The God Particle (didn’t read), Ringworld pp. 101-161, Time To Go House pp. 61-123

Yesterday was a crazy long and busy day. I know! I say that fairly often, but this was actually a pretty busy, wild day. I managed to read 60 pages of Ringworld and 60 pages of Time To Go House, but I fell asleep twice after hitting page 120 on Time To Go House, so I didn’t stay up to write this post or to try to read The God Particle.

Today then, I have 60 pages of The God Particle to read, 30 of Ringworld, and I’ll finish Time To Go House (it’s only 137 pages), so I’ll have 13 pages or so to read of another book. I think I’ll switch over to Red Mars, because I feel like my comprehension has climbed high enough that I’m able to speed-read it.

I’ve hit a weird spot in the speed reading; I stopped doing 2 fixtures per line and started just looking at the entire line; I feel like I miss words around the edges more often, but not doing a crazy zig-zag pattern with my eyes is far less tiring, can be done much faster, and through its stability allows me to “take in” 2-3 lines at once. I think I’ll continue this way — the bad side is that I’ve slowed down, because I’m no longer looking to a specific anchor like “1/3rd through a line”, so my eyes won’t pick up data unless I try really hard to focus as I scan past. So that’s progress, but I need to do better not to fall asleep!

To make sure I wouldn’t fall asleep yesterday, I stayed in the subway stations for a bit to read – I got through my entire ringworld reading sitting on a bench at College, and then I stopped at Bathurst just to read a bunch of the Time To Go House. By the time I got home I was quite tired (and it was quite late), but I already had most of my work finished. It was a really effective way to stagger my reading a bit, and to keep myself from getting into that sleepy thought-pattern before I had enough of my work done.

The God Particle

didn’t read any today!


They flew, they crashed, they argued, Teela got hurt a little bit, they started flying their flycycles (which are pretty cool — remind me a little of this), and Teela went plateau crazy, so they swooped down and lo, people who look human were there! That’s about where I stopped.

Time To Go House

Smalleata and Raffles got engaged more or less, and they waited for the snow to fall to lock the weasels out of the house. They met the mother Raccoon, and then the farmer opened the house up to get an oil re-supply. That meant that the weasels could get in, so the mice used wine corks to plug their holes, and the rats (sadly) were killed by the weasels!

Then there was a huge snowstorm and it closed the gaps the weasels could get into, so the mice are all safe. They met some flying squirrels, and Smalleata and Raffles’ big engagement-wedding party dealie started happening. All of the mice are in the television room, and Mr. Gogie, the dwarf-gnome thing, is about to arrive to tell them what the human President is saying in the “State of the Human Union Address”.

The God Particle pp. 201-231, Ringworld pp. 101-131, Time to go house 61-91

Those are the pages I _should_ have read tonight. Instead, I stayed at work to set up a cool event for tomorrow. I didn’t get home until about midnight, and I started reading then while I ate some cheese and crackers. I got 30 pages of God Particle done. It was about the history of particle accelerators. I learned some cool stuff about cyclotrons and synchrotrons and Big Science.

I will have to find time to read 60 pages of ringworld and time to go house tomorrow, because there simply is not enough focus in my possession at this point at night to practice speed reading effectively.

This is a major lesson that’s been getting bigger and bigger this week: don’t leave reading for “after the rest of my life” at night. I have to do my best to read — yes, to speed read — throughout the day, or this won’t work!

Goodnight 🙂

The God Particle pp. 171-201, Ringworld 71-101, and Time To Go House 31-61

Last night I warned that it would be short, and then it wasn’t. This time, it shall!

I went out looking for the Transit of Venus tonight, and I believe I saw its form in the shadow of sunbeams cast up from clouds the sun wandered behind, but I have no sure knowledge of it. It’s possible that my eyes just did funny things because I’d been squintily looking through my sweater at the sun. I found a neat viewing spot, and enjoyed a brisk walk around my neighbourhood and some last minute sunshine in the day.

Today was the last of our programming classes; we have a pizza party next week, but there’s no further educational content to be shared. I don’t feel like the kids are leaving empty-handed, but when I consider what we might have accomplished, I consider this to be a failure. I’ll write more about that in the future, after the team holds a retrospective on our efforts.

Today is also day two of real speed-reading. I saw a significant improvement in my times for The God Particle and Ringworld, and a slight worsening of my time on Time To Go House. I hypothesize that speed reading, especially when unpracticed, is hard, and even moreso when very tired. I did God Particle -> Ringworld -> Go House this time, proceeding from hardest (and most words / page) to easiest (and fewest), with 15 pages of God Particle done earlier in the day — between 11:15 and 12:20 I got the remaining 75 done.

The God Particle

This passage was a little bit of wrapup of the development of quantum theory (specifically the Bohr/Einstein discussions), and then a long diatribe about quack-physics, “revolutionary iconoclasts”, and the ease with which people misinterpret quantum mechanics and the scientific process. I can’t say that I disagreed with any of it, and it was good to see a well laid out discussion of how science works and the fact that a “revolution” in physics does not mean slates are wiped clean, but may mean new language to phrase problems and solutions in, while preserving and agreeing with old results.

But it felt like a long, flame-y comment in a thread on a physics forum where someone had made the mistake of mentioning that they liked What the Bleep Do We Know. I question whether it needed to be in the middle of a book like this in the chapter about particle accelerators, because anyone who has gotten here probably isn’t the problem anyway, but I suppose it had to go somewhere.


Louis, Speaker, Nessus, and Teela wandered around the puppeteers’ migrating homeworld a bit and then took off in a general products #3 hull fitted into a tri-wing. We got a small history lesson about the man-kzinti wars and the general products hulls, and about man’s encounters with other species so far. The crew also embarked on their way to ringworld and is nearing it rapidly, looking for signs of communicative life.

Time To Go House

Smalleata met Raffles, a house-mouse, after they settled into their winter quarters. She explored the house with him a bit, giving us a good introduction to the environment, and they jumped down the stairs together. I remember that capturing my imagination when I was little! I put myself right into their mindset, thinking. “Wow, if I were a mouse I would have SO MUCH fun jumping down stairs!” Toilet-paper as bedding was introduced, and Smalleata made a grand personal goal of one day sleeping on a bed of it.

We were also given some very strong foreshadowing of an important event, and what appears to be a description of a gnome that enters the house to watch a television program each winter. I don’t quite remember that bit. Anyway, Smalleata just went into the kitchen with Raffles. I suspect that there may be danger there.

The God Particle pp. 141-171, Ringworld pp. 41-71, and Time To Go House pp. 1-31

Short post tonight. I am super tired!

This week, starting today, I’m reading 30 pages of each of 3 books per day. I was thinking that I would choose Walden by Thoreau, but I felt strongly that a book I’ve read before is going to be easier for me to speed read, so I let myself revisit long ago by reading Time To Go House. More about what sounds like a preschooler’s book in a bit.

After timing my 40 pages last night, I headed into this evening, walking home from work around 7, thinking about 180 minutes of reading. Three full hours, at least! Then factor in making some food, using the washroom, short lapses in concentration — I would be reading until I stopped to write this post and fell asleep. So I decided to make a much more concerted effort to speed read.

How does one make a serious effort to speed read? Time trials with as little attention to comprehension as possible. The rules are to keep your eyes moving, finish each page in an allotted amount of time, and keep your mind focused on the task. If you see blurs, you’re not focused. What you should see are tiny little bits of the story, just 2-3 word phrases, that may or may not link themselves into any coherent narrative.

I targeted 1000 words per minute. I do not expect to achieve reasonable comprehension at that speed this week, but I do believe that tracking to that speed will make 650-750 words per minute feel comparatively comfortable. I estimated about 2 pages per minute for Ringworld and The God Particle, and about 3 pages per minute for Time to Go House. The total expected reading time was 40 minutes (plus time for any breaks).

I was interrupted 95% of the way through The God Particle by a sudden memory that I’d left a battery charging at work. A different battery, left charging about 3 hours too long last week, produced a good deal of battery acid and overheated. I was concerned that leaving the battery overnight could be a fire hazard, so I left immediately. After getting back, I spent some time watching Community and relaxed, and then got back to the readings.

Time To Go House

I initially used an online stopwatch to count down 10 minutes while reading the first 30 pages of Time To Go House. 3 pages per minute works out to 20 seconds per page — there’s 31 lines per page, so it means spending about 2/3rds of a second on each line. Focus 1/3rd of the way into the line for a third of a second, then focus 2/3rds of the way into the line for a second third of a second, and move on. No slip-backs, vocalizing, or close reading permitted!

I did very well on this leg. I finished about 45 seconds after the 10 minute mark, which means I achieved slightly less than 900 words per minute (there’s only 31 lines per page, averaging about 10 words per line), but I’m pretty happy with that for a first night.

It’s great to be re-reading this story. It’s not actually a book for preschoolers; it’s a short novel about a family of mice that use the word “House” as a verb to describe their annual journey out of a forest and into a nearby homestead, and the time they spend living there. A little bit like saying “We summer in prague”, they would say “We house over there during the cold season”.

That said, it’s certainly a book intended for younger readers. I first read it when I was 10 or so, and it has epitomized the autumn/winter transformation for me ever since. I have fond memories of a re-read during the winter when I was 14 or 15, laying in my bed with cheese and crackers, petting my cat Kit Cat, listening to the howling wind of a snowstorm at my window. That window whistled and shook in a slight breeze, and in a storm it really did wail. Fortunately, I loved the noise it made.

During the first 30 pages, the main character Smalleata is introduced along with her Uncle Stilton, winter hits, and the mice transit the field past the brown bear Honeysuckle and the fox, Reagan Ready (political much?). They get into the house and are baffled by the new furnace, then start to head upstairs. I look forward to reading about them riding toilet paper rolls down stairs in the future!

This book is great for me to speed read on because I know the general arc of the story and the key moments, so I can easily keep my bearings as I move forward, even when I’m missing huge batches of details. I also don’t feel like I’m spoiling a first-time experience, which is what’s keeping me from speed-reading Stand on Zanzibar and Red Mars, and it’s very simple language, easy to process. I’m staying away from the Feynman Lectures on Physics and my Linear Algebra text for that very reason.

The God Particle

I seriously lagged while reading this passage. It was interesting! I felt like I was missing so much… (I am. I will re-read this at some point.) What I did catch was Einstein shaking things up, Rutherford working out the atom, Bohr doing it better (cherry-picking Rutherford, Planck, Maxwell and Einstein into a theory that did a good job explaining but was not particularly right), de Brogley and Schrodinger and Heisenberg and all the uncertainty and probability and resisting that thought and waves as particles and particles also as waves, and how the wave theory really applies to the probability of the position of the electrons, not the electrons themselves.

I got to page 169 and then went for a walk to work to make sure that the battery I’d left plugged in was not starting any fires, then returned (bearing fruits and vegetables!) and watched 3 episodes of Community, including the episode which parodies Law and Order, which was one of the better bits of Television I’ve ever seen.

Then I finished the passage. At least 35 minutes spent on reading time, when I’d plotted just 15. I lost focus on speed reading and let myself slip into normal reading processes a number of times, which are much slower. I’ll build the skill of maintaining that sort of focus!


I read the whole passage post 11:30 PM, and I’m very tired. This passage featured Louis Wu getting grimy while he navigated his starship toward the puppeteer migration. Then the team arrived at the 5-point rosetta sort of configuration of planets that is the puppeteer migration, and we were given a taste of the breadth and scope of the puppeteer civilization: they have been incredibly civilized and moving planets longer than we’ve been a distinct species!

The exchanges between Teela and Louis don’t seem very indicative of anything I’ve seen or done in real life, but can you really fault the author? Anyway, that’s all for tonight. Got lots to do tomorrow!

For the future: focus more on keeping my speed up!

The God Particle pp. 117-140 and Ringworld pp. 21-41

The God Particle

Electricity is the name of today’s game. This passage goes over the first batteries made by Volta (improvements on the work done by Galvani (who, oddly, used the musculature of frogs for experimentation), and then covers Coulomb measuring the strength of the electric charges, and goes on to Oersted recognizing that magnetism and electricity are linked (he saw a compass needle jump to point at a wire with current moving through it).

Next up is Michael Faraday, who provided a lot of nomenclature for the work being done (ion, cathode, anode, for example) and who recognized that a changing magnetic field could be used to induce an electric current, which allowed him to create the first electric motor and the dynamo — tools that have since become the foundation of all modern electrical power. The author notes that Faraday was more interested in continuing to pursue new facts and perform experiments than in finding uses for the things he made, famously telling the Prime Minister of England that he did not know the usefulness of the dynamo, but wagered that one day the government would tax it.

Faraday also introduced fields of force, which Lederman harks back to Roger Boscovich, and the idea of particles as mathematical points, not solid objects as in Newton’s conception. This brings about the difficult topic of how a field actually works, and as part of that, whether there is a speed of transmission of force (and what it is). James Clerk Maxwell (the author notes that it is pronounced klark, which I did not know) enters the story here to provide a mathematical basis for Faraday’s work. Interesting things about Faraday time: he was not just incredibly poor growing up, but he had no formal education in physical sciences, held no degree, and didn’t write his work out in mathematical form because he was essentially incapable of it. Instead he wrote in largely non-technical prose to explain his ideas and results.

While Maxwell originally intended to provide Faraday’s work with mathy foundations, he ended up noticing something surprising after working the numbers out: the speed of transmission of forces was the same speed that had been found for the speed of light a few years prior. That experiment, done by Armand-Hippolyte-Louis Fizeau who used the speed of a toothed-wheel and a complex system of mirrors which a light shone through, sounds pretty darn cool! People didn’t really think highly of Maxwell’s work at first — it is very dense and complicated, and the idea that the transmission of force was non-instantaneous was still unpopular. The idea that light was the mechanism of transmission of force also seemed bizarre.

Not too much later, Heinrich Hertz did some experiments that proved Maxwell’s work, and at the same time he simplified Maxwell’s complex math into a system of four simple equations that demonstrate a high level of symmetry and stand as a testament to the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences. This popularized Maxwell’s ideas quite a bit, and now his contribution to physics is regarded to be one of the most important of any. The electromagnetic force propagates at roughly 3.0 x 10^8 meters per second: cool stuff.

The last part of this reading is all about the discovery of the electron. Many people were experimenting with cathode rays in the last part of the 1890s – just hook electrodes into a sealed glass tube and pump as much air out as possible, then let a small amount of a specific gas in, and send a voltage through it. It lights up. When extremely small amounts of the gas are present, there’s essentially just a ray visible, and that’s what gets called a “cathode ray”.

People doing experiments realized that you could change the beam’s course using magnets, and by measuring how much force had to be applied to move the beam, were able to figure out properties of the particles in the beam. When they realized that these particles were much smaller than Hydrogen, the idea was out: the term ‘electron’ was used to refer to whatever this new particle, a building block of the chemical atom, must be.


Louis Wu and his motley crew are assembled! This passage was mostly just getting Teela on board. We hear a little bit about luck, get the description of the Earth’s “Birthright Lotteries”, which are part of the planetary population-control in place, and also learn a bit about Puppeteer psychology — in particular that Nessus is a manic-depressive, which explains his departures from fearful living.

More notes on seeing plot points and story elements: I am realizing how clearly and simply the character motivations are laid out: Speaker-To-Animals “wants a name” in his native language, which is granted by his society’s patriarch, and Nessus “wants to breed”, which is a privilege granted by his society’s patriarch. Louis Wu just gets bored and thinks this would be an interesting departure from the social monotony he’s used to, and Teela is in love with Louis / “wants to save the world”. It’s almost ugly how plain all of their motivations are! It’s also worth noting that the human motivations are two-dimensional at the least, while the alien ones are essentially “do A to get B”.


I checked my reading time tonight. For the first ten pages of The God Particle, I took 25 minutes, and for the second ten pages, I took 32 minutes (I was also eating during that period). While reading Ringworld, both the first and second ten pages took about 13 minutes. I was much happier to skim Ringworld more quickly, since I’ve read it before, but it’s also a bit smaller of a book than The God Particle is. I think that the reading level may also be a bit lower, but I haven’t got any data to back that up!

Tomorrow, I’ll begin reading 30 pages of each of 3 different books, instead of 20 pages of each of 2 books. We’ll find out how possible that is to accomplish — it’s a jump from 40 to 90 pages per day, and that might be too much. If Ringworld is a lower bound and God Particle is an upper bound, I can expect about 20 minutes per 10 pages read, which means I’ll need 180 minutes of reading time tomorrow. I haven’t decided on a third book to pick up yet — maybe The Stars My Destination, or maybe something outside of science or science fiction. My selection in that respect is a little limited.

One last note: This weekend my friend visited, and while we were out on the town (seeking chocolate milkshakes from McDonald’s), we indirectly witnessed a gruesome event. We were present in the cafeteria of the Eaton Centre here in Toronto when a gunman opened fire to kill one man and wounded six others, including a young teenager. McDonalds is slightly set into an alcove from the rest of the cafeteria, so while the vast crowd of people enjoying their Saturday fled and shouted, we (along with the other people in McDonalds) hid behind chairs and tables, and were soon allowed to exit via the kitchen door into the concrete hallways which ring the mall. After remaining in a locked washroom for several minutes, an order to evacuate the building came over the announcement system, and we found our way to an emergency exit.

I’m very glad that my friend and I were unharmed, and I wish the injured a speedy recovery. This appears to have been a gang-related shooting which harmed innocent bystanders. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking over the experience since yesterday, but I do not yet have conclusive thoughts on the subject. My recent reading of Stand on Zanzibar has put the topic of Muckers near the front of my mind — I searched to see if John Brunner was still alive to email him, but he died in 1995. My friend and I have tried to make relative light of the situation, because there’s little else that we can do. So far though, I’m not sure if I am dismayed by the lack of profound thoughts that have come out of the experience, or if I’m dismayed by my want to profit in some way from a tragedy like this.

In the end, I think finding positives in a situation — even philosophical ones — could be argued as callousness or pragmatism, or inhumane or thoroughly human, without any side laying claim to ultimate right. I would personally prefer to have something to take from this event; specifically something that can be shared or taught that will help improve the world. Unfortunately, no such thing is as yet forthcoming, and may never be.