Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ashland

For the first time in about ten years, we visited Ashland, Oregon and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We enjoyed two Shakespeare plays, a musical by Steven Sondheim, and a dramatization of Lyndon Johnson's struggles between civil rights, The Great Society, and the Vietnam War. Ashland is a wonderful setting for attending plays, shopping, eating, and relaxing.

We "discovered" Ashland in 1973 when Lorraine had a business trip here in connection with her insurance career. I tagged along and we took in a play or two. In those days, there were just two or three plays in the cycle and the cycle ran only a few months during the year. We made trips to Ashland – a full day's drive from Seattle, less than that from San Francisco – an almost annual event. Over the years the festival expanded and we could spend two nights here, catch two evening plays and a matinee, and be home the evening of day three.

For some reason we didn't make the trip for ten years, but picked up the tradition again. Over the last 40 years Ashland's businesses have expanded to accommodate the heavier traffic. There are more restaurants, more shops, particularly art galleries, and more bed and breakfast homes. The B&B experience is our favorite since we get to meet nice people from around the country and it's just not a hotel.

This year's plays are excellent. We saw Richard III in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre*, once just an open air Chautauqua venue. It expanded over the years and today has an elaborate Elizabethan stage and all the bells and whistles of any first-class theater. The Angus Bowmer Theatre is all indoors and like any upscale modern performance venue. The smaller Black Swan is theatre-in-the-round. Once Ashland was a farming community, railroad division point, and home to a state teachers college. It was from the college that Professor Angus Bowmer started the festival in the early 1940s.

The Great Society is about Lyndon Johnson and with a theater full of gray hair, was fraught was flashback. This is the second play to deal with LBJ and the first one earned a Tony. I see these plays having long runs all over the nation.

Into The Woods is a musical; Cinderella meets Jack And The Bean Stock, meets Rapunzel, meets The Baker and His Wife. With a 25 piece orchestra what's there not to like. I can admit that I left the Elizabethan theater humming the music.

*Theatre refers to the art form and is often used in the name of a performance hall. Theater refers to the building where plays are performed.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bengazi Thing

Congressman Adam Schiff (D., California) has been named by minority leader Pelosi to participate in the most recent inquiry into the deaths of a U.S. Ambassador and three other State Department men in Bengazi. This seems to be fish guts in the water for the Republicans despite the fact that 1) the ambassador had asked for increased security, 2) early assessments of the attack were wrong, and 3) in a war we take damage.

I know Adam Schiff. I worked with him in the late 1980s when he was an Assistant United States Attorney in Los Angeles prosecuting environmental crime and a traitor in the FBI.  I supported several of his political campaigns as he was elected to the state legislature and ran for Congress, the first two times unsuccessfully. Adam is smart, honest, and very professional. That he can bring his experience to this so-called investigation is a positive sign. Minority Leader Pelosi considered not participating at all, but she has adopted two precepts of historical figures, Napoleon's "keep your friends close and your enemies closer," and Lyndon Johnson's, "I'd rather have him in the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Spies


The indictments of Chinese People’s Liberation Army officers by the United States for stealing industrial secrets suggests that there is more to the story. Normally federal prosecutors do not present an indictment to a grand jury until the investigation is complete and there is enough evidence to begin a prosecution. A prosecution is based on evidence, direct testimony from human beings and exhibits like photographs, recordings, documents, copies of emails, etc. Evidence against five men working in a highly secure office building in Shanghai would have to be based either on one or more really great eyewitnesses or an some explicit tape recordings. Presentation of the evidence will involve public disclosure of the methods used to gather the evidence. Does the United States really want to do that?

My hunch is that this is a publicity stunt, that the Obama administration just wants to make noise about the activities of this PLA unit in Shanghai. The Justice Department, the National Security Agency and the CIA are not interested in revealing their secrets in a courtroom and to the Chinese.

What the Chinese ought to do is send the junior guy to the U.S. to surrender and to insist on a speedy trial, supposedly 70 days. As a part of discovery the defendant can look at all the evidence and demand to know where it came from. Oops.

I suspect this indictment will go into the file and none of the men will ever see the inside of a U.S. courtroom. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

QSO

Back in the days of telegraphy when operators transmitted dots and dashes to form letters and words, they came up with a shorthand for different terms. CQ means "I am calling." QTH means location. QSO means, "I am in contact." In modern ham speak QSO means an on-air interaction between stations. Today I had my first QSO in the high frequency bands under my new General Class ham license.

I was on the radio today with Bill a more senior ham with whom I worked the drill yesterday. I reported I had my new ticket and he commented that he wanted to learn to use the high frequency bands that allowed long-distance communication. The every day band we use is strictly local, line of sight or within the range of a repeater. DXing – long distance radio work, is sort of the stereotype of the ham. Bill did not have his own "shack" but had access to other radio rooms. He offered to show me around the Red Cross communications center. In 45 minutes we were in front of an impressive array of electronic gadgetry in the basement of the Red Cross headquarters courtesy of his volunteer badge.

I read the stuff on the bulletin board, pressed the power button on a radio with about a hundred buttons and started spinning the dial paying close attention to staying within my band privileges. I heard a guy from Florida, but did not connect with him. I talked to a guy from Seattle, no big deal, but a few more spins of the dial and I was talking to Japan! He is Masa JE1LET and felt most privileged to be my first overseas QSO. He wanted to introduce me to his friend Robot (not Robert) in Barbados, but the antenna was pointed in the wrong direction. I didn't want to fool with the Red Cross antennas and took Masa's word for it.

So within 24 hours of my ticket upgrade I was talking to Japan. Pretty cool.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

General Ham I Am

That's the General Class Amateur Radio Operator, the next level above Technician which I passed about a month ago. I figured I would reach for the added privileges while I was still "hot" at exam taking. The iPad app was most helpful and after taking practice exams about 20 times, I was ready. I got just one wrong on the 35 question test. Now I can use the high frequency bands, the ones that usually require large radio sets, accessory appliances, and elaborate antennas.

The HF bands are where I can talk to California or Florida or Russia, but usually only at night. I don't know yet were I will fit into the ham thing except to help in community preparedness and public service. Hams often help out at races and parades to help the organizers keep track of sprained ankles.

Today I participated in a city-wide drill for neighborhood organization and communications. I drilled at Maple Leaf Park built over a reservoir at one of the highest points in the city. It's not exactly in my neighborhood, but it's the closest one. Five hams showed up and four of them came equipped for the zombie apocalypse including big radios, cables, special antennas, and boxes and boxes they never unpacked. I had a laptop and a handie talkie. The needed electrical power. I used batteries. We will see who the zombies kill and who survives. We practiced talking to other neighborhoods and sending digital messages. Everything worked and we worked.

There was a funny episode. The people in charge of the Emergency Operations Center asserted that someone was trying to jam the frequencies. So they set up a secret frequency, not to be discussed on the air, to be used if we got jammed. They set up a telephone conference call, the kind were you dial in and enter a code, so all the chiefs could evaluate the thing in private. My hub chief (he had so much stuff he just parked his SUV next to our picnic shelter) asked for someone to monitor the conference call. I dialed in on the iPhone with the ear buds and pressed mute. I listened to them discuss how "sophisticated" the jamming was. They were cross banding the repeater, etc. They compared signal strengths in various locations and opined that the jammer was in Interbay. No Shilshole. Boy this guy is crafty. A specific name came up.

Then an old timer said it sounded like a hot mike, someone sitting on their push-to-talk button. You could hear people talking and laughing in the background. There followed a radio by radio check to see that there wasn't some voice activated setting or something. One hub in northeast Seattle, on the frequency I controlled would not come up on the air except for me. So I radioed in and got a phone number. The chiefs called in and it turned out that a radio had a loose connection. oops. Sophisticated jamming my ass.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Ham I Am

I am now officially KG7LEA for the next ten years! A week ago I took and passed my amateur radio Technician Class exam, one wrong answer out of 35. I checked this morning and the FAA database has my call sign listed and I am free to transmit on any of the authorized frequencies.

I am mostly interested in ham radio to be able to help out in the event of an emergency. I've trained as a NERT in San Francisco, as a CERT in Seattle, and have drilled with the local volunteers with general band radios. The ham license now allows me to participate in the local auxiliary communications system. We have an annual drill coming up and I have been learning the ins and outs of their procedures and special software to send reports.

But the first step was the Technician exam. There are several thick study guides with tons of sometimes-dense information on rules and regulations, procedures, electricity, electronics, antennas, safety, and other stuff. The exam is 35 questions drawn from a pool of over 300. Fortunately there are apps in addition to the book to help with study. I took practice tests with my iPad while watching television from the sofa. I won't pretend to be able to calculate the decibel increase in an antenna, but I know what International Telecommunications Union region we are in (number 2) and the fact that you cannot broadcast music on an amateur frequency (unless incidental to a broadcast from a space station). Now that I know how the exams work I'm studying for the next level, General.

So if you see my call sign on my license plate, on Lorraine's license plate, on business cards, a baseball cap, a tavern jacket, or in body art, that's what it is.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Game of Thrones Oh My

I saw the first episode of the first season of Game of Thrones when it first came out. I could see that this series would take a serious investment of time and psychic energy and disengaged. Now HBO has produced four seasons of the fantasy epic and committed for two more seasons. Recently I found the time and the opportunity to start the series from Season 1 Episode 1 and have been sucked into the cult.

As of this writing I have finished Episode 8 of Season 2. Or is it Episode 7? At this point it doesn't matter. I am in the middle of a raging river being carried downstream. Take your pick, excellent writing, incredibly imaginative plotting, compelling characters, stunning settings and sets (Ireland, Malta, Morocco, Iceland, Scotland, Croatia) and amazing costuming. The un-costuming is great too. Are there no overweight less-than-stunning women in the acting profession? I appreciate the gratuitous T and A, but would be happy for some more normal curvy women opening their armor and dropping their gowns.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Storm in the Desert

I note with some concern a series of stories about the Nevada rancher locked in a struggle with the U.S. Government over his payments for grazing rights. According to the stories he hasn't paid rent on the Bureau of Land Management lands on which he has been raising cattle, cattle he sells for a profit. The Government has gotten court orders to seize his cattle and have picked up some 300 head.

But the rancher is defiant and – this is the scary part – has attracted militia members from all over the West who are protesting quite stridently. Already there have been confrontations, an arrest, a police dog injured, and lots and lots of noise. The more inflammatory statements compare this to the Branch Davidian sadness in Waco and the Randy Weaver case in Idaho.

I am intrigued and troubled by the pattern of local controversies fanned into flames by "tourists" such as have shown up in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. In other regions these are called foreign fighters. I'm also concerned that the midterm elections in November will influence events. Wait til Fox News gets this.

Update:
The Twitter feed reports that BLM is calling off the cattle roundup. Watch the tourists evaporate and the roundup will resume.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Disappeared

The sadness surrounding Malaysian Air 370 recalls other disappearances of airliners over the ocean. One that came to my mind was from 1938 and involved the Hawaii Clipper, a Martin flying boat operated by Pan American Airways which went missing between Guam and Manila. Searchers (ships) found oil slicks which were found not to be related.

The four-engine plane carried 15 persons, nine crew and six passengers and nary a trace was ever found. One passenger, a Chinese-American (Chinese were not permitted to be citizens then), was reported to be carrying $US3 million for use by the Chinese government in its war with Japan.

One modern researcher, Guy Noffsinger, has started a website focusing on the mystery of the Hawaii Clipper and is investigating the theory that the flight was hijacked by Japanese Naval intelligence agents to Truk (modern day Chuuk) where the passengers and crew were murdered and buried. Noffsinger has visited Chuuk several times and tried to locate the burial site based on second- and third- hand accounts from natives hired to inter the 15 bodies. There are many allegations, but little in the way of evidence.

There is the theory that the Japanese wanted the money or wanted the new engines from the airplane or wanted to ransom the passengers. These are just theories without any evidence.

Stronger, in my opinion are two comments – included on the website – from contemporary witnesses to the effect that the pilot was not particularly talented and that the Martin M-130 flying boat, was fundamentally unstable. The last position report has the plane flying just a few hundred feet below the cloud cover far over the Pacific. In those days, instrument flying was in its infancy and it remains easy for a pilot to experience a "loss of situational awareness" and inadvertently enter a spin. This is how John F. Kennedy, Jr., and his two passengers died over Nantucket Island. He got into the clouds and entered a spin.

None of this helps the MH370 question, but we are reminded that flying over water can be fundamentally hazardous.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Crimea and Czechoslovakia

The crisis in Ukraine over Crimea has launched news producers into warp drive to find analysts, commenters, commentators, talking heads, and anyone with or without knowledge of events to be interviewed. You know you are wasting your time when the interviewee says, "I only know what I see in the news." Some of the producers will find historians to find some sort of parallel in the past and the easiest one to pick on is the Sudetenland Crisis of 1938.

To recap, in 1938 Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany still seethed at the punitive features of the Treaty of Versailles that closed The Great War in 1919. Germany lost territory to France and Poland, paid enormous reparations to the victorious powers, etc. One thing Germany did not lose was the region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire called Sudetenland and occupied by many whose mother tongue was German. That area became part of Czechoslovakia.

Once Hitler solidified his hold on the German government and Austria he began carping about recovering lost lands. The Nazis manufactured all sorts of depredations against the Germans of Sudetenland and created a crisis. Hitler wanted the region to be part of Germany again, which it never was. He threatened war with the Czechs. The British and French and Italians entered the picture and agreed to let Hitler have the region to avoid war. This was the Munich Agreement of 1938 and lives in infamy as the appeasement that led directly to World War II.

But in the event, things weren't that simple. The Allies were in no position to go to war with Germany over a dispute with the Czechs either politically or militarily. The League of Nations was irrelevant and Hitler was free to act. Many love to play what-if with Munich – what if the British said no? What if Hitler backed down? The great thing about alternative history is that you are always right.

Ukraine is a creation of the old Soviet Union which inherited the region from the Czars. After 1919 the Soviets and the Poles fought back and forth to decide who controls the western portion. Ukrainians largely supported the Germans in World War II. The Sovs prevailed in 1945. In the 50s, the Sovs redrew the boundaries of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic to include Crimea. All the "republics" had experience substantial Russian migration as part of the Sovietization of the old Russian Empire. Like the rest of the world's conflicts today, they are much more complicated than things in 1938.

The postscript left out of most History Channel coverage is the fate of the Sudeten Germans in 1945. The Czechs murdered thousands, maybe tens of thousands and deported the rest to Germany.

I hope that any disposition of this crisis is done peacefully and with some guarantee of the national identities of the parties.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Rokuuuuu!

I looked back and realized that I did not finish my adventure with my new Roku box. To replay, I ordered a Roku 3 to replace the Roku so I could get more channels particularly PBS. I can get all the programming that is not carried on my local station (which I still support).

I also discovered that there are many more channels available than are offered in the online Roku menu, not all free, but lots more stuff. For example, Al Jazeera is available if you have the right code. The codes come from online directories both from Roku and from other sites. I have subscribed to way more channels than I can begin to consume. One channel I hope to see more of is Acorn which features all the excellent BBC programming. There is a channel with old Westerns and one with military stuff. Then there are the secret secret Roku channels with smut.

Youtube is on Roku too. You go to your Youtube account and you can watch all the saved videos, the private videos from family, and surf til you drop, all in HD and on a big screen.

If you are dissatisfied with using the Roku remote or lose it you can download an app to your tablet or phone and use that to control programming.

Twitter and Crimea

I learned how to follow topics with the use of hashtags. In this case #Crimea will bring up every tweet involving the crisis between Russia and Ukraine and there are thousands. The vast majority of tweets are from people who have no idea what is going on and just retweet retweets ad nauseum until there is no way of telling what is happening. They spent more time including hashtags in their tweets than they did thinking about their messages.

Then there are the snarky comments about the U.S. official response. One turkey did not know why the U.S. didn't deploy naval assets to the Baltic. I don't think the tweeter even has a basic understanding of geography. Now the whole tweetie-verse knows it.

To be sure, someone on the ground could be tweeting valuable information, but how can one tell. For anything definitive I will have to go to BBC or CNN or Reuters.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

More Twitter, No More Twitter

I'm not going to quit Twitter, but I doubt that I will spend time tweeting nor will I assemble a following. I can get all the important public safety and transportation tweets, the vast majority of which do not concern me. If I need to know about something going on in the neighborhood I can look it up. I have Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family and email for more serious communication. 

The individual tweets I have seen so far are pretty inane. I tried to follow "discussions" of a cable series I'm watching, but more inanity. I suppose all those tweets are valuable to someone. 

I was interested in using Twitter as an alternative communications system in the event of a disaster, but that would require all my neighbors to deal with the learning curve. If I have something to tell them and it's really important, I will knock on their doors. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Twitter

I am experimenting with Twitter. I don't have a particular need for tweeting, but I felt compelled to learn more after an emergency in the neighborhood on a Sunday night. We wanted to know what was going on and none of the radio stations or their web sites had any coverage. I went to Twitter because I knew that the police department uses tweets. Sure enough there was enough of a blurb to help us understand that there was a robbery/homicide. Very tragic.

So I signed up and started following local police, fire, and transportation feeds for everything from service calls to the neighborhood patrol cars to traffic. I threw in a couple of news feeds too. I can access my feed from the phone, the iPad, and the desktop computer. Youtube has some good videos to help get started.

One good application would be communicating in an emergency when cell phones are overloaded and public services are overwhelmed. It looks like a good way to get the neighborhood clued in on what's what. That will require more research and experimentation.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Anticipation

Remember when, for two weeks in December, the truck pulled up in front of the house to deliver that package from the grandparents?  That was such a special moment where the plain box with strange writing in your name on the outside. What was inside? If it was Christmas, inside only delivered more mystery in the form of a gaily wrapped package. There might have been other deliveries through the year, some mail order, but maybe only one. Fast forward to the 21st Century.

With online shopping the next book, tool, appliance, or piece of furniture is a few clicks away from a new and complex series of actions that results in the truck, the uniform, the doorbell, and the plain but exotic box. Usually I buy something online and then forget it until the package arrives. "What's this?" is the usual comment. "Oh yeah." Still it's a pleasant surprise to find the package on the doorstep.

If I am home the ritual is preceded by the roar of the truck being shifted into reverse and engaging a backup bell. The drivers cannot turn around in our driveway and they back in so they can leave easily and quickly. Back up bell, brakes, door slides shut, doorbell, then "plop" as the box is deposited on the ground. If I am lucky I can get to the door and say "thank you" to the brown-uniformed driver jogging away. She is usually the same driver and I've only seen her back. On her route we are at the end, after 6 p.m. Sometimes there is a signature – electronic and illegible – but most of the time it's just "plop."

But in this century the boxes tend to be of standard size with computerized writing that is almost too small to read. The boxes are disappointingly light with an abundance of styrofoam or inflated padding. A book in an envelope is kind of a hefty treat.

This week there will be two deliveries, the new Roku box and a stand-up accessory for a computer desk. It's not the same as Christmas ca. 1959, but it's still fun. Maybe there will be deliveries I have forgotten about. Oh boy!


Sunday, February 2, 2014

I don't know, Roku?

I often consider what normal features of daily life would be incomprehensible 20 or even 10 years ago – smart phones, tablets, online shopping, etc. DVD players were the coming thing 10 years ago and now are on their way to the electronics recycling center. One thing we now can no longer do without is streaming TV.

I have Roku, the little set top box that allows online access to venerable Netflix and behemoth Amazon. (Be nice, they are watching.) It allows streaming of dozens of television channels I never heard of to my TV anytime I want, if only I had the time. There is also music like Pandora which replaces the need for a stereo system ("What's a stereo system, Grandpa?).

But dozens of channels are not enough when there are hundreds of channels out there. Never mind that if I watched one channel per hour every week and did not sleep I would not be able to see them all (pause allows trips to the refrigerator and bathroom).

I like PBS programming and found that my old (three years) will not get the PBS network. There are others not available on the Roku 1. What? There are more channels I have no time to watch? And I can play games for which I have no time? I did not know that I need to play games on my TV. I need a new Roku box and I need it right now.  I wanted it so bad I ordered it online to have it delivered in two days.

The Roku 3 will be here Tuesday, maybe even Monday. I will be happy then – for a few hours.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Family Gathering

I attended the funeral of my cousin Al in Colville, a small town in northeast Washington. Colville is in the mountains not far from what used to be the Columbia River. It's just a lake now created by Grand Coulee Dam several hundred miles downstream. Timber and mining are still big and the big sawmill is a prominent feature as you drive through town.

Al was much loved and highly regarded if the turnout was any indication. He was a fisherman whose day job was CPA and business owner, and, of course, a husband and dad. He was felled by cancer. As has been our sad routine, most of the surviving cousins appeared, all of us with extra pounds, eyeglasses, and gray (underneath anyway). There was the usual talk of medical issues including an unsettling prevalence of diabetes. At Al's house after the funeral and reception his wife Saundra had us drink up his Gentleman Jack Fine Tennessee Whiskey. That's not a bad ceremony.

Hopefully we will find some event other than a funeral to bring us together again.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Passings

My cousin Al died this past week from cancer. He was three years older than I am and is the second cousin my age to die in a year and the third in three years. John was two years older than me and succumbed suddenly to an undiagnosed ailment. Phil was a year or so younger than I and did not survive a surgery.

Last night my mother-in-law, Kay Howell died, aged 90. Her daughter Patti was with her at the end. Kay was a Marine in World War II, raised five kids, and had her own business. Kay had been failing for some time and even though this was entirely expected and everyone was prepared, it's still very sad. As Lorraine puts it, "Now she is at peace."

Those are just the relatives. Over the years, colleagues from the old day jobs are gone now. Bob died in his sleep in Philadelphia. Phil in Atlanta to cancer.  Mike's wife Sharon, people we socialized with in Illinois, in California to cancer. Lorraine has a wide network that includes people north of 60 or 70 and she hears about someone every month it seems. The passings have become a regular part of life now.

In balance, our grandson Joshua was born in March.

I don't have anything more profound to express except the gratitude for knowing these people and being part of a wonderful family and community.

Friday, January 3, 2014

How are you listening?


Rather than get into a TLDR situation, I'm going to break things up. How to listen to audio books and podcasts. Most listening these days is private rather than public or communal. Everyone is plugged into their own thing through their portable devices. As I mentioned, this is a loss. It's possible to play the audio book (or podcast or music or news) through a speaker system so that more than one person can share the experience at once. The devices plug into speakers and there is Bluetooth where this is done wirelessly. I do this in my wood shop where I have a compact speaker that can really boom. But being a wood shop there is noise and as often as not, I'm plugged into my ear buds under the hearing protectors or have the hearing protectors plugged directly to the device.

The Bluetooth thing really performs in a car, in my case a truck. The device plays and the sound comes out the radio, no wires. Turn off the car, the device stops playing. Get back in the car, start up, and the story continues. Stop the car to pay a toll? Press pause on the dash. Phone call comes in?The program pauses until you are done. Slick.

One of our cars has no Bluetooth, but it does have a cassette player. There is an adapter like a cassette that routes the device signal into the radio through the player. Turn off the car and you have to turn off the device, but otherwise it works great.

However I do it, podcast and audio book content is a terrific way to spend time in the car alone or with company. I save up good podcasts and play them while Lorraine and I drive to the island, usually an hour and a half each way. Fresh Air with Terry Gross is our favorite.

As for the audio book, I find that Cornwell's Sharpe is a great way to spend a workout and I can actually focus on the words. The actor does each voice well and I am transported to the mountains of Spain. And the pictures are better.

What are you listening to?

As posted here before, I have begun to explore audio books in addition to hard copy books and e-books. In the past month or two I have tried several audio history books, one about Winston Churchill. Kudos to the actor who reads the narrative for his ability to get into character for Churchill, Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, and French, British, and American soldiers and politicians. No wonder audio books retail for more than the hard cover versions. There is a lot of talent going into these productions.

I wanted to try fiction, but was cautious. I enjoy beautifully crafted sentences, the ones that verge on poetry and bring the reader into the scene. Like letting a Hershey's Kiss melt in your mouth. With the audio book, you go at the actor's speed, not your own. If you miss something and need to hear it again, you have to find the device and backspace, much more cumbersome than flipping back a page. I started one book by Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain) and it was good, but after half a chapter I realized I wanted to see his words.


I looked for something somewhat lighter by my favorite historical novelist, Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell does a lot of "Westerns" set in medieval times, the Hundred Years War, and the American Civil War. His signature character is Richard Sharpe of the 95th Rifles fighting the French in 1809. I burned through those dozen books twenty years ago. Sharpe made it to the little screen in the 90s starring Sean Bean (Game of Thrones) and I rented the DVDs. The audio titles were available through the library so I checked one out in the process of lots of careful tapping on the screen of the iPhone.

Audio books are listened to, but unlike the days when a family gathered around the radio, frowned at bad news, laughed at Fibber McGhee and Molly, and choked back the tears at The Guiding Light. People today generally need something else to do during audio entertainment, work, drive, or walk away and let the radio play to an empty room. That's too bad. There is so much wonderful music, high quality news, and now literature available that one should devote the entire mind to the experience. Alas, listening requires only a quarter to a half of our brain power so it's useful to have something else going on such as driving or walking or working out. But if you are driving or walking or working out an audio book is a pretty good way to spend your time.

Next: How are you listening?