Aaron's blog

The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin

By aaron.axvig, Tue, 02/25/2020 - 18:05
Date completed
3 years 11 months ago

Much more going on in this third book, which I really liked.  More big events and especially more explanations of the history of the world.

It reminds me of a college class where the lectures were pretty boring but then one day the lecture involved some real-world uses for the stuff we were studying (how some industrial plants use huge inductors to fix their power factor and decrease their electricity bill).  I told the professor that I really enjoyed the lecture that day, which he probably already knew because I wasn't nodding off in the back of class...shame.  And he responded that you have to lay a little theoretical foundation so that you can understand the exciting real-world stuff.  I see a similar parallel here where the first two books were good enough but sometime frustrating, and this one was the big payoff.

After finishing the second book I read some news articles about the "puppies" factions attempting to influence the Hugo voting around the times that these three novels were coming out.  Definitely an unfortunate series of events!

I found myself questioning the wisdom of letting the Hugo winners list heavily influence my selection of reading...maybe populism isn't necessarily the best indicator of quality (to be clear, nothing against this trilogy in particular).  But on the flip side, I can remember having sympathized with criticisms of other awards (Oscars or similar?) that are selected by industry members, thinking that a group of insiders like that may not be very representative of my interests as a consumer.

Completion status

The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin

By aaron.axvig, Mon, 02/24/2020 - 09:34
Date completed
3 years 11 months ago

The second novel in this trilogy.  Overall a good read.  After the hint about the moon at the end of the first novel, I expected more to happen with that in this novel.  Instead it is just a build up (explanation) of the mechanisms that will presumably be used to manipulate the moon in the third novel.  And those mechanisms are so tediously explained, in such an "emotional" way that it is really a challenge for me to read.  Unbelievably, this second novel also ends with basically the same cliffhanger about the moon.

I say so much negative about these books, probably because I have such high expectations.  I chose to read them only because they were award winners.

Completion status

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

By aaron.axvig, Sat, 02/22/2020 - 11:09
Date completed
3 years 11 months ago

This was a pretty solid read, interesting story line and good world-building.  The writing style was not my favorite with so many paragraphs consisting of one short quip by the character and then a few sentences of the character's thoughts adding further context.  Sometimes it seemed like a really tedious way of revealing the "world" to the reader.

I started out thinking that the book probably won so many awards on a sort of "social justice" basis.  It seemed like a passably strong story, but I speculated internally that it might have been taken to award-worthiness by virtue of the strong female leads and non "white male" author.  These were unnecessary bitter thoughts and I left them behind as I got further into the book, please forgive me.  I still regard it as interesting that this book is different than so much (older, male-centric) sci-fi, containing homo, trans, and three-way relationships.  And the book is probably good enough to win awards without standing on a pedestal of social justice feel-goods.

Completion status

The Greatest Generation Speaks by Tom Brokaw

By aaron.axvig, Wed, 02/19/2020 - 21:30
Date completed
3 years 11 months ago

The writings compiled in this book do an excellent job at describing the mostly negative impacts that WWII had on its contributors, certainly making me feel like I have it pretty easy (I do!).  It did get pretty repetitive and is not what I would describe as a page turner past about halfway.  I closed it up with about 20 pages left to go, not that it was bad but just that I didn't feel that I had anything to gain by reading the last 20 pages (nor the previous 50-100 pages).

Completion status

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

By aaron.axvig, Wed, 02/19/2020 - 21:24
Date completed
3 years 11 months ago

I haven't watched this movie for 10 or 15 years but I still found myself trying to remember it for comparison.  I'm not sure there is that much similarity!  I suppose the majority of the content of the book is not suitable for the movie screen.

I did enjoy the philosophical parts, there were some interesting ideas.  For example, the discussions of value, who is qualified to vote, etc.

Completion status


By aaron.axvig, Sun, 02/09/2020 - 15:21
Achikaps screenshot
Date completed

I found this game on the No Bullshit Games page, which lists games that don't have IAPs or ads.  So generally they cost a couple bucks, and I believe this one did.

I really like the mechanics of this game.  Little agents move around your system of facilities automatically performing tasks.  It reminds me of the World/Kingdom of Keflings which I played nigh on a decade ago.  Setting up automated systems like this is one of my favorite game mechanics.

I don't like that the campaign levels are so short.  It seems like I could get more enjoyment out of the effort I put into setting everything up.  Actually these short levels would be OK for a few tutorial levels, maybe even 10 learning levels.  But it keeps going, and with seemingly random new things mixed in.  I have passed level 27 in the campaign and it keeps throwing in new concepts that are only used for one or two levels.  By now I am maybe four hours into the game and I am tired of learning one-off things.

It would help a lot of the buildings and/or resources were intuitively named.  Gumballs are made in a laboratory?  How am I supposed to remember that?  Maybe it should be called...a gumball factory!

At this point I don't really feel like completing the campaign.

Completion status
Digital platform


By aaron.axvig, Sat, 02/01/2020 - 15:41
UnCiv screenshot
Date completed

I found this clone of Civilization (the fifth release I believe?) on the F-Droid app store.  I played through on the apparently pretty easy settings that were mostly default and got a science victory on my second playthrough.  On my first playthrough I reached 100 turns and got a message from the developer saying something like "I'm sure by now you've noticed that the game is incomplete" and just sort of put the game aside for a week or two until I decided to try it again.  Maybe the AI isn't finished as I was never attacked, or maybe it was just on that easy of a difficulty.

Overall the game played quite well.  The graphics were occasionally a little difficult for me to figure out but got easier as I got more experienced.  There is a lot going on!

It was fun to build out a big civilization and I could see myself doing it again in a month or two.

Completion status
Digital platform

A week on South Bimini

By aaron.axvig, Sat, 02/01/2020 - 12:37

We spent a week and a day on South Bimini until the weather was right to sail east.  On the first day I did customs and immigration at the airport in the afternoon.  Then we started meeting all of our new neighbors; about 12 boats had arrived to the marina with us that day, and it was almost empty previously.

We spent some time marveling at the comically clear water.  It was about 10 feet deep around the docks and we could see perfectly to the bottom.  There were lots of minnows, plenty of 6" fish, and even some 12-18" ones.

The first or second day we went to North Bimini to see what it had to offer.  Louise came with to help.  The dinghy parking situation was not that good, just an aluminum swim ladder on a beat up concrete wall, with the east winds making some weird little waves to push our dinghy into the wall.  We walked around for about an hour.  Very interesting.  There was what appeared to be the power plant of the island, which I think was just a large diesel generator.  It makes sense that the marina charges $30/day for power, and we have seen some that have meters and charge $0.80/kWh (4-8 times what you might pay at a house in the US).  There were some grocery/convenience stores, some just small rooms absolutely packed full of packaged/canned food and some with a little more organization and potatoes, onions, etc.  Most prices are double that of an average US grocery store.

The no-see-ums were really bad the first two nights, but then it was pretty windy so they weren't a problem.  House flies were not deterred though!  We had to keep screens in most of the time--they block some airflow and make it tedious to go in and out.  We made a habit out of taking Louise to the beach by the marina in the late afternoon.  She would chase the tennis ball and I would look for beach glass.  The first time we went to the beach Anna couldn't find her phone when we got back to the boat.  So we went to the beach to look, and eventually I found it about 18" below the surf.  It still worked...for about two days.

I read six books in six days.  We did lots of crossword puzzles.  We watched the Vikings play (and lose) at the Thirsty Turtle, a bar a five minute walk away.  They had a pizza oven but were not able to get supplies to make pizzas before we left, still in the process of opening after renovations.  The marina had a new owner too.

One of the other boats in the marina was SV Twin (that we had crossed paths with as we approached Bimini) and they have the same model of boat as us.  This was the first time we had seen another one (excepting the one we looked at in Port Charlotte, FL when we were boat shopping, and one that we saw in passing at the marina where our boat's previous owners kept our boat) so we had a lot of fun touring theirs and showing them ours.  There are so many interesting differences!

For internet connectivity we could use the Wi-Fi at the marina office or at the Thirsty Turtle.  And probably half of the days I would take my phone out of airplane mode, resulting in an automatic $10 charge for 24 hours of great roaming connectivity (set up with Verizon ahead of time, some people were doing the same with AT&T too).  We had a Wi-Fi hotspot device with unlimited data waiting for us at Great Harbor Cay so we were looking forward to getting that.

The marina gave us a prorated price of $150/7 for our eighth night there and the next morning we departed at sunrise for Great Harbor Cay.  It was 80 miles to travel and we were going straight into a 10-15 knot wind and two foot waves.  Sometimes the bow would slam on a wave and Louise would get really scared.  Into waves and wind is not great for speed and it was a long ways so we ended up anchoring in the dark at 10:30pm.  It was an easy approach and a wide open area to anchor so not too bad.

Crossing to Bimini in the Bahamas

By aaron.axvig, Sat, 02/01/2020 - 11:49
Windy app showing currents predictions for the Gulf Stream near S Florida

On January 7th we left No Name Harbor just as the sky began to lighten.  As the sun rose above the horizon we were clearing the last channel markers off of Cape Florida.  A few boats were ahead of us and as we went a few more appeared behind us.  There were about 10 boats visible in total.

We held a course maybe 20 degrees south of straight towards Bimini in order to make a little headway south before reaching the Gulf Stream which would swiftly carry us north.  I don't remember the exact characteristics of the Stream that day but let's just say that about 5 miles out it became strong, so I altered course to maybe only 5 degrees south of straight east (yes, that would be 95 degrees).  I altered the settings of the chart plotter so that lines indicating both heading (direction the boat is pointed) and track (direction of boat movement over ground) angles emanated from our location marker.  It was interesting to see them differ by 15 degrees or so due to the combined current and boat movement through water.

The chief risk of crossing the Stream is that you end up heading so far south to keep from drifting north that you don't make much speed in the east/west direction, making the trip much different than planned.  This was almost not a concern for us since we started somewhat south of where we needed to be.  But still, I figured it was most efficient to get out of the Stream as quickly as possible, hence the almost straight east heading.  And after we got out of the Stream I could make up a couple of miles to the south without needing to motor against the current.  I didn't dream this strategy up on my own; it is described in the Explorer Chart books.

All the other boats seemed to be steering whatever heading would keep them on a line drawn straight between No Name Harbor and Bimini (again, not a big deal for a destination that is a little north of your start anyways).  With our almost straight east heading we drifted a few miles north of the main group of boats, crossed paths with SV Make Way and SV Twin, and drifted a mile or so north of them.  At that point we were within about five miles (I think?) of Bimini and I was surprised that the current still had not really abated.  The current ended up holding pretty strong until just one or two miles out so my plan of making up southerly distance out of the current yield any real advantage.  But we arrived in Bimini at about the same time (2:00pm?) as the other boats anyways.  (When I took the screenshot of the currents in the Windy app for this article I realized that it probably typical, I just didn't remember to look at the currents forecast that day.)

For the crossing we had a great breeze that would probably have let us sail at 5.5-6 knots but we motored at about 50% throttle too to put us at a solid 7 knots (IIRC).  When we started out in the morning there were some 2-3 foot waves coming from the north so it was a little bouncy but we did fine.  Those died down later in the morning so overall we had really nice conditions.

On the final approach to the island of South Bimini we followed another sailboat; they bumped a sandbar and backed off.  So we followed their new route and made it through the very narrow approach through the small jetties into the Bimini Sands Marina.  It was pretty shallow at one point in that channel, just shy of six feet maybe half an hour after low tide.  But we made it and docked successfully.  They had a rate of $150 for a week so we planned to stay there for that long as the wind was forecast to blow strongly out of the east for several days...and we wanted to go east!

I took a shuttle bus to the airport a couple miles away and went through customs and immigration for myself, Anna, Louise, and the boat.  Once I got back about two hours later Anna and Louise were able to finally step on shore.

Sailboats on the horizon
Sailboats visible on the horizon as we depart Florida
What we see on the chartplotter
Here is what our chartplotter looked like at one point. We have drifted north of the purple route line. The black line shows which way the bow is pointed, and the blue line shows the direction that the boat is moving over ground. With no current the blue and black lines would be very close to each other.


Randy arrives

By aaron.axvig, Wed, 01/22/2020 - 09:45

My dad arrived around midnight, having driven from the Orlando airport to meet us at the marina in Stuart.  The next morning we used his rental car to buy some groceries, soda (10 12-packs), and beer (maybe 150 cans or so?).  At the time it felt like we were making a significant dent in our provisioning for the Bahamas but in retrospect it was just a small start.  It was enough to fill up half the rear seating area of the rental pickup.  Then we rode the marina bicycles about 20 minutes to Total Wine to stock up on some liquor.

After a day or two of rain, the weather was OK for sailing outside so we departed early in the morning to head south.  The bridge right by the marina was just opening for some other boats so we skipped our planned stop at the fuel dock for diesel and water and just kept going.  Sailing conditions were brisk with a sustained 20 knots coming from shore.  By staying within a mile or two of shore we kept the waves below a foot or two but they were still splashing off the hull and then the wind would blow the spray sideways into the cockpit.  We might have enjoyed being even closer to shore.  As we approached Port Everglades we determined that we would be stuck there for 3-4 nights due to weather so we decided to push on to Miami.  We fired up the engine to make maximum speed (there was plenty of wind but it is only desirable to heel so much) and were able to anchor in marine stadium just before dark.

The next day (Christmas Day!) we set off towards No Name Harbor for a cruisers potluck that afternoon.  We got the anchor up but then noticed that the engine exhaust sounded suspicious and quickly determined that it was not getting water for cooling.  So we dropped the anchor and Randy and I jumped in with snorkel gear to find out why the seacock was jammed (I hadn't been able to close the valve even).  I found a plastic bag that had been sucked in, pulled it out, and we were back in business.  We had a bit of a tailwind so had a nice leisurely sail for the few miles south to the harbor.  It looked pretty full based on our count of masts visible before even going in the harbor so we anchored outside.  The potluck was great fun and many of the other cruisers were also waiting for decent weather to cross over to the Bahamas.

More rain and winds were predicted so the next day we went over to the Dinner Key area and found a mooring ball available at the Coconut Grove Sailing Club.  Their mooring balls are protected from the waves of Biscayne Bay so we had a very comfortable few nights there.  We spent some time exploring the area and some time preparing for the Bahamas.  Anna decided that a major reorganization was in order so everything came out of the back bedroom storage shelves.  Almost everything got repackaged into plastic bags and stowed away in a much more compact manor.  Lots of work! With many items no longer in their boxes we needed some structure so that things would sit nicely in the shelves, so we ended up with a bunch of small plastic totes and a few milk crates.  The totes stack pretty well and so far have stayed in place during some moderate heeling.

There was a possible weather window right at the end of my dad's stay but we had a prescription that needed to be picked up still and didn't quite feel ready.  So he didn't get to see the Bahamas with us and had extraordinarily rainy and windy weather...sorry we couldn't deliver an excellent vacation!

In the few days after Randy left we did so much more provisioning that it seems comical that we thought we were ready before (I'm sure we would have survived just fine, but still...).  We overflowed two shopping carts at Wal-Mart and right before crossing filled a cart at Publix.  AND we still did a couple last minute grocery runs after that.  Time after time Aaron would declare that there was no more room, then we would agree that we needed some stuff, and then we would rearrange yet another compartment and create just a little more room.

And then finally we went over to No Name Harbor with intentions to leave early the next morning to the Bahamas. (And did a quick trip to the grocery store and liquor store there for MORE stuff!)