May. 8th, 2014

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I read Trustee from the Toolroom, by Nevil Shute. Keith Stewart is a mechanical engineer who loves building models of things like engines and clocks, and writes a column about that for Minature Mechanic magazine. His comfortable life with his wife in a London suburb is upset when his sister and her wealthy husband, who've left their daughter in Keith and his wife's care, are shipwrecked sailing from England to Vancouver. Keith, a man who's never left England, must find a way to get to a remote South Seas island to see about his sister and brother in law's graves, salvage the ship, and death with something else that will greatly affect their daughter's future. It turns out that his columns have readers all over the world and there are many fellow engineers who are happy to help him along his journey. He even manages to earn a considerable amount of money as consulting engineer.
It's a pleasant and satisfying read, with some amusing characters along the way. I know little about engineering or sailing but enjoyed the descriptions of handling sailboats and various engineering and mechanical things. Keith's tiny generator that he built for fun figures into the story, impressing everyone and making friends for him wherever he takes it.
Keith's a likeable guy but it's a little strange that during his months-long adventures he doesn't seem to miss his wife or worry about her or their ward, and doesn't even write home. But on the other hand, that's a lot like some of the engineers I know.
What I liked is how the common language of engineers and problem solvers is shown to unite a group of very disparate people, from a barely literate guy who built is own sailboat and sailed it across the Pacific, to a business tycoon.

After that I started Hello World: A life in Ham Radio by Danny Gregory and Paul Sahre. Gregory got interested after finding a scrapbook of QSL cards, the postcards hams send each other to confirm they talked, at a flea market. It's both a history of one man's multi-decade hobby, and of radio and amateur radio in general. It's interesting and the cards are graphically interesting.

However, I'm a astonished that so far they haven't explained why it's called "ham radio". Wikipedia has this: "The term "ham operator" was commonly applied by 19th century landline telegraphers to an operator with poor or "ham fisted" skills. Early radio (initially known as wireless telegraphy) included many former wire telegraph operators, and within the new service "ham" was employed as a pejorative term by professional radiotelegraph operators to suggest that amateur enthusiasts were unskilled. In "Floods and Wireless" by Hanby Carver, from the August, 1915 Technical World Magazine, the author noted "Then someone thought of the 'hams'. This is the name that the commercial wireless service has given to amateur operators...""

There are also various folk etymologies including one that the first radio station had the call letters HAM, etc.

I also started The Crossing Places, by Elly Griffiths, involving an archeology professor who gets involved with solved a murder. So far, very good. I'm not sure what I think about all the mentions of her thinking about how fat she is. Not unrealistic but maybe a little too much.

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