Tag: book

 CCD Barcode Scanner

Are you tired of spending hours manually entering book titles into your own personal database? (Well, okay, if you’re not a home-schooler, maybe you’re not, but work with me here.) If you’re like us, you spend a lot of time going to the library to pick out book for your kids, and, let’s say for the purposes of this discussion, you also spend a lot of time keeping track of the books they read in some sort of database. What if you could just scan the books, like they do in the library, and have them magically appear in your own database? Well now you can!

For about $20, and the time it takes you to download a spreadsheet, you can automate this entire process and free up your time for things you really want to do, like reading my blog! First, crank up that Prime membership and order this barcode scanner from Amazon. There are scanners that sell for hundreds of dollars, but you don’t necessarily need to spend that much. This scanner works very well, although you might find it a bit challenging to configure. You will get hours of entertainment trying to read the user’s manual (written in chinglish), but all you really need to change is the default interface to USB, and enable ISBN scanning.

Next, you will need to create a free account at ISBNdb.com, which is a database of virtually every book in the universe. Once you have your account set up, you will need to generate an access key. Once you have a key, write it down. You will need it in the next step.

Finally, download my spreadsheet containing a macro that I wrote that will take an ISBN as input (either from the barcode scanner or manually entered) and then automatically query the ISBNdb.com site and automatically fill in the book title and author. Enter your access key in the spreadsheet and start scanning! It couldn’t be easier!

Now if we could just get the library to deliver.

 Reading and Writing

I envy people who view reading a book as a way to kill an afternoon. It usually takes me months to read a book. Part of it is I just don’t read that fast, but mostly it’s a matter of finding the time to sit down and read. The time that works best is bedtime right before I fall asleep, however, reading puts me to sleep faster than a double shot of melatonin, so I usually end up reading a page, maybe two, before I’m out like a light. At a page a day, you can see that even a magazine could take me all winter to get through.

Writing I do a little better at, though not much. It usually takes a specific challenge like this month, or NaNoWriMo to motivate me. I guess what I’m saying is that I like to read and write, I just wish it wasn’t so challenging.

 An Inconvenient Purpose

A few years ago some folks started asking the question, What Would Jesus Drive? I’m not sure how seriously the question was supposed to be taken, as it was part of a campaign to demonize SUVs and the gas-guzzling ways of the people who drive them, but author Richard Gasaway has recently offered his answer to this question, and I don’t think it matters what kind of car it is, as long as it is powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

His book, An Inconvenient Purpose, approaches the environmental movement from the unique perspective of Christians seeking to act as stewards of God’s creation. He calls for the perceived conflict on this issue between left and right to be ignored in favor of doing what is right for the planet and what is right in God’s eyes, regardless of one’s political affiliation. I think this is an important point, and one that does not receive much attention. The debate is always framed in the media as left versus right, and those on the right, who have not taken the time to educate themselves, assume (wrongly) that because Al Gore advocates it, it must be wrong.

The author does a great job in this book of appealing to this demographic, and laying out a case for stewardship that transcends politics. He covers all aspects of the movement, from pursuing alternative energy sources, to lessening our dependence on foreign energy for national security reasons, to the environmental impact of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. But he keeps coming back to hydrogen as the clean solution to our dirty addiction to oil — and that cleanliness is next to godliness.

My readers know that I frequently cover alternative energies, and that I’m a fan of electric cars. So, I may not share the author’s conviction that hydrogen fuel cells are the absolute best solution, but I found this point from the book to be very good:

People talk of the inefficiency in creating hydrogen, and all the energy that must be expended to generate hydrogen molecules. However, people don’t think twice about the inefficiency of creating electricity from start to finish. The electricity arriving at the normal house outlet often contains only a third of the energy content that orginated in the coal from which it started. Factor in the incandescent bulb inefficiencies of a typical house lamp plugged into that outlet and you’re at about five percent.

That is something to consider when criticizing an alternative energy — remove the beam from thine own eye before casting out the mote from thy brother’s eye. An Inconvenient Purpose carves out a well-defined niche for Christians in the environmental movement, and acknowledges their obligation to participate, it tackles the complicated issues involved in very accessible layman’s terms, all while offering an optimistic view of the future and the path we should all be following.

 The Peterkin Papers

Allow me to introduce you to the Peterkins. If you’ve never been exposed to this book, I strongly encourage you to read it. Especially the first story in the book. As this article describes:

The charm of the story is not in the plot, but in the telling, building up layers of complication, and the affectionate fun poked at the not-quite-cartoonish characters.

The first story is about how Mrs. Peterkin mistakenly puts salt instead of sugar into her morning cup of coffee. The day is spent on an absurd quest (meeting with chemists, and herbal experts, and…) to neutralize the effect of the salt, all of which leaves the coffee undrinkable. The solution is obvious to the reader, you simply pour out the coffee and start over, but this eludes the Peterkins.

When I read the news, or watch the theater that passes for politics in this country, it always feels like I’m watching the Peterkins. The most recent stories about the financial meltdown and the government’s response to it is just another desperate attempt to neutralize the salt in our coffee. The futility of this band-aid on top of a band-aid approach becomes obvious, as the government responds over and over again to problems of its own creation, due to the The Law of Unintended Consequences. When will this country wake up and realize that it’s time to pour out the coffee and start over?

 The Long Tail of Government

I’m currently reading Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail. It’s a very interesting book concerning how the internet has changed everything. Not just the number of books or CDs that you can order online, but all of retail economics. Its influence extends to all entertainment media, and, eventually, politics and government. I was struck by this quote in particular on page 64:

“It’s one thing to see a movie or listen to music and think ‘genius’ — that some gifted person and exalted apparatus has put together this unique work of art we appreciate. However, once you know what’s behind the curtain, you being to realize that it could be *you*.”

It is precisely this paradigm shift that will lead to the Second American Revolution. As more and more Americans realize that there is nothing special about our system of government, or, indeed, the individuals that run it, they will become less and less satisfied with its operation and begin to explore the possibilities (all over again) of governing themselves.

Why shouldn’t we? Do we honestly believe that there is “some gifted person” or some “exalted apparatus” that is in control of us all? Many of us do believe this. Many more simply wish that it is true, and try not to think too much about it for fear that we will completely lose faith in our government. But have you ever been to the DMV office? Or your city government? Have you stood in long lines and cursed the inefficiency of those bureaucrats behind the counter? Have you personally witnessed their blatant stupidity and/or rudeness? Where is this gifted person that is supposedly running the show? Is he in the back office, sequestered from the people so that our mediocrity does not dilute his genius? Where is this exalted apparatus? Does it reside in some central office far away from the rabble? Clearly the answer is no. We have precisely the government we deserve. It is horrendous. It is exquisitely inefficient. And it is breathtaking in its scope. But there is a growing number of people out there for whom it is no longer tolerable, and they are capable and talented enough to replace it with other things that work better, or simply just work.