Recent Reading – late summer 2018 edition

I spent a really lovely week this August at a cabin in the woods with family here in the adirondacks but far enough from home that it felt like travel.

I spent a lot of time reading, as is right and proper for an internet-less lakeside cabin. I finished a ton of the books that had been sitting half read over the last few years:

  • James Gelick’s Time Travel
  • Mary Beard’s SPQR
  • David Hartwell & Nielsen Hayden’s 21st Century Science Fiction
  • Winter’s Heart by Robert Jordon

While lounging at the beach on sunny summer days I read all of Bruce Sterline’s Invollution Ocean over two days. It was a fun short book that could be summarized with some degree of accuracy as “Space Moby Dick”.

I did a lot of canoeing, which was nice and easy to just walk a few feet down from the cabin and hope into the canoe for half an hour. Next year I hope I can remember in advance to rent a sunfish for the week.

Comfort, Complexity, & Web Publishing

I’ve been using jekyll to publish this site sporadically for years. I have in the last year or two gotten a new computer set up with a publishing workflow that’s typical of sites on this platform: a local install of jekyll to build the site with a local copy of the markdown and associated files to generate the html, stored in a git repository. I’ve gotten comfortable with the 3 or 4 git commands I need to know to change branches, add files and push changes to my server and see them get published.

Ultimately what we need is for the tools to get out of our way, for those tools to conceal or only gradually expose complexity. A tool is for accomplishing a task, like cutting wood or hammering a nail. If the handle of the saw or hammer is difficult or complicated to hold, it effectively gets in the way of allowing the user to preform the task they are attempting to accomplish. If I want to build a bookcase (publish a webpage) then if the handle of my saw requires too many unfamiliar things of me (use of git) then I allow the process of getting a grip on the saw to stop me from building the bookcase. I let the little roadblock stop me from doing the fulfilling thing and I’m stuck shuffling deck chairs.

It’s telling that the above two paragraphs were ones I started drafting in a different file here in April of this year, but I’m only just getting around to writing a couple more sentences and decide what to do with this bit of text instead of letting it languish in the drafts folder for the site.

I’ve gotten the tools down, I’ve got a good handle on them and now I need to get out of my own way and find my way to do the writing I want to be doing, little bits of work and thinking out loud that are short and rewarding and build, eventually perhaps, into some larger cumulative project.

YTD – April 2018

There is a lot to be said for taking a long view in your life. This certainly seems to be getting easier as I get older here on the threshold of my 32nd birthday, about a month from now.

Some things/projects I’d like to find time to work on more this year are:

  • Essays here on this site.
  • A django website project built on an existing (large) database
  • work on some fiction projects.
  • Upgrades to our chicken coop, notably a roofed-over run and automatic door
  • Beer brewing this summer
  • Notes on a podcast project I’ve been thinking about in fits and starts for a few years.
  • Hiking and paddling.

I hope I am getting better about forgiving myself about slow progress and trying to make steady, consistent progress.

Given that I’ve got my computer here at home set up well to work on points 1 and 2 above, I finished out today getting ssh access set up remotely with a DDNS and port-forwarding so I can log into the machine from anywhere.

I’m finishing this post sitting in the little cafe attached to Nori’s Villiage Market, our organic food co-op equivalent here in town. (mostly since our main coffee shop is closed for the week.)

Recently I’ve reread the first two books in Graydon Saunder’s Commonweal series and the third bok for the first time. I’ve really enjoyed those books and should write some reviews of them. Just started the second Terra Ingonita book by Ada Palmer, which I enjoy for its richness but which I ultimately feel sort of ambivalent about in ways I haven’t taken the time to articulate.

Looks like my Mom is getting a cabin for a week down in the southern adirondacks that I should have time to spend at. I enjoyed being on an un-networked vacation with time to read and write. Ought to work that sort of time into my life more often, not just on an expensive vacation. There’s some fiction projects I want to work on and get out of my head. I still daydream about being able to write enough to fund a writing workshop like Clarion or Variable Paradise. I did the math some time ago about how many words at what rates I’d need to publish to finance such a trip. My job allows enough time off that that wouldn’t be a problem, so I’m in a wonderful position to take advantage of that. Now, I just have to put in the time and the work, which is always easier to talk about than to do.

Time to go read a book, publish this post and head off to an appointment, haircut and errands before I go to work this afternoon for the evening.

Rocketry Bibliography

In researching this post from a few years ago that served as a brief overview of the Redstone Family of launch vehicles, I came across a number of other resources that I filed away since they didn’t have a particular bearing on that specific early launch vehicle but which might serve as fodder for other posts under the same heading. Since I’ve also been interested in the combination of rockets and nuclear weapons I’m including a number of high-level resources on nuclear weapons as well.

First drafted: January 7th, 2018.

Last updated: January 14th, 2018.

U.S. Launch Vehicles & Space Programs:

  • Launius, Roger D. To Reach the High Frontier: A History of U.S. Launch Vehicles. The University Press of Kentucky, 2015. Internet resource.

Rocketry & Spaceflight, Generally:

  • Redfield, Peter. Space in the Tropics: From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Remote Sensing:

Soviet & Russian Launch Vehicles & Space Programs:

Cold War & General Nuclear history

  • Bird, Kai, and Martin J. Sherwin. American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.London: Atlantic, 2009. Print.
  • Jacobsen, Annie. Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program That Brought Nazi Scientists to America.New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015. Print.
  • Jacobsen, Annie. The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of Darpa, America’s Top Secret Military Research Agency. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2016. Print.
  • Rhodes, Richard The Making of the Atomic Bomb
  • Rhodes, Richard Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb


The start of a new year is always a good time to try and cultivate new and/or better habits.

Having finally switched computers, hosting platforms, houses, marital status (unmarried & co-habitating in a nice apartment to married in our own house) I’ve kicked the tires here and gotten a publishing workflow set up again.

The last time I was writing here in the opening weeks of 2015, I was still in my 20s and full of misplaced ambition that I would write here once a week. I did pretty well in January I have to say, but like many a New Year’s resolution, it fell off and wasn’t sustainable.

In 2018, I’m going to write here when I can, as I’d like to and on topics that happen at that moment of be of interest but are unlikely to stray very far from history, science fiction, home cooking and perhaps rockets.

I’m working on this draft again, started on the 2nd and continuing here on a quiet Sunday morning. Chessie and I drove down to Albany and did a bunch of errands, returned some things, exchanged some others. I got some new kitchen tools, a new phone case.

I’ve been committed to budgeting more carefully this year. Not just this week or this month but for the long term.

  • Financial Goals 2018:
    • Build up a month’s expenses in our main checking account: stop living paycheck to paycheck.
    • Add at least 15% to out savings.
    • Pay off at least half the outstanding balances on our credit cards & debts.

If we can manage all of those things, or really just keep our eye on the ball more I think a little constant attention will yeild a better, more stable and less stressful tinge to our finances.

In other areas I’d like to continue to work toward getting our home settled, making it a peaceful, relaxing space for both of us and our friends. With the help of my Mom and step-dad we painted two rooms in the house: the living room and dining room and we bought some new furniture from IKEA toward the end of 2017. Those things all put together will mean that two more rooms in the house will be a lot closer to feeling finished. We’ve got a fair amount of paint leftover, so I think some door trim and a hallway or two will be getting painted in 2018, along with the trim on the exterior of the house.

I’ve spent most of the time I might have writing this post getting Jekyll up and running, but I think I’ve nearly got it working 100% on my main office desktop computer, and hope to also get something working well enough on my little amazon tablet. (Though I ought to just set up a VPN into this machine here at home since I always leave it on, instead of running an entire different mobile environment for writing & website deployment.)