Friday, April 2, 2010

On the Grid

This morning I woke up early to get some quality time on the internet as well as check out how many books I sold last night from my on-line bookstore, only to find out it wasn't working (the internet, that is).  That seems to be happening more and more to us in our household, requiring us to re-boot our LAN/router doo-hickey and hope it starts working again.  But while I waited, I went ahead and finished up the reading of Scott Huler's On the Grid.  The subtitle of this book (due to be published/available in May 2010), is "A Plot of Land, an Average Neighborhood, and the Systems That Make Our World Work."

I think of myself as a pretty average suburban home owner who takes the city's infrastructure for granted.  I assume that when I turn on the water faucet, fresh, clean water will come out, and I assume that when I put something down the garbage disposal, it will get chopped up into tiny pieces and go whereever it is that it goes and all will be well in the world.  I don't really understand how these systems work, but, unlike most folks, perhaps, I have at least been curious.  So when I got the chance to review this book, I was only too happy to give it a crack.

Mr Huler lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and uses his house and city as launching pads to discover how our central infrastructure systems really work.  He takes us through such systems as storm water drains, sewage systems, the power grids, transportation systems, and communications systems (including the internet).  He follows one element of the infrastructure back to its source or destination.  Along the way he talks with experts in that system such as engineers, sanitation experts, gas company employees, etc.  If nothing else, this book certainly shines the light on the critical roles these people play in all of our lives.  But he doesn't stop there.  Each chapter also goes into detail on the history of each of the systems, beginning at its source whether it was ancient Rome, prehistoric man, or Benjamin Franklin.  The author does a good job at tying it all together and I did come away from this book with a greater understanding of what all of those poles, iron plates, and utility boxes in my neighborhood are really for.  But really, the book just scratches the surface.  It does demonstrate just how massively complex our infrastructure is and there is no way somebody can get a thorough understanding of these systems from just one book. My only negative comment is that the cover states the book is "mesmerizing and often hilarious."  It was interesting, but hardly "mesmerizing" and I found very little of it to be mildly humorous, much less "hilarious."  This is more of a straight informational book, not a Dave Barry collection of essays.

And I still don't understand how my internet/router doo-hickey system really works.

I also read a classic short story, the next in The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury.  This was one of the first stories ever written to extrapolate an event changed in the past to its corresponding resulted change in the present day...sort of a butterfly effect.  In this story which starts in the year 2055, a hunter/tourist pays a time travel company to go back in time to hunt a T-Rex.  The hunter panics at the sight of the T-Rex, strays off the "path", accidentally steps on a butterfly, and when he returns to the present day, sees the vast, far-reaching results.  This is a pretty typical time-travel story but was quite original back when it was first published.

Next up: The Cat Who Saw Stars, by Lilian Jackson Braun.

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Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire