December 5, 2020
Wendy and I are concluding the ninth month of a contracted lifestyle during the COVID-19 pandemic. I expect we face at least six more months of daily masking, distancing, and hand hygiene at work. We’re probably going to have limited travel for another four months or more, with only remote contact with our elderly parents, since as educators we might be able to get vaccinated in early spring.
We would normally be enjoying vacations around the region and out west, so we daydream about our future travels. But it is likely that for over a year our farthest outings will wind up having been one-hour drives. We occasionally head south to Tulsa to get each of us a Chatsworth boxty to-go from Kilkenny’s (with Irish Balloons, of course). Then we head over to Southroads Shopping Center so she can get painting supplies at Michael’s while I browse at Barnes & Noble.
Elk River Trail
But an hour’s drive from Bartlesville in the opposite direction gets us to Elk City Lake, where there are many nice trails. During the pandemic, Wendy and I are only interested in day hikes on narrow nature trails if there are few fellow perambulators. Last summer we drove out to Osage Hills State Park west of Bartlesville, but decided to redirect to the city’s Hudson Lake when we saw how many people were out enjoying the nice trails at Osage Hills which I mapped years ago. This fall we made the hour’s drive north for an enjoyable Halloween outing to the seldom-frequented middle section of the Elk River Trail.
Bridge Project at Osage Hills
Back at Osage Hills, I’m excited that a new roadway bridge is being built to reach Lookout Lake. Kenneth Standish, Jr. was one of Wendy’s Student Tech Support Team students last year. He made replacing the old bridge to Lookout Lake, which often washed out, his Eagle Scout project. We contributed $1,200 of an impressive $15,000 Kenneth has raised to partner with the Osage County Commissioners in replacing the bridge with a higher I-beam structure that won’t require repeated repairs. I truly appreciate Ranger Nick Conner’s updates at the Osage Hills State Park Facebook page.
I look forward to when I can drive across that bridge in my car, which is adorned with an Oklahoma State Parks license plate. That is a fun way to support them.
Most pandemic weekends you can find me strolling along one part or another of Bartlesville’s Pathfinder Parkway trail system. Back when the weather and foliage were cooperative, I shot many photos along the way and at Johnstone and Jo Allyn Lowe parks.
Wendy joins me on walks in our neighborhood, but I’m usually solo on the Pathfinder. Since my brain is seldom in repose, I have always enjoyed listening to audiobooks on my walks and hikes. My classic Apple AirPods are okay, but I long preferred my Plantronics Backbeat Fit headphones for walks.
Then Mat Taylor of Techmoan, one of the YouTube creators I support on Patreon, posted a review of the Aeropex AfterShokz bone-conducting headphones. I trust his judgment and, given my tinnitus and hearing loss, decided they were worth a try. Wendy has far more acute hearing than I do, so I routinely use earphones around the house. These bone conduction ones don’t block the ear canal, so I can hear ambient sound better and just tap a button to communicate with Wendy or someone I greet on the Pathfinder, rather than push and pull plugs out of my ears.
The downsides to these bone conduction headphones are their Bluetooth reception and their rigid loop. Their connection to my iPhone or iPad is more likely to encounter interference from our microwave oven or cut out with distance. The rigid loop, compared to the loopless AirPods and flexibly linked Backbeat Fit plugs, has to be shifted when I’m relaxing in my recliner listening to YouTube videos on my iPad. But I wear them routinely, only shifting to my AirPods when the Aeropex ones need charging. And I hardly ever use my Backbeat Fit ones anymore.
Books ⇒ Kindles ⇒ Swings ⇒ Boox
Long-time readers of this blog will know that I am an avid reader. You might even know I was an early adopter of the Amazon Kindle e-ink devices. I have owned at least seven of them since I bought my first one a dozen years ago. The basic technology has changed little, with the most significant improvement being lighting beginning with the Paperwhite in 2012. I still use a Kindle Voyage I purchased in 2014, but I regret purchasing an Oasis in 2019.
With age, my eyesight has diminished along with my hearing. So I purchased the Oasis to get a bigger screen: the Voyage is the usual 6″ diagonal, and the Oasis bumped that up to 7″. But it didn’t make enough difference to matter, and I prefer a device of uniform thickness over its odd shape, which I find annoying to hold. I also prefer having forward and back buttons on each side on the Voyage over the one-side buttons on the Oasis. And if you like physical page turn buttons, none of the current Kindles have them except the Oasis.
So during the pandemic I have found myself often reading a book using the Kindle app on my iPad. There are two downsides to that for me: the screen and a lack of focus.
The iPad is bright, colorful, and interactive. That makes it great for my daily reading of the Tulsa World, USA Today, Washington Post, and Bartlesville Radio News, although the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise’s iPad app has been unreliable of late. And the iPad is great for YouTube and Facebook. But reading a book on its bright screen can be tiring, and any LCD screen is a poor experience outdoors.
The sepia mode on the Kindle app helps a bit, but then there is the focus issue. The screen is always sharp, so the issue is my own. It is far too easy on the iPad to jab the home button to shift away from a book to look up something on Wikipedia, get distracted with something on YouTube, or, heaven forbid, start doomscrolling on Facebook.
This was driven home to me this autumn when I decided to read Keith Robertson’s crime novels. He wrote the Henry Reed series which I enjoyed as a child. Out of nostalgia and a desire to escape from the pandemic, I purchased Henry Reed’s Journey to revisit that tale and its fun illustrations by Robert McCloskey. I don’t enjoy illustrations on a Kindle, so I bought a used hardcover copy.
I enjoyed re-reading the book, but I was bemused to see how one incident, where Henry is stained brown to blend in with some Hopis, to ride with them on a parade float, has aged terribly.
Originally I could not recall the book’s title or even Henry Reed, only that it had shared the adventures of a boy and girl riding across the country in a station wagon, and there had been multiple books with those characters. The internet helped me identify it, but it also revealed that Robertson had written a series of crime novels, long out of print, using the pseudonym of Carlton Keith.
I couldn’t find them in electronic format for my Kindle, so out of curiosity I purchased on eBay an old pulp paperback copy of A Gem of a Murder, originally published as The Diamond-Studded Typewriter in 1958. Its cover was not illustrated by Robert McCloskey but by Harry Schaare.
I enjoyed the book, so I bought the rest of his crime books, again in used paperback and hardback copies. Amazon didn’t have most of them, but Abebooks let me order copies from used bookstores. One came in from Warr Acres, quite close to where I grew up, but others came in from Illinois, Ohio, New York, Tennessee, and…New Zealand. Isn’t the internet marvelous?
I spent part of the time reading the first book out on the patio on the covered two-seater swing which Wendy helped me assemble this summer. As it turned out, that experience proved costly.
I loved the swing, but found myself stretching out on it sometimes to read. Even at only 5’8″, my legs were sticking way out over one side when I did that.
So this fall I decided to move it to the mini-deck I had assembled beside our shed last year. For the patio I purchased a 3-seater version of the same swing, which Wendy again helped me set up. I can stretch out far more easily on it and have continued to enjoy both swings. So purchasing a 60-year-old pulp paperback on eBay for less than $10 led me to spend hundreds more on a larger swing. C’est la vie.
But, patient reader, you may ask, “What does any of that have to do with Kindles?”
Well, while reading that old paperback on the patio, I stayed engrossed in the story. It transported me from a sunny patio in Oklahoma to various locales in New England, wondering what its protagonist, a smart-aleck red-haired document examiner, would do next. I wasn’t able to distract myself by looking up the story environs on the internet, opening Wikipedia to check on something, or ending a chapter to wander off into a video.
I’m still no longer a fan of physical books unless they have illustrations. I prefer the Kindle. And I like an actual Kindle device, with its non-glare e-ink screen and laughably limited internet capability, over the Kindle app on my iPad. But while the 6″ screen on my Kindle Voyage is perfect for reading a book on the go, such as in a restaurant (oh yes, I’ve missed that for the past nine months), it is a tad small for me when relaxing at home.
I longed for an e-ink Kindle about the size of my iPad. But Amazon doesn’t offer any such thing. They stopped selling the 9.7″ Kindle DX years ago. But they do have the Kindle Android app…
I also am a Patreon supporter of Alec Watson of Technology Connections. Last year he showed an Onyx Boox Max 2 with a 13.3″ e-ink screen, although he advised viewers not to buy it, delving into its pros and cons. That led me to splurge on a 10.3″ Boox Note Air; here’s a review video. It has a fancy stylus, supports gestures, etc., but all I really care about is that I can read Kindle books on its big e-ink display.
It arrived earlier this week, but COVID-related work for the district was too unrelenting for me to have the energy to even turn it on until Friday night. I’ve only read a few pages of a book using the Kindle app on this Android device, but I’m quite hopeful that this will be a boon for my reading.
The shot below compares the screen sizes for my iPad, the Boox Note Air, the Kindle Oasis, and the old Kindle Voyage.
Holding my Boox Note Air feels much like holding my iPad, but its e-ink screen is actually a bit larger. Below I’ve opened the same book, one with an illustration, on each device. (For the curious, this is from the Cooling the Lava part of John McPhee’s The Control of Nature, about how the residents of Heimaey, Iceland saved their harbor by spraying water on the volcanic lava flow threatening to close it off.)
I can adjust the brightness and hue of the Boox Note Air, going continuously from bluish to sepia to white. I’m hopeful the large non-glare e-ink screen will cause less eyestrain than reading on the iPad and keep my reading more focused.
One good thing about the pandemic is that it has supported my love for reading. Since COVID-19 canceled our Spring Break trip, I have read 22 books on my Kindle and listened to another 18 books on my iPhone. Adding in physical books brings my consumption in 2020 to 45 with four weeks still to go, whereas I read a total of 38 books in 2019 and only around 25 books each in the two years prior to that.
I think it is time to close this discursive look at some of my pandemic pastimes. I end with a quote from the lovable little Lewis Meyer, who reviewed books for decades on Tulsa’s channel 6 in the longest-running book show in America.
The more you read,
the taller you grow.