Saturday, September 9

Must Review More Books

No rest for the book-reviewing weary . . .

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Do you love all things about 80s geek culture? D&D? Atari/TRS-80/Commodore 64 video games? Movies like War Games? Do you want to read hundreds of pages with endless references to all of these things? Well then, I've got the book for you!

Lets run through the setup: Dystopian type near future earth setting. Check. Everyone spends all their time hooked into a VR world that has replaced the internet. Gotcha. Super rich dude who invented the VR world dies and leaves all his money and ownership of the VR world to whoever can follow the clues. Bingo. Oh, and did I mention that he LOVED the 80s? As you're probably assuming, the protagonist is a poor high school aged kid that also loves the 80s. You're also right in guessing that he makes a few friends along the way, and that they get to fight against the evil, rich, powerful corporate bad guys who want to get even more rich and powerful. The book is better than I'm making it out to be here, but seriously, this book is written for males that like video games and were born between 1971 and 1978. If that's not you, this book may not be for you.

Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher
Cursor's Fury by Jim Butcher
I reviewed the first book in the series, Furies of Calderon, a while ago, and here is book 2 and 3 (of 6). Book two had a slow start. Book three was excellent. Other than the fact that every library I go to has all the books in the series except the next one I need, this series has been very, very good. This is one step below "excellent" in my make-it-up-as-you-go ranking system. Book four is sitting beside my bed right now. There isn't much to say that would make much sense if you haven't read the first book, but the world that Butcher is creating has expanded nicely, as the main characters become tangled up in larger politics and wars. If you've read any fantasy at all, you'll understand when I say that this is a book with a map on the first page. Anyway, I'm enjoying the series.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher
As I said, the library doesn't always have the book I need when I need it, so I picked up another book by Jim Butcher. The first book in a series is about Harry Dresden - he's a PI in present day Chicago who also happens to be a Wizard. This isn't Harry Potter style magic where you wave a magic wand and make essentially whatever you want happen. (Summon anything from anywhere! Turn anything into anything else! Stun someone! Turn their legs into jelly! Turn them into a ferret! Apparate to anywhere (except Hogwarts)! Turn yourself invisible! Do all the housework! Anyway . . . ) This Harry (Dresden that is) lives in a world with a much grittier type of magic and consults with the police when weird stuff goes down, as well as other jobs for private individuals. In this book he's got a gruesome double murder that the police don't understand, and a missing persons case and (lo and behold) things are all interconnected! The book was ok. There are now 15 books in the series. They pre-date the Fury books of his that I've read, so it's possible that his writing has improved over the years and the Dresden books would improve as the series goes on. (maybe?)

How Not To Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg
Math nerd book alert! Jordan Ellenberg is a math professor at the University of Wisconsin - he's like a real deal mathematician. The book essentially expounds on a couple of core topics which is that 1) math is useful to all sorts of problems, and 2) we would all be better off if we understood math better in order to not be wrong, and 3) that includes you. His goal is to demonstrate simple yet profound insights that good math gives to the world, and he points out plenty of bad math along the way. ("Bad math" being a large degree of what you see in the news, and nearly everything that you see from anyone on TV with an 'R' or 'D' after their name.) Ellenberg writes well, and manages to insert enough humor in the book that I start reading paragraphs aloud to Shannon. Shannon lovingly puts up with me when I do this. Coming in a bit over 400 pages, the book is a little longer than it needed to be, but I liked it. This book is accessible to anyone with a high school education and things like this should be read by more people (especially those people with the 'R's and 'D's after their name on CNN/FoxNews). Sadly, we all know that it's mostly math nerds that are going to read the book.

And since, in all likelihood, you aren't going to read the book please remember these things:

  • Not All Lines are Straight. Linear trend lines are often silly things to use.
  • 5% or more of scientific studies are wrong, because that's how we've designed our system.
  • If you never lose, you probably aren't taking enough risk.
  • Percentage increases or decreases are terrible to use if the numbers might be negative
  • All public opinion polls can be messed with to make them appear to say whatever you want them to say.

Thursday, September 7

So Many Books

I've made a terrible mistake. Apparently I haven't reviewed any books that I've read for nearly 3 months. I guess I've been busy with unemployment and stuff. So I'm 11 books and 4,820 pages behind, not counting the two books I'm currently in the middle of. Let's see if I still remember what all these books are about . . . .

Old Man's War by John Scalzi
The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
The Last Colony by John Scalzi
Hooray, a trilogy! Look at all this progress so far. This is a sci-fi story set in the somewhat distant future of Earth. Earth is still around and doing ok, but there are a number of colonies out there. There are two ways to get to the colonies. People from some developing nations can get one way tickets as colonists, and people from developed nations can volunteer for military service ... but not until the age of 75. What good are a bunch of old people marines? No good at all, but this is the future, where we can fix up your old and busted body - though we're a little vague on how that works. And that is about the extent of the information the main character, John, has when he decides to sign up for the military. You'll be shocked to find out that John is shocked to find out that life in the space marines (my name for it) is not at all what was expected. On the surface, this is "Ender's Game but with Old People" but it manages to create an interesting universe and fill it with interesting characters.

The next two books follow the universe that Scalzi created, not necessarily the characters in the first book. Some of them still play prominent roles, but John certainly isn't the protagonist of the second book. (But has a bigger role in the third book.) I think this is a nice little feature, because its frankly a little ridiculous when so many series have one main character who is miraculously present for every important event ever. Also, in looking this up on wikipedia to check on the spelling of Scalzi's name, I see there are three more books in the series. I'll tentatively add them to my list, though they aren't getting priority status.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
It takes a long time to read these books aloud to your kids. My vocal chords are glad we're finally done, but I miss the nightly reading time. Somewhere in book 5 or 6, I started the tradition of finding a silly way for Harry to die in every single chapter - long before I realized what sort of confusion I was potentially setting them up for by the end of book seven. It didn't really play out like I thought - it looks like our years of telling the girls that everything will turn out alright at the end of the book/movie has finally sunk in. Obviously an excellent book. Go read it to your kids.

Grandma Gatewood's Walk by Ben Montgomery
One day a sixty-something year old grandma from Ohio threw a denim bag over her shoulder (that she had made herself) and decided to go for a walk along the 2,100+ mile Appalachian Trail. She traveled alone, stopped at strangers homes to ask if she could sleep for the night, and foraged for food when she didn't have any better options. She was a month or so into her trip before she even bothered to write to her kids to tell them where she had gone. Emma Gatewood, at the age of 67 was the first woman to hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail. A few years later, she did it again. And then a third time (in sections) for good measure. Somewhere in there she decided to walk the Oregon Trail, too. (And I can't keep up on a blog of the books I read.) This was an excellent book about a lady who thought "it would be a nice lark" to hike the AT, and didn't see any reason why she couldn't do it.

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson
The title of this book is redundant, because all librarians are evil. They just don't want you to know it. They secretly rule the world, and withhold information, like the fact that dinosaurs aren't extinct (also they aren't as large as you think and they speak with a British accent) and that there are whole continents that don't show up on the maps that the librarians publish. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Alcatraz Smedry is your standard 13 year old foster kid who is always getting into trouble until the day that his grandfather (who he's never met) shows up and tells him that he is Not What He Seems™. You know how these books go: his parents were important people, and he is needed in the resistance against the evil librarians. Also, as a part of the Smedry family, he has special powers. Alcatraz has the ability to break things. His grandfather, Leavenworth, has a talent for showing up late to things. Other impressive Smedry talents include Falling Down, Speaking Gibberish that No One Can Understand, and Spilling Unbelievable Amounts of Water. This is a YA book which is not, in my opinion, as good as Sanderson's usual work, but could be fun for someone in the 10-13 age range that wants a somewhat silly adventure. Apparently there are 5 or 6 books in the series now, though I've only read the first one.

Friday, August 25

Return of the Utahns

We've now been Utahns again for one week. The move went pretty smoothly, really. We ordered a 22 foot truck, they actually gave us a 26 foot truck, and we only needed about an 18 foot truck, but better to have too much room than too little. (I was really hoping for the smaller truck to make it a little easier to drive and maybe save a few bucks on gas. Oh well, it was only $400 something to make it across the country (plus what Shannon put in the Accord).)

Anyway, now that we're back in our birth state, I thought it would be a good chance to see how things compare, and what things have caught my eye after 7 years away.

1. Butter is short and fat again. Long time readers of the blog will remember that the butter on the East side of the county comes in longer sticks. (Except the butter from Costco, which they must import from back East.)

2. Sprinklers. Ella keeps pointing them out everywhere we go. "Look! Sprinklers." We keep telling her that if she sees grass that is green that means there are sprinklers there. And boy is the grass green. It's like Utahns discovered that if a little bit of water makes is a little green, then let's just see how green we can make it. I haven't seen grass this green in a long time.

3. It's not that hot. Even when my phone says its 90 degrees, it doesn't seem like that big of a deal. Apparently humidity does make a difference. The sun is warm and strong, and since there are no clouds ever, well, time to invest in more sunblock for Shannon.

4. Staying on the weather theme, my nasal passages can tell that its a lot drier here.

5. I've been running a few times since getting here. I feel like its harder, but I've run just as fast at 4400' as I did at 600'. Either the elevation adjustment happens pretty fast, or its all in my head.

6. I keep forgetting that the ward is like a quarter mile across. It's only been a week, but the stake has already been split and the ward renamed. And it looks like we might only have one calling here - that's one calling between the two of us!

7. The drivers are . . . . fine. I've never really understood the common assertion that Utah drivers are terrible. One week back hasn't changed that opinion. I'm not saying they're the best I've ever seen (that's Michigan), but they aren't bad - certainly not worse than Illinois. Shannon has astutely pointed out that I haven't been on the freeway yet since the drive into the state, but I still think the complaints about Utah drivers are hyperbolic.

8. It's only been two days of school, but from what I can tell, my daughters elementary school is much more racially diverse than mine was. This is, of course, the lowest possible bar to hurdle, but still, while picking up the girls from school I've seen actual minorities. Also, I've been pleasantly surprised that they have class sizes of 27 and 29. Utah: where just getting under 30 students in a classroom seems like a big deal!

Wednesday, June 21

Mackinac Island Getaway

In 13 years of marriage, Shannon and I have spent, I think, 4 nights together away from our girls, and never more than one in a row. So, for a three-weeks-after-our-anniverary gift to ourselves, we went away on our own for three whole nights. (Shannon's parents were nice enough to stay at our house with the girls.) We decided to take our romantic getaway to Mackinac Island, which is a small island between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. (Lesson time: Mackinac Island is near Mackinaw City and yes, that's how you spell each of them. They are both, however, pronounced the same - "Mackinaw".)

Part of the allure of Mackinac Island is that there are no cars on the island. So if the whole point of the trip is to have a relaxing weekend with your spouse, no driving sounds pretty good. In our quest for a quiet, car-free weekend, we strapped our bikes on the back of the car and drove 7 hours to get there. Late May is really the earliest you want to try and vacation in northern Michigan. The daffodils were out up there, and the tulips were just starting, but we mostly avoided the rain and had temperatures in the 50s. The advantage to going in late May though, is that the hotels are about 15% cheaper before the main tourist season starts, and the island is much emptier.

We spent 2 nights on the island at the Cottage Inn, which is an 8 or 9 room B&B. Because I'm nuts, I got up the first morning and went for a run around the island. Literally, I ran around the whole thing, because I guess I wanted to be able to say that I had. (It's 8 miles around.) I went back to the B&B, had breakfast with Shannon and then we rode around the island together. There's a state highway that goes around the island, but because there's no cars you only have to contend with walkers, bikers and horses and horse-drawn carts. (The horses mostly stick to town.) Here are some sights:

Arch Rock. This is a sea arch from when the Great Lakes were deeper. This shot is from the road looking up at it. Once you climb the 6 kajillion stairs to the top . . . 

This is from the top of the arch, essentially. You can see the road around the island through the trees.

 Panoramic shot from the arch looking out across Lake Huron

Shannon at the beach. You can see the Mackinac Bridge in the distance, which connects the two Michigan land masses. While I did run and bike the island, we didn't do more than stick a finger in the water - it was extremely cold.

 Shannon at British Landing. The British landed here at night and sneaked up on the American fort on the island before they had even realized that the War of 1812 had started.

 Here's the view from the fort looking down on town. This is the main tourist part of the island. We stayed in the yellow house just to the left of the church steeple. The island is basically just tourists and people there to sell fudge and t-shirts to the tourists. I asked one college aged girl working at the fudge store what they all do on the island for the whole summer. Her response was, "I'll be honest with you. We work a lot of hours, and then we drink."

 From the fort looking over the town and harbor.

Having been around the island on day one, we used the second day to explore the interior of the island and head down dirt roads and trails to exciting sounding places like "Skull Cave" and "Crack-in-the-Island".

 Shannon was super impressed by Skull Cave.

This is Sugar Loaf rock.

This is Shannon standing inside Sugar Loaf rock.

 The sign said that there are many cracks in the island. This is the largest one. I can't imagine how we missed all those other ones.
Downtown Mackinac. I even saw a horse drawn street sweeping machine.

The Grand Hotel. We're far too poor to get any closer to the place than this, but it is beautiful.

After two days on the island our rear ends were tired of our bikes. We went back to the mainland and spent a night in Mackinaw City and then drove back home through the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin. (It wasn't all that exciting.)

Thursday, June 15

MLK Autobiography

For a rare treat, here's an entire post about just one book that I've read recently: The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. You may recall that three years ago, I tried to read a biography of Dr. King, and it didn't go so well. But despite how terrible that other book was, I still wanted to read more about Dr. King, so this was attempt number 2.

As is fairly obvious, this was written by Dr. King (autobiography, duh!) but kinda-sorta not, too. Dr. King never sat down to write an autobiography, so this is more of a collection of his writings that have been compiled to tell his life story. This has both positive and negative effects. On the one hand, there's no author to get annoyed by beyond Dr. King himself, and you get everything from the horses mouth, so to speak. On the other hand, there's no outside analysis of anything going on. No real discussion of greater impacts of his work, no dissenting opinion, and no real closure at the end, obviously. For me, this wasn't too important though.

This was very interesting to read, particularly in the current political climate, and made me think about some of the differences between his work, and what is going on today.

First off, Dr. King was a staunch believer in non-violence. No, that doesn't go far enough. He believed in non-violence not just as the best means to an end for civil rights, but as a moral imperative. He preached constantly that no amount of provocation warranted retaliation - and he remained steadfast in this conviction even as he was insulted, jailed, defamed and has his home repeatedly bombed. He refused to work with other groups that would not agree to his non-violent methods.

Second, the civil rights actions lead by Dr. King had a goal and had a plan. These days there seems to be a march every week or two. A women's march, a march for science or global warming, or something else. And then, having marched . . . . who knows? The famous Montgomery bus boycott spurred by the arrest of Rosa Parks went on for 380 days before their demands were met. For more than a year, people walked, biked and carpooled rather than be further subjected to racism. They didn't have a "March for Civil Rights," they had a focused boycott of a single industry with specific goals and they refused to give up until they achieved those. Other campaigns were focused on voter registration laws, or housing in Chicago.

Finally, it was impossible to read the book without thinking about thinking about what I would have done in that era. He was always quick to point out the many whites that participated in their actions, but was also fearless in calling out those who stood by and did nothing. Millions of people were being systematically kept from voting, from employment, from education, from housing and they were often told that they shouldn't be expecting so much change so fast. They were told that they should be more patient. What would I have done if I were there?

Wednesday, June 14

More books

The National Parks: America's Best Idea by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
Ken Burns made a documentary about national parks. I haven't seen it. But I have read the book they made to go along with it. This is a large book with lots of pictures; it borders on becoming a coffee table book, but it has plenty of meat to go along with the big beautiful pictures. It covers mostly the early history of the idea of the national parks with a lot of focus on Yosemite and Yellowstone. Having been to more than a dozen of these parks, it was fun every time the book got to one that I was well acquainted with. The book starts with a long preface (it's only like 8 pages, but the pages are really big) that about made me want to poke my eyes out as it went on and on talking about how nature feeds our souls or something like that. Thankfully that part ended and it stayed, for the most part, just a history book.

There's Nothing in this Book That I Meant to Say by Paula Poundstone
I love listening to Paula on Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, and she has a new book out. This is not it. This one is 13 years old. But it was available at my library. The premise of the book is Paula comparing and contrasting herself with historical figures in each chapter. So there's a chapter on Joan of Arc, one on Sitting Bull, one on Hellen Keller, etc. It pretty much goes like this: "When Joan was 17 years old, she took command of a company of troops. When I was 17 years old, I got my first pet turtle." And then you get three paragraphs about the turtle. It seems to be what most comedians do when they write a book - invent whatever system they want which is basically just a vehicle for writing out jokes. But Paula also gets very personal very quickly, covering her arrest for child endangerment, her problems with alcohol, and the year that her kids were taken away from her. And yet, she made me giggle through all of that.

Fletch by Gregory Mcdonald
Hopefully you've seen the film adaptation of this book with Chevy Chase, because it's terrific. Tracking down this book, though, was a lot harder. It was written in the 70s, and doesn't seem to be widely available. The movie follows the book relatively closely, so if you've seen the movie there won't be too many surprises. It was a good read, though, if you pick it up, be warned that there is more drug use, prostitution and language than the movie has.

Saturday, April 29

Sly Fox 10k Race Report

After deciding that long races are stupid, I ran the Sly Fox 10k last Saturday. Last year, I ran the Sly Fox Half Marathon, which was a fiasco as they messed up the course and left it about 1.2 miles short. I figured they wouldn't make the same mistake twice (and they didn't) so I signed up for the 10k this year.

Running this year hasn't been going nearly so well as last year. My mileage is down about 30% due to a mixture of illness, work, cold and malaise. Specifically over the last month I've either had a cold that just won't go away but keeps flaring up again once a week, or I've had 4 different colds. It's hard to tell. By race day I was still quite congested, but mostly felt fine. The weather turned out to be excellent: low 40s, clear and a slight breeze. After much wavering back and forth, I settled on running in just shorts and a short sleeve shirt. I did a half mile warm-up and headed for the starting line.

This is a fairly small race. Last year there were about 100 men and 200 women that did the 10k. It's also not a fast race. If the results online are to be trusted, the 10k winner last year ran it in 44 minutes. Even with a cold, I can beat 44 minutes. So I weaved my way through every single person in the starting area and put myself on the very front row. It felt pretty weird. They fired the gun and we took off. It's been 4 years since I've run a 10k. Every distance has it's own challenges, but I think for the 10k it's the fact that you have to run hard from the very beginning, but it's still a long-ish race. In a half marathon you get to start out easy enough that the first few miles are fun. Not so in a 10k. We took off and I was in 2nd place! For about 50 yards. After a quarter mile or so I had slid back to 5th. First place took off like a rocket; he either didn't know what he was doing and would crash hard after a mile or two or he knew exactly what he was doing and was going to crush us all. (It was the latter. 33:30 - wow!) The other three people in front of me seemed a little more reasonable, but 2nd and 3rd gradually pulled away over the first mile or two until I lost sight of them most of the time. Maybe on a better day or after a better month I could have stayed with them, but not today.

The race starts with a half mile of moderate uphill. Not steep or anything, but enough to get your heart rate up immediately. Then it flattens out until about 1.5 miles in. At that point we made it to the turn that was missed in the race last year. It turns out whoever started us lemmings on the wrong route last year might have known what they were doing, because the hills! Oh! The hills! They weren't long, but they were steep. 50 or 100 yards up, then back down, then back up again. It's lovely if you live on the street and drive on it. Not as easy to race up and down as it gently curves left and right as well. At the 2 mile mark I was roughly where I wanted to be at about 13:40 (6:50/mi). The turn around point was at the top of the longest climb of the race. Google tells me that it's not more than a quarter mile, but it felt much longer. I hit the midway point at 21:30. I was hoping for a 42 minute finish, so I was a full minute behind pace, but I didn't feel too bad about that. I didn't think that I could make up the whole minute on the second half, but given how bad those hills felt going up, I though I should be able to make up some of that on the way back.

I noted that the leader passed me on the way back at about the 19:00 mark. I didn't check the time on 2nd and 3rd place, but they were a few hundred yards ahead of me. I didn't need to check the time on 4th place though, because he was right in front of me. He had a lead of 30 yards or so, and throughout the whole race, that lead just wouldn't budge. I might close it by a little bit, but then it seemed like any ground I'd made up would be gone again. He couldn't lose me, and I couldn't catch up. At the speed we were running, 20 to 40 yards is a gap of 5 to 10 seconds.

The second half of the race didn't seem to feature nearly as much downhill as the first half had uphill. This must have been the route that all our parents walked to school through the snow, back in the day. Slowly, ever so slowly, I started to claw back some distance on 4th place. I saw him check back a few times during the race to see where I was. (I checked a few times behind me, but mostly couldn't see anyone back there.) I've rarely been in a situation where I'm trying to specifically pass someone at the end of a race, so I don't have a lot of experience at this, but I knew that the final quarter mile was a nice downhill so I gave it all I had and hoped to out kick him to the finish line. So I kicked, and I kicked hard, but no matter how fast I ran, I was barely closing on him at all and from behind it looked like he was just cruising along like he had been the whole race. In the end, he beat me by 2 seconds. A spectator (volunteer?) afterwards told me that she thought I'd catch him for sure, but it wasn't to be, apparently.

In the end, I don't feel too badly about how I ran. I finished in 42:58 (6:56/mi), 5th place over all (out of 268), 5th place among men (out of 90), and 1st in my age group (6 minutes ahead of 2nd, though 1st and 2nd overall were in my AG, too). It's also a 10 second PR for me, though it's still slower than the pace I did the half marathon at last year (assuming that the distance for the race was accurate [the people running with me with their fancy watches were in general agreement that we ran the full 13.1]). My goal for the summer remains to do a few more 10k's and try and get my time down to an even 40:00. I think that's a very ambitious goal, so we'll just have to see how it goes. I don't have the next 10k picked out yet. I don't have any pictures from the race because Julia was sick so the girls all stayed home, but here's my swag.

(Yes, it's a finisher's medal for a 10k, which I abhor, but I'm pretending it's an AG award, since what I really got was a gift card to a running store.)

Saturday, April 15

Book Heap

My house is a book heap. I'm not sure if I'm bragging or complaining. Maybe one of these days I'll take some pictures of what it looks like at our house when the books start to get out of hand. Books on the dinner table, books on the chairs, on the desk, and on the stairs. Books on the beds, book on the floors, books in the bathroom, books on the couch. It's a bit much sometimes. Our house very literally reminds me of a children's book we have titled "Books, Books, Everywhere". Actually, we have two copies, because of course we do. Anyway, recently I've read . . .

Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff
Last year I read "Lost in Shangri-La" wherein Zuckoff writes about a WWII plane that crashes in New Guinea and they have to go rescue them. In this book, a WWII plane crashes in Greenland, and they have to go rescue them. Actually, a plane crashes in Greenland so they send planes out searching for them and one of those planes crashes. So then they have to go rescue those guys, by, of course, sending out a plane to get them, which, of course, crashes. If you ever go back in time, don't try to fly over Greenland in the 1940s. Some of the people from crash #2 end up spending about half a year stranded on Greenland waiting to be rescued as attempt after attempt to go get them fails. The book also covers the present day attempts to go and located plane #3. The book was quite engaging, though I'm now ready for a break from books about rescuing people from plane crashes.

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
This is the first of the Disc World series. I didn't really enjoy this book much, it was just too silly. This is a fantasy series (41 books thus far!) with your standard medieval level technology, plus magic. But, in what must have started out as a late night "what would happen if . . . " sort of conversation, it's set on a world that is a flat disk. You can walk off the edge. The main characters are a failed magician, and the worlds first tourist, who has come from a far off land, and is both fabulously naive and wealthy. Adventures ensue. At times it's funny, but sometimes it feels overly silly, when indestructible walking luggage arrives on the scene, or when gods playing a game of dice make terrible monsters appear and disappear at random. I don't anticipate reading any more of the books.

Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein
First off, is that a name up there in the by line? Yes. The book is written by John Sandford, an author, and Ctein who is a photographer who happens to have degrees from Caltech in English and Physics. You know, as one does. Anyway, if you liked The Martian you should read this book. Or, at least, that's what the email from the library with book suggestions said. The premise behind the book is that some sort of alien object is spotted out around Saturn, and the US and Chinese are racing to get there and discover it first. There's lots of science and engineering in the book, and some action, though I was thankful that it didn't turn in to a "Mission Impossible: In Space" type of plot. It's worth reading, particularly if you've ever thought that most of your novels don't spend enough time discussing orbits and different types of space propulsion systems.

The Pig Did It by Joseph Caldwell
Shannon and I had some time to kill in the library, so we were laughing at the titles of terrible romance novels, when we walked by a book titled "The Pig Did It". Based on the title alone I decided to read the book. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. The main character, an author himself, decides to go spend some time with his aunt in Ireland so can walk along the beaches under grey skies and properly mourn over a recent failure in romance. Of course, a pig gets in the way, and then there's a corpse, and well, he never gets to spend much time brooding like he wants to. But this makes the book sound more action packed than it is. It's a lot of description and introspection and was kinda boring.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling
We're nearly done reading the series aloud as a family. Of course, over spring break Julia decided to re-read the first 4 books. Took her 2 days. We have a bit of a tradition where I find a way to slip Harry's death in to every chapter. Of course, the girls are expecting it now. We've recently started book 7. Lets just say this is a trick that I've been building up to for about half a year now . . . .

Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher
Let's see . . . fantasy novel . . . medieval technology . . . people with one of 4 or 5 kinds of magic powers . . . big empire facing revolution . . . young orphan boy growing up way out in the middle of no where who just happens to live right where all the action is starting to happen. Yeah, this hits all the standard features of the genre. But then, the young boy, who just happens to be the only person with absolutely NO magic powers turns out to . . . wait for it . . . still not have any magic powers. It's actually one of the more redeeming points of the book, because while an obvious way to be original, it actually is original. Anyway, its the first in a series that I will keep reading, because I find the characters interesting enough.

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
A year or two ago I got all self righteous about the extreme proliferation of YA novels that people read. At times, it seems as though many adults I know only read books written for teenagers. One casualty of this bibliozealotry was The Rithmatist. But you know what? Sanderson is an excellent writer, so you should just read everything he writes regardless of what category they put it in at the library. Don't make the same mistake I did. Sadly, he seems to be trying to set a record for the greatest number of different series that can be in progress at once, and apparently he can only write a limited number of books per year. Oh well.

Saturday, April 8

My Hat

A year ago, we went to Washington DC and surrounding areas. Everyone in our family was allotted one souvenir for the trip. Shannon got a cameo necklace at Gettysburg on the first day. The girls opted for stuffed pandas from the National Zoo on day 4. But even through all the gift shops we walked through, I couldn't find a souvenir that met my high standards. Eventually, we made it to the 6th and final day of the trip, in our 6th state that week and at our last stop of the day: the headquarters of the Appalachian Trail. And there, I finally found my souvenir - an AT hat.
I was due for a new hat, and there it was with its white blaze on the front, which is how the 2,000+ mile Appalachian trail is marked on its run from Georgia to Maine. So I happily bought the had (and a key chain) and our trip was complete.

When our recent trip to Disneyland came up I packed my hat and wore it each day at the park. That is, I wore it until the morning of the last day in the park, when the final moments of my hat were captured on film:
Fractions of a second after this picture was taken, my hat went flying off, forever lost in the brier patch. After dutifully stowing backpacks, hats and sunglasses (not only for myself but for the girls also) for more than two days, I never considered the hat on my head as we climbed on that ride, and it was gone in the blink of an eye, gone to a watery grave in the Splash Mountain water filtration system.

I went back a few times during the day to see if my hat turned up at Splash Mountain, but without luck. We checked the park lost and found on our way out at the end of the day, but they gave me a business card with instructions to call back the next day. I waited 5 days before calling and gave them what has to be one of the more detailed descriptions of a lost hat that they've ever had. They went and looked - no hat. I left my contact information, but they pretty well admitted that if it hadn't turned up after 5 days, the odds were against me.

Shannon, being an excellent wife, got on line and ordered me a new hat (1400 miles of driving not required) which arrived a few days later:
But, of course, as soon as she did that, Disneyland called to let me know that my hat had turned up! Who knows where it had been for 9 days, but it doesn't matter, that which was lost is found.
So now I have two of my favorite hat. A brand new one, and a broken in, wrinkly version that shows some oxidation on the metal on the back from spending some time in the water.

As a side note, it took a lot of searching, but we finally found something free at Disneyland! They pay for the shipping to send stuff back to you! Given what airlines charge these days, I think next time we go, I'll "lose" my entire suitcase at Disneyland and save myself some checked baggage fees.

Friday, March 24

Disney Photos

I don't take many pictures, but here are a few from our trip to Disneyland. Shannon and my parents took pictures too, but, well, I guess you'll have to wait for them to post them on their own blogs or something. The picture quality isn't always great and I'm too lazy to even think about editing them even a tiny bit, so, on that note, here are some pictures:

The view from our hotel room looking into California Adventure. The weather was lovely.

 Ella carried this leaf around all day. Not sure what kind it is, but it came from this tree.

Julia, being sensible, knew I wasn't going to buy her this lollipop for like $114, so she just got her picture with it instead.

 Tigger and Eeyore. I hopped out of line before we got to Pooh. Despite not talking, Eeyore was definitely a sweetie.

 Thankfully, Disney has one line you can wait in to see multiple princesses, so for our 30 minutes of waiting, we got to see Snow White, and this new princess they've recently invented (fine, I googled her for you, she's Elena) but really, we were there to see . . .

Cinderella. Ella made it clear that meeting Cinderella was a requirement for the trip. Not even her (Ella) tiny little bladder would be allowed to get in the way as we waited in line.

I was not convinced that meeting Tinkerbell was a priority. But 25 minutes later, here we were. (Fun fact: Tinkerbell speaks French (at least this Tinkerbell does).)

Ella in Toon Town

Julia is a much more aggressive driver, evidently.

All of us (plus plastic Goofy) in the hotel lobby, wearing our new Disneyland t-shirts.