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Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

Reading Challenges

My Kind of Mystery Reading Challenge 2017 February - January 2017-8




 

 

Something RottenSomething Rotten: 05/31/07

Most people I've spoken with who enjoy the Thursday Next series like it for the way real and fictional people can travel in, and out and between books. Personally I think Fforde is wasting his time and talent on this aspect of his world. I prefer the time travel aspects, especially the idea of eradication and re-actualization.

While Something Rotten is mostly bogged down with the book stuff, at least Thursday's personal life gets back on track and having seen closure in the one piece of plot I was interested in, I'm able now to ignore the rest of the books in the series. Finally Fforde bothers flesh out the ramifications of time travel on the fabric of society.

Fforde comes close to writing in the style of Philip K. Dick in what he does with the Goliath Corporation. What happens when a huge corporation changes its ways because it's found religion and not only that, is now doing business as a religion? Think of it as a sillier version of The Man in the High Castle.

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--> San Diego Trip Day 2: South Pasadena: 05/31/07

Sean from last November but doing the same thing he did on this tripBefore heading down to San Diego for dinner with my mother, we had a well needed "hang around" day with Ian's family. I mostly tried to sleep, having failed to fall asleep until dawn (after going to bed at two). The kids had gotten up early even though they too had gotten to bed at two. Although they were tired, they were in good spirits.

Sean had fun helping Charlie clean the pool with the robot and the various scoopers and brushes. Afterwards they turned on the hot tub and stuck their feet into it. While getting out of the hot tub, Sean fell into the deep end of the pool. Although I've only given him one swimming lesson which hadn't appeared to go well, Sean remembered everything I'd taught him. He managed to stay calm, dog paddle back to the edge of the pool and pull himself out before we had a chance to react. He saved himself in seconds!

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Art World DreamThe Art World Dream: 05/30/07

The Art World Dream isn't a book I would have picked up for myself but it was a bonus book that came with some other books I bought back in 2002. As with many advice books, the main point of the book seems to be: do it the author's way or no way at all. There is no flexibility to the advice and then Rudd goes on to suggest that any artist who feels the need to read his book is probably already a failed artist! What's the point of reading a book if the author assumes the average reader can't cut it in his industry?

According to Rudd there is nothing to be gained financially or emotionally by making it as a small locally known artist. Nor is there any point in being a hobby artist. The only true path to success is through real estate, big shows (in New York, of course) and new technologies.

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Sacred Symbols: Ancient EgyptSacred Symbols: Ancient Egypt: 05/29/07

Herebedragons's son and I are fascinated by books about ancient Egypt. So when this little book was offered at the last BookCrossing meeting, I took it to read and to then send it onto Herebedragons.

The book has beautiful photographs but the binding is cheap and the descriptions written for each photograph are simplistic. For a fan of the subject the book doesn't have much to offer beyond the pretty pictures.

The book is also nothing more than one of those cheap mini-books often on offer at in grocery store checkout lines. It doesn't even list an author, just the publisher. Nor does it list a bibliography or citations. Even stocking stuffer books should give credit where credit is due!

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Mrs. P's JourneyMrs. P's Journey: 05/29/07

Phyllis Pearsall grew up around cartography and decided after a failed marriage to make her own map of London. She did it at a time when the London maps were horribly out of date. Through a process of trial and error and thousands of miles walked, she put together the London A to Z map and created a new company in the process.

It was the process of making the map and the effects of the map on the business, London, etc, is what I wanted to read about. From page 200 onward, Mrs. P's Journey finally comes on topic after languishing on Mrs. P's parents. While I suppose it's interesting to learn about her father's dabbling in cartography, the bulk of the book is wasted on irrelevant details.

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TrafficSan Diego: Day 1: Traffic: 05/29/07

For Memorial Day, we drove down to San Diego (via South Pasadena) to see first Ian's folks and then my family. We had originally planned to drive down on Saturday morning all the way to San Diego but Ian's folks wanted to see us too so we braved the Friday traffic to stop at South Pasadena.

Ian did all the drive down to San Diego (thirteen hours broken up across two days). The hardest parts of the drive were getting out of the Bay Area (after an abortive attempt to leave via the 580, we back tracked to the 101). It took us almost 4 hours to get to Salinas where we stopped for dinner.

The remainder of the drive down to South Pasadena went quickly. We arrived at one in the morning, after contemplating stopping for a motel.

The remaining 100 or so miles were just as hard as the initial 100. The slog through Los Angeles is always frustrating and staying on the 5 is nearly impossible the way it is set up through that area. The 5 is a major freeway but in Los Angeles it is broken into pieces so that the littler regional freeways can spawn off of it.

If I were to redesign the freeways in Los Angeles, I would put priority on making it easier to stay on the numbered route. If one is on the 5, one should be able to stay the 5 without having to zigzag across lanes of traffic. The zigzagging should be left for the freeways as the spawn (so the 605, 710, 10, etc.)

The final killer though on the trip down to San Diego was the traffic around Del Mar. The tourists were stopping to watch the hot air balloons take off. These beautiful balloons follow this same routine every afternoon around sunset and have been more at least twenty-five years! There is nothing unique about these hot air balloons. But no, stupid tourists had to make the last ten miles of my trip a living hell just to watch the damn balloons inflate.

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Sixteen Short NovelsNotes from Underground: 05/24/07

I picked up Sixteen Short Novels at the September BookCrossing meeting last year. Yes; I went a week postpartum and Harriet went too. My goal is to read and review each of these short novels but if I do it all at once I'll only get this one massive book read for quite some time. Instead, I'll concentrate on each novel separately and count each one as its own book just as I did for the four novellas in Four Past Midnight. At that rate I figure I can read about three of these short novels a month and I should have the book ready for release by Harriet's first birthday.

I'm almost to the halfway point in this 1000+ page tome. "Notes from Underground" reads like one of those manifestos oft-times left behind by someone who has gone postal. The first half of the tale is a set of observations on life and the "enjoyment of suffering." The second half which is the story proper, follows the underground man (he never names himself) as he tries to fit in at work. When he's rebuffed he tries picking a fight. When that doesn't work, he tries to reunite with some acquaintances and of course, that doesn't work either. At last he tries to date a girl and that too ends in failure. Can this book be any more "emo"?

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Trapped in Death CaveTrapped in Death Cave: 05/23/07

Trapped in Death Cave is another book I got from the now defunct book relay site. It was published when I was in elementary school and had I heard of the book back then I would have enjoyed it because I was into books like The Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden.

Trapped in Death Cave does have some entertaining adventure scenes in the second half but the first half takes too long to establish the story. The first couple chapters languish over the retelling of a legend that while key to the plot doesn't need to be told in the excruciating detail that it is.

My favorite part of the book though is Mrs. Becker. She is introduced as the typical children's horror story witch but she is allowed to flesh out. She's a well needed adult figure to help the protagonists out of their trouble but she's also fun. She reminds me of what Pippi Longstocking would be like as a grownup.

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The Last Camel Died at NoonThe Last Camel Died at Noon: 05/22/07

Back in junior high school I read Crocodile on the Sandbank and fell in love with the Amelia Peabody series. I read up to The Last Camel Died at Noon but didn't have the chance to read it because my studies got in the way as did the temptation of a library filled with much better books! It's only in the last few years that I've gone back to reading the series, though I'm no longer trying to read them in order.

The Last Camel Died at Noon introduces Nefret, a character whose back story is later more fully explained in Children of the Storm (a book I read in 2005). Both book suffer from being too Ramses-centric and from plot-bloat.

Of the 400 pages, the first 100 are quite good as are the last 100. The middle 200 slog through a whole bunch of heavy handed foreshadowing that makes this "dear reader" wonder just how dense Amelia, Radcliff and Ramses really are. Characters who are in disguise are so obvious in their costumes and aliases that it's painful to wait for the protagonists to catch up. The criminal of the book might as well just introduce himself as such because again his strange behavior and motives are completely ignored.

If you're a fan of the series and like to read things in order, go ahead and read the book. If you're not that devoted, it's okay to skip the book. Everything will be summed up for you in later volumes (and completely rehashed in Children of the Storm).

Read the review at Reading Aventures.

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Postal PillarSwimming Again: 05/22/07

Today after work Ian, Harriet and I spent a lovely half an hour in the pool. It was a well-needed chance for me to distress and for all of us to cool down. Harriet enjoyed the water but she's a little too small for her suit so we had to hold onto her because she can't bob around.

Ian and I took turns holding on to Harriet. She enjoyed being bounced up and down in the water. When I wasn't holding her, I was swimming laps. The water felt cool and refreshing. It was a little too cold for Harriet but she kept her sense of humor. She had fun making faces and blowing raspberries at whomever wasn't holding her.

After our time in the pool we were tired but happy.

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Good Bones and Simple MurdersGood Bones and Simple Murders: 05/21/07

When I was still relatively new to BookCrossing, I signed up for a pair of Atwood book rings that I really enjoyed: Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid's Tale. Having enjoyed those two books, I signed up for more book rings and so far I've been disappointed with what I've read (Alias Grace and Cats-Eye).

My latest Atwood read, Good Bones and Simple Murders is the last of these book rings and it's right in the middle. There are stories I really enjoyed and others that annoyed me to no end. In the end, the annoying stories out numbered the enjoyable ones, making for a tedious read.

The Good:

Atwood illustrated all her stories . They are delightful and add a certain something to the stories. They are all thankfully short so even the annoying stories are over quickly. There are some lovely alternate future stories that take apart modern society in the vein of Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid's Tale. There are some amusing retellings of classic stories, like Gertrude's advice to her son, Hamlet.

The Bad:

I really don't like "battle of the sexes" stories. These comparisons between men and women get tiresome fast and this book is overly full of stories based around these stereotypes. I don't like stories that are strictly a rant by an overly emotional protagonist. Again, this book is rather heavy with ranting protagonists.

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New Postal Rates: 05/21/07

This afternoon I made my first run to the post office after the May 14 rate restructuring. As a BookCrosser, my two main concerns were the rise in the media mail rate and the disappearance of the surface mail rate. I only had five books today, three media mail and two international. The total price came out to just shy of twenty dollars. Interestingly, the book to Finland (a large trade paperback) cost half the entire price.

For the small books, the new rate structure seems to result in cheaper prices. The larger books, though, can be a shocker, especially under the new "first class international" rate. It's actually slightly cheaper than the old "air mail rate" but twice the old "surface" rate.

On a side note, I've realized that I sent the wrong book out to Wales. It's not that big of a deal. It's an easy to replace book if the person will be receiving this incorrect can't or doesn't want to ship on to the correct person. It's just annoying.

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HarrietBaby Teeth and Eating: 05/21/07

While in line at the post office, I had a lovely conversation with a grandmother of two. Her youngest grandchild is Harriet's age. When she saw how many teeth Harriet has, she made an interesting observation. "I bet she likes to eat a lot of different things," she said. I agreed that she does. The woman went on to say that in her experience babies who get their teeth early tend to be adventurous eaters, whereas the toothless ones are more stubborn about trying new foods.

I have to admit that in my own limited experience with children (my own, myself and my brother, and children I've babysat), her observation is true. Just out of curiosity, anyone have any first hand experience either for or against this observation?

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Swimming: 05/20/07

You've probably noticed that yesterday's posts are publishing today. I had such a busy day yesterday that I ended up tumbling into bed at ten o'clock without bothering to blog. I needed the sleep! I also took a couple photographs but I haven't taken them off the camera yet.

Sean and I started the day with grocery shopping. He's been helpideng me shop (when I do the shopping) since he was a toddler and we'd shop together after work and daycare. Ian needed to stay home and work on his paper and Harriet was napping.

When we got back, the weather had warmed up so he and I decided to go swimming. This was Sean's first time in a pool since he was an infant. Since he doesn't remember his time before, it might as well been his first time. After putting on the sunscreen and blowing up his floaties we made our way to the pool.

The water was chilly and the concept of a deep end scared Sean so much he didn't want to move off the steps. I got him to splash around, practice kicking and putting his head under the water (only just). In between lessons, I swam laps. At the end of our swimming session I finally got him off the steps enough to practice floating on his back. He needs a lot more practice before he'll feel comfortable with the water.

Our time in the pool seemed like only a few minutes except that I was physically exhausted and Sean was cold. We had actually spent an hour! I hope to do some more swimming, perhaps after work. I also want to take Harriet one of these days.

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Chasing the DimeChasing the Dime: 05/20/07

Chasing the Dime is another book I got from one of the BookCrossing meetings. It's a fast paced thriller set in Santa Monica. Things start simply enough, Henry Pierce, recently divorced, is getting phone calls for a prostitute. Rather than request another new phone number, Pierce is drawn into a dangerous web when he tries to find the woman who had the phone number before he did.

The rest of the book is divided equally between the mystery of what happened to Lily, Pierce's search for Lily and the reasons behind Pierce's search. There is also a side plot of Pierce's biotech company racing the clock to get a patent filed on a breakthrough piece of nanotechnology. Tempting as it is to skip the boring bits of technobable, this tangential plot does end up being important to the rest of the book.

While I enjoyed the book on the first read, it only works because of Pierce's odd character flaws. Using a wrong number as a form of corporate espionage wouldn't normally work for a thriller plot but some how here they do. I'm not sure though I'd enjoy reading through Pierce's leaps of faith a second time.

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In the Beginning... Was the Command LineIn the Beginning... Was the Command Line: 05/19/07

In the Beginning... was a RABCK to me from another BookCrosser. I had put it on my wishlist after enjoying Snowcrash and wanted to see what he'd have to say in a nonfiction book about computers. Stephenson's turn of phrase reminds me a bit of Scott Adams in both the good and the bad.

Overall I enjoyed the book but I was glad it was a short one. The chapters from his comparison of Disney World to the modern day operating system onward drag. These final essays are more rants than insights into the nature of computers and programming. I got rather tired about his wining about failed computers and his inability to install Windows NT after giving up on MacOS. What he fails to realize is that hardware failures are part and parcel of working with mobile machines (laptops). They will never be as stable as their desktop counterparts. Instead, though, he blames the OS.

The book also suffers from being out of date. BeOS is dead and MacOS is now a flavor of Unix. It also has a command line. New Macs also now run on Intel chips so his complaints against the Motorola chips are also moot. But in all fairness, the book was published in 1999 when Apple's future wasn't too bright.

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CV FogNo Swimming and Other Stuff: 05/19/07

Our plans to go swimming were thwarted by a thick and cold on shore fog. We did however accomplish all our other goals today so we are now set for Friday's trip down to San Diego by way South Pasadena.

Today was the opening of the 2007 Farmers' Market in Castro Valley. We made sure to go to stock up on some delicious locally grown honey. At another stall we bought most beautiful cherries, enough to use in a pie with leftover fruit for eating. Mostly though we stocked up on vegetables: spinach, radishes, artichokes, zucchinis (courgettes), asparagus, summer squash, and purple potatoes.

Afterwards we popped over to Dublin to Target to get the last remaining items for next week's trip. I had promised Sean a sand toy for the beach and he wanted one with a yellow bucket. He found exactly what he wanted and was very pleased. For Harriet we needed some swimming diapers. We also found some other essentials for her on sale and stocked up for net month. Finally for all four of us, we got a bottle of SPF 45 sun screen.

The rest of the day we spent at home doing chores. I caught up on laundry and Ian caught up on dishes. Then we collaborated to cook one of our best meals ever. Ian barbecued a chicken, cooked up the asparagus and made purple mashed potatoes. Meanwhile, I pitted two cups of cherries (is there an efficient way to do this?) and rendered them down in water, sugar and cornstarch to make the best tasting cherry pie filling ever. Put that together with an excellent homemade crust and I ended up baking one of my best pies (the plum and cherry pie still wins).

It was a good day, even though we didn't go swimming.

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Harriet at the parkHarriet at 8 1/2 Months: 05/19/07

In the last week Harriet has conquered some milestones. She is now an expert at sitting and loves to play on the floor with her toys; she hasn't used her bouncy seat in about a fortnight. Her favorite toys now are Sean's tiger piano, a plastic bowling ball and a wide menagerie of stuffed animals (although she's still most fond of purple elephants of any shaper or size).

Then in the last two days, she has finally figured out how to feed herself. Best of all, she loves to try new foods. Tonight for instance she happily ate chicken, asparagus, mashed potatoes, Life cereal and Cheerios, with some cherry pie filling for desert. She also had a tub of squash puree but she mostly wanted to spend dinner feeding herself. Her favorite things to eat tonight were the asparagus, the potatoes and the Life cereal.

I think by the time she turns 9 months she will have completely self-weaned herself off the breast and onto bottles. Except for first thing in the morning, she no longer wants to nurse. I had hoped to go longer than I did with Sean but now it's clear that she'll be stopping sooner; Sean went to 10 months.

Harriet's change from breast to bottle means a change in her bedtime routine. Now I feed her a last bottle before her bath rather than nursing her after her bath. To give her a way to calm down for bed after playing in the bath, I now read her a bedtime story. Harriet adores being read to and her current favorite bedtime story is The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle.

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Galactic pothealer.htmlGalactic Pot-Healer: 05/18/07

I got a copy of Galactic Pot-Healer from another BookCrossing member. Although I enjoyed this book thoroughly, I'm not sure my short review can do this book justice. It's one of those books that though short, requires a lot of re-reading and thought.

The basic plot is fairly typical Dick: a common man in a deadened job finds himself exposed to the true mysteries of world and is uncertain how to deal with it all. Meet Joe Fernwright, pot-healer in a dead-end job with lots of time on his hands and nothing to do. In a world of metal and plastic, no one ever seems to need his ceramic mending skills until the demigod of a distant planet offers him a job he cannot refuse.

Joe is presented with a prophesy in the form of the Book, a precognitive tome written by the native Kalends. So many books now would show the protagonist trying to thwart the vision and exert free will (to then either succeed or fail). This book, though, embraces Fatalism as a central theme and Joe goes by the Book.

In the end of Galactic Pot-Healer with all its discussions of Faustian deals and Fatalism and its poking fun at government, Joe's adventures to Plowman's Planet turn out to be an elaborate shaggy-dog story.

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Headache ReliefHeadache Relief for Women: 05/17/07

As a long time sufferer of migraines, I was intrigued by this book when it showed up at one of the recent BookCrossing meetings. I usually steer clear of self help type books but I thought I'd take a chance on Headache Relief for Women just in case it had some tips that I had so far missed. I wish I hadn't bothered reading this book. Suffice it to say, I hated it.

The book starts out okay. The introductory chapter gives some statistics on who suffers from migraines most and some other interesting facts. It appears to be a rather straight forward medical book for the general public.

By the second or third chapter though, the book's tone becomes increasingly patronizing. The message seems to be: oh dear suffering woman who is too shy and stupid to stand up to her doctor, we will come and cure you and explain to you how your body works because you are just a woman.

The answers provided in the book are no different than any other migraine book: keep a diary of headaches; figure out what factors might be triggers; try to change lifestyle to avoid these triggers; if migraines persist, here are some things to ask your doctor. The last couple of chapters are a list of every known drug (as of 1995) and how they can be used to keep the hysterical migraineur doped up enough to not notice her headache. The book also reads like a 250 page infomercial for their own headache clinic.

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Sixteen Short NovelsWard No. Six: 05/16/07

I picked up Sixteen Short Novels at the September BookCrossing meeting last year. Yes; I went a week postpartum and Harriet went too. My goal is to read and review each of these short novels but if I do it all at once I'll only get this one massive book read for quite some time. Instead, I'll concentrate on each novel separately and count each one as its own book just as I did for the four novellas in Four Past Midnight. At that rate I figure I can read about three of these short novels a month and I should have the book ready for release by Harriet's first birthday.

"Ward No. Six" is mostly a mood piece. It asks the question who is really sane: the people in the asylum or the people on the outside. For Dr. Andrei Yefimich, the answer is "yes." He goes from running the asylum to being a resident of Ward no. 6. It is his quest to experience "real life" that leads him to lose his job, travel Europe, fall into depression and ultimately be locked away in the very hospital that fired him.

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Sean in MaxineMaxine Runs Cold: 05/16/07

Maxine is home again and running like a new car. The repair came out to $500 less than what we feared. Thankfully the parts we needed came in and Maxine was ready for pick up just after lunch.

Before picking up Sean from school, I reinstalled Harriet's car seat (formerly Sean's). The feed for the seatbelt is really tight (and the plastic is sharp), so having small hands helps. Plus after dozens of times of installing the seat, I have it down to a science. Sean's booster seat takes about 30 seconds to install so we did that just last minute.

Both kids were very happy to be back in Maxine. I think Harriet likes the fact that her feet now reach the back of the seat. I think in the Accord she felt a little lost. Sean also commented on how he thought the Accord was "too big."

Maxine is running better than she has in months. The AC is blowing nice cold air without much time to get up and running. The engine stays cool while the AC is on. Most importantly though, she also passed her smog check. Now I can get her license renewed.

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Christmas StoryA Christmas Story: 05/15/07

A Christmas Story is a series of semi-autobiographical short stories by humorist Jean Shepherd. They were first published in Playboy in the mid 1960s. These stories were later put together to make the very funny film of the same title in 1983. The book in its current form was published posthumously in 2003.

The short stories which now act as chapters are:

  • "Duel in the Snow, or the Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid"
  • "The Counterfeit Secret Circle Member Gets the Message, or the ASP Strikes Again"
  • "My Old Man and the Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art"
  • "Grover Dill and the Tasmanian Devil"
  • "The Grandstand Passion Play of Delbert and the Bumpus Hounds"

Of these stories, my favorite two are "My Old Man..." and "...Bumpus Hounds." The first covers the scene with the lamp and I'm just a fan of that sort of kitsch. Reading his family's reaction to the lamp always makes me smile and laugh. The "...Bumpus Hounds" story closes out the book with a tale of the worst neighbors imaginable and how they ruined the Easter ham. It's the description of the house's deterioration and the hordes of animals that crack me up in that story.

Overall, A Christmas Story is a very quick read. It's only a 124 pages. I think the film takes longer to watch the book does to read! The book interestingly has less swearing than the film which surprised me.

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Housekeeping: 05/14/07

Housekeeping Housekeeping is the first new book I've bought on a complete whim. It's also one of the best books I've read in 2007 so far. I have to admit that I chose it for two reasons: the gorgeous photograph of a train bridge and its length (only 224 pages).

While Ruth is the narrator and the story centers around the misfortunes of her family, the true protagonist is Fingerbone, a place somewhere near Seattle but in the cold, remote regions of the mountains. The temperamental lake and the severe winters are constant challenges to the residents of Fingerbone. The lake is constantly claiming victims, including an entire train and later most of the houses.

It is against this hard wilderness and ever present threat of damp and mold that Ruth tells her story of her family and how it dwindled down to just Aunt Sylvie, sister Lucille and herself. It is also the story of the family house and how it weathers its many different owners and falls into disrepair under Aunt Sylvie's watch.

Aunt Sylvie is by far the most interesting and best realized character in the novel. The responsibility of raising and caring for Ruth and Lucille falls on her shoulders when her sisters flee back to Seattle to live in the luxury of their basement hotel room. Ruth's descriptions of how the house changes after Sylvie's arrival beautifully and subtlety describes just how overwhelmed Sylvie is by the responsibility of caring for a house and two young children. And yet it's also clear that in her own way, Sylvie does love the children.

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ToastToast: 05/14/07

I spent a little more time today going through my old photographs of Sean. Back when he was an infant, I was under so much stress at work that I just didn't have the energy to do much at all with this site. I didn't start blogging until after I got my present job. So from 2000 to 2004, this site pretty much stayed dormant although I did continue to create artwork, I didn't post to my local galleries, just to the 3DCommune. I also took photographs of Sean but only to do weekly email updates to friends and family.

Anyway, today's picture shows Sean at age 7 1/2 months. Given that he was late and Harriet was early, he's about the same age in this photograph as Harriet is now. Although Sean is a fussier eater than Harriet has ever been, he instantly got the idea of self feeding. He started trying to feed himself around the age of three months. Harriet, now at 8 months is only just starting to feed herself table foods, although she will gladly eat anything that I pop into her mouth.

Sean has always loved carbs. Most of his favorite foods are things that involve flour; bread, waffles, pancakes, cornbread, etc. Harriet on the other hand adores fruit and veggies. Her favorite foods are carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, peas (either as purees or table food) and so on. The foods that both agree on are peas and applesauce.

If I were to give Harriet a piece of toast, she'd make a face, pretend to gag and then spit it out in as messy a way as possible. If I were to give toast to Sean he'd eat it. Sometimes he likes it with jam, sometimes with butter and sometimes plain. He mostly always though will eat it.

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Sacred FlowersBare: 05/13/07

I picked up Bare at one of last year's BookCrossing meetings because I had enjoyed a similar behind the scenes book (The Fantasy Factory). Bare had its moments, like the first chapter where the author describes her exhibitionist childhood and a later chapter where she describes the virtues of sensible shoes for stripping and pole dancing.

Most of the book though was rather dry. Eaves introduces us to some of her coworkers by their home and stage identities and tries to explain why these women also chose to be exotic dancers but she never really comes to a convincing thesis or argument. Instead the book is a laundry list of details and dry first hand accounts. It reads more like a "what I did for summer vacation" paper than a memoir or a study of the industry.

A few people asked if there were "illustrations" and no, there aren't.

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Sean aged 7 monthsThe Wooden Spoon: 05/13/07

Tonight I was going through my huge back-log of photographs to post and found a pair of my favorite Sean photographs. These two captured what turned out to an important moment in his life.

Sean was seven months old and had just started to sit on his own. It was a Sunday so Ian was out doing homework and I was trying to cook. Sean was bored and grumpy. I did what many parents have done, I gave him a few cooking implements to play with: a wooden spoon and a metal bowl. He was enchanted!

For the next bunch of months that wooden spoon and the metal bowl were his. The wooden spoon has a small burn on the handle so it was easy to tell Sean's spoon apart form the others. Most importantly, he could tell them apart and if I tried to use his spoon or even take it away to clean it, he'd protest.

After a while I noticed him mimicking us cooking. He would take his spoon and his bowl and pretend to mix. Skip forward a year when Ian was teaching at night to make up some of the money we burned through while I was unemployed. On those nights that Ian was teaching, I'd have to make dinner for Sean and me. To keep him busy and out of trouble, I started to give him simple tasks to help with the process. He caught on quickly and took an immediate liking to baking.

Whenever Sean and I bake, Sean has to use his spoon. All these years later he still counts the spoon with the burn as his. The poor spoon has a crack too but it's still useable. In all these years of cooking together Sean has learned how to make biscuits, banana bread, brownies, cookies, cupcakes, and from Ian: waffles, pancakes, cornbread, and crepes.


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Sacred FlowersSacred Flowers: 05/12/07

I picked up Sacred Flowers for its lovely illustrations and because it was short. Sometimes it's nice to have a short book to read in between the longer ones. I enjoyed learning about the meaning of flowers and their use in history, but the mystical uses for flowers were just silly. I realize that flowers have been used for spells and wards and whatnot but these uses included in the book are given the same weight as the other facts in the book. Nonetheless, it was still a nice diversion for an hour or so of reading.

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Me, aged 2 monthsEight Facts About Me: 05/12/07

Breeni tagged me. I won't be tagging anyone else because I'm not sure who my regular audience is. Feel free dear reader to do this meme yourself. Let me know if you.

Fact #1: Like Breeni, I've been with my husband for half my life. It'll be a few more years until I'll have been married for more than half my life but I met my husband when I was 17.

Fact #2: I don't have any "exes". My mother was probably convinced I'd never date as I hadn't dated anyone in junior or senior high. I've dated exactly one person and I married him. I did have offers for dates from two other people in college but I turned them both down.

Fact #3: I'm left-handed but I only do a small number of things left-handed. I write, draw, paint, eat with a spoon and eat with chopsticks left-handed. Everything else I do right handed.

Fact #4: I've lived my entire life, save for two trips as an exchange student, in California.

Fact #5: I won a putting contest when I was in junior high. Most of the other competitors were adults. It was at the old General Dynamics park in Kearney Mesa that was torn down in 1990s to make room for a housing complex. It was a great little park. It's a shame at General Dynamics sold the property.

Fact #6: I lost my engagement ring today. It's somewhere in the house. It's really nothing much more than costume jewelry as we couldn't afford much in the way of a ring. We were just kids when we got engaged. Nonetheless, I'd love to find it. I need to get it resized. My fingers have gotten to large.

Fact #7: I spent 3 months living in Preston, Tasmania. Did you know that the Tasmanian accent sounds a lot like the Welsh accent? At least it does to me. The Welsh vowels are a little rounder but that's the only noticeable difference.

Fact #8: I don't use a blog engine for this site. Everything is done by hand, including the forms and the XML feed.


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Being CommittedBeing Committed: 05/11/07

Being Committed is the worst book I've read so far this year. Considering I've read 140 so far, that's pretty bad! I was surprised at how much I hated it given how I had found Behaving Like Adults to be a surprisingly strong novel.

Hannah, the protagonist, is a detective who claims throughout the novel to understand people and yet she fails miserably in her own basic relationships. When her boyfriend of five years proposes to her, she turns him down and the plot goes down hill from there.

In fact the only sensible character in this entire novel (among the main characters) is Hannah's ex-boyfriend. He has the sense to dump her and move on. Of course she pines after him and when she can't have him back (after dumping him!) she goes after her ex-husband.

Yes, this stupid twit had been married once before to a perfectly nice young man. They had married young and she had divorced him after six months. Why? Well, who the hell knows. Hannah never gives a good reason and Maxted never breaks in to add any extra insight.

So somehow I'm supposed to follow along with Hannah and agree with all her ludicrous observations on humankind and care about her feelings. Well, sorry, but I don't. Hannah is a shallow, self obsessed, narcissistic good-for-nothing and I feel sorry for her ex.

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TeaHappy Monkey's Day: 05/11/07

Today was the Mother's Day tea at Sean's preschool. Last year I missed the tea because I didn't see the invitation because Ian was mostly taking Sean to school. This year Sithy made sure to invite me in person and I was glad for the extra reminder!

So Sean who was in a silly mood at the party, decided to call it "Monkey's Day" instead of "Mother's Day" and would follow it up with lots of monkey noises. Ooo ooo ooo, and so on. It was actually very funny.

On the lower playground, the teachers had set up a few tables with chairs and a larger table with the food and rinks. The idea was to have the mothers sit at the tables and the children then serve the mothers. Unfortunately kids at this age are very territorial. They took one look at their usual lunch tables and immediately sat down, leaving the mothers to either stand or some mothers picked up their kids, sat down and placed the kids on their laps. I opted to stand until later when Sean went to play.

Then there was the service bit. Not a single child managed to bring a plate of goodies to a mother. The typical "service" included a paper plate, two crackers and one corn chip. So the teachers gave up on the grand plan and brought the food over to the tables and then brought the tea pots too. The tea was very good; it was an apple clove mixture.

After the tea, the kids had a piñata. As Adhila is completely enamored with Disney princesses, the piñata was decorated with the face of Cinderella. Most of the kids didn't notice or just know that's what Adhila likes and therefore assumed it was completely normal for the situation. One little girl though, who is also completely enamored with Disney princesses, burst into tears because everyone was beating up Cinderella with a big stick! I felt sorry for her. She has a point. Why is it fun to beat an effigy of Cinderella with a stick? Her mother ended up taking her home early from the party because she was so distraught.

In the end though, I got caught up in the spirit of the party and when all the kids had gotten a chance to hit the piñata, the mothers were given a go. I took my three whacks but it was another mother who finally got the piñata to open. The prizes inside while mostly candy also included some small toys too. Sean got a heart shaped figuring and a handheld tennis game. He went for those two toys rather than loading up his bag with candy. That's my boy!

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GiorgioGiorgio: 05/10/07

Giorgio is another of the children's books that I got at the April BookCrossing meeting. It's also the strangest of the books. Giorgio is an Italian train who takes passengers down to a seaside resort. Jealous of the passengers who sail away on boats, Giorgio wants to ride on a boat too. The other trains, of course, tell Giorgio how silly he is to want to ride on a boat when trains ride on tracks. But of course, Giorgio gets his wish one day. He gets to ride a special train equipped ferry boat to take some school children to Sicily.

Giorgio's gingerbread illustrations are really distracting. They're just too happy and too cute. I normally like stories about trains but this book didn't hold my attention.

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Spooky CaliforniaSpooky California: 05/09/07

Spooky California is one of a series of "Spooky" tales from each of the 50 states. I picked up a copy because I'm a native Californian and have visited many of the places pointed out on the map at the front of the book. To see the entire set of books, check out the author's website.

The book contains a mixture of ghost stories and folklore. The first half of the book is devoted to the ghost stories. The second half contains the stories that defy categorization.

Of the stories my favorites were "Vengeance" about a vengeance demon, in this case the ghost of a murdered wife. I liked it because it reflected the strong Japanese cultural influences in San Francisco. The "Ghost Ship" story reminded me of Inca Gold by Clive Cussler and I have to wonder if the folk tale wasn't inspiration for his novel. The story of the ghost bells brought back memories of tales we were told about the San Diego mission. For San Jose, the book includes a brief history of The Winchester Mystery House (a place I still want to visit).

While the stories were interesting to me as a Californian because I've visited most of the places listed and have heard versions of most of these stories, the writing was at times rather dry. I had to read a story or two and put the book aside and then pick it up again later.

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Sixteen Short NovelsPudd'nhead Wilson: 05/08/07

I picked up Sixteen Short Novels at the September BookCrossing meeting last year. Yes; I went a week postpartum and Harriet went too. My goal is to read and review each of these short novels but if I do it all at once I'll only get this one massive book read for quite some time. Instead, I'll concentrate on each novel separately and count each one as its own book just as I did for the four novellas in Four Past Midnight. At that rate I figure I can read about three of these short novels a month and I should have the book ready for release by Harriet's first birthday.

Mark Twain is one of my favorite authors but I am not overly fond of his southern dialect novels. In fact me least favorite of his works are Huckleberry Finn and Pudd'nhead Wilson. Both these books are important pieces of American literature and draw attention to underbelly of Southern society. But I still don't like them.

That being said, Puddin'head isn't the protagonist of the novel which bears his name. He is a stand in for Twain. He's the social bumpkin who refuses to take part in "polite" Southern society. He is the Greek chorus to this tragedy.

The actual protogranists are Tom and Chambers. They share the same birthday and are nearly identical. There's only one problem: Tom is white and Chambers is black (although he's light skinned enough to pass as white). In an act of deseperation to save her son from being "sold down the river", Chamber's mother (and Tom's wet nurse), switches her son for Tom (the master's son).

The rest of the book is the unfolding results of this initial switching. It's a story of nature vs. nurture. But this morality tale is sloppily and hastily written. While it avoids the heavy melodrama of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

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IanIan's Teeth: 05/08/07

Ian had a dentist appointment today, something he's needed to do for too long. Next month Sean and I have appointments to get our teeth cleaned. The bad news is that Ian needs three fillings and a deep cleaning. I'm glad things aren't worse but I'm worried what the dentist will find with Sean and my teeth.

In other news, our car goes in for a well needed tune up on Thursday. On Sunday the AC died in the car. Now if we have the AC turned on it overheats the car. So we keep the AC off and the windows open. We hope to have it fixed before our trip down to San Diego at the end of the month.

The one bit of good news is that by the end of the month, I will have paid off my student loans seven months early. So the money I would have been spending on the loan repayment can now go to fixing Ian's teeth (and possibly Sean's and mine).

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The Virgin BlueThe Virgin Blue: 05/07/07

Midwife Ella Turner moves to France with her architect husband Rick. When they start trying for their first baby, Ella starts having nightmares about Isabelle du Moulin and a suffocating blue. Unsatisfied with her life in Toulouse, Ella has an affair and then flees briefly to distant relatives in Switzerland while she decides what she wants to do with her life.

To flesh out Ella's nightmares, Chevalier writes flashbacks of Isabelle's life. These flashbacks are by far the weakest piece of the novel and the most frustrating to read. Chevalier chose to write the dialogue in a very stilted fashion, using en dashes in place of quotes. This unfortunate choice in editing makes these flashbacks nearly unreadable and breaks the otherwise easy flow of the novel's narrative.

Ella's choice to leave Rick is never explained to satisfaction. Yes, she is lonely and feeling isolated in a foreign country but she never tries to express her dissatisfaction with Rick. Nor does she adequately explain how the nightmares are affecting her. Ultimately I felt sorry for Rick who may never get to know his child because of his wife's selfish behavior.

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New JeansNew Jeans: 05/07/07

This morning when Sean was getting dressed he was having a hard time getting his jeans to button. As today is gymnastics at school, we had him change into his only size 5 jeans. They fit much better and it was clear that it was time to retire his size 4 jeans.

So today after school we made the trek to Dublin to restock Sean on jeans. Mervyn's was having a 40% off sale so we were able to get a week's worth of jeans. Sean is very excited to have new jeans and I'm sure he'll be more comfortable at school.

All except one pair which is ripped, we'll put in storage for Harriet. The ripped pair is so thoroughly thrashed that I'll probably just toss it. Or maybe keep some of the denim for a project. Who knows. I haven't decided yet.

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Malcolm XThe Autobiography of Malcolm X: 05/06/07

Published the year of Malcolm X's death, Alex Haley's cowritten autobiography gets into the heart and soul of famous spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Except for Haley's epilogue, the book offers very few explanations for Malcolm's actions through out his life, instead each chapter is almost a parable unto itself.

As a historical document, the autobiography paints a vivid picture of life in America in the 1920s through the 1960s from the perspective of a young black man. While Malcolm doesn't brush aside his crimes as a youth, he doesn't ever question his own convictions about Elijah Muhammad's message or his faith as a converted Muslim. Yet through out he rails (and rightfully so) about the prejudices and misconceptions he has witnessed in other people. Perhaps if he had lived longer he would have had time to examine himself with greater depth and clarity.

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SunsetHeat Wave: 05/06/07

For the last week the weather forecast has been predicting that today and tomorrow would be in the 80s or 90s. It has been so foggy, cold and rainy the last few days that it was hard to believe that the weather would change so drastically. Yesterday though we had intense winds, strong enough to blow the screens off some of our windows and to cause enough of a pressure difference to give us all headaches.

This morning the wind was still blowing but by lunch time it had subsided and sure enough the temperature began to creep upwards. It's nearly eight at night and upstairs we are at 87 degrees. We have our two doors open but there is no longer enough of a wind to get any air flow through the house. Thankfully the sun is going down so at least there isn't much time for things to get any warmer tonight.

Tomorrow though will probably be one of those where I'll have to drinking a liter an hour and making sure that Harriet nurses more. I don't want either of us to get dehydrated.


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PuckoonPuckoon: 05/05/07

The small village of Puckoon finds itself in the middle of the border dispute between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The village itself is in Ireland but the British have redrawn the border, placing the cemetery into Northern Ireland. That's the premise for this very silly novel by Spike Milligan.

Having a border check point in a cemetery leads to ingenious scenes like dead being sent for passport photos before they can be buried. It also leads to more serious things like arms smuggling in the coffins (though to disastrous and hilarious results).

Beyond the politics of Irish border (which really is as confusing as described in the book) Milligan includes numerous puns and a self aware main character who is continuously berating the author for his descriptive abilities. The protagonist hates the legs the author has given him.

Puckoon is one of those rare books that I was compelled to finish once I'd started it. I read it in the course of an hour as it's such a short book. I did have to stop a couple times to laugh.

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Harriet wavingEight Months Old: 05/05/07

Today Harriet turns eight months old. She can now sit unsupported and can feed herself but prefers to have me feed her.

Here is what I've learned about her so far:

  • Her favorite color is purple.
  • Her favorite vegetables are carrots.
  • Her favorite animals are: cats, elephants and horses.
  • She likes her baths hotter than her brother does.
  • She likes to sleep with her face under her blankets.
  • Her favorite book is My Yard.
  • She is looking forward to attending Sean's preschool.
  • Her favorite nursery rhymes are The Itsy Bitsy Spider and Three Men in a Tub.
  • She likes ice cream.
  • She does great impressions of elephants and cats; her brother taught her.
  • She has an ear for music; we've noticed her humming music we've played. She's especially fond of humming video game music.
  • She thinks that Elmo is funny.
  • She is very good with her hands. I have to watch her to make sure she doesn't take apart things she shouldn't be touching.

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The Altman CodeThe Altman Code: 05/04/07

I picked up The Altman Code at one of last year's BookCrossing meetings. I'm a sucker for international spy thrillers so was willing to give this first in a series a go.

Agent Jon Smith and others must race the clock to get a manifest to prove that China is shipping chemical weapons to Iraq. The basic adventure plot is entertaining but it has to compete with an incredibly cheesy soap opera involving the President of the United States. Castillo's missing father disrupts the flow of the plot and interjects some unintentionally funny scenes.

The other major flaw is the sheer number of characters. No scene lasts more than a half dozen pages before the plot blips to another location and different characters. There is too much action and too many characters to ever get to know any of them well, even the hero, Jon Smith.

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Sixteen Short NovelsMario and the Magician: 05/03/07

I picked up Sixteen Short Novels at the September BookCrossing meeting last year. Yes; I went a week postpartum and Harriet went too. My goal is to read and review each of these short novels but if I do it all at once I'll only get this one massive book read for quite some time. Instead, I'll concentrate on each novel separately and count each one as its own book just as I did for the four novellas in Four Past Midnight. At that rate I figure I can read about three of these short novels a month and I should have the book ready for release by Harriet's first birthday.

"Mario and the Magician" by Thomas Mann is the second of his novellas that I've read (the other being A Death in Venice). Among my friends, I seem to be the only one who enjoys Mann's odd mixture of travelogue and inappropriate sexual thoughts. This time a father recounts a day on vacation in Italy full of cultural clashes that ends with an odd but entertaining magic show that goes to far. Here the father is baffled by the conversative nature of the Italian villagers.

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The Mother's RecompenseThe Mother's Recompense: 05/02/07

BookCrossing introduced me to Edith Wharton's books, first through a bookring (The Age of Innocence) and then through a wild catch (The Mother's Recompense) back in 2004. As a lover of old books, imagine how thrilled I was to find a 1925 copy with a BookCrossing label on it!

The Mother's Recompense is a story of mistakes and regrets. Kate Clephane lives in Europe in self imposed exile after a disastrous affair where she left her young husband and infant daughter home in New York. She lives a dull life on the French Rivera where the new scandals of her fellow ex-pats lets her forget her own transgressions.

Now twenty years later, her grown daughter calls her home to face the family, her memories and gives her a chance to start afresh as if nothing ever happened. Unfortunately her happy reunion is short lived as Anne, the daughter, announces her engagement to Kate's old lover.

The story sounds hokey but it's written with an unusual amount of frankness that one is drawn into Kate's world. The novel moves away from being just about Kate's mistakes but about her attempts at redemption and her desire to be a "good" mother to Anne.

While Wharton the narrator is frank with her audience about Kate's desires and transgressions, Kate finds herself incapable of admitting the truth to Anne both from an combined desire to protect her daughter and to avoid bringing further shame to the family.

The book has its flaws, mostly in its propensity for melodrama and sometimes Kate's indecision grows tiresome but overall I enjoyed The Mother's Recompense.

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PeasDinner with Sean: 05/02/07

If Sean had his way, dinner would always be from a short list of favorites: waffles, pancakes, hot dogs, artichokes, crepes, mac' and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sometimes we'll make something off that list for dinner to include Sean in the dinner decision making process but we can't always do it. Nor do we always want to do it.

We're trying to get Sean to eat a greater variety of things and to prevent Harriet from becoming this stubborn about food. He's pretty good about chicken and fish but forget about beef. Tonight though we had beef and sure enough it was a struggle to get him to eat. We also had baked potatoes (something he also never wants to eat), asparagus and pineapple. The whole dinner was me trying to coax him to eat.

Part of the problem too is that he gets overwhelmed by the portions he's served and there I don't blame him. Tomorrow we're going to try giving him an empty plate and I'll serve him portions of what Ian serves me rather than having Ian serve us both. I'm hoping that a few successes at eating one or two bites of something will encourage him to then ask for more of the things he does like from any given meal. We'll see...

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Geographic Information SystemsGIS: Socioeconimic Applications: 05/01/07

Geographic Information Systems: Socioeconomic Applications is another of those BookCrossing books I received via the old Book Relay site. It was one of those books that piqued my interested and then languished on my "to be read" pile. In the interest of clearing my shelves, I finally pulled it of the shelf next to my bed and gave it a read.

GIS introduces the theory and practice of using computers for creating geographic based databases. The first third introduces the computer equipment needed and it is here that I feel later editions are probably more useful. There are better and faster computers and scanners available now but it is still a solid introduction to the basics.

The rest of the book examines how geographic data can be used to gather and analyze census data. It looks at two different approaches, that of the US and British censuses.

While reading this book I kept wondering if future editions will include such personalized uses of geographic data that modern technology has made available. I'm thinking of GPS and Google Earth and other such things.

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