Month: August 2006


I should be wiser. Having a reading queue the length of a mid-sized transatlantic and being easily captured by a book, I should avoid bookstores like hell. This time I am delighted not to be so wise because otherwise I wouldn’t have stumbled in Elianto by Stefano Benni and I would have lost this good reading for God knows how much time yet. Usually, a book hooks me through the back cover lines (or the inside cover leaflet in case of a hardback). This time I opened the book and found a strange, hand-drawn map covering two pages. Wow seems something like “Lord of the Rings”! Then I turned to the back cover but I was already hooked and I already knew in my heart that soon some money would have left my wallet.

Benni always satisfied my reading taste and this time was even better. The story of Elianto is so poetic, evocative, and dramatic that the fact that is so well told is just its natural consequence.

The story takes place in a country named Tristalia (in English could sound like “Sadtaly”). The country is run by a computer and every year twenty presidential candidates challenge themselves in a sort of living (well ‘deadly’ could be more appropriate) reality show, the one who survives wins and can rule the country for a year.

Every few years sorts of tournament games are held to recognize the autonomy of counties. These games (as with everything else) are cheated to create the best outcomes for better ruling the country.

Moreover every day every family is called to vote in the daily poll. If they guess the majority of the answers they get electricity, water, TV, and warming, otherwise they are excluded for the day from the usual supply.

This is not so different from the background of other books by the same writer, where the Italian sociopolitical situation is exaggerated and distorted with a humorous, but chilling effect.

Elianto is a young teenager badly ill. He is in a hospital for terminal diseases. He is the only boy who has defeated the pluri-awarded Baby Esatto the current government champion for the next autonomy games.

Elianto is dying, but his friends want to save him. So wants the Devil, yes the Evil One (but no more evil than the worst human), because doing evilness in Tristalia is so widespread that there is no longer an intriguing challenge to tempt humans from that country.

A great warrior is sent after another yet greater warrior to defeat the government champion of Evil Fight, Rollo Napalm.

Elianto’s friends, three devils, and the cloud warrior Fuku with two bonsai-sized yogis will go, every group its way, searching for what they consider the remedy. Meanwhile, Elianto will be endangered by one of the doctors who run the hospital under Baby Esatto’s influence.

There are many strong points in the book: there are many unforgettable characters so well defined into their roles. Hard to read the death personification (a Flamenco dancer) without feeling anything. The background is satiric and frightening. The idea of parallel universes is not new per se, but it is approached freshly. A map is needed to travel from one universe to another. This map is either cast by a full moon through an old tree onto a wall in Elianto’s room or found on the back of an eel can (and the eel inside is not only alive but forecasts the future). Or it is found on a micro piece of paper obtained by processing a single grain of rice. Or it can be found tattooed on the butt of a devil.
Well, until now, if you have to read just one book by Benni, read this. If in doubt with another writer, read this. Highly recommended.

Ice Station

Some days before leaving for holidays my wife and I go to the library to borrow some books for her. While waiting for my wife choice I skimmed though the books. Being in a library is always a strong feeling for all those, like me, enjoy reading. Having recently read “deception point” by Dan Brown that tells about polar station and the like, I was promptly attracted by this “Ice Station” by Matthew Reilly.
I was quite curious to see how the same core idea (an alien evidence found in Antarctica) would be treated by two different writers.
The idea is simple, there is this polar scientific station where somewhat that could be an alien spaceship is found well below the sea level. The cave where the artifact is found is reachable only via scuba diving for some 900m.
The first divers group loses the radio contact with the base right after reaching the cave. The second team with rescue purposes follows the same fate.

The personnel in the base decide to call for help, but a solar activity severely hampers the communication. In the help request the wireless operator talks about an alien spaceship.
Although no answer is received, the call has been listened by three different countries – USA, France and Great Britain. Antarctica is not really under any jurisdiction and basically no law is enforced.
The story focuses on the marine commander “Scarecrow” Schofield who heads the US mission with the goal of defending the spaceship.
The premise is intriguing enough and the book is written pretty well and the story is full of action so I have been hooked in pretty fast.
There are a couple of minor glitches: first the plot is excessively based on coincidences. Beware of the spoil: the base is built over an old and forgotten military base. A few miles away another abandoned ice station is located and this base is in the iceberg were Schofield and another pal found themselves after a fighting. In this base, lost more than 30 years before they found two perfectly working scuba sets.
Other examples of this are: founding the right weapon or being at the right place.
The other glitch is about science. Diving in a bell requires the bell itself to be pressurized to balance the pressure of the water (otherwise the water would fill the bell). Moreover 900 is quite a high pressure for a scuba diver. If it is not beyond human capabilities is right away. Then, at least as far as I know, scuba divers must be extremely careful on decompression because of embolism while the writer is more concerned about compression.
Anyway these are just minor annoyances the book is really good ad I appreciated it far more than Dan Brown’s.

How to dissect your Palm Tungsten C

Good news first – my Palm Tungsten C is fine and happily running with replaced batteries. Bad news, consider pretty carefully if you really want to do it yourself. I read that the maintenance people could charge you 170$ for the operation, that could cost no more than 40€ if you do it yourself. But … doing it by yourself is risky, you could send the little gizmo in the grey silicon pastures of heaven.
Ok, you take the risk, here’s the instructions. Have a look at yesterday post for a link to some good and detailed pictures of the operation).
With your trusty Torx screwdriver unscrew all the four screws on the back of the PDA. The back is kept in place by two clips about at the middle one on the left and one on the right side. There is nothing to do but to gently pull the back inserting your nails in the sides.
Now the back is removed, take a deep breath and astonished watch for a while what could be stone dead in a matter of seconds.
You see a small board piggy-back’ed on a larger one, fixed with two (standard) screws and with a single black wire going upward. That board is the wi-fi module. Unscrew the two screws and then pull gently the wi-fi module away from the main board. It won’t come easily because there is a connector below. Be gentle and firm and stay relaxed.
Now the main board. This flat bastard is hold by four little plastic tags (two per sides) and has the keyboard connector below (very similar to the one from which you unplugged the wi-fi module). Moreover the audio plug will try to stay where it is (upper right) keeping together the rest of the system. First use a pin or something like that to unplug the battery connector on the middle left edge. Then lift the board so that the board is above the four tags, then unplug the keyboard connector and eventually slide the board toward the lower edge being careful about the audio plug.
And now you can see the batteries. Don’t hold your breath, they won’t jump out of their place… they have been glued (!) to the tin sheet below. Start from a side and use a screwdriver as a lever to gently (again) pull the batteries out.
Perfect you are halfway, replace the batteries paying attention to keep the right orientation of the original pack. The put back the main board. Slide it in first with the audio plug (maybe you have to lift the screw hole at the top), move it below the tags and then push the bottom to make the connection to the keyboard.
Connect the batteries, this require some skill since the connector is to be … invited in the right place rather than put, since there is not space for your fingers here.
Put the wi-fi module back, press it to connect and then screw it in place.
Eventually put the back cover, verify that the two clips hold it and eventually screw the 4 screws.
Done… Count up to three and connect it to the power. Mine worked at first attempt, I had just to synchronize it to have it in the same state it was before replacing the batteries. I lost a kg in the process.

Taking your PDA apart

Maybe you have a PDA. Maybe it is a Palm. Maybe it is a Palm Tungsten C. Maybe you want to replace the batteries. Maybe.For sure that’s what I want to do. The first obstacle to overcome is to open that darn thing. Once you find the Torx 6 screwdriver you’ll find that the back cover is quite still attached despite the fact that you have unscrewed all the four screws. After googling around I found these pictures where you can see there are two small clips. Just use your nails and force the cover so it can unplug. Next step is to remove the board to uncover the batteries.