Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Read one, you want to read the next: The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories

    Patricia Craig, ed. The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories (1990) Craig has done wonderful job. A handful of the classics are here (e.g., “Silver Blaze”), and I’ve read work by many of the authors. But about half are new to me, and if the samples indicate their skill, they are underrated, for example Cyril Hare, whose “Miss Burnside’s Dilemma” shows how point of view can be used not only to narrate a crime but also to show its ripple effects.
     The collection covers about half a century, when detective stories concentrated on the puzzle, and the characters were just complicated enough to make both the crime and its discovery believable. What struck me was how little we need to be told of a character to construct an impression of the backstory that grounds motive in reality and method in plausibility. It was as often as not the style, the throw-away phrase or word, that created these impressions, I think because they create a vivid narrator. Make the story-teller sound trustworthy, and we will follow their lead.
     A potato-chip book: when you finish a story, you immediately want to read another. ***

Monday, February 19, 2018

More about the Sacketts: Ride the Dark Trai.

     Louis L’Amour. Ride the Dark Trail (1972) Some time ago, I found a stash of about a dozen books by L’Amour at the food bank’s yard sale. I sorted out te sackett series, and began reading them. This is the 2nd one.
     Logan Sackett drifts into Siwash, a town run by a greedy bully, John Flannan. Logan immediatley makes enemies when he defends a young girl. He just doesn’t like the way the men in the saloon treat her. He takes her to the MT ranch, which Emily Talon is defending against Flannan’s attempts to run her off. Flannan has killed Em’s husband, and Em shot Flannan through the knees in retaliation. So it’s as much a feud as a attempted robbery.
     Turns out Em is a Sackett, so of course Logan has to stay to help her out. Eventually Em’s sons Barnabas and Milo join them, but the final showdown is between Logan, Em, and Flannan. Along the way, Logan is shot and beaten up, but he manages to survive, because he’s one of the meaner Sacketts.
     L’Amour shifts point of view a few times, but most of the story is told by Logan. Some loose ends aren’t tied up: will Logan settle down, or will he continue to drift? Read other stories in the Sackett saga to find out! The book is a page turner, despite the occasional asides into history and geography and such. There are also odd lapses in style, with Logan now and then using decidedly bookish phrasing to describe the landscape  and weather. I’m on a L’Amour binge, so my rating is probably a bit high. The title has no obvious relation to the plot, unless "dark" is taken to mean "dim, hard to see". ***½

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Econimics 201: Thermodynamics and efficiency

Thermodynamics and economics: Why a car is the most expensive mode of transport.

A typical gasoline engine in a car runs at about 25% efficiency. That is, the energy in 1 out of every 4 litres (or gallons) of fuel in the tank does “useful work”. The energy in the other three litres is used to run the engine and transmission, to push exhaust out the tailpipe, or is converted to waste heat. (Efficiency in the lab can be much higher, but we’re talking real-world here, not lab conditions).

The “useful work” consists of moving the car. So about 1 of 4 litres of fuel is used to move the car and its driver. Let’s assume the car plus driver weighs a tonne (1000kg), of which the driver weighs 90kg. Since a litre is 1,000ml, the system burns 1ml of fuel per kg of weight. Of this, 90ml will be used to move the driver. The rest (910ml) is used to move the car. So out of a total of  4,000ml of fuel, 90 ml is used to move the driver. That’s approximately 1/4%.

Therefore: 1 the fuel costs $1/litre, you’ve spent $4 to move yourself, of which 1 cents’s worth of fuel moves you, 96 cents’ worth moves the car, and $3 pays for rotating the engine, pushing the exhaust out of the tailpipe, and waste heat. One can scavenge some of that waste heat to warm the cabin in winter, so it’s not entirely wasted.

The above calculation ignores the effect of speed, because speed increases fuel consumption overall. However, since an increasing fraction of the energy is used to push air out of the way, the fraction used to move the driver decreases. In other words, at most 1/4% of the fuel moves the driver down the highway.

I’ve also ignored the effect of passengers, stuff in the trunk, etc, since those merely increase total weight and hence total fuel consumption. The amount of available useful work will still be about 25% of the energy in the fuel. The fractions for moving the car and moving the people in it will change somewhat: in general, a loaded car will transport people and their gear more efficiently than a nearly empty one.

But however you tweak the scenario, using a car to transport people is appallingly wasteful.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Sackett Brand: vengeance for murder.

     Louis L’Amour. The Sackett Brand (1965) One of the earlier Sackett stories: William Tell Sackett, a lonely man who has found Ange, his true love, is bushwhacked while scouting the trail for his wagon, tumbles down a cliff, and plunges into the river. Badly injured, but determined to get back to Ange, he finds her murdered. He eventually tracks down and kills her murderer. His quest causes rumours, so a bunch of Sacketts come to his aid. The story ends with his realisation that he will never be lonely again, with all those Sacketts surrounding him.
     A typical L’Amour romance, with a hero just this side of unbelievably tough. A good read for a fan of Westerns, a good introduction to L’Amour for those who haven’t discovered him yet. Average for L’Amour, above average for the genre. **½