Pseudorandom Bits

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Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Lost Cities and Vanished Civilizations – in North America!

Posted by Mike on March 20, 2008

In my previous post, I mentioned the book Lost Cities and Vanished Civilizations. I don’t recall what civilizations he wrote about, but I don’t remember any in what is now the United States.

Can you think of some lost cities and vanished civilizations in North America? I’m sure something having to do with Indians comes to mind. But what came to my mind first was the “lost” colony on Roanoke Island off the coast of what would become North Carolina.

The word “CROATOAN” carved into a tree seemed to be the last sign of the group of 115 men, women, and children, a group that seemed to vanish without a trace.

What happened to them? They could have been the first permanent settlement in the future United States, beating Jamestown by 20 years.

Lee Miller explores what might have happened in her book Roanoke : solving the mystery of England’s lost colony. She gathers some evidence and draws some conclusions. Some of the evidence is tenuous, and some of the conclusions are stretched in their details, but I think she gives a good general idea of what probably happened. They didn’t all die at once by disease or starvation. They weren’t swept out to sea by a hurricane. Many web sites give some ideas about this mystery, but Miller’s book is fun and interesting reading.

Before reading it, I didn’t realize that Sir Walter Raleigh was involved, or Elizabeth I, either. Politics, personal ambition, the English, the Spanish, and of course, the weather are all involved. Read more about it!


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Tired of Snow?

Posted by Mike on March 15, 2008

With the recent warmer days, it can be hard to remember the very cold and snowy days just passed.

Here are two cartoons for your enjoyment.

Who’s tired of snow?

At least…

Are your memories of the winter fading fast? Time to read a story of polar explorations…

Mawson’s Will: The Greatest Survival Story Ever Written, by Lennard Bickel. I’m suspicious of titles with “greatest ever” and the like, but this one could be. If Hollywood wrote the story, it would be dismissed as hokey. Unbelievable.

The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander. They just keep going and going… They also made one of the world’s all-time most difficult boat trips.

Four against the Arctic, by David Roberts. Six years stranded on an arctic island after your ship unexpectedly disappears while you’re on a short excursion. What do you do with the few items you have in your possession? (Skip the small section where the author meets 2 drunks in Russia while doing research;  contains profanity.)

These and many other accounts of great explorations await you.  Investigate Robert Scott, Roald Amundson, the Franklin Expedition, USS Polaris (not the submarine), Richard Byrd, Captain Cook (who once held the record for the highest northerly and southerly journeys), and many more not-so-well-known explorers.

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Secret Codes – Updated

Posted by Mike on March 1, 2008

Earlier there was Dad’s Secret Code. Then there was Mom’s Secret Code.

But before all that, there was Fletcher Pratt’s Secret and Urgent: The story of codes and ciphers. This was one of the book highlights of my boyhood days. This is an interesting, and to some of us, exciting book to read. It gives some history of codes and ciphers, and also gives some examples. Since it was originally written during World War II, it doesn’t have much on WWII code efforts. That would have to come later in other books. I wasn’t the only one impressed by this book.

I was going to suggest some related books on codes and ciphers, but at the moment my memory won’t cough them up.

Anyway, start with Pratt’s book and work toward the present. There are some interesting books that do give insight into WWII and more recent code work. It is an amazing area of mental work. Some have suffered mental breakdowns because of the stress involved. But it is also a fertile area in recent mathematical work. Modern computer communication and data storage would not happen without information encodings of various kinds.

It’s an interesting area of study, with problems for all levels of skill and knowledge. Now, if I could only break Dad’s Secret Code.

[Update: Two books that I couldn’t recall earlier are: The Code Breakers by David Kahn, and The Code Book by Simon Singh. A search on for “Code Breaker” as a title yields several books. A search by subject should give even more. Unir sha ernqvat nobhg pbqrf naq pvcuref!]

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The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History

Posted by Mike on January 27, 2008

I just finished reading Thomas Woods’ book “The Politically Incorrect Guide to History“, part of the PIG series of books. You may also want to read a review of “PIG Science” by a friend of mine. Both are available in our local library, and may be available in yours, too.

This book by Dr. Woods is interesting reading, highlighting events and facts about American History that you probably didn’t read in school or in the usual books on American History. Much of this amounts to what you’ve heard and read in the media isn’t really the whole story! Now, that may be a surprise to you, in which case you might want to read this book even more.

The book discusses events from the colonial origins of the U.S., through the Clinton presidential years. What you thought was true might need some revision.

I’d encourage you to visit the link above, which has extracts from the book, then read the whole book for yourself, and make your own conclusions.

There are at least 2 criticisms that can be made of a book like this. One, it “cherry picks” some of the more sensational events, rather than presenting a systematic look at American History (the book is too short for that). Two, a lot of the book is the visual equivalent of the sound byte. Some information is given, but you’d have to check the references to get a better picture.

On the other hand, it does have lots of interesting quotes to think about, and many references are given if you want to follow-up any given topic.

Maybe this will change your view of some events in American History, but even if it doesn’t, it does present some information that should be included in a fuller picture of the usual history we think we know.

“[It is] working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall be usurped from the states, and the government of all be consolidated into one.” – Thomas Jefferson, on the federal judiciary

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Posted by Mike on November 24, 2007

I read the book “Witness” by Whittaker Chambers many months ago, or rather listened to it as an audio book. It is quite interesting to read, even though it is fairly lengthy. I think the audio book helped me make it through some of the less interesting parts, and kept me looking forward to the key sections of the book.

Chambers makes many insightful observations, and the whole book is worth reading.

However, the Forward by itself is well worth taking the time to read, and I’d encourage you to find just that section and read it carefully. There are a few versions on the Internet in various conditions of correctness. (Most seem to have been scanned and converted to text, though not without problems.)

Chambers was involved with Communist spying, etc., in the U.S. in the 1930s through sometime in the 1950s. The Alger Hiss trial had Chambers as a key witness. Another key player in the Hiss case was Richard Nixon, as a lawyer and senator from California. Nixon came to believe that Chambers was telling the truth, and supported Chambers’ claims.

In college, some number of years back, I met Alger Hiss, or at least stood 10 or so feet away and listened to him defend himself. I didn’t know much about Hiss then, and for a naive guy from Wyoming, he presented and carried himself very well, was tall and distinguished looking, spoke well and convincingly, and truly seemed a gentleman who would make a nice neighbor. I wonder whether he had been covering himself for so long that maybe he did believe most of what he claimed.

The physical contrast between the tall and slender Hiss, and the shorter and “stockier” Chambers could be compared with Mutt & Jeff or Abbott &Costello. In that comparison alone, Chambers had the uphill battle for acceptance. Chambers was not as polished as Hiss was outwardly, although he was more than a match otherwise.

Chambers eventually realized that Communism isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, and he broke from the party, and became a voice for freedom. His book tells his account of growing up and moving into communism, then discovering what was really going on and breaking from the party. The book’s title should be interpreted in more than one way.

Chambers moved his family to the countryside of Connecticut for safety reasons. He also suffered in various ways because of leaving communism, and trying to convince people personally and legally about what had happened.

Communism sometimes sounds great, but like a lot of other “isms” that try to direct people’s lives, it misses a key point of the human condition. Humans are sinners, and communism is unable to handle that. The people at the top, as well as at the bottom, are sinners. The leaders in communism are well off, and the bulk of society is treated very poorly. It isn’t a matter of how well communism is implemented, it just won’t work without taking our sinful condition into account. No system of government or commerce is perfect, but some have a better foundation and goal than others.

Anyway, please read the Forward. Substitute “Humanism” or “Humanistic Materialism” for “Communism”, and “Christianity” for “democracy” (and similar terms), and you’ll find a terrific commentary about the struggle that non-believers are making against Christianity. Of couse, they’ll lose against Christianity, just as Communists will lose against a free and open society.

The Forward is thought provoking, and I belive you’ll benefit in some way.

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