Reading Habits of 2014

In 2014 I read 72 books, a total of 20,572 pages for the year. That works out to about 56 pages a day, or a book every 5 days on average. That’s a 14% increase over the previous year, so I’m definitely becoming more of a shut-in, if there was ever any doubt.

This does not include four books that I didn’t finish as I found them not to my taste, or two audio books I listened to this year.

This also does not include 882 various articles and blog entries that I also read via my ereader. This naturally includes a lot of computer programming related articles, as well as the occasional movie review, something about coffee, diversity in tech, stoicism, or anything else that captures my interest.

I’ve been tracking my book reading via Goodreads. My average rating is 2.79, which is about on par with last year. The average community rating of the same books is 3.87, which is also about the same as last year. Interesting to see the consistency there.

All in all my year old reading glasses got a very good workout.

Cover image for The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

My favourite book for the year would have to be The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Catherine Webb under one of her several pen names, Claire North. It’s on my list of books to read again sometime. Special mention would also have to go to Rubbernecker as the second runner. All in all, I rated sixteen books with four stars and the bulk, thirty-one, with three stars. That’s 65% of the books I read with a three star rating or better. Of these books, I read six on paper (pbooks), the rest were ebooks.

I also plowed through a few series, including the four books in Gregg Hurwitz’s Tim Rackley series, and fifteen books in Craig Johnson’s Longmire series.

Special mention also has to go to the audiobook version of Dune that I listened to. It was a very good production. I’ve read Dune at lest three or four times previously, but probably hadn’t picked it up in over a decade. Listening to this reminded me how much I enjoyed this book (and loathed the rest of the series).

I started the year with an Icarus Pocket six inch ereader. It was okay, and the firmware had some nice features, but it never really played well with plugging it into my Linux desktop computer and loading stuff with Calibre. Hard restarts were required regularly. Then some of the buttons stopped working, so it was time for an update.

I ended up going with Kobo’s Aura HD and am really happy with it. I always found the six inch e-ink screens a little cramped, so the 6.8 inch gave me the bit extra room I needed. I was also surprised to find the higher resolution screen a big difference to me, and was just that much more comfortable to read with.

With regard to using my ereader to read articles and blog entries, for the last few years I’ve been using a program I wrote called Erudite that downloads articles saved via Instapaper, Readability, or Pocket, convert them to an appropriate format such as EPUB or MOBI, and add them to my Calibre ebook library. If you think that all sounds too complex, please see here.

However, one feature of the Aura HD ereader I purchased this year turned out very handy. It has the ability to synchronise with Pocket. So if I saved all the articles I want to read with Pocket, then they are wirelessly synchronised onto my ereader, saving me having to plug it via USB into by desktop and run through my Erudite → Calibre → ereader pipeline all the time. (I still use this for articles Pocket doesn’t deal with, or that I want to keep a copy of.) And if you think that all sounds too complex, please see here.

However, I still wanted to track my article reading habits, plus follow up on articles in related forums such as Hacker News after I’d read them and such, so I wrote a litte PHP browser based application that interfaces with the Pocket API to help me manage all that.

Naturally I called it Pocket Lint.

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My Sit/Stand Desk

I’ve been interested in having a sit/stand desk in my home office for quite some time. There have been lots of articles in the last few years about the health risks of sitting at a desk all day, and it is something I’ve wanted to put in place for quite some time.

I had a modified desk with a three tonne hydraulic automotive jack under it for a while which made one thing clear. You have to be able to adjust the height very easily, with little fuss, or you wont adjust as often as you would like. To that end, a motorised desk was clearly the order of the day.

After playing around with some electric car jacks as a lift mechanism, and a rocky frame that didn’t travel smoothly, I finally said, “screw it,” to the DIY project and ordered a QDOS desk frame.

Here’s the end result, my new desk, currently set at standing height. (Click on any image to see a larger version.)

Desk at standing height.

I reused the desktop from my old desk, although it was quite wide so I cut it down a bit so it could sit closer to the wall. I also wanted some nicer monitor stands as I was tired of plastic boxes and phone books, and wanted all the monitors at the same height.

I like my monitors sitting quite high above the desk, and pretty much vertical, not tilted back, which became a problem as I found most suitable monitor stands were not tall enough unless I was going to buy one that would mount two monitors vertically. So instead I bought some wall mount brackets and then wandered down to the local hardware store to figure out how I was going to use them. This is what I came up with in the end:

Bracket side-view. Bracket end-view.

A bolt is run though the desk from underneath, screwing into the bottom of the shaft. An angle bracket provides additional stability. Placement was a very fiddly process as you don’t want to go drilling holes in your desk in the wrong spot, but it turned out alright in the end.

Placing the centre bracket. All three brackets done.

Pulling the old desk out also provided an opportunity for a good clean-up, and I think you could agree the final result is a lot neater than before.

Old desktop. New and improved desk.

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Reading Habits of 2013

So I’ve been tracking the books I’ve been reading (via GoodReads) for the last year (started mid-January). In 2013 I read 52 books, or a total of 17,213 pages in around 341 days. That works out to about 50 pages a day, or a book every 6.5 days on average. (Mind you, those numbers are a little high as there are two books in that list I know I wasn’t enjoying enough to finish.)

My average rating is 2.81, compared to the community average of 3.84 for the same set of books, so that perhaps makes me a hard critic.

All 52 books are fiction — I’ve started but not finished a few non-fiction books this year, and none of this includes the copious amounts of technical and other articles I read from the Internet. (I even wrote a program to make it easy to download and convert web-site articles to a format suitable for my ereader for that very purpose.)

Yesterday’s check-up at the optometrist verified something I had long suspected: I now require reading glasses.

God I need a life.

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The Cat Terrarium

In the past our cats have had free access to roam the outdoors. It seems they abused this privilege though, to the distress of a couple of our neighbours who were either allergic or whose garden became a bird hunting ground. So as responsible pet owners we decided we needed to keep the cats contained to our property while still giving them an area outdoors to bounce around in.

After a bit of consideration we decided to cordon off the narrow part of the yard off the laundry door and up the side of the house as “the cat run.”

Here are the views of the run from each end (click on any image to see a larger version.)

View from the top View from the bottom

As you can see, containing the cats largely involved building a fence and a gate at the end of the area, and erecting some loose netting along the top of the fence to dissuade the cats from trying to climb over.

Netting along the top of the fences

Dissuasive as it may have been, the scheming little fur balls tested their new pen and staged several successful breakouts. The first was from the top of the water heater that provided a high enough ledge for them to jump clear over the netting.

Netting over the water heater and window

I first tried putting a spiky platform over the heater, and while the cat was nonplussed, he would still gingerly make the jump, so I ended up extending the netting all the way to the brick.

Next they decided if they can’t go over, they’d go under, so some netting along the bottom of the fence to discourage digging, and the run was escape proof.

Netting along the bottom of the fence and buried

Before I installed the cat doors, we were leaving the laundry window open during the day so they could come and go, so I made a ramp so they didn’t have to jump so much, but only one of them ever used it. And for entertainment, I made a climbing post up to a window ledge where they can look out upon the world, and wrapped some carpet around some support posts for scratching.

Ramp to the laundry window Climbing and scratching posts

Fitting the pet doors to the timber and security doors turned out to be surprisingly straightforward thanks to an angle grinder, a jig saw, careful measurement, and judicious use of a mallet to make sure everything aligned properly.

Inside view of the cat door Outside view of the cat door

So the cats are corralled, and it seems my cat herding days are over for now. A surprise benefit has been the cats hanging around the house a lot more during the day which is nice.

View from my office window

And as I work away in my office I get to watch the cats play and fight and skitter around outside my window. My own personal cat terrarium.

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By Any Other Name…

My Aunt and Uncle recently moved from Papua New Guinea to Vanuatu, and are learning Bislama, the local pidgin.

Pidgins can sometimes be a bit awkward, requiring entire phrases to get across an idea.

In Bislama, to mention a cave you would say, “hol long ston.” The literal translation more or less being, “Hole in stone.”

It can lead to some eccentric and terribly charming expressions though. A violin is a, “wan smol box blong white man, oli scratchem beli I singout gudfala,” and my personal favourite, a helicopter is a, “mixmaster blong Jesus Christ.”

According to Pacific Island Travel the phrase for “Piano” is, “black fala box we i gat black teeth, hemi gat white teeth you faetem hard i singaot.”

According to my Aunt, everybody just says, “keyboard.”

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