To all of the readers and Co-Conspirators of the Volokh Conspiracy. The Anderson family had a lovely Christmas, with our daughter home from her first semester at Rice University, which she loves despite spending the semester with mono and strep and returning home early for an urgent tonsillectomy. Santa delivered Ipads to Beloved Wife and me, which I am finding harder to set up than I would have expected, mostly due to having to change a whole raft of Apple, Itunes, and MobileMe passwords and settings, and upgrade to the Lion operating system. Not quite as seamless as I had hoped, but I’m powerfully eager not to haul my laptop around as much.
I gave everyone in the family Volokh Conspiracy tote bags. Enough said, and that’s not all I gave Beloved Family. (Inside Beloved Wife’s bag were a couple of Agnes B shirts I tracked down cheap on Ebay; I don’t know much about clothing, men’s or women’s, but I knew from long experience these would be good choices.)
Beloved Daughter gave me two books. The first is Football for Dummies because, well, that’s my level of knowledge. But I’m expected to cheer for my alma mater, UCLA, and now for Rice, although I’m told I should not expect many victories. The second is one of the coolest books I’ve received in a long time, which Beloved Daughter found at a Rice library used book sale. How Things Work is a 1961 book by a mechanical engineer and editor with a trade magazine in the late 1950s (I’ve got the title slightly wrong – I’ll find it and the author and amend this). It explains in simple language and great drawings how the mechanical and electrical devices of ordinary life work. Refrigerators and sewing machines, air conditioning and electric motors, fuses and light bulbs, zippers and car engines. The reason it is so great is that these are still (as Tyler Cowen and others have pointed out) the machines of daily life, minus the semi-conductor revolution.
One of the strange things is that a lot of popular mechanics and pop sci stuff somehow skipped a generation with me – I learned a lot more about abstract theories and things like relativity and genetics as taught in the 1960s than mechanical things. Somehow those were taken as obvious – but let me be the first to admit I could not truly explain how a zipper works. And though I knew about atomic theory, I was hazy on the practicalities like AC and DC. Or for that matter, why a toilet has the shape it has. The emerging technologies were computers and such; mechanical objects were assumed. So this book is a pleasure to read and I’m filling in some crucial gaps about ordinary things. I’d always been an “assume the can opener” kind of guy – without much clue exactly how a can opener works. Interestingly, these basic principles of machines and power transfer are at the heart of another book that Santa brought – Mark Ripptoe’s Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training, which has many drawings showing how levers and fulcrums drive a lot of strength training such as the dead lift.
Our family also watched the entire Lord of the Rings this week. Apparently this is not that uncommon; I saw that Michael Totten said the same on his FB page and promptly got a bunch of responses saying, yeah, we do that too. I suppose it’s because the three parts each came out at Christmas. And when else will you have the time? But – I defer to Ilya on this – it seems to me there is a spiritual message there that is not precisely religious but part of that which religion and spirituality have always stood to combat – the temptation to despair. That seems to me the biggest reason why we found the movie appropriate for Christmas. Resisting despair at the individual level, and using bonds of affection – trust, loyalty, fidelity – to combine together for the greater good and to resist the greater evil.
(I’ve left comments open.)