Friday, December 30, 2016

Books I Read in 2016

I read a lot of books.  Well, to be fair, I don't "read" very many at all.  But I do listen to a lot of audiobooks.  This is because I drive a lot, and I enjoy listening to audiobooks while I drive.  

Here's a list of the books I read in the past year.  At least, the ones I can remember.

Fascinating!  This book explains a LOT of the stories I've read about Amazon and their work culture.




Scott Adams' latest book.  This was an enjoyable read, but not much more than that.




I didn't enjoy this much.  I've read other books from Cialdini and some of them were great.  But this was the least enjoyable.  It's got too much derivative content.  I really enjoyed two of his earlier books: Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.




This was interesting.  Kevin Lacz was on some of the same ops as Chris Kyle so I wanted to hear his point of view.  I enjoyed this book.  If you liked American Sniper, then you'll like this book also.




I liked this book, but not quite as much as American Sniper and The Last Punisher.  That's not to diminish the hard work, skills, talent, and achievement of Nicholas Irving. 





While the book was interesting, with many interviews of people who have been labeled as psychopaths by either the media or doctors, I didn't enjoy it as much as I was hoping.  I think it just didn't satisfy an itch I must have had.  Also, it was a little challenging to get past the heavy Welsh accent - the audiobook is read by the author.  Several people have provided much better reviews on Amazon, so if the title is interesting then please go there to read more.


Great book!  But if you are even slightly into science fiction, then you already know this.  I really enjoyed this.  However, I haven't yet read the remainder of the trilogy: The Dark Forest and Death's End.





I wasn't very impressed with this book and the author's prolonged description of the Peltzman Effect as it applies to various industries.  I'm not entirely alone, as there are some mixed reviews on Amazon.





I liked this book, but it was a bit dry.  See my previous post about it here.





This is a very good book.  If you've ever heard of Alexander von Humboldt, then you should read this book.  See my previous post about it here.





I enjoyed this book.  It stitches together various events and people related to the atomic bomb's development in the US.  See my previous post about it here.





This was an interesting book but it lacked the sort of depth that I was hoping for.  I've read so many books on the topic of behavioral economics that they are beginning to repeat the same research results.  In a sense, that's fine since the results are important.  I enjoyed the author's earlier book, Nudge, more.  I also recommend Dan Ariely's books, Predictably Irrational and Payoff.





This is a good book for those who don't have much training in the area.  For me it was a bit boring.  But I forgive the author because it is clearly touted as capturing the content from a training curriculum, and so it is bound to start from basics.





This is an outstanding book.  The best I read in 2016.  I strongly recommend it!  See my earlier post here for details.





This fast-paced story was fun to read.  The audiobook is read by Wil Wheaton, who is a fan of Scalzi's work.  See my previous post about it here.





Covert One Novels
I like the Covert One series of novels that were started by Robert Ludlum.  The main character, Dr. John Smith, makes an interesting (if not entirely believable) secret agent for the modern world.  This year I listened to the audiobook versions of The Patriot Attack, The Paris Option, The Cassandra Compact and The Janus Reprisal.  See my previous post about the first two here.  The quality of writing varies with each book since they have different authors.  I tolerate that well because these are great books for long drives.

I also like the John Rain espionage thriller series from the former CIA officer Barry Eisler.  I think I've now read them all.





I enjoyed this.  I read it twice this year.  If you like Top Gear, then you must read this book.  Here's my earlier post about it.





This wasn't the book I was expecting.  But then it turned out to be very interesting.  It's all about the industry of managing the wealth of the very super rich.  Largely, this entails the intricate legal maneuvers necessary to minimize the loss of wealth to taxes.  For example, the pros and cons of putting your money into foundations or trusts or corporations.



Light and funny.  I ended up with zero sympathy for the author/protagonist, since I've worked in a dot-com and even I'm smart enough to spot the work culture elements that he refused to see around him.  I was hoping for him to get fired, long before it happened.





I heard about this from Scott Adams' blog.  It was interesting, but not very enlightening.  Probably because I'm already familiar with many of the techniques described.





Too brief.  My interests and knowledge are apparently more detailed than this book can satisfy.  I realize this is not very helpful to the reader.  Sorry.





I had to stop the audiobook.  It was making me too angry.





Written by Ben Collins - the famous Stig from Top Gear UK.  This was interesting.  Even though it's aimed at a general audience, I learned a few things.




Mary Roach's latest - it's not her best, but it's still interesting and I learned a lot.  Of her books, I like Stiff best.





This is Piketty's highly acclaimed treatise on capital markets.  Frequent readers of my blog will have noticed that I read a lot of economics books.  This one was different.  I had very high hopes.  If you don't have a genuine interest in macroeconomics, then do NOT read this book.  I do have an interest and yet I had a hard time, entirely because the audio format made it harder to take in this sort of information.  My bad.



I liked this book.  I like any book that offers some behind-the-scenes stories about something that I like.  If you enjoyed Star Trek then you'll enjoy this book.  If you're undecided, then some of the reviewers on Amazon offer much more information about the book.





This was an interesting string of history tales related to the Pacific Ocean and the territories within it and surround it.  The author also wrote Krakatoa and I really liked that book.  His writing style is similar to Bill Bryson; a series of localized stories strung together, with no attempt to be rigorous or comprehensive, but still satisfyingly informative and interesting.  I enjoyed this book.  It's perfect for a long drive.


This book is written by Ron Chernow, who's book Alexander Hamilton inspired the popular musical play (according to Amazon).  I liked this book.  It was very interesting.  I learned far more about Washington and the American Revolutionary war than I ever learned in school.  OK, that's not really saying much.  




I did not finish this book.  I didn't even finish half of it.  I did not like this book.  This would be a good way to torture me - forcing me to listen to this drivel.  So, if you like Covert One novels or John Rain novels, then stay away from this book.












This list doesn't include the books on hiking or diet and some odd skills-development books I've read.


I'm currently listening to this book:

This is a new book from Gary Taubes.  He previously wrote the acclaimed books Why We Get Fat and Good Calories, Bad Calories.  I really liked Why We Get Fat and so far I'm enjoying this new book.  Full disclosure: I think we all eat way too much sugar and I am currently on a ketogenic diet.









Next Up:

I'm really looking forward to this one, ever since I listened to an interview of the author.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Babou the Ocelot

I don't watch a lot of TV, but I like Archer.  I even like Cheryl's pissy pet ocelot named Babou.


I now suspect that they might have chosen the animal and name on purpose.  I just learned that Salvador Dali had a pet ocelot named Babou.  This confession probably highlights my lack of couth.


I wonder what other little things in the show mirror something in real life.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Kelso Dunes Wilderness Powerline Road

Here's another nice powerline road across the Mojave desert.  This section runs from Kelbaker Road at Kelso Dunes, west toward I-15.  I've driven this section a few times and almost all of it is easy.  


The road is signed with the BLM route marker NN15.  I drove it a few months ago and it was in good condition.  There are a few short sections with moderate sand (5 inches or less) and one section with deep sand that can be avoided by taking an alternate route.  Here's the view after leaving Kelbaker Road.  You can see the Kelso Dunes off to the right.


Since it passes by Kelso Dunes (the 2nd highest dunes in California) you might consider taking this road back toward LA after visiting the dunes.  Most of the road is like this...


Here's the view looking back to the east from the western border of the Mojave National Preserve.



The hilly section is not sandy and has always been well graded.


The most difficult section is the part immediately west of the dunes.  It's not really difficult.  Annoying is more appropriate.  The road crosses the fall-line of the local gentle bajada and so there are many shallow washout channels from past rain storms.  Those require you to slow down, unless you're driving a modified Jeep or you enjoy beating up your suspension.  Once you're past that (less than 10 miles) then it's pretty easy.  High ground clearance isn't needed on this road, however 4wd is definitely helpful in the loose rock/gravel and sand sections.


Entering the valley with Broadwell Dry Lake...


You don't need to drive the entire route shown above that I drove.  You can bail out at Crucero Road and head south to Ludlow for gas and ice cream.  The 76 station there has a Dairy Queen inside.

If you do continue westward, as I did, then the road becomes BL8810 and then becomes BL8560 after the dogleg turn.  That's not important information.  I don't think there are any signs.  I know the BLM route numbers from the maps I have.

The last section of road passes by the F-4 jet fighter crash site.  Years ago it had some large pieces of the engines and fuselage surfaces, but now that site has mostly been picked clean.  My previous posts about that site are here, and here.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Why I Carry 2 Spare Tires

When I go off road in very remote places, I bring two spare tires.  

Years ago, I noticed that the National Park Service (NPS) web sites for some of the places I liked to visit suggested that visitors bring 2 spare tires.  At the time, I thought this was odd.  Now, I think it's a reasonable precaution.

This post is meant to explain my reasons.  I'm not baiting people into an argument.  Everyone has their own thresholds for stress and anxiety, and so each person will have a unique perspective and viewpoint.  That's fine.  I'm just offering my rationale to answer the obvious question that the average visitor to my blog would have: Why?

First let me describe what I mean by "very remote" places.  These are places with no cell coverage and so little traffic that it might be days before the next vehicle passes.  These are places where the roads can be so rugged that most vehicles (including tow trucks) cannot drive them.



I've visited Toroweap/Tuweep and Alstrom Point many times.  They're beautiful.  Luckily, the roads to these sites have quite bit of traffic in the summer.  More traffic than Death Valley area 4wd roads that I visit such as Saline Valley Road or Lippincott Road or Mengel Pass and Butte Valley.  Also, the minor roads in the Arizona strip have very little traffic.  If you break down there, it might be days before another vehicle passes.





I also like to drive the powerline and pipeline and railroad service roads that cross the Mojave desert.  Some of these are quite popular and you'll pass several vehicles on any weekend.  Others are very remote and are rarely driven by the utilities that own the right-of-way.  Also, the many historic mines in the Mojave desert result in all sorts of metallic debris lying just under the surface of the sand.  I've blown a lot of tires in the Mojave desert.




And then there are the popular trails in the Sierra and Inyo mountain ranges.  On summer weekends you'll always encounter other vehicles.  Far fewer people visit on week days.




When I visit these areas, I also bring camping gear and enough food and water to last several days, as well as hiking gear to hike to a busier road and/or cell coverage.  That's not a burden because I have that gear with me for planned camping and hiking on most trips.

Driving these roads means I go through a lot of tires.  More than anyone I know.  I have my tire shop on speed-dial.  I've called them from 450 miles away to order tires, so they'll be ready for mounting when I get back in town.  If you're near Pasadena CA, then I recommend this shop: Stanyer & Edmondson Good Year.  They'll get me any tire I want, even if they have to get it from Tire Rack.  And they always match or beat others' prices.  They never try to upsell extra services.  They're very good and trustworthy.  #tireshopplug

Here's my reasoning for carrying two spares.  It boils down to the incalculable odds of getting two punctures on any given trip.

If I have only one spare tire and I get a second flat, then I will need the following to continue my trip (or just to get to where a tow truck can reach):
  • tire damage that is repairable (many of my punctures are not repairable)
  • viable tire repair kit
  • air compressor
  • time / skill / experience

For some tire damage I might also need to remove the tire from the wheel to patch the tire from the inside.  For this I additionally need:
  • tire iron
  • knowledge / skill / experience to get the tire off the wheel and back on again
  • viable patches

If you don't have all of those items, then you are screwed.

I made the conscious decision to easily handle two flat tires by simply bringing a second spare.  The cost to me is:
  • wheel (~$220 or less)
  • tire (~$200)
  • spare tire carrier - optional (prices vary)
  • reduced volume for cargo (if I carry the spare inside the car)

I'm willing to pay this up-front cost in order to make my life hugely easier in a rare situation.  I think of it as an insurance policy.  A policy I'm willing to pay for.