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Saturday, March 19, 2016
Reading List: Thing Explainer
- Munroe, Randall.
New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2015.
What a great idea! The person who wrote this book explains not simple
things like red world sky cars, tiny water bags we are made of, and
the shared space house, with only the ten hundred words people use
There are many pictures with words explaining each thing. The idea
came from the
Up Goer Five
picture he drew earlier.
Drawing by Randall Munroe / xkcd used under right to
share but not to sell
(CC BY-NC 2.5).
Many other things are explained here. You will learn about things in the house
like food-heating radio boxes and boxes that clean food holders;
living things like trees, bags of stuff inside you, and the tree of
life; the Sun, Earth, sky, and other worlds; and even machines for
burning cities and boats that go under the seas to throw them at other
people. This is not just a great use of words, but something you can
learn much from.
There is art in explaining things in the most used ten hundred words,
and this book is a fine work of that art.
Read this book, then try explaining such things yourself. You can use
to see how you did.
Can you explain why
time slows down
when you go fast? Or why things
when you look at them very close-up? This book will
make you want to try it. Enjoy!
The same writer also created
Here, I have only written with the same ten hundred most used words as
in the book.
(The words in the above picture are drawn. In the book they are set in sharp letters.)
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Reading List: 1632
- Flint, Eric.
Riverdale, NY: Baen Publishing, 2000.
Nobody knows how it happened, nor remotely why. Was it a
bizarre physics phenomenon, an act of God, intervention by
aliens, or “just one of those things”? One day,
with a flash and a bang which came to be called the Ring of Fire,
the town of Grantville, West Virginia and its environs in
the present day was interchanged with an equally
large area of Thuringia,
in what is now Germany, in the year 1632.
The residents of Grantville discover a sharp boundary where the
town they know so well comes to an end and the new landscape
begins. What's more, they rapidly discover they aren't
in West Virginia any more, encountering brutal and hostile troops
ravaging the surrounding countryside. After rescuing two travellers
and people being attacked by the soldiers and using their superior
firepower to bring hostilities to a close, they begin to piece
together what has happened. They are not only in central Europe,
but square in the middle of the
Thirty Years' War:
the conflict between Catholic and Protestant forces which engulfed
much of the continent.
Being Americans, and especially being self-sufficient West Virginians,
the residents of Grantville take stock of their situation and start
planning to make of the most of the situation they've been dealt.
They can count themselves lucky that the power plant was included
within the Ring of Fire, so the electricity will stay on as long as
there is fuel to run it. There are local coal mines and people with
the knowledge to work them. The school and its library were within
the circle, so there is access to knowledge of history and technology,
as well as the school's shop and several machine shops in town. As a
rural community, there are experienced farmers, and the land in
Thuringia is not so different from West Virginia, although the climate
is somewhat harsher. Supplies of fuel for transportation are limited
to stocks on hand and in the tanks of vehicles with no immediate
prospect of obtaining more. There are plenty of guns and lots of
ammunition, but even with the reloading skills of those in the town,
eventually the supply of primers and smokeless powder will be
Not only does the town find itself in the middle of battles between
armies, those battles have created a multitude of refugees who
press in on the town. Should Grantville put up a wall and hunker
down, or welcome them, begin to assimilate them as new Americans,
and put them to work to build a better society based upon the
principles which kept religious wars out of the New World? And
how can a small town, whatever its technological advantages and
principles, deal with contending forces thousands of times larger?
Form an alliance? But with whom, and on what terms? And what
principles must be open to compromise and which must be inviolate?
This is a thoroughly delightful story which will leave you with
admiration for the ways of rural America, echoing those of
their ancestors who built a free society in a wilderness.
Along with the fictional characters, we encounter key historical
figures of the era, who are depicted accurately. There are
a number of coincidences which make things work (for example,
Grantville having a power plant, and encountering Scottish
troops in the army of the King of Sweden who speak English), but
without those coincidences the story would fall apart. The
thought which recurred as I read the novel is what would have happened
if, instead, an effete present-day American university town had been
plopped down in the midst of the Thirty Years War instead of
Grantville. I'd give it forty-eight hours at most.
This novel is the first in what has become a large and
Ring of Fire universe,
including novels by the author and other writers set all over
Europe and around the world, short stories, periodicals, and a
role-playing game. If you loved this story, as I did, there's much
more to explore.
This book is a part of the
Free Library. You can read the book online or download it in a
wide variety of electronic book formats, all free of digital rights
management, directly from the
at the Baen site. The Kindle edition
may also be downloaded for free from Amazon.