Sunday, 18 May 2014

09:25 – I just finished reading Alan Bradley’s latest Flavia de Luce mystery, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. It’s as good or better than the earlier titles in the series, which is to say top-notch.

Flavia lives, with her father and two older sisters, in a stately old country home that is gradually rotting away because of the family’s reduced circumstances. Flavia, age 11 (almost 12), is a budding scientist who adores chemistry and uses her knowledge of chemistry to solve crimes. She’s fortunate enough to have “inherited” her late uncle Tarquin’s fully-equipped laboratory and makes the most of it, running investigations based on the state of chemistry, biology, and forensic science at the time.

20 thoughts on “Sunday, 18 May 2014”

  1. RBT, would that book, or the other Flavia de Luce books, be at all suitable for a bright six-year-old, assuming parental explanations as needed? Pursuant to my comments of a couple weeks ago (and thanks again, all, for the suggestions) I’m eternally looking for stuff for Precious Princess to read. A somewhat-older, female lead with a nudge toward an interest in science and (presumably) logical reasoning? Sounds perfect.

    Hmm. The local library lists them as adult fiction. Probably not.

  2. They’re written at the adult level, but they’re cozies so they have no explicit sex, violence, strong language, etc.

    I just asked Barbara, who was a public librarian for 20 years, and she said the Flavia novels would be completely appropriate for a very bright girl your daughter’s age.

  3. Thanks. Library opens in three hours, and they have three of the Flavia books on hand.

  4. Brad might be interested in this:

    While everybody else is fighting inflation, the Swiss are experiencing deflation. I like deflation. Well, I don’t actually like either inflation or deflation overall, but IMO, there is no excuse for any citizen’s assets to lose purchasing value over time. From 1995 to 2001, we had significant deflation in the US — remember 99¢ gas in 1999?

    All of us here know that inflation is government’s way of stealing wealth from all of our earnings that we do not want to spend immediately, and redistributing that value to others through the government printing press. And it started in earnest with that bastard Dick Nixon, eliminating the US dollar as a hard currency.

  5. I hadn’t seen that, but it’s not entirely surprising. There are other factors at work, though. Retail prices in Switzerland ate artificially high, because manufacturers are allowed to prohibit “parallel imports”. That means:they can sell to a Swiss wholesaler at higher prices than to a German wholesaler, and then contractually prohibit the German wholesaler from selling to Swiss retailers. It isn’t uncommon for the price difference to be 30% or more.

    This practice is coming under increasing pressure, first because it is very easy to cross the border and shop in Germany or France, and second because German retailers Lidl and Aldi are doing a booming business with their Swiss branches.

    So that is not so much deflation as a long overdue price correction. We still pay too much for most agricultural products, because farmers here are over represented in the Parliament and keep customs duties ridiculously high on meat, dairy products etc.

    Energy, real estate and other non-retail items are becoming more expensive, just like anywhere else.

  6. So, I picked up The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie for La Peewee. Two problems immediately surfaced when I flipped through it with her. First, no pictures. I didn’t think that was an issue, but apparently the occasional small sketch, which may or may not have anything to do with the story content, is important to certain six-year-olds. Who knew? Second, vocabulary. My general take is that unknown words are good: grab a dictionary and learn a new word. But there’s a practical difficulty here in that I can’t find a printed dictionary except for the picture dictionary intended for retarded three-year-olds. (More charitably, I’m sure it’s intended for average first- to third-graders whose parents don’t read to them every night.) We’ve been in this house almost four years now, and I hadn’t noticed that none of my three big dictionaries is in sight. Who knew? (I use online dictionaries all the time; generally more convenient if you’re just checking the spelling or usage of a single word. My wife either asks me or does without, and La Peewee does the same.) On the plus side, I did find my Chinese-English dictionary. Son#1 had stolen it some time ago because he liked the lookup section better than the one in his dictionary.

    An explanation of lookup in Chinese and some Japanese dictionaries: Most dictionaries nowadays order the words by romanization of the word’s pronunciation. Thus, the dozen ideograms pronounced “yin” will be a little before the dozen ideograms pronounced “ying”. If you know how to pronounce a word but don’t know how to write it, you can find it with just a little hunting.

    That doesn’t work in the other direction. If you see an unknown ideogram, you can’t just look it up. You need some kind of a lookup section. I’ve seen two ways to do this: grouped by the first couple strokes and then the total number of strokes, or grouped by first radical. I find the former method more convenient. And so does Son#1, which is why he stole my dictionary.

    And an explanation of radicals: All but the simplest ideograms are composed of pieces, called radicals. Most radicals are simplified versions of the full ideogram for a concept: man, animal, roof, field. They’re put together based on either concepts (“home” is a pig under a roof, which is funny, “good” is a woman with a child, “tranquility” is a woman under a roof, which I gotta tell you is a big, fat lie) or pronunciation. (The Mandarin word “men” means gate or door, and the ideogram is a stylized gate. “Men” (with a different tone) makes a plural of a pronoun, so you stick the “human” radical next to the gate symbol to write it.)

    And a note on simplified Chinese writing: The stupid Communists (redundancy alert) decided to simplify the writing system, so they stripped it down. Characters which traditionally took, say, twelve strokes now needed only eight. Win, right? Not really. The ideograms are harder to decompose into their radicals and they are farther separated from the concepts behind them. In practice, simplified Chinese is easier to write once you’ve learned it, but it’s harder to learn because there is more arbitrary memorization without existing conceptual hooks to hang the new facts on. I think the alleged reason for the simplification was to spread literacy to the downtrodden peasants, but I suspect the real reason was to further push the traditional culture away. And, like everything they touched, the stupid Commies screwed this up, too.

  7. From yesterday re: hospitals in Oz.
    Miles Teg: (I also have private health insurance which covers dental, glasses, and private hospital.)
    I think you can always register as a private patient in a public hospital and request a private room. You will be given a private room if there are any available. I also think you may be out of pocket as well but it is well worth the price if you can afford it.

    ChuckW: Well, it is just a matter of how space is arranged. Whether you take a space and make it accommodate 1, 2, or 4 beds, what is the additional cost?
    I’ve been to a couple of hospitals in Sidney and single bed rooms also have a bathroom in place. 4 bed rooms do not have a bathroom. The space really adds up. There are other issues. At least in Sidney you have to consider that building codes and land scarcity will determine layouts as well. There are restrictions in building code as to how high a building can be -although they are getting higher as time goes by- and land in the cities is scarce and very expensive. Construction costs are high as well. This leads to less and larger rooms to accomodate as many people as possible.

  8. I just finished reading Alan Bradley’s latest Flavia de Luce mystery, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. It’s as good or better than the earlier titles in the series, which is to say top-notch.

    All six books in the series are available as downloadable Overdrive MP3 books from our local library. I started listening to the first one today. So far it looks to be a very good story.

    Rick in Portland

  9. Hope you’re feeling much better, Greg; get well and free of pain ASAP so I can send Sandra down to bounce you around a little.

    Discovered a new browser tonight; Aviator; based on Chromium and allegedly much more secure, always in incognito mode, disconnect status, etc., etc. And so far wicked fast. DuckDuckGo is the default search engine and I am liking it better than Google. And it imported all my Chrome bookmarks in about three seconds and all good.

    Also available for other platforms.

    Up at the Ass-Crack of Dawn tomorrow for half a day at the VA Med Center to see about asthma, sore back and numbness down right leg, blood pressure, all that good chit. Also to observe young’uns coming back from the Sandbox and the Suck, jolly them along a little, about how great it is back here in the World and how everything will be swell now.

    Mrs. OFD back from New Mexico tomorrow night late. And home for two weeks again. It being Monday, no one will work and call me about a job. Maybe Tuesday. Wednesday is out, being Hump Day. Thursday morning is possible; later starts the weekend, though, and Fridays are outta the question. I gotta get in on that.

    Off to the Land of Nod now…

  10. Well, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was a bust. I read the first couple pages to Midget Princess before bed, explaining vocabulary and concepts as needed. The problem was, the book started with someone (presumably Flavia de Luce) having been tied up and stuffed in a closet. She escaped, but the scene got Little Miss Notconspicuouslycourageous worried… before bed. -sigh-

    Well, since it doesn’t need to be returned to the library for three weeks, I’ll see if I like it. I will say that the first scene got a big thumbs-up from me: the narrator is cool under pressure, possessed of some skills and knowledge, and contemptuous of the stupid.

  11. Well, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was a bust. I read the first couple pages to Midget Princess before bed, explaining vocabulary and concepts as needed.

    I just wish the Kindle prices were more reasonable. $7.99 each, when the paperbacks are less than $5.

  12. So Steve, what is this Chinese-English dictionary you and your son like so much? My son has wanted one for a couple years now. What his Chinese friend recommended was for people advanced in the language, not relative beginners.

  13. Re: the hospital designs. I have no idea whether designs vary by region or not, but not a single hospital room I have been in around here (and that is many now, what with older relatives spending more time there) lacks a bathroom with shower, regardless of whether it has 1 bed or 2. I have been all over the state, doing videos in more than a dozen hospitals (doctors testifying about treatments, etc.) and I have yet to be in a hospital more than 10 years old. Indianapolis has recently torn down 2 old ones, built when I was a kid. Lafayette is tearing down their old main hospital, and Ft. Wayne has already torn down a couple, too.

    It is pretty clear that lawsuits have forced some of these changes, because certain equipment and operating rooms were cumbersome in the old hospitals; new ones are designed around today’s equipment, so fewer accidents occur with them. And computers are at the core of it all. I have yet to see any doctor fill out anything on paper — all of it is now on computer. During depositions, doctors are often confused by the paper printouts of charts and records, because they are frequently not arranged on the printout like they see on their screens.

    Anyway, I am excited to see more renovation going on everywhere in every avenue of life (except roads), which is beginning to match what I got used to in Germany. Nearly everything there looks like it could have been built in the last few years, because they renovate everything every 15 years or sooner. Restaurants are often completely redecorated every 3 to 5 years. One near our house underwent 2 major renovations in just the 6 years we lived there. A couple restaurants around me have not been touched for over 40 years. I never go there, but friends and relatives sometimes insist.

  14. I’ve been trying DuckDuckGo as my default browser for a few months now. I can only say “disappointing”. About half the time, I get a usable result – for the rest, I have to switch to Google and re-enter my search terms.

    I expect a lot of this is the learning that Google puts into it: the positive side of the dreaded “filter bubble” – adaptive search based on what results I’ve liked in the past. I assume DuckDuckGo is just a pure index with no adaptation.

    Do y’all have any experience setting up VoIP? I’m trying to move my wife’s business over to it. To start, I put in a redundant Internet connection and a load-balancing router, so that an Internet outage is less likely to take down the phone system. When calls go out over one of the connections, they always work. On the other connection, it’s a crap shoot. Darned if I can figure out why. Is there something that the provider can muck up, that I have to explicitly ask for?

  15. I’m now a fair bit better, but am surprised how long it’s taken to recover.

    I have the use of a walking frame, but am not using it much. I took the bus to the hospital this morning, had my stitches removed and a check of where they cut to insert the two plates. They made a new appointment for two weeks time. On the way back I did some shopping and checked my post office box. Now up at my sister’s place for dinner. I’m hoping to go back to uni tomorrow.

    I looked at the place where I had the fall: although there has been rain in the meantime there are still splotches of my blood there.

    OFD, please don’t send Sandra over just yet. In my current weakened state I don’t think I’d be up for the strenuous workout she’d want to give me… 🙂

  16. Well, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was a bust. I read the first couple pages to Midget Princess before bed, explaining vocabulary and concepts as needed.

    Sorry it didn’t work out.

    I just wish the Kindle prices were more reasonable. $7.99 each, when the paperbacks are less than $5.

    I’ll email Alan and let him know, not that he has any control over book pricing. That’s one of the big problems with traditional publishers. But I will suggest that he consider self-publishing the next one in the series, assuming he’s not still under contract.

  17. Chuck:

    (I’m pretty sure mine is the first edition as the “Second edition” displayed on the cover image doesn’t look familiar. I can’t hold up mine to confirm, as it’s disappeared again. I’m not sure how that happened, as Son#1 and Son#2 aren’t back from college yet, my mother-in-law would have no use for it as she can’t read English, and my daughter wouldn’t know how to use it and probably wouldn’t have taken it. Oh, and I don’t drink, so I didn’t dispose of it in an alcoholic stupor. I guess it’s possible my wife grabbed it for some reason, though she’ll tell me if she takes my stuff. Sometimes. Quite rarely, actually. Hmm…)

  18. I finished the first chapter of Sweetness and see that the narrator was, indeed, Flavia and that she was not in an real danger. I’ll explain that to Princess Punkadoodle and see if she’ll stand (lie, rather) for reading some more tonight before bed.

    I don’t know how much is just individual personality and how much is boy vs girl difference, but I have a lot of trouble figuring out where my daughter is coming from half the time. True, this is normal for fathers and daughters, but I’m not talking about adolescent nonsense but a six-year-old’s take on the world. I read Have Spacesuit, Will Travel to Son#2 when he was just-turned-six, and he liked it. He asked why the aliens ate people, even bad people, but wasn’t scared by those passages. If I read that to the little girl… there’s a good chance the screams would be heard in North Carolina.

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