You are currently browsing the Breaching The Web blog archives for January, 2012.


January 18th, 2012

I don’t have the technical skills to go dark in protest of SOPA/PIPA. But for the record — I oppose those bills, and so should you. Find out where your Representative and Senators stand on it here, and don’t hesitate to let them know how you feel.

Crypto, the enigmatic dog

January 17th, 2012

My husband and I adopted a rescue dog. We named him Crypto, because he is quite an enigma (Yes, we know cipher would have been a more “correct” name given this reference. But we don’t care. Also, cipher doesn’t have any hard consonants and wouldn’t make a good name for a dog).


We adopted Crypto from Bourbon County Rescue which brings adoptable pets from Kentucky to the Washington DC metro area. They were a pleasure to work with, and did a good job of helping us to match us with the right dog. Why did we choose a dog from Kentucky? Because we’re lazy. It’s counter-intuitive, but true. Of all the rescues in the metro area, Bourbon County Rescue is the one that holds adoption events for dogs closest to our home.

Crypto's bed

Crypto is a small guy. He weighs about 25 pounds. We call him a beagle/corgi mix, but the truth is we have no idea what his heritage is. Nor do we care. We really wanted a lovable little dog to take for walks and play with, and that’s exactly what he is. We didn’t care about breed. He’s about 1.5 years old. For 6-8 months in 2011 he was a stray (people in his neighborhood fed him, but no one took him in). He was hit by a car in October, and suffered a broken leg and pelvis. The driver of the car left him for dead. A kind, generous soul found him and took him to a vet and paid for all his care, but could not keep him as a pet. I can’t thank this angel enough for saving this tiny pooch. Crypto was with the rescue for 2 months, recovering from his injuries.

Giant ears

He was already house trained when he came to us. He walks well on a leash. He doesn’t seem to know any commands or tricks. No one knows where he lived before he was a stray. Maybe he was a stray in another neighborhood, but he’s well-socialized to people (not to mentioned house trained!) so that seems unlikely. Maybe he was lost or ran away from his people. Maybe he was turned out or left to roam. We don’t know. He’s very sweet and loves loves loves walks. He’s slowly learning things, like what the clicker means (treat!) and how to play with toys and what his name is.  He and I are starting obedience training this Saturday.  I’m really looking forward to it — we especially need to work on learning “stand up” and “sit.”  He’s a wonderful little dog, and I’m very happy he’s home.

My Kindle, one year on

January 2nd, 2012
Reading glasses

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I have had my Kindle for a year now, and it’s changed my reading habits in ways I did not anticipate.

I have always been a fast reader, but in the last few years, the number of books I’ve read each year has really fallen off.  My life is busier and more complicated, and it’s harder and harder to find time to read.  I’ve never been good about using interstitial time — those times while you are waiting for the water to boil, or someone to tie their shoes, or the car to be brought out from the shop — for reading.  Sure, I always used to read at the doctor’s office, but not at the gym while waiting for my husband to emerge from the locker room.  Now, I read constantly.  I use the Kindle’s text to speech feature with the volume off at the gym as an automatic page-turner.  I use it with the volume on when I fold laundry or commute to work — the robot voice reads to me.  I sometimes read a chapter while eating lunch at work.  I read a few screens in long lines at the grocery store.  I read before bed.  I read when I wake up a bit too early.

I’ve also started reading like a chain-smoker smokes — I finish one book and immediately start the next, because it’s right there.  I never used to do this because my books were all over the house — I might finish a book in the bedroom, but the next one I want to read is downstairs in the living room.  That doesn’t happen any more.  I think I also read faster on the Kindle — the non-reflective screen, the e-Ink, and the faster-than-a-paper-book page turns all make for a more frictionless reading experience for me.

All this has increased how much I’ve been able to read.  I read 75 books in 2011.  That’s 1.4 books per week.  In November, I read a high of 7 books in a month — which is not surprising, since I spent a week at the beach in November.  In January, I read a low of 3 books — again, not a surprise, since I read the Count of Monte Cristo that month, which is quite long.  Overall, I’ve read about 20-25 books more this year than I have in the last few years.  And that doesn’t account for all the long form articles I’ve read on my Kindle, via Instapaper and Kindle Singles.

I’ve also explored genres I wouldn’t normally read because of the Kindle.  In the past, I’ve stuck to known genres:  science fiction, mystery, non-fiction.  I haven’t liked to spend a lot of money on books, and I don’t like browsing in the library, so limiting myself to those genres means a quick in-and-out to the library.  But the Kindle has changed that.  There are a lot of reasons for that.  I can browse and sample books while watching television or listening to music, all comfy and snug at home.  There’s no book jacket, so no one can tell I’m reading a romance novel.  Many books are cheap ($3.99 or less) so I can try out boating-thrillers (which is a hefty sub-genre) that I wouldn’t ordinarily read.  There are a lot of free books that have allowed me to dip my toes in everything.  Many authors include samples of other author’s works in the back of eBooks, so I can follow bunny-trails from book to book discovering new-to-me authors.  I can read the backlist of many writers for only a small fee.  I’ve been all over the place, genre-wise this year.

Do I miss paper books?  Not really.  I get annoyed when I read them — I can’t adjust the font, they’re heavy to hold, it’s a bit awkward to turn the page (depending on the binding and how I am sitting or laying).  I almost always have to wear my reading glasses to feel comfortable reading them.  I still buy reference books and cookbooks, but I don’t anticipate buying much fiction or non-fiction ever again.  If I had a different career, where I use books heavily as reference material (I’m thinking of historians here), I might feel a need for more books.  But my field is mostly driven by articles, not by books, so that’s not the case for me.  I don’t see a lot of paper books in my future.

Best books I read in 2011

January 1st, 2012
English: 2010 Mavericks surfing competition. T...

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Happy New Year!  Before too much of 2012 is upon us, I want to write a few words about the best books I read in 2011.  Only one of these was published in 2011, but I read them all in 2011 on my Kindle.

The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Back in September, Rosetta Books put all their Kurt Vonnegut books (which is almost all of his books, except the most recent ones) on sale. Having read Breakfast of Champions, Cat’s Cradle, and Galapagos — but not Slaughterhouse Five — in my youth, I decided to buy all Rosetta’s books and work my way through them. I’m reading them in publication order. The Sirens of Titan is Vonnegut’s second published book. Depending on what kind of book summaries you prefer, it’s either a tragic love story precipitated by a time/space travel accident OR it’s about the futility of human understanding and the meaninglessness of progress. Being a Vonnegut novel, it’s of course about both of these, and much more. The book is brilliantly structured, with three main story lines — two that are told in forward chronological order, and one in reverse chronological order. I had either forgotten or, more probably, never noticed the sexism and anti-feminism that permeates Vonnegut’s work — at least the first three novels, including this one. This was a sad distraction from an otherwise brilliant novel.

The Wave, by Susan Casey. The subtitle of this book is In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean. For a couple decades now, I’ve been fascinated by true stories about people in pursuit of extremes in the natural world. It started with an obsession with polar exploration, and expanded into mountain climbing, the golden age of exploration, and now surfing. This is the book that started my surfing craze. Casey reviews the science of huge waves — defined as 80+ foot waves and/or those that are 3 or more times larger than other waves around them. She shares stories of giant 150+ foot waves measures by fine-tuned scientific equipment on scientific boats and oil rigs. Before about 1990, no one believed waves of that size existed, and no one is quite sure if they are new or if we have finally created equipment strong enough to withstand them (at least, strong enough to withstand them long enough to measure them). The scientific background is interwoven with an overview of tow-in surfing, which makes it possible for surfers to tackle waves that are 45 feet high or higher (without a tow, the surfer can’t get going fast enough to catch waves of this size before they break). This combination of science and extreme adventure kept me up late for a couple of nights racing to finish this book. Both aspects are amazing. The combination is not seamless and feels a bit awkward at times, but it was nonetheless fantastic.

The Vaults, by Toby Ball. The product page on Amazon describes this book this way: “In a dystopian 1930s America, a chilling series of events leads three men down a path to uncover their city’s darkest secret.” I was initially intrigued by the idea of a dystopian 1930s America, a decade that does not usually need to be brought down a notch. When I started reading, I was captivated by the world Ball created — it’s a world that’s just a half a step off from reality (so don’t except anything like China Mieville here). It’s so uncomfortably almost-real, that I felt like every scene was under tension, much like Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist. But the book this most reminded me of was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (JSMN). Like JSMN, The Vaults is filled with characters that are deeply real, but who are not necessarily very likable. And like JSMN, every single storyline is brought to a satisfying close. There are no loose ends. The story follows a man who is the city’s police archivist — he files all the police reports. While pursuing his own obsessions, he uncovers a wise-ranging conspiracy that threatens the archives, and the City itself. I will be reading more of Ball’s works.

Dead City by Joe McKinney. I have always liked zombie movies, but in the last few years, I’ve discovered zombie novels, which are generally of much higher quality and are more satisfying than zombie movies. I suspect this is because novels rely on imagination for all the special effects, whereas a movie has to have a significant budget to be anything more than cheeseball. Dead City is the best zombie novel I’ve read this year. McKinney is a cop in San Antonio, Texas, and he sets this novel in a Texas that has been hit by 5 hurricanes in three weeks, wrecking havoc the coast and leading to multiple plagues that emerge out of the mix of toxic chemicals, sea water, and dead bodies that have inundated cities like Huston. In those areas, the dead rise and begin to walk — and crave human flesh. The military is not able to contain the threat, and it spreads to the cities that evacuees have rushed to, including San Antonio, where one cop desperately tries to rescue his family as the city falls apart around him. As this cop tries to get to his family, we get a police-eye-view of San Antonio that feels very believable — likely because it draws on McKinney’s own experiences. The action is intense, the characters are believable, and even the zombies make sense. This book is an all-around winner. And it would make an absolutely fantastic movie.

1491, by Charles Mann.  A history of the Americas before Europeans arrived in great numbers.  I learned about this book via a casual reference to it on a blog (I’m sorry, I can’t remember which one) when 1493 came out.  I was first interested in the book because of it’s outstandingly clever title, but decided to read it because of favorable reviews I read that noted the accuracy with which Mann summarizes complex scholarly issues and debates.  The book is compellingly written — some portions of it flow like a novel.  I found the early sections which focus on North America to be somewhat slow-going, but the sections that focus on Andean peoples, and on the societies of the central South America that did not use metal, to be utterly fascinating.  Mann explains that the societies Europeans encountered were frequently in the midst of significant cultural and political upheaval, even before European contact, often due to European diseases like small pox that raced ahead of the Europeans themselves.  It’s a very, very good book.