thing explainerThe Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe is an unusual book. I have never seen one quite like it. Its full-page diagrams contain details of complex things using only the most common 1000 words (which are listed alphabetically at the back of the book.) Topics range from the human torso (“bags of stuff inside you”), to a helicopter (“sky boat with turning wings”),  oil rigs (“stuff in Earth we can burn”), and washing machines (“boxes that make stuff smell better”), to name just a few. It is hilarious and educational at the same time.

Munroe’s elevator is a “lifting room.” He doesn’t neglect to inform that riding one while facing the back wall is likely to make others think you are strange. He still manages to provide a thorough explanation of its mechanical workings.

I suppose some parts of the book could be construed as bringing too much irreverence to what are usually regarded as important and serious topics. For instance, according to Munroe, nuclear bombs are “machines for burning cities.” If you have a certain sense of humor and are even a little bit interested in science, however, you are more likely to find this fresh, almost child-like approach endearing.

The book’s temporary residence on our kitchen table at home sparked some delightful conversations among all ages.

Randall Munroe is the author responsible for the xkcd webcomic.

citizenfourI have a guilty secret to share. Sometimes I go weeks without paying attention to the news, only checking the surface for sports scores or when a major event happens that is all over social media. As a result, when I’m busy or stressed, I can have no idea what is happening in the world outside my personal bubble. My news-watching habit was pointed out to me when I checked out the movie, Citizenfour, to watch one day.

The person on the cover didn’t look familiar, but the plot sounded promising: a behind-the-scenes look into privacy invasions by the NSA. I started watching and wondered continuously who this “Citizenfour” character was, a person conversing with director Laura Poitras and later with journalist Glenn Greenwald through incredibly encrypted and secure channels, one who was telling them that the secrets they had to share would blow the lid off of a huge governmental conspiracy.

Even when Poitras and Greendwald flew to Hong Kong to meet Citizenfour at the hotel room where he had been camping out, I still had no idea who he was, but the topic was fascinating. Hundreds upon thousands of classified documents that he had taken from his contracting job with the NSA that highlighted evidence of mass numbers of both indiscriminate and illegal privacy invasions that the NSA had perpetuated over many years. That tickled my brain. Things were starting to sound familiar. I then looked closer at the face on the screen. Edward Snowden! That’s what this was about.

Citizenfour follows Snowden’s decision to hand over thousands of classified documents that he gathered while being on loan to the NSA about many different secret programs and projects that the NSA and other governmental organizations had put together, as well as some information about the programs that other countries were a part of, all under the guise of surveillance after the tragedies of September 11th. What I found to be interesting about this documentary was that Snowden wanted the focus to be on the information contained within the classified documents and less on the person that was leaking them to the press, himself. The interactions between Snowden, Poitras, and the journalists that he came in contact with while in Hong Kong highlight the varying degrees of secrecy, intelligence gathering, and electronic surveillance that Snowden was seeking to expose to the world. Unplugging the hotel phone, hiding under a sheet to type in his password, talking through notes passed back and forth may seem to a passing person like signs of paranoia, but as Snowden highlights throughout this documentary, the government is capable of tapping into anything and everything, whether we choose to believe it or not.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, check out the materials below!

after snowdenno place to hide1971odyssey of an eavesdropperthe shadow factory

There are a number of variables that can screw up the wi-fi transmission in your house: overall distance, changes between levels, idiosyncrasies between hardware manufacturers, or maddening and unpredictable interference in the walls.  If your supposedly “plug-and-play” router is more like hours of “trial and-error” maybe this DIY extender from Discovery Channel is just the ticket.  What else are you going to do, use the internet in one set location like it was 2001?

We can only assume the parabolic setup is the same as the increased strength sound is given by the folks on the NFL sidelines holding parabolic dishes.

I’d add onto the list of ingredients a little masking tape to blunt the edge of the razor sharp aluminum, because, well, you’ve got enough problems with wireless without an emergency room trip, right?

NOTE: We don’t know if this works, it just looked interesting.  Please consider these tips, which include a tinfoil parabola.

It is finally here – our library’s eBooks are now available for Kindle users through WILBOR! It’s really easy to use- just log onto Wilbor with your Davenport Public Library card and start searching for eBooks.  Simply choose the Kindle version of the book you would like and after you complete the checkout process you will be transferred straight to Amazon.  Log in to your Amazon account, choose where you would like the book delivered and the next time you connect to a wi-fi network – voilà –  your eBook will be waiting for you.

For additional information, visit the WILBOR site for tips, tutorials and frequently asked questions or please contact the Reference Department at the Davenport Public Library.