and class are all lower case.

A plugin for TT-RSS should have a function about() which returns an array().  There is no documentation about this array that I could find, so here is what I observed from digging around in the source and looking at other people's plugins:

[0]: App version as a float, will always be formatted using %.2F so will always show two decimal places.  Setting this as a string seems to work fine too.
[1]: Description string
[2]: Created by string
[3]: Plugin type boolean (true for system, false for user)
[4]: A URL string which will open when the More Info button is clicked

A list of the hooks with some description can be found here.

The Tao of Willie by Willie Nelson

By aaron.axvig, 27 July, 2020
Date completed
1 year ago

A book of many very short chapters with positive messages.  Willie gives lots of uncontroversial advice, mostly along the lines of be kind, let others be, enjoy life, etc.  A chapter about biodiesel was a bit out of touch when it comes to practicality.

While this is not a full biography or anything, it does discuss a lot of his past.  So now I know at least a little history about Willie.

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Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee

By aaron.axvig, 26 July, 2020
Date completed
1 year ago

A pretty interesting history of the early days of science fiction, centered around the magazine Astounding.  I would have rated it fairly boring but as I became more familiar with the characters it became more engaging.  Admittedly, some of the most interesting was when it got into the forming days of dianetics and Scientology.  I say "admittedly" because I regard these as trash topics and don't really think that it is worthwhile to spend time learning about them, but it seems that I the same inner urges as most do to rubber-neck that wreck.

Reading this did make me want to go back and read some of the discussed works.  I have already read the main three parts of Asimov's Foundation stuff, and Heinlein's Starship Troopers.  I should probably go for a couple of the latter's other Hugo winners.  Also it made me want to see what the old pulp magazines were like.  The Internet Archive does have some that I might read through, but I think I am almost as interested in the physical details as in the contents.  So I may pick up a year of them sometime for $50 or so on eBay.  It would also just be interesting to have some old stuff like that.

 

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