Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Flower 2, Squirrels 0

This morning our dog, Flower, paid us the highest tribute she knew how: she left a dead squirrel on our doorstep.

This is actually the second squirrel she's caught, which I have to admit astounds me. I mean, I see her chase after the squirrels and bark up a storm every day. But even as fast as she is, I never expected her to actually catch one. And now she's caught two!

Karen, of course, was mortified. She screamed when she saw it, then ran back inside crying, "That squirrel had a family!" It was up to me to go out and congratulate Flower, give her some love and high-fives, then pick up and dispose of her trophy. I think she was pretty disappointed that I didn't bring it inside to make a stew.

I don't think I've ever mentioned Flower on the blog before, so let me take a minute to describe her.

She's part Catahoula and part Blue Heeler. So, Cataheeler or Bluehoula both work just fine. She's a mutt that Karen saved from the SPCA through her work at the Vet Tech Institute. She just turned two at the beginning of November. I tried to create a Facebook page for her, but it kept getting kicked out (I think because she's "too young").

She is also one of the most affectionate dogs I have ever known. If we're ever burglarized, I can only hope that the intruders are allergic to puppy saliva, as she is more likely to lick them to death than anything else.

She loves to run with me in the morning; she loves to ride in the Jeep; and, of course, she loves chasing squirrels. We're still working on her training, but she's coming along pretty well. She knows a lot of words, but unfortunately chooses to ignore them when she's not in the mood.

I'll post more about her in the future as the mood hits me. I just wanted to make sure I posted a little something about her latest kill. I'm kicking myself for not getting the camera in time. Next time, I'll be ready.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Digital Barbarism

Digital Barbarism Digital Barbarism by Mark Helprin

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Mark Helprin is a novelist who wrote this screed in defense of copyright. His style is excessively erudite and pompous, with almost as many commas as nouns. Unfortunately, I agree with him. It would be so much easier to be turned off by his style and simply dismiss him as an ass.

In arguing for copyright, he branches into other more philosophic ideas like individualism versus collectivism. I found the book to be very interesting, but his voice was off-putting.

Apparently, this book originated from an Op-Ed article he wrote not long ago. It drew such a firestorm of criticism from people from all over the internet that he felt compelled to respond. Sadly, he comes across as a bit of a troll, except instead of responding to his detractors on the internet, he wrote a book about it (so that he can be verbose and get the last word in, I suppose). It amused and somewhat saddened me that an author would bother to quote and reply to some anonymous posters from the web.

In the end, I think the battle for copyright is an important one, and Helprin is literate, intelligent, and stubborn enough to keep up the good fight. I'm just glad I don't have to be in the same room with him while he's doing it.

View all my reviews.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Moby-Dick (Bantam Classics) Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had heard good things about this classic from various people, so I thought it was time for me to give it a shot. If nothing else, I could claim to be well-read in classic American literature. Unfortunately, although it begins and ends very strongly, the middle is filled with long, dry passages which brought the book down as a whole for me.

It may be part of the style of writing at the time, but there are many, many chapters of the book that are devoted to describing the facts around whaling. There were many detailed chapters about whales themselves, the process of chasing and killing a whale, the tools used, the value of different parts of the whale, and the process of extracting those parts. Some of these were very interesting, but all of them distracted me from the actual narrative. It was only the infrequent interspersion of chapters about the characters that kept me going. One could probably just read the first and last 100 pages and get all the pertinent information.

However, I will say that the narrative passages were quite good. There were many interestingly drawn characters, vivid imagery, and beautiful, haunting dialog. I would most likely not recommend this book to most people, but I wouldn't dissuade someone from reading it either.

View all my reviews.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Yet another light non-fiction book basically centered around making new observation from gathered data.

I actually enjoyed the book, but there wasn't much meat to it. The anecdotes and conclusions were very interesting, and I can see how these observations could be helpful in future situations.

Unfortunately, I found several parts of the book were deliberately repetitive. Like the other Gladwell book I've read, Outliers, the whole book read more like a padded out magazine article rather than a serious book.

Still, it was informative and entertaining, and I would recommend it as a casual weekend read.

View all my reviews.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Oh My Stars

What's in a rating? I use three different sites regularly that give me the opportunity to rate different things: Goodreads for books, Netflix for movies, and Boardgamegeek for games. I like rating things. The problem is that I always feel compelled to use the guidelines for these ratings, and that's where I have a problem.

Let's start with Goodreads. It's a great online community for book readers. It has a good interface, an extensive database, and a lot of active reviewers. I repost all of my reviews here on my blog. But when it comes to rating a book, their star system bothers me.

Here's the mouse-over text for each level of rating:
  1. Didn't like it
  2. It was ok
  3. Liked it
  4. Really liked it
  5. It was amazing

First off, what if I absolutely hated the book? No option available. Secondly, there are three positive, one neutral, and only one negative option. In my mind, zero stars should be available for something you really hated. That wouldn't balance it out completely, but it would help. Also, how does one distinguish between a four- and a five-star book?

Here's Netflix:
  1. Hated it
  2. Didn't like it
  3. Liked it
  4. Really liked it
  5. Loved it

This list is better because it offers two degrees of dislike. But the three star rating right in the middle is still positive rather than neutral. However, I like that the top rating is "loved it" rather than "amazing." Amazing just seems like a really high bar to meet, whereas "loved it" feels perfectly subjective.

Since neither of these offer "half stars," they're both scales of five. To me, ideally they should be two negative, one neutral, and one positive. But I can see how no one would see three stars as a neutral review.

But onto Boardgamegeek. Here, it's a scale of 10, using numbers instead of stars.
  1. Defies description of a game. You won't catch me dead playing it. Clearly broken.
  2. Extremely annoying game, won't play this ever again.
  3. Likely won't play this game again although could be convinced. Bad.
  4. Not so good, it doesn't get me but could be talked into it on occasion.
  5. Average game. Slightly boring. Take it or leave it.
  6. Ok game, some fun or challenge at least, will play sporadically if in the right mood.
  7. Good game, usually willing to play.
  8. Very good game. I like to play. Probably I will suggest it and will never turn down a game.
  9. Excellent game. Always want to play it.
  10. Outstanding. Always want to play and expect this will never change.

The main problem with all of these descriptions is the inclusions of absolute words like "always" and "never." How could anyone know what their tastes would be in a few years, or on a particular day?

In comparison with the other rating systems, this one is interesting because it seems to have three positives, three neutrals, and three negatives. That's pretty balanced, but the problem becomes choosing between similar pairs, like 3/4, 5/6, or 9/10. I have a friend who only uses even numbers to rate, thus reducing this to a scale of five. There are many others (myself included, I'm sad to say), who actually enter numbers like 7.5, turning this into a 20-point scale. I need to go through and fix all of those, though. No more fence sitting; if I like a game, I should say so!

Anyway, what was the point of this whole exercise? I'm not sure. I just find it interesting that something subjective like a rating has been given restrictive objective guidelines. This wouldn't be a problem at all if I could bring myself to just ignore the text and rate things how I want. Unfortunately, that would render my rating less meaningful for those who saw it and didn't know my personal scale. So I guess the lesson is: always read the actual review and not just the number of stars.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Victorian Internet

The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-Line Pioneers The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-Line Pioneers by Tom Standage

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Another shallow, quick, interesting read. I enjoyed this light history of the telegraph, and there certainly were interesting parallels with the Internet. However, there also seemed to be several gaps in the narrative.

For the most part, I liked how Standage simplified his description of the development and evolution of telegraphy. The early pre-electric history and problem-solving stories were particularly interesting. But with all the detail put into explaining some solutions, it was frustrating when he didn't do the same with others. For example, there were only a couple of sentences briefly mentioning how the problem of sending over great distances was resolved.

Overall, I'd still recommend it for anyone interested in communication in this time period. Like the other Standage book I've read, A History of the World in 6 Glasses, it is a great starting place likely to whet your appetite for a more in-depth book.

View all my reviews.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Outliers Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
While it was definitely an interesting book with some unique ideas, overall I wasn't that impressed. Yes, there are some patterns that emerge from looking at previously ignored data, but what else can you tell me?

A friend of mine's father had a saying that "luck is nothing but preparation meets opportunity." I feel like that sums up this whole book pretty well. Gladwell takes care to explain why some people seemed to be in the right place at the right time, but other than observing these patterns, he doesn't seem to have much of a point.

The book is light and easy reading, however, and it probably sparks some good conversations. It probably would have been better suited to a long magazine article rather than a book.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Innumeracy, Again

A lot of stupid things have been going through my head lately, and rather than encouraging me to post more often, it has shut me down.

First off, a shout out to my friend Mark Johnson. He posted the discussion we did a couple of months ago for his podcast. You can listen to it here: Boardgames To Go. It's a little over an hour long, and we talk about "classic" boardgames. We had a hard time coming up with a clear definition of a classic. We basically divided it into Ancient (Backgammon, Go, Chess, etc.) and modern (Monopoly, Scrabble, Risk, etc.).

I listened to it again soon after it was published. After I got over the never-ending shock of what my voice sounds like on tape, I was surprised by the amount of things we delved into. I'm pretty proud of it, and if you are into the boardgame hobby like I am, I think it's worth a listen. It was definitely thought-provoking, as evidenced by the numerous comments Mark has received already.

Speaking of numbers, let's talk about that for a bit. The other day I was out for lunch. When my debit card receipt came to me, it had "Gratuity Guidelines 15% = xx" at the bottom. This bothered me. Not because it was blatantly asking for a tip, nor because it was suggesting 15% (although those did nag at me a bit).

No, it bothered me because it removed the "burden" of a simple math equation from the customer. I used to think those credit card-sized charts were bad; this was ridiculous. Really? Is 15% that hard? 10% and half again. Halfway between 10% and 20%. Are we really that afraid of having to do math? This frightens me, actually. I know it is just meant as a convenience, but I can think of a lot better things that could and should be streamlined for convenience.

I'll use this as a segue to another thing that's been bothering me for a long time: the number 1,000,000,000. That's a billion. Do you know how much a billion is? Apparently, most people don't. A billion seconds is 31.7 years. A billion minutes is 1900 years. There's some pictures out there that show a pallet of money, I think it's about a million dollars. I don't feel like finding it. Then they show a CGI image of that pallet multiplied by 1,000 to get a billion. For some reason, the scale of a billion being a thousand times more than a million gets lost on people.

This was most evident when the budget was released (yes, this has been bothering me a long time). The budget was something on the order of $840 billion. Then pundits and opposers and politicians came out and decried parts of the bill that cost a few million dollars. Some even complained about a program costing $80,000. Now, if you had $840.00 to spend however you liked, how would you feel about being criticized for how you spent four cents? I'm not saying that four cents couldn't be wasteful, but seriously, let's put things in perspective here.

But because of the massive innumeracy of our country, people get away with stuff like that. People on both sides. A billion is too large for most people to grasp, so their brain freezes and they don't worry about it. By an odd reversal, a million seems a little more comprehensible, so people get outraged when a million is misspent.

I have no idea what the solution is, but it just irritates me how often I see bad math and bad science popularized in the media. Don't even get me started about statistics.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reading, Writing, Drinking

Agh, would you look at that. Three book review blog entries in a row. That's pathetic.

I have half a dozen or so posts that are still in the Drafts folder. I even have an essay I've been kicking around in my head for over a month now called "Why I Can't Write." Needless to say, I haven't written it yet. And I don't really feel like writing it now, although I do want to talk about it in a related way.

Part of my problem with this blog is that I don't really know what to do with it. That's been the case from the beginning. Is this a journal for my innermost thoughts? No. Is it a place for me to share ideas with friends? That would be nice, but most often I just email them directly. Is it a tool for me to hone my writing? Ideally, but clearly I'm not using it that way. So what am I doing (or not doing) this for? I don't know. Until I figure it out, expect continued sporadic posting and random ramblings. Like this:

So, the other day several people from my office went to a new bar down the street for happy hour. It's called Anvil, and it specializes in mixed drinks. That doesn't sound very unusual, and really, it isn't. There are plenty of bars around. But what I enjoyed about this place was the amazing knowledge and care that all the bartenders had for their craft.

The bar opened just five weeks ago and is owned and operated by a group of local bartenders. They are all passionate about spirits, and it shows. Every drink was made with meticulous detail, and the bartenders are all happy to tell you the entire history of the drink they're making. And I don't just mean why it's called a Mint Julep or what have you. They'll tell you why it's made with bourbon, how bourbon made it to the South, and the effects of the Whiskey Rebellion. I even had a conversation about the density and consistency of the ice and how it affected the flavor and temperature of a cocktail. Did you know a "cocktail" is a specific drink?

As you can tell, I found it all fascinating. After the book I just read, the timing of discovering this place was incredible. I'm really not a drinker of liquor. I'm a beer snob for sure, and I do enjoy wine, but spirits have always seemed, I don't know, too fancy for me. At Anvil, I discovered that they may be fancy, but they also have an amazing amount of lore and history, which really captivated me.

The bartenders maintain a blog (hopefully more focused than my own) which includes several interesting entries such as the "Five American Whiskey Cocktails You Must Try in Your Lifetime." (Yes, I'm aware that is an excellent marketing tool, but it was also a great history lesson at the bar.)

I'm always impressed by people who follow their passions. These guys really know about spirits, so I will continue to support them and their new venture. Who knows, maybe I'll become a connoisseur myself someday.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

A History of the World in 6 Glasses A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A really fascinating look at how six different drinks have influenced the course of history.

The book is organized roughly chronologically based on when these beverages (beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca Cola) had the most influence. So as you read about the history of beer, you learn about early civilization and cultivation; wine teaches about ancient Greece and Rome and emerging trade; spirits, the exploration and expansion of the western world, etc.

Throughout the book there are wonderful little tidbits such as how grog (a mixture of rum, water, sugar, and lime juice) contributed to the strength of the British Navy due to the sailors' daily ration. Not only did the grog satisfy more men while taking up less space, the lime juice helped fight scurvy and made them stronger. This in turn led to the nickname "Limey."

The book is filled with anecdotes and theories and connections. In fact, I was often reminded of the BBC series "Connections" with James Burke, although the threads were not quite as far-reaching. However, I have to say that this was also a slight failing with the book. As much as I loved reading about all these interesting ways drinks were tied to movements in history, it was frustrating when the author didn't go into more depth. But this is hardly a flaw, it has just whet my appetite for more about this subject.

I was also a little disappointed by some of the omissions (vodka and tequila, for example), but it is understandable. The scope of this book is wide and shallow, which makes it light reading. This is the main reason I'm giving it 4 instead of 5 stars. It was really an excellent book, but it left me feeling unsatisfied and wanting more.

View all my reviews.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Making Comics

Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels by Scott McCloud

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
An interesting analysis of creating comics. It's a good starting point for discussing the theory behind comics, but in the end it was just sort of okay.

I am a big fan of McCloud's earlier work, Understanding Comics, and I would enthusiastically recommend that one to everyone, not just comic book readers. This new one, Making Comics, is more of a primer on the creative process behind comics. It doesn't delve as deep and is less thought-provoking. It is also riddled with references to that earlier work, so why not just stick with that one?

I do enjoy his informal writing style, which makes the book feel like an active discussion. I also like that it is written as a comic book, so that concepts are immediately and clearly illustrated as they are mentioned. But even the author admits that these are just his musings on comics, and they don't feel as deeply thought out as they did in the first book.

I'm glad I read it, and I don't mean to dismiss it entirely, but this book just didn't have the magic of his first one.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Your Money or Your Life

Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Joe Dominguez

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A pretty good book about changing the way you look at money, with the focus on being more conscious of where your money goes.

The book is a little dated (my edition was revised in the 90s), but the underlying principles still apply. Most of them are just common sense, really: avoid credit, don't buy what you can't afford, keep track of all your income and expenses, etc. However, reading the steps and accompanying anecdotes made it more accessible.

I did have a problem with the repetitive style used throughout the book, though. I realize it is a trope often used by self-help books to help get their points across, but it is still annoying. Consistently using five or six examples in a list when three would suffice just got old.

Overall, I'd still recommend it to anyone trying to take charge of their finances.

View all my reviews.

Monday, March 30, 2009

My Trip, Part II: Games Played

So, as I mentioned in the last post, I went out of town for the weekend with the main purpose of visiting with friends and playing board games. One of my goals for these meetings is to play as many "new-to-me games" as possible. It's one of the few opportunities I have to try games before playing them. This time I achieved that goal pretty well. I played 19 different titles, 12 of which I'd never played before. Here are a few highlights:

Strozzi - Reiner Knizia is easily my favorite game designer. This new one of his is a more layered version of Medici, but the layers add more complexity without really adding to the enjoyment. The bidding is mostly a simplified version of Ra. It's a solid enough game, but there was nothing there that really grabbed me. If it weren't for the sweet, sweet bacon, this game would have little to offer.

Steel Driver - I knew nothing about this game going in except it was by Martin Wallace. That was enough to bias me into thinking it would be heavier than it was. Players bid for controlling shares in different railroads, then expand them across the U.S. We had a significant rule wrong which greatly affected the scoring, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

Brass - This was probably the top game I was hoping to play. I had already bought it based on reviews, but I wanted to be taught by players who were familiar with it. The theme recreates the industrial revolution in Lancashire, England. Players develop the coal, iron, and cotton industries as well as canals and rails to deliver goods. There's a whole lot to learn and a lot of little exceptions, but the play itself is pretty straightforward. I liked it, but didn't love it. However, I'm eager to play again now that (I think) I've got the rules down. Hopefully, I can teach it to my local group and we can attack the learning curve together.

Spekulation - This was my favorite game of the Spiele. It's a simple buy and sell shares game in an unpredictable stock market. You start to think you can actually predict the market, and then all your plans crumble, just like the real thing. A friend in the group had made his own custom copy of the game, since it is out of print, and his graphic design really added to my enjoyment of the game. I may have to make my own copy soon.

Le Havre - I'm glad to have played this one, but I didn't really care for it. The game just took waaaay too long. Setting up an economic system where every turn you can buy a little bit more so next turn you can produce a little bit more so next turn you can buy a little bit more, etc. just didn't do it for me. I see the similarities between this and Agricola, but it didn't seem worth the effort. Perhaps another play (with my hard-earned better understanding) would be more fun, but I'm not sure if I'm willing to make the effort.

Dominion - This game wasn't new to me, but we played with new facets. I loved playing with the random set up (which I hadn't done before) and I *really* loved playing it so quickly (even though I was the slowest player). I can't wait to bring this out again for my group and show them it can be done in half an hour.

Other new games played: 2 de Mayo, Bounce It In, PowerBoats, Jet Set, Ringel Rangel, Aton, Roll Through the Ages.
Older games played: Ingenious, Hey, That's My Fish!, Amun-Re, Metropolys, Schnappschen Jagd, Harry's Grand Slam Baseball.

Also, I was able to record a podcast with my friend Mark Johnson, which I will post a link to when it becomes available. We talked about Classic (with a capital C) games: what are they, what makes one, and what modern games might earn the title? It was a fun discussion, hopefully it will prove fun to listen to as well.

Friday, March 27, 2009

My Trip, Part I: Random Thoughts

Last weekend I took a trip out to California to visit friends and play games. It was a good trip, overall. I had fun and it was nice to get away from work for a while. I'll talk about the games in a separate post. This one will just cover some random experiences from the trip.

Thrifting - One of my favorite little hobbies is going to thrift stores. It's something I've done all my life without really thinking about it, but lately it's become more of a full-fledged hobby. Since I was flying into LAX and driving out to the hotel where I would meet my friends, I made a Google map that highlighted thrift stores along the way.

I had visited a couple of them the last time I was out, and knew they would provide some sort of bounty. I mainly seek out vintage Hawaiian shirts and board games. Both for personal use, but the latter also for resale on eBay. This is how I fund my new game purchases. I'm happy to say I found some of each this time. I got two groovy shirts and five games: Trumpet, Outdoor Adventure, Beyond Balderdash, Raj, and Napoleon in Europe.

One of the stores I visited is my all-time favorite. They have a literal wall of games. Dozens of them of all shapes, sizes, and types. I'm often tempted to pick up several just to play once with my friends and then either toss or re-donate back to the store. I mean, MTV's Remote Control Home Edition? How cool is that?

Debit or Credit? - This part bothered me a bit. I've been reading several financial books lately and working really hard to live completely debt free. I'm in good shape, actually, but it has been work since most of my life I have been a pretty carefree spender. Anyway, at the rental car place I wanted to pay with my debit card. They told me they would have to put a $400 deposit on it. At the hotel when I paid with my debit card, they told me they would charge the full amount of the room up front. Lastly, when filling up the tank of the rental before returning it, the gas pump display told me I got a $0.45 (What happened to the "cents" key?) charge for using debit.

All these little things felt like I was being conspired against for not using credit. I understand that with credit, the funds are coming from the seemingly limitless funds of the bank, whereas debit comes from the unknown depths of my personal account. I get that. But what if I had wanted to write a check for any of these purchases? Would that not have been allowed? (Probably not, since I was from out of town.) And what about the Visa logo on my debit card? Doesn't that guarantee the transaction just as much? And what exactly is the difference if I were to use my debit card as a credit card?

Line Ethics - I have traveled quite a bit casually thanks to the passes I used to get from my sister. I know the drill when it comes to getting through the security lines. Now they've divided them up between the Casual Traveler line and the Expert Traveler line. I have no problem identifying myself as an Expert, and I zip right through. However, when I was leaving LAX a family of six decided they just wanted to be in the shorter line. Grandma, two parents, and three kids in their teens held up the line for 10 minutes. They had trouble walking through the metal detector. They had trouble putting all their gear on the conveyor. Oh, I have to take off my belt? How many times do we have to walk through? Oh, I have to take off my shoes?

Additionally frustrating was the fact that none of the security guards seemed to mind that these people clearly did not belong in the "Expert Traveler" line. I suppose it was too late to kick them out of the line, but what's the point of having the separate lines if they don't mean anything?

Beer Ethics - Okay, last little bit because I see I'm rambling as usual. At the airport on my way out, I stopped to get a $10 turkey sandwich from a stall and a couple of beers at the bar. When I got the tab, the bartender had only charged me for one. So I called him over and pointed out his error without thinking much about it. But the guy on the stool next to me says, "Man, that's cool." Huh? "That's cool that you told him about the mistake." The bartender, too, seemed overly grateful to me. It bothers me that doing the right thing was seen as a praiseworthy act. Are we really that selfish and bad that most people wouldn't have corrected him?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Slaughterhouse Five

Slaughterhouse-Five Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Although it had a lot of interesting aspects to it, the book overall left me flat.

Vonnegut tries to relate his experience of surviving the bombing of Dresden during World War II. He uses the character of Billy Pilgrim as a sort of surrogate, while still interjecting his voice as author from time to time throughout the book.

Billy has become "unstuck" in time, and he flashes forward and backwards through time to different experiences in his life, including a period where he was abducted by aliens to live in a zoo on their planet.

I liked the jumping around of the narrative and the simple writing style. The little anecdotes loosely strung together effectively portrayed how difficult it must be to relate something of this magnitude. Little absurdities throughout the book reinforced how absurd the whole situation was.

I've heard that this is Vonnegut's "anti-war" book, and I think it works okay in that regard. However, the recurring mantra "So it goes" implies more that war, death, and cruelty are all just inevitable parts of life.

I enjoyed it, but not as much as I was expecting to.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Three Things

I promised myself that I would respond to any of these "Tags" I received from friends. At the time I wasn't on Facebook, so I've given myself an out and I do not feel obligated to replicate all of those. Anyway, here are my three things.

Now, here's what you're supposed to do...and please do not spoil the fun. Start a new note, delete my answers and put in your own. Tag all your friends and tell them to tag you. The theory is that you will learn a lot of little known things about each other.

Three Names I go by
1. Greg
2. Gregarius
3. Dude

Three Jobs I have had in my life
1. Waiter
2. Janitor
3. Editor

Three Places I have lived
1. Houston, TX
2. Glendale, CA
3. Denton, TX

Three TV Shows that I watch (not counting the myriad I watch on dvd)
1. Lost
2. Battlestar Galactica
3. The Colbert Report

Three places I have been
1. Great Britain
2. Spain
3. Germany

People that e-mail me regularly
1. Dale
2. My Parents
3. Karen

Three of my favorite foods
1. Chips and Salsa
2. Rice Krispy Treats
3. Alaskan King Crab

Three things I would like to do
1. Sell a screenplay
2. Travel to too many places to list
3. Skydive

Things I am looking forward to
1. Traveling the world
2. Spending time with friends
3. Buying a house

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Shining

The Shining The Shining by Stephen King

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
I've never been a fan of horror as a genre, but I found this one while cleaning my house and thought I should give it a try. It really didn't do anything for me. Even though it had some interesting ideas, I didn't find any of the imagery particularly frightening or disturbing.

It has been many years since I've seen the movie adaptation, so my memory of it isn't very strong. However, the differences between the two are significant and apparent. I can see how fans of the book would be disappointed.

The book tells the story of a family of three: Jack Torrence, a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic, his wife Wendy, and their son Danny who has a strong, ESP-like intuition referred to as a "Shine" (hence the title). They'll be spending months as caretakers of the Overlook hotel, which gets snowbound every winter. Unfortunately, the Overlook has a history, or will, or demonic possession of its own, and does whatever it takes to claim the family for itself.

I liked how the narrative shifted perspective among the major characters throughout the story, and I liked how not everything was explained completely. But the story never really engaged me. There seemed to be a missed opportunity to explore whether Jack was going insane, suffering DTs from alcohol withdrawal, or being possessed. The book instead made it clear that the hotel was in fact to blame and all the terrifying things were really happening. This made it less interesting to me.

I still enjoy the early Stephen King books I've read (The Dead Zone is quite good), but I'm in no hurry to look into others.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Friday, February 27, 2009

Don't Sleep; There are Snakes

Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle by Daniel L. Everett

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
There were some interesting ideas in this book regarding linguistics being tied to anthropology, but overall it just wasn't very engaging. It wasn't a bad book by any means, but it didn't compel me.

I did find it fascinating to see another culture that thinks and speaks in a completely foreign way, and the process the author went through to decipher it all.

View all my reviews.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscars Review

Because I am a huge fan of movies, here is my obligatory Oscar post.

When I was a kid, I loved to watch the Oscars. I really enjoyed the pageantry and glamor, and I thought that watching somehow connected me with Hollywood. As I got older, I watched them more to inform me about movies, actors, and directors. The last several years, this fascination with the Academy Awards has turned to interest, to indifference, until recently it has finally moved into complete disdain. These people work four months a year, doing a job they love, getting paid extravagant amounts of money, have adoring fans, and they expect us to watch as they pat each other on the back in fancy dress? Ugh. All that being said, of course I still watched the awards last night.

I have to say, I really enjoyed the format change. They somehow managed to blend a star-studded spectacle with a feeling of intimacy. The opening number was rather lame, but other than that I found Hugh Jackman a great and clearly talented host. I liked the decision to have a showman as a host rather than a comedian. As Mr. Jackman said in the Barbara Walters' special before the awards, "It's time to have more show, less biz."

The gimmick of having five past Oscar winners come out to announce the nominees was interesting. It was very cheesy, but for some reason it worked. And sometimes, the actors actually sounded sincere as they described the nominee. I vastly preferred it to the standard method of clips from the film.

As for predictions, I made them, but I didn't post them here or anywhere else. I generally have a pretty good track record, but I just find it annoying. It bothers me that so often the best predictors have nothing to do with the performance. For example, I correctly called Sean Penn for Best Actor, though I know many people thought it would be Mickey Rourke. The reasons have nothing to do with their skills as actors. Hollywood hates Mickey Rourke. The Academy was afraid of what he might say if he won. And despite all the movies to the contrary, Hollywood itself does not like underdog stories or comebacks. A studio's success depends on the cult of the new. Add to that the political guilt felt by the passing of Proposition 8, and Sean Penn playing a gay activist is a lock. And if anyone didn't pick Heath Ledger, they just weren't paying attention.

Without going through every category, here are some more thoughts:
  • I was disappointed that Slumdog Millionaire came away with so many awards. It was a good film, but not that good. It didn't deserve a sweep.
  • I was very pleased that Man on Wire won, as I feared Trouble the Water might slink in for political reasons.
  • I didn't understand why Hugh Jackman made a big point of saying "the musical is back!" Because of Mamma Mia? Seriously? Where was he when Chicago won in 2003? Hairspray, The Producers, Dreamgirls... any of these ring a bell? I think the musical has been back for a while.
  • The gowns were very elegant and nostalgic, which was nice. Penelope Cruz even had a vintage dress, which was beautiful.
Overall, it was a good show. It was full of pomp and circumstance as usual, but I found it less irritating this time around.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Lives of Rocks

The Lives of RocksThe Lives of Rocks by Rick Bass

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A very nice collection of short stories, several set in or near Houston, Texas.

It's a little hard to review a collection of short stories, since they can be very different. However, they do all reflect the writer's style, which I found very enjoyable.

Almost all of the tales in this book dealt with nature, and had a romantic, nostalgic feel. The writing was clear and often used imaginative metaphors or descriptions. Of the ten stories in the collection, my favorites were Pagans, Her First Elk, The Canoeists, and Titan. The title story, The Lives of Rocks, was also the longest. It was quite good with beautiful imagery, but it didn't grab me as much as the others.

I think it would be a great book to have along on a camping trip, or any time when you were able to curl up next to a fire in cold weather.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Khan, the Italian Opera

This will probably get a lot of play on the interwebs, but it is just so awesome I had to have it on my blog as well. Plus, who would have thought I'd use the label "Khan" more than once?

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Eats, Shoots  &  Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
A self-confessed "stickler" takes a light-hearted look at the history and future of punctuation.

Overall, I found the book amusing but not great. It read very quickly due to the conversational tone, which is a positive. It was interesting to read the origins of some forms of punctuation, but it was never too scholarly or dry.

Some of the other reviewers have complained about the author being too pedantic about grammar, but I couldn't help but wonder if they read the introduction or first chapter. She admits at the very beginning that she's a "stickler" and realizes that most of her points are rather inconsequential. Yes, some people do get bent out of shape when commas or apostrophes are misplaced; at least she can laugh at herself about it.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
An excellent book that was followed very faithfully (although not exactly) by the movie.

I've really come to love McCarthy's writing style. I've only read one other, The Road, which I read last year and loved. The language he uses is very sparse and direct. This makes it very fast and easy to read. Some might be put off by that sparseness, but it made me pay more attention to what was there. In this case, it often forced the reader to connect dots in the narrative that weren't always explicitly stated.

The book tells the story of three different men: Llewellyn, a man who stumbles across a fortune in drug money; Chigurh, a nearly supernatural killer chasing him; and Sheriff Bell, an aging lawman trying to put the pieces together. Throughout the story, the reader gets a good idea of how each of these men view the world. It has many thrilling and frightening moments, but in essence the book is more of a philosophical character study at heart.

I really enjoyed it. If you liked the movie, I would recommend it so you can appreciate how well it was adapted. If you haven't seen the movie, I would recommend it still as a very interesting read.

View all my reviews.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Guess what?

What do these four words have in common?
  • Demontron
  • Rotunda
  • Ural
  • Quadron
Is Demontron a Transformer or a Decepticon? Or is it a giant screen at sporting events that allows you to see straight into Hell? Rotunda, that's part of a building, right? I only know Ural is a mountain range because of countless hours playing Risk. Quadron. Is that some sort of subatomic particle?

These were my guesses when Karen showed me this list yesterday. I was stunned/surprised/delighted when she told me these were the names of students who had come to her office to apply to the school.

I love names like these, although I really don't know why. I mean, it's pretty creative to make up a name. And why shouldn't we? Most names have some strange origin anyway that has generally been forgotten in time. Sure, there's the horror stories of girls named Female (pronounced Feh-MAHL-ay), but is that really all that bad?

It sort of reminds me of car names. There seem to be three styles of car names: there's the technical gobbledigook like RX7 or F150; there's the real-life word that is supposed to have some subliminal impact like Accord or Wrangler; and of course, there's the made-up words that I have no idea what they're going for like Altima or Xterra.

I used to hate the made-up car name words, but now I think I prefer them. It's fun to figure out what images they are trying to conjure. I've decided I hate the real-word car names. I mean, "Crossfire," really? You want to name your car after a dangerous military situation?

So, that's my mission for you. Pay more attention to the names around you, both for people and cars. What do they mean? What do you think they mean? All I know is, I begged Karen to keep bringing me these lists.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Welcome to the 21st Century

Yesterday, Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the first black President of the United States of America.

I feel pretty good about it. I'm not a rabid devotee that thinks he'll turn water into wine or balance the budget (he is still just a politician, after all), but I have been a fan since well before he announced his candidacy. I like his attitude and optimism, as well as his charge for Americans to assume responsibility. We'll see how that works out.

They say there were just under two million people in Washington, D.C. to watch the inauguration. Take a look at this satellite image to get an idea of what that means. You can see the full picture here.

I took a long lunch to watch his speech at home, but I was confused about the time. I missed all but the last minute of his address, which was quite a bummer. But I watched the rest of the ceremony on my new, widescreen, LCD, high definition television as it was digitally broadcast. Later, I downloaded the transcript from the Internet and streamed a replay through my Xbox. Now I'm blogging about it and including a satellite picture of the Washington Monument.

I've heard people say that what we think of as the "60s" really didn't start until about 1968. I've decided that for me, the 21st century really didn't begin until yesterday. Obama's election and his address were clear breaks from the past status quo. The technology at my fingrertips is astonishing. We may not have hoverboards or moon colonies or personal jetpacks just yet, but for the first time in a long time, I really believe I'm living in the future.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Okay, why has this become so iconic? I have no idea. But first off, here's a chart I shamelessly stole from another blog. It charts how many A's people use when searching for "KHAAAAN!!!!"
Next up, we have this fantastic action figure. I mean seriously. How many people are really going to want this? I mean, besides me. And my friend Dan. And possibly Dale.

You can read more about this action figure masterpiece here.

It is at this point that I am required to answer the call and post a picture of my Khan costume from my birthday party. Sadly, I'm at work so I'll have to come back and add it later.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


AnathemAnathem by Neal Stephenson

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Fun in parts, but overall disappointing.

I've read several of the other reviews, and they've captured my thoughts much better than I could (or even feel like trying). I loved Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, but everything I've read since then has been a let down.

The book is set on another world where science has sort of taken the role of religion. What we would call scientists live like monks, sealed off from the rest of the world. That concept was pretty interesting. The story is told from the perspective from one of these "avout," as he experiences radical events and changes.

This brings me to one of the first criticisms made about the book: it's extensive made-up vocabulary. I found it very distracting at first, but eventually became used to it. It just seemed very unnecessary. I can believe I'm reading about another culture on another planet without there having to be a different word for everything.

Stephenson also spent a great deal of time discussing scientific and philosophical ideas. At times these were interesting, but they almost always detracted from the narrative.

Lastly, the end of the story just didn't work for me. Without giving anything away, I'll just say it was anti-climactic and somewhat predictable.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dodging Bullets

This has been a very interesting week so far, and therefore I guess it has started off being an interesting year.

Yesterday, I was in a traffic accident. A car wreck, actually. The roads were slick, I was looking at street signs, and I completely missed that the light was red. I slammed on my brakes, but too late. A car was crossing the intersection, and I slid and banged right into it. She spun around a bit, but stopped without hitting anything. I pulled over, then signaled and turned into a parking lot that was on the corner of the two streets.

Now here's the interesting part: she drove off! I had parked my car and was walking towards her to see if she was okay, and she started driving. At first, I thought she was going around to enter the parking lot from the other side, but nope. Long gone. Why would anyone leave an accident, especially one that wasn't their fault?

I ended up calling the police (two hours before the car arrived) to file a report. I felt kinda weird doing so, but I certainly didn't want someone else filing it and claiming I had left the seen. Oddly, the cop never asked me about the light, and I wasn't about to tell him I had run it.

This was the really fascinating part to me. Immediately after the accident, my thoughts were full of dread: worrying about injuries, damage, tickets, costs, etc. It never occurred to me to pay attention to details about the other driver or her car. When the police officer questioned me about it, I was at a loss. How much detail do you retain from a few seconds of an encounter? How old was she? How many people were in the car? What was she wearing?

Having seen the ship and aircraft recognition silhouettes that they passed out during World War II, I always knew I'd be terrible at that. But little did I realize how relevant that could be to every day life. When I tried to describe the vehicle, I was stumped. It was an SUV. I thought it was a Jeep Cherokee. But have you ever seen four or five of those from the side? The differences between a Nissan, Lexus, Jeep, who-knows-what-else are not that significant. And then he asked me the year!

In the end, I know I should be grateful for numerous reasons. It could have been so much worse in so many ways. But even the act of the other driver leaving the scene was strangely beneficial to me, in that my insurance won't have to cover her damage.

Today, I had a similarly harrowing, close-call experience. My company had lay offs. This is by no means a unique story in today's economy, but I had not experienced it first-hand yet. What made it a particularly close call is the fact that one of my fellow writers was let go. There are (were) only three of us, and I was the most junior. Granted, he had switched to contract work, which I'm sure made the difference, but it was still unsettling.

After writing so much about the accident, I don't really feel up to commenting on the lay off thing anymore. I know it's tough times all over, and I am thankful that I still have a job I like.

Hawaiian Mourning

As was pointed out to me by several friends, Alfred Sheehan died yesterday at the age of 86. He is credited with inventing the Hawaiian shirt. You can read more details here. Here's a picture of Elvis wearing a Sheehan design for his Blue Hawaii album. Well, for some reason it's not letting me upload a picture. I'll try again later.

I am very well-known for my propensity for wearing Hawaiian shirts. I was musing about this in a chat with a friend. She asked how many I owned, and I honestly don't know. Is it about 40? It's a lot, that's for sure. Not only that, I recently "culled the herd" a bit before I moved. I have about 25 in "regular rotation," about 5 "special occasion," and maybe 10 others that just don't get worn as often any more. You'd be amazed how much of a decision it is for me in the morning!

David Byrne wrote "People will remember you better if you always wear the same outfit." I can't say that was my inspiration for having so many Hawaiian shirts, but it certainly has proven to be true. When the weather got a little chilly, I was actually teased at work for wearing just a plain old sweater.

Another story from work: A couple of months after I started, they had a "Brightest Hawaiian Shirt" contest. Naturally, I won. In my defense, let me say that I pulled out all the stops. I have plenty of bright shirts, but I have one that is a real doozy, so that's the one I wore. Later, my boss told me she had actually lobbied against me winning because "he wears that kinda stuff every day!"

Sometimes I'll make up themes for the week, like all green, all orange, or all vintage shirts. Sadly, no one has ever noticed (or at least, they haven't commented). This week I'm wearing all black Hawaiian shirts in mourning for Mr. Sheehan.

Most (90%) of my shirts were acquired in resale/thrift shops. I love the thrill of the hunt! I'm much more selective nowadays, which is a good thing. However, the selection has consistently dwindled over the years. I wish I had bought so many more when I was younger and there were far fewer collectors/competitors. I don't believe any of mine are worth anything, though i don't know for sure. They're worth something to me, and that's all that matters.

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