Jeff Duntemann's Contrapositive Diary Rotating Header Image

Odd Lots

  • The United States has overtaken Germany as the world’s lead producer of wind energy, measured in total kilowatts. Way to go–keeping in mind that Germany still beats us all hollow with kilowatts per capita. I’m a big believer in NWS, in that order, and part of the reason N comes before W is that over the past few years, when Carol and I have passed giant wind turbines along I-80 on our way to and from Chicago, they were only turning about a third of the time. Wind energy is great, but it does not stand alone.
  • Small children should be allowed to get dirty as a way of building their immune systems. I was digging in the back yard since before I can remember, and never had much trouble with allergies. There may be a downside to our dirt- and germ-averse culture that has nothing to do with the risk of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. (With Gretchen’s approval, I think I’m going to buy our nieces a couple of garden trowels next Christmas…)
  • Few people today remember that Apple Computer was once a Pascal shop, and had a promo poster in the late 70s incorporating a classic “railroad” diagram of Pascal language syntax. Yes, the 70s really did look like that. (At least it wasn’t all done in Harvest Gold.) Thanks to Paul Santa-Maria for the link. Paul created his own version of the poster in black and white, which I hope he makes available at some point. The Waite Group sold (or gave away; not sure if it was a boom promo) a similar card in the same era, but it’s long since vanished from my collection.
  • Has anyone here ever read any of the Very Short Introduction books from Oxford University Press? Are they useful? I just ordered several, and I’m curious as to the quality of the series. I’ll report here once the books show up and I’ve had a chance to read them. There are many subjects I’m interested in sufficiently to read 150 pages on, but not 600 pages.
  • A German publisher wrote an article claiming that cheaper ebooks will put them out of business. (The article is in German; take what you can from the English summary or if you know the language, click through to the original.) The gist is that there are special costs associated with e-publishing that more than balance the special costs associated with print publishing. My take: If true, it’s only until we get up to speed. (I also think it may be true that many publishers don’t really understand all the forces that bear on how they make their money. Many things lead up to the cash-register’s beep, not all of them obvious.
  • I’m a lot less sanguine about the OLPC than I used to be, but the recent unveiling of future designs intrigues me: The next-gen OLPC will have two displays, and can be held and read portrait-style, like a book. When a keyboard is needed, rotate the device 90, and one of the two displays becomes a keyboard. Very cool, and something like that should be sold worldwide by every electronics retailer. (Their peculiar distribution mechanism will eventually be the end of them.)


  1. Alex Dillard says:

    I have the Very Short Introduction on Cryptography (number 68). My purpose in buying the book wasn’t because I didn’t want to read extensively about cryptography, it was because I didn’t know if I did or not. I’ve haven’t purchased any of the other Very Short Introductions, so I can’t speak for the value of the series as a whole. However, this doesn’t mean I didn’t like number 68, on the contrary, I think it has been one of my best $10 (or whatever it was…this was a while back…) investments. After reading the 137 pages I was interested and ready to spend a couple hundred dollars on books that are a lot more in depth.

    1. Bingo! That’s precisely what I had hoped. I ordered two used copies and they’re not here yet, but they were not books I would have chosen on their merits. (I’ll admit that I chose them because I got them for $1 and $3 respectively, plus shipping.) I’m 56 and don’t have another forty years to explore the universe of the mind, and I want to use what years I still have intelligently. This may be one way to approach the challenge.

  2. Jim Dodd says:

    Concerning the Very Short Introduction series – you can also look at the comments at Amazon (if you trust them:-). I just searched for “very short introduction series” and see that each book has between five to twenty comments. I’ve not read these but I’m a big fan of the Great American Bathroom Books (three volumes) that summarize many great books in two pages each. You don’t learn a lot except whether the book sounds like it is worth buying. I’ve bought and read a lot of books after reading their summaries in the GABB books.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *