Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

2010 is history. Its last month was unseasonably cold. I'm not sure if that's official meteorologically speaking, but at least it seems that way to me. A cold December, with snow at Christmas. We've gotten spoiled by the hot summers and both long for the return of warmer temperatures. I remember when in years past Corey would be out mowing the lawn in December. Not this year; it's mostly a stay inside kind of winter. And at least two more months to go. Hopefully March will bring back nicer weather as it usually does.

And when inside, why not fire up the fire place, and take out a good book, and boil up some tea. That teapot is something Santa left last year. Our old "brown bettie" had chipped (mainly due to my clumsiness), so I wanted a replacement. I found this little cast iron pot and am quite pleased with it. Although a touch small, aesthetically I think it's very handsome, and being made of iron should be indestructible. As for reading, it's 2011, and it's the year of the electronic book. Just before Christmas the University was kind enough to equip me with an iPad, which I mainly intend to use for teaching purposes. Corey found a good app for this, PenUltimate, and I tested it with our home projector. I think with a decent stylus, I should be able to use this app for scribing lecture notes. The app produces electronic PDF notebooks of notes, which I put online for the benefit of my students. Another app, PDF Expert, has fairly nice SFTP transmission utilities which allows me to transfer PDFs from the iPad to my web server. So with both of these tools in hand, I think I'll be set for class when they start up again in just a couple of weeks. In the meantime, why not use the iPad's touted "killer app" for reading electronic books. Some say they can't seem to swtich to this style of reading, and prefer the traditional feel of paper in their hands. I thought I'd be like that too, but the iPad's iBook app (free) is growing on me rather quickly. It holds a small library of (free) books, the font is nice, its sepia coloring looks like a book, you can bookmark pages and highlight text. The highlighted text looks irregular and imprecise just like the real thing, except that the way in which you select text is precise to the letter. Very nice. This precise selection of words is also handy when looking up words in the dictionary—this feature I have to say is really well done. On the iPad you get a nice little window that pops up with the word's definition. I've already looked up a bunch of words having read several of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes adventures, Rudyard Kipling's Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, and Philip K. Dick's The Eyes Have It—all pretty much short stories. Right now I'm reading HonorĂ© de Balzac's The Marriage Contract. My brother suggested both Balzac and Descartes so I wanted to follow up on his recommendation—I've got Descartes' Discourse on the Method... bookmarked. It's a little profuse in its prose, but not bad for scientific observations made in the 17th century. The gist of it is: assume nothing, divide and conquer, verify each step. I suppose a fairly basic approach today, divide and conquer in particular is certainly a well known approach to algorithmic design. Still, I suppose someone had to write this down, and it's held up for over 400 years. Btw, the other nice feature of electronic books is that the bookmarks transfer over to your various ereaders: iBook is available on the iPhone as well, and when I transfer reading between the two devices, each "knows" where I left of previously. Quite convenient. No more dogearing paper books. The only nuisance with this is that you have to be on the grid...the net is becoming as much of a dependency as electricity...

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