Wednesday, December 13

December books

Unemployed = more time to read.

Things to Make and Do in the 4th Dimension: A Mathematicians Journey Through Narcissistic Numbers, Optimal Dating Algorithms, at Least Two Kinds of Infinity and More by Matt Parker

I think that title just about explains it. Matt Parker is a funny Brit who makes Youtube videos about "Maths". I read this right after "How Not to Be Wrong" by Jordan Ellenberg. While Ellenberg's book is much more about the usefulness of math in life, Parker focuses on math that is interesting simply because it is interesting. At this point, many people would say, "math isn't interesting," to which I reply, "don't read this book". Even for me, the chapters describing higher dimensional geometry got a bit long, but Parker is a funny guy, and I like math, so I still liked his book.

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
The back cover of this book describes this fantasy world as "steampunk pirate blimps" or something like that, which I thought was the perfect description, though apparently not perfect enough for me to remember the exact wording. It's your classic Sci-Fi/Fantasy set up of some young adults being in the wrong/right place at the right/wrong time, and getting mixed up in the start of a war, and being sent on a secret mission now that they're involved. This is the first, and thus far only, book in a series. It was pretty interesting. There are sentient cats that can talk - though they only speak Cat, of course, and no cat would ever stoop to learning to speak human, so if you want to talk to them, you'll have to learn Cat. There are also a few wizard-types whose sensitivity to "the force" (if you will) has the side effect of making them very batty. Worth reading if you're into that sort of book.

Children of the Fleet by Orson Scott Card
Not worth reading, even if you are into that sort of book. Apparently Card has decided to write yet another book in the Enderverse. I suppose he needed to buy some more dark chocolate and bird seed. The book takes place a handful of years after the end of Ender's Game, where Battle School has been re-branded as Fleet School. The kids aren't quite as young, and it isn't training kids for combat, but for leading fleet colonization expeditions. It's also exclusively for the kids of people who are in the IF, or at least live in space, not the earthbound folk. Ender Dabeet Ochoa who was so unmemorable that I had to look up his last name despite finishing the book less than a week ago. He's super smart, but also arrogant and oblivious to the fact that he's arrogant and the no one likes him. He's been raised on earth by his mother, who won't tell him anything about his father other than that he's in the IF. (Surprise, it's end up being just who you'd guess!) Anyway, of course he gets caught up in an elaborate plot and has to work with other kids to save the day. From the start, I found the plot uninteresting and was literally waiting for the initial problem to be resolved or shown to really be about something else. Nope, turns out that's really what the plot was. Dabeet was in danger, but I didn't care enough about him, or anyone else, to care about the plot. Huge portions of the book are just Dabeet by himself trying to figure out how to get along with humans, or perhaps discussing the same with at most one other person.

I give Card a lot of leeway on books, particularly Ender related books. I like most of his Enderverse books (Ender in Exile, for example) more than many. But Children of the Fleet just isn't very good. It's not funny, and it's certainly not action packed.

The Lost City of Z by David Grann
In the early 20th century, there were few places on Earth left to explore. The North Pole, the South Pole and the Amazon Rain forest (remember Teddy Roosevelt going down the River of Doubt?). Englishman Percy Fawcett was one of the premier jungle explorers, who managed to explore his way through places no one else had ever been, and do it quicker than ever expected. He believed in small expeditions, non-violence toward natives and keep up a grueling pace. Over his many years in the jungle based on stories from natives and early explorers he became convinced that the Amazon had the remains of a great civilization and great city (which he simply called 'Z'). Essentially, he was looking for Eldorado, but not as a mythical city paved with gold, but as real ruins (which would probably have some gold, too). Of course, his story ends with him disappearing into the jungle never to be seen again. Given his unparalleled ability to get in and out of the rain forest unscathed, and never getting sick, people waited for years for him to emerge. Then they started searching for him. But no remains were ever found. In addition to telling the story, the author, of course, also heads to the Amazon believing that he finally has enough information to figure out what happened to Fawcett and his two companions. The book was pretty good. At the end the author finally gets around to giving a some current academic analysis of some of the things that lead Fawcett to believe there was an ancient city to search for, and I wish there had been a lot more included. The book was made into a movie which was going to star Brad Pitt, until it wasn't, and then was going to star Benedict Cumberbuffle, until it didn't, and finally did star someone I've never heard of. Evidently it got good reviews, but no one actually went to see it. As a final comment, my copy of the book (won at the monthly trivia night) includes the typical snippets of reviews from newspapers - 6 pages and 40 reviews worth! As if I wasn't convinced about whether or not I should read the book until finally after 5 and a half pages of reviews, I saw that someone from the Toronto Dispatch called it "enthralling!".

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
Are there books out there about botanists getting kidnapped and ending up on world altering adventures? I don't think I've ever read one. But here is another one where it happens to a physicist. (Remember Influx from last month?) It's difficult to talk much about this book without giving away huge portions of the plot. But mild-mannered physics professor man is kidnapped by a masked man one evening, drugged and then wakes up in a world that isn't his own. Suddenly he doesn't seem to be married, have a son, or teach physics. Instead he is involved with a private research company and a bunch of people that he has never met. After deciding that he isn't completely crazy, he sets about to find out what happened to his world. If you're looking for a science fiction book that isn't afraid to go deep down the multi-verse worm hole, this book is for you. It is at times action packed, but at other times very introspective about what makes you, you, and how we both define our actions and are defined by them.


Monday, December 11

I've Got Plenty to be Thankful For

Sometime around Thanksgiving, I found a sheet of paper in Julia's backpack. The rows on the paper are numbered from 1 to 27, and there are four columns. I spent a little while trying to figure out what the first few lines meant.

1. Life         Grammie          Colonal          +
2. Ella         Opa                   Caffay            -
3. Dad         Gramma           DQ                 Sicors (scissors?)

It had me in quite a quandary, wondering if somehow Grandma and myself had been disqualified for something to do with scissors. (And had Grammie received a promotion to Colonel?) Thankfully, someone set me straight that this was Julia's list of things she was thankful for, and that after hitting number 27, she had just moved on to column 2, and then 3 and 4.

I'm not going to type out the entire list for you here, but I wanted to share some of it, along with a few of my thoughts. So, here it is. Things Julia is Thankful for, 2017:

1. Life
2. Ella
3. Dad [yay, I beat mom!]
4. Mom
5. Math [how did math beat out reading? She loves to read!]
6. Reading [ah, there it is.]
7. Books
8. Books
9. Books
10. Books [that's my Julia]
11. Sleep
12. Health
13. Mountain
14. Friends
15-20. Various friends and cousins
21. Food [clearly she gets this from me. Shannon would have food in the top 5 for sure]
22. Water
23. Life
24. Church
25. Violin
28-36. Grandparents and more cousins
37. TV
40. Books
48. Dad [my inclusion up at number 3 might have been an error]
49. The Periodic
50. Table of
51. Elements [extra special, so it gets three lines]
52. Helium
53. Food
54. Soda
60. Snuggling
70. BOM
71. Bible
72. D&C
73. PoGP
74. Love
80-83. × ÷ + - [maybe for an upcoming post I'll rank my favorite mathematical operators]
90. Book
91. Book
92. House
103. (Grandma Diane) [The last entry as she ran out of room on the page. That's my mom. I'm not sure why she's in parenthesis, but that's what Julia wrote.]

In all, it's a pretty good list, from a pretty great daughter.

Friday, November 17

November Books

Cursor's Fury by Jim Butcher
Captain's Fury by Jim Butcher
First Lord's Fury by Jim Butcher
Books 4, 5 and 6 in a series. I've already mentioned books 1, 2 and 3 in previous posts, so really there isn't anything left to say. The series ended reasonably well.

Wyrms by Orson Scott Card
I first read this book decades ago, and it was pretty weird. But, I had fond memories of a great character named Will, so it was mostly for him that I decided to re-read the book. Now that I've read the book as an adult, I can report that it is definitely weird. Now, weird is not the same thing as bad. Published in 1987, Card was still in his telepathic alien genetic mixing phase that through much of the 80s. (See: Treason, the Speaker for the Dead trilogy) In a departure from his typical themes, this time its a young girl who is destined to either save or destroy the world. But really, you should read this book, because I like Will, who is, admittedly at most the fifth most important character in the story.

John Adams by David MCullough
This book was much talked about when it came out 15 years ago, and despite reading a few of McCullough's other books, I hadn't read this one. But, when you've run out of books from the library and you're looking through your inlaws bookshelves for something to read . . . well, it was time. McCullough writes a thorough and detailed book, and this one took me a long time to read. I'd read a few pages, but rarely more than that because it wasn't very compelling to find out what Thomas Jefferson's response to Adams' latest letter would be. Also, when Adams becomes very sick in 1780-something, it's hard to feel much suspense when you know the book goes on for 300 more pages and he still has to become president and all.

I liked reading about Adams being the first VP and then the President. It was a time when everyone was still literally trying to figure out what the VP was supposed to do (spoiler: nothing) and how things were supposed to function. It was also good (bad?) to see that from the beginning we had presidential candidates publishing lies about their opponents and then denying they had anything to do with it, and, you know the time the Vice President shot and killed the guy who had been both the Secretary of the Treasury and the Senior Officer of the United States Army.

Influx by Daniel Suarez
Where's my flying car, right? We put a man on the moon nearly 50 years ago using only slide rules, and yet here we are in 2017 and my pillow still does flat like 4 days after a buy it? This must be some sort of government conspiracy, right? Well, yes, that's the premise of this book. Basically, a group goes in and scoops up revolutionary technology before it upsets our social order. Oh, and they keep it for themselves. But, then, of course, one of the scientists that gets scooped up with it doesn't want to cooperate, and the only way he can do that is to get away and bring the whole system down. This book was pretty entertaining. The beginning tries really hard to put all sorts of technical terms into big long sentences to try and make the science sound real or something. To me, if you're going to read science fiction, you've got to just accept the premise of the story that their science gizmos work, so all that effort of trying to convince me is wasted pages. But the book was exciting.

Thursday, October 19

More Utah Observations

We're still getting used to our new surroundings here, and I've come up with a few more things that are different being back home.

1. Blonde people everywhere. Actually mostly blonde women. I've heard people comment about this before and never thought much of it, but I've noticed it much more this time. I'm not sure how much this is a result of the dominating English and Scandinavian heritage in Utah as opposed to women that have decided they want to be blonde. There are also more red heads, which seem to mostly be kids at school, so I assume they aren't getting their color out of a box.

2. The drivers are still fine. I'm not going to give them any awards or anything, but they're fine.

3. The Utah accent. My favorite phrase to strike my ears on a regular basis comes from the moms walking their kids to school who so cheerfully say "Good Morneen!" to me as we pass.

4. The roads are blessedly straight, but all under construction.

5. Fall is nice, but Utah is still pretty brown. Does not compare to fall in Illinois, which likewise does not compare to fall in Michigan.

6. And what do brown plants get you? No wildlife. In the suburbs of Chicago we had birds all over the place at the crack of dawn waking us up. And geese pooping on everything. And deer practically in the mall parking lot. And heron. And squirrels in every yard in every tree. In Utah, such things are relegated to the mountains. So far on my morning runs through the neighborhoods the only wildlife I've seen are dead skunks and stray cats.

7. But the dogs are much better behaved here. 37 runs through the neighborhood and I've had exactly 1 dog try to chase me down, and he was on a leash. I'd get chased by an unleashed dog at least a couple times a month in Illinois, and there were a lot more that looked like they wanted to come eat me. There are fewer dogs here, but what dogs there are have clearly been better trained.

8. When we moved here they seemed to put our records in the wrong ward. A week or so later it was fixed. Another 2 or 3 weeks later they split the stake and renamed the ward. So technically we've already been in 3 different wards here. I think this is slightly less than typical in South Jordan, actually.

And one more bonus thing:

I was on campus at BYU a few weeks ago, and we happened to be walking across campus in the ten minutes between classes. I think it was 2:55pm, which is a pretty busy time of day. It was silent. There was almost no conversation as everyone was plugged in to their phones. (Probably texting the people right next to them, right? Those darn Millennials.) (Are they even Millennials anymore, or have we moved on to another name?) I don't know that this is a Utah thing, just kids doing kid things.

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.