Search This Blog

Books Recently Read

Ben's bookshelf: read

Manners & Mutiny
Waistcoats & Weaponry
Curtsies & Conspiracies
Etiquette & Espionage
RWBY Official Manga Anthology Vol. 1: Red Like Roses

Ben Biddle's favorite books »

Hard Wired by Len Vlahos

Wow, one of the best AI books I've read in a long time. It's The Truman Show, The Wild Robot, and 2001 Space Odyssey all rolled together. There is just enough science possibility that it could be plausible in the near future, just enough real world to ground it in reality and just enough humanity to give the reader pause over our own choices.

Parents should know that there is one instance of genitals mentioned as Quinn discovers that even though he has an identity of male there is nothing about his artificial body to indicate it. And in the final portion of the book, when events really reach their climax, Quinn does mildly swear.

But even more disturbing for readers is the first person narrative of an artificial intelligence wrestling with all that it means to be human. We have much to celebrate but the darker side of human nature is often revealed against Quinn's own struggle to balance logic and emotion.

This review first appeared on Goodreads.

Enola Holmes

Enola Holmes follows the adventure of the teenage younger sister to the more famous Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. Raised alone by her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) in the most unconventional of ways, Enola awakes on her birthday to discover her mother is gone. As much an attempt to flee the wishes of her eldest brother as a desire to discover her mother's condition, Enola quickly learns there is much about the world she has yet to discover.

Based on a series of books by Nancy Springer of the same name, the movie follows the first book. I have not read any of the series but could easily see additional movies being produced. Some elements, including moments of camera work reminded me of Neil Patrick Harris' A Series of Unfortunate Events. Both movies allow the narrator to break the fourth wall and draw the viewer into their inner world. The pace is quick and belies the two hour viewing time.

Directed by Harry Bradbeer, the movie is available on Netflix. There is a nod to teenage romance but barely surpasses flirting when her hand is kissed. The language is clean, but with significant hand to hand combat and several attempts on Enola's life, the violence can be intense for younger viewers. Set in Victorian England, the costumes and settings will appeal to steam punk enthusiasts. Detective sleuths will be challenged at decoding the ciphers, messages and hidden meanings while adventurers thrill to the action and daring escapes. And pervasive throughout is the Women's Suffrage movement with strong, independent female characters attempting to mold a better world.

Clearly targeted to teenage girls, everyone will find something to enjoy in this movie. Relationships are key as Enola possesses more passion than Sherlock and more feelings than Mycroft yet struggles to discover the proper balance between her heart and her mind. Her deep love of her mother is a major driving force, something lacking in the mental deductions of her older brothers.

Caving at McCormick's Creek SP

Girl posing at cave entrance
Caves are all over southern Indiana, but you don't have to pay for a tour to visit one. Wolf Cave in McCormick's Creek State Park offers an excellent spelunking opportunity for novices. 

The cave consists of a twisting passageway carved out by flowing water. There is one path and it's open on both ends, so there is no fear of getting lost. Turns can be tight, but we even managed to pass a couple hikers who chose to navigate the opposite direction. 

While some wildlife can be found inside the cave, especially when it's wetter, spiders are the scariest thing to be encountered. We traversed the cave in the afternoon, so there had already been plenty of visitors mucking through to scare off any critters.

The western entrance, or the side reached by the shorter section of Trail 5 is low and requires waddling through. But once inside, the path becomes taller allowing hikers to stand or stoop through most of the cave. There are some logs and rocks littered along the floor, debris from river flow during rainy seasons so good hiking shoes are recommended.

The eastern entrance (pictured at top) is larger and has some ceiling collapse creating a large land bridge or arch. The passage into the cave proper was a gap about 18-24" high and required crawling through. Only slightly damp, we came away more dirty than muddy but plan accordingly.

The rest of Trail 5 is well graded with coarse gravel and easy to cover. There is a significant slope but plenty of benches along the way to rest. When we arrived at the Wolf Cave parking lot, it was full and cars double parked blocking in the early arrivals. Fortunately a couple vehicles were leaving and we secured a parking space.

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, it's a good idea to arrive early or check with the park's social media to see about any closings. Here's a short clip my daughter recorded of me going through the last part before the eastern end. Sorry she was behind me so the view isn't the most flattering.

Failure Is An Option

Reel mower fixed with training wheels
The roller bar bracket broke again on my mower,
so I replaced it with the old pink training wheels!
(original Instagram post)
When we only strive to be as good as those around us, then we will never rise above the crowd. Do not be afraid of failure. You will fail. In fact, you may never succeed. But succumbing to the fear of failure hinders us from ever doing something truly amazing.

When I taught high school, especially yearbook, students would cower from the tasks placed before them. Stepping out to take photos instead of blending into the crowd. Calling a business on the phone to ask for an advertisement. Taking time to ask compelling questions to get a better interview. All these things include risk. Failure could include being socially outcast, receiving a failing grade (on an elective!) or hearing rejection again.

Don't be afraid to fail!

Sometimes standing alone is needed more than social acceptance. Stepping into new experiences can open up opportunities we never thought possible. And every close friend was at one time a total stranger. Many times the greater risk offer the bigger the reward. 

So the next time you are faced with a challenging circumstance or difficult decision, will your first question be "what are they doing?" Or do you have the courage to chart a difficult or unknown course that may be doomed? Failure is an option, and sometimes the only one that helps us to become something better.

Distance Learning Isn't New

Students collaborate on a science experiment
around the kitchen table.
In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, large numbers of schools have suspended onsite services. Many of these schools are implementing a system called e-learning: where students use digital networking tools and electronic devices to remain connected with educational content. While this appears to be a novel use of modern electronic communication tools, the ability to learn at varying distances from the classroom is not new.

At first glance, it may seem that several weeks of e-learning will create a significant gap in every students' academic performance. But if gaps develop, they will only highlight the determination of students, teachers and parents. Good teachers and diligent students will take this opportunity to dig deeper into their understanding as they are no longer constrained by a timetable or slower students. E-learning is more than digital worksheets, it's the chance to explore connections between content and to develop a rich understanding.

In 1858, the University of London was the first higher education institution to offer students the ability to study courses away from campus, extending across the globe. (History of the University of London, 2020) This gave service men, prisoners of war and those working abroad the opportunity to pursue a degree despite their inability to come to London. More than just a packet of reading materials, these students could also complete assignments and take exams privately.

Christian organizations have offered Bible correspondence courses for decades. These are typically study packets where the student reads and researches a particular text or passage and responds by answering complex questions or writing an essay. These services often target prisoners, or those in developing country who cannot afford to travel.

Today's e-learning opportunities are the same. While our electronic communication tools drastically reduce the exchange time between messages, the nature of the exchange is the same. Teachers must present students with resources and guidance on researching the information. Students must unpack the material and demonstrate their understanding beyond rote memory.

University of London. 2020. History Of The University Of London. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 16 March 2020].