Friday, December 31, 2010

Solar Minimums and Gold rushes

Reading slashdot, my favorite geek news site, I saw this story about the current low solar activity that may be affecting our world, and then saw the link to the Dalton Minimum, a period in late 1700's to early 1800's of low solar activity that may have helped cause the Year Without a Summer. Besides having a dramatic name, it may have contributed to the deaths of 10's of thousands of people, the westward migration in the US, and for those of you who care about Mormon history, the Smith family's move from Vermont to Palmyra.

I don't know about you, but my history teachers never mentioned any such thing, and in fact, never mentioned anything about science unless it was about something being invented. Steam engines, cotton gins, factories, paper, and printing presses got plenty of screen time. But using science to help explain history is a rare talent, but it sounds fascinating to me...

p.s. I'm pretty sure the existence of solar minimums can neither prove nor disprove climate change(at least on their own), but they're an interesting component to our weather systems.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Beatrice and Virgil

Beatrice and VirgilBeatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An atmospheric fable about the holocaust. While it can be criticized as thinly veiled autobiographical authorial navel-gazing, I felt the writing of the fable, the feeling of the story well outweighed the meta meta-ness of it all.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010


TwelveTwelve by Jasper Kent

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The prose is common, the perspective is first-person, the story is simple. The main character is a little blank and the twist at the end is no great revelation. The setting was very interesting, though it could have been better fleshed out, and the fantasy component had a nice small place in the world.

This is a small fantasy story with out any pretension to some grand effect on the world. Set in Russia, as Napoleon marches on Moscow, It is the story of Russian spies, and their efforts to destroy some poorly chosen allies. There is never a sense that the story could change the history, only that it might have happened parallel to history. Beware, this is a vampire story, but there are no teenagers, romance, or sparkles.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Melinda the Muse

Melinda wrote about feeding the ducks. I took some moves, and here is my first attempt at a movie worth keeping. I've been playing with taking video on my camera ever since I got it, but this is the first time I consciously wanted to see if I could use it to make something we would want to keep. I apologize for some of the out-of-focus sections(but not all of them), and the microphone on the camera is useless in a light breeze, so I purposely turned off the sound.

click here to view a version in HD

The soundtrack is "Tables and Chairs" by Andrew Bird, and our favorite line is "There will be snacks, there will", since we spend a lot of time with the kids in our Nursery.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Prince of Nothing, vol 1 and 2


Dark prose, written with a more sophisticated voice than a lot of fantasy(that I read). The author has a knack for giving the history of the world a weight, and the characters are at times simply caught up in the great events of the time, or at other times, making decisions that change the path of the hundreds of thousands of people that make up the Holy War.

There is some sexual content, one of the main characters is a prostitute. The sexual content is disturbing, enough that I wish it were not in the book, but not so much that I didn't finish it, and I will finish the trilogy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Time Traveler's Wife


A good book about the strains and joys of marriage, with the accelerant of a time traveling husband. A bit too heavy on discussion of sex, though the author avoids actual sex scenes. But the discussion of frustrations of trying to have children, the joys of just being together, and having someone to come home to were quite satisfying.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Empress / Riven Kingdom

The first book in this trilogy was interesting, the story of a slave risen to become "Empress". The book is written without judgment of the society it portrays. The religion is dark, violent, and obsessed with blood, but the people worship sincerely. A fascinating idea, a "righteous", chosen people, chosen by a dark god.

Riven Kingdom
The most disappointing second book I have ever read. A simple Princess seizes her inheritance from grasping uncles story.

p.s. started this post back in April

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Help

This book was a new context to me. I never was in a position to have "Help", and I've never known anyone else who did. For us upper-middle class white americans*, it's easy to forget what things were like in the 1950's (or sometimes are like) for people with different circumstances.
Some critics said the book was one-sided, that all the white women were evil, but reading the book, it is impossible to agree.

* All middle class americans describe themselves as "upper-middle class". It's part of the ambition that makes our country prosperous, and a perfect example of the self-delusions that are most common. We all think we're smarter and richer than we really are. But that's ok, because I'm pretty sure that I'm smarter than everyone I've met so far :).

p.s. I read this in April.

Devices and Desires

I read this trilogy back in April.

A more complex style of storytelling, the author uses 5 protagonists to explore how predictable human emotion can be. The first book in the series was possibly the best. The main protagonist in search of laudable personal objectives sets up a war that kills thousands. By the second book, you hope that someone will see through his duplicity, and kill him. By the third book, you're just hoping that he's made some major mistake that will cause the whole thing to fall apart. The biggest failure in these books is that everything goes as planned. Past the point of believability. My enjoyment fell as I realized that the main protagonist was going to be proven correct in all his plans, manipulations and designs. Not only did I want him to fail, I knew he really should have.
3-4.5/5 (at first, a 4.5, then a 3 at the end)

Friday, September 10, 2010

FHE + NPR = Syngergy

Our FHE lesson was an article by Elder Oaks, "The Atonement and Faith". As we read, we felt that he was teaching that atonement is harder than we are taught as children. The atonement and repentance do not save us from all suffering, nor is it as easy as saying "I'm sorry, I promise not to do it again." Melinda wanted to make sure that as our children matured, we should teach them more completely about the atonement. As she talked about it, I realized how something I heard on NPR was connected.

Radio West had a guest who wrote a book: The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. They talked about "modern sensibilities", that taught current generations that we ought to be looking for work that is like our hobby. We ought to love our jobs, that a happy life is predicated on finding that career that we never dread going to work.

Unfortunately, it also teaches the corollary, that if we don't find that perfect job, we should feel unfulfilled. People won't apply for jobs unless they are fit their perfect description, or they quit their job because it's not going in the direction they want. They go on Eat, Pray, Love tours of the world. When they lose their job, they don't find a temporary job to tide them over, they look for months to find a job that is just right.

In a way, the same pressures have been brought to bear on marriage. We should be rapturously in love with our spouses, our perfect mates. And if we are not, we should feel unhappy. People who should be perfectly happy in their marriages will look outside for that spark, that may just be the perfect romantic love. People who should be dating will wait for the chemistry of a crush before saying yes to the first date, or even flirting in the hope of a first date.

These cultural pressures have made "endurance" into a bad word. Endurance gets you through torture without breaking. It means grit your teeth, push through the pain, wait for the perfect outcome on the other side. Forgotten is the idea of finding fulfillment in what we endure. That endurance is about the current experience, and not about the difference between our current circumstances and perfection.

We should endure the imperfections in life, not because at some point all will be perfected, but because through endurance of imperfection, we may find bits of perfection. In a job, we may find the fulfillment of responsibility, or the pleasure of putting in our full efforts. In a marriage, we may endure routine days by finding the perfect moments: quiet moments when in the same room, the pleasure of companionship when running an errand.

Just so, we should endure the suffering imposed by a necessarily imperfect life. We can't avoid the suffering imposed by sins without leaving those sins unaddressed in our lives. We endure that suffering by looking for the perfect lessons. In this way suffering is part of the process of repentance. We use those perfect lessons to crack and soften our hearts. Then we call upon the power of the atonement to reshape our hearts, and seal it against the sin.

At the same time, endurance is not inaction, nor should it imply pacifistic acceptance of unjust circumstances.

What are your thoughts?

p.s. This post was written in May.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hunger Games

Melinda saw her students reading a book, and decided that I would like it. I'm not sure if that's a compliment, seeing as they are 7th graders, but I really enjoyed it.

Written in first person, the book is set in a post-apocalyptic US, with a dictatorial, privileged oligarchy, separated from the working classes through the creation of 12 districts. My first impression was that it was a fun book, something for people who like historical reenactments to feel good about their hobby(trapping and hunting with a bow and arrow are valuable skills). As the book goes on, I felt like there was more hints of a moral dilemma. As in V for Vendetta, there are no moral discussions of the morality of revolution, but it's impossible to avoid thinking about it as you read. Action-packed, quick pace, but teenage characters that sometimes feel archetypal rather than individual.


p.s. I read this back in April, and just now am getting around to post this.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

If you can't create humor out of a military dictatorship, then where can you find it?

via: Abu Muqawama

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Poppy Cock

We shot some engagements at Dutch's place. He has peacocks. Sometimes they get into peacock fights.

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Friday, April 30, 2010

Cops make for a bad day.

So, everyone knows that an encounter with the police is a good day killer. It's not that the officers are bad people (at least no worse than other professions). It's just their job to be there when bad things happen. It's their job to be suspicious. It's their job to put pressure on those they are suspicious of. Thus, talking to them in their official capacity is usually unpleasant.

One night, as a college freshman, I hung out with a new set of friends. It was late at night (because it's freshman year!), and we were messing around on the grounds. Someone touched a bike that was unlocked, with the idea of moving it to confuse the owner in the morning. A campus "honor guard" (don't ask, it's stupid that they exist), saw us, and called the cops. Obviously they accused us of wanting to steal the bike. The issue was somewhat quickly resolved (after a frisking, and a separate interrogation for everyone). At the end, one particularly large cop accused me of stealing computers from homes in the neighborhood. At first I thought he was joking. But after I laughed, and he didn't laugh, I realized he was serious. I stammered. I had no idea what he was talking about. But because they had access to my school records(which seems hinky) they knew I had a computer related major, and thought they'd take a stab in the dark. In the end they accepted that I had nothing to do with it. That was a bad night(but a good story).

So, even if you do nothing wrong, but just look suspicious, or spend a night with a group that looks suspicious, Cops make for a bad night. For this reason, law officers are restricted from prying into our lives. They must have probable cause in order to detain, search or arrest us. They need "reasonable suspicion" in order to question us. Otherwise we are free to leave at any time. This is one reason the new law in Arizona is troubling. What is reasonable for suspecting a person is an illegal alien? How should a police officer decide that they should ask for proof of legal residency? There are certain street corners where day laborers will wait for work. Illegal immigrants tend to be day workers. Thus hanging out on certain street corners makes it more likely to be an illegal immigrant, right? But that also means, for legal immigrants and citizens, being a day laborer is probable cause for a policeman to stop and ask for papers. Remember my story above, about how it sucks to deal with police? Because they're trained, even if you are legal, to see if you are hiding things. Even after they've dealt with the initial issue, their job requires them to make sure they haven't missed anything. There is no way to cut the issue that makes it possible for policemen to look at a person and say, I have a reasonable suspicion that that person is an illegal immigrant.

A lot of people are saying the law is racist. The law itself isn't racist, because law(at least on its face) is colorblind. Some say the police will apply it in a racist fashion. I'm going to give all the officers the benefit of the doubt, and say, they will make all possible effort to avoid using racial profiling in their execution of the law. The problem is that what is then the basis of suspicion on which they will apply this law? No cursory examination can possibly provide the necessary level of suspicion. Illegal immigrants don't act different. Only an investigation into the life of the person, their residence, work, and family, can provide it. Thus the only basis on which the law can be applied by an officer on his beat is by racial profiling.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon.

Jim has always bee a really good dad. One of the most important Dad qualities is how they perform as either a) a climbing post, or b) a dancing bear, or c) both simultaneously.
I kind of loved the afternoon light in my parent's living room. It's relaxing. When I came home, Melinda was surprised I hadn't taken any naps. It's usually so easy to just find a patch of sunshine and close your eyes. Like a dog. Or a rabbit.

There was temporary interest in a game of cranium. We played by the wrong rules. And the nephews didn't know who Walter Cronkite was. And I didn't remember any of Fonzi's catchphrases. But Carl did a great impression of the Fonz. And Ryan drew dreadlocks.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Easter Dinner

Melinda worked really hard to make a complete Easter Dinner. We got out a tablecloth, homemade rolls, salad, cheesy potatoes, lamb, sparkling apple juice, and pie.
So just as we were starting to eat, I reached for the sparkling cider, and it started to fall. In the process of trying to catch it, I knocked over the salad dressing, which foiled my attempt to right the cider. We didn't take any pictures after that.
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Default Faces

Everyone has kind of a default face. They're sitting, taking it all in, with a mildly blank thought in their heads. Baseball is great for observing this, because there's all that downtime between the action. Dad watches baseball games with dignity.

Ryan is too happy to put on his default face, though, it's pretty close to this one. Sorry Brandon, I know you thought you were in this picture. I kind of thought so too. By the way, look at those eyes. Those eyes will get him lots of dates someday.

For some reason, I just couldn't get a good picture of Carl on this day. I think that people make the funniest faces when they're talking about intelligent things. The brain just isn't so good at taking care of the face when it's making thoughts.
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Monday, April 19, 2010

opening day and flags

My brother gave my dad a perfect Christmas Present. He went with all his sons went to the Rockies Opening Day game. Dad loves baseball, and we all enjoy a good day at the park. Coors field is a great stadium. It captures a kind of old school steel girder and brick style that makes it feel... like a real ballpark. It feels right to get a hot dog, and settle down in the cool spring air for 3 hours of baseball.

As they were singing the national anthem, I had a thought about our flag. Putting aside all symbolism, at least as much as possible, I think our flag is a great piece of pop art. Just compared to other flags, not as symbols of their nations, but as a thing to hang on a pole, our flag is in at least the top third of flags in the world. Just sayin'.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pictures you take while driving

We've had a few spring storms recently, and what always interests me is after the storm, the clarity of the air. The mountains on the other side of the valley seem so close, the detail so fine. The picture is mostly boring, but you can kind of see it.

I rarely get out of the house in the morning. Mostly I sit on my couch, and try to avoid the sun peeping through the gaps in the blinds of our east facing windows. So on the morning that I was flying to Denver, I saw these clouds, and took these shots blind. I kind of like it, but I feel like there should be more oomph?
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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

I've lately been interested in more complex forms of story telling, multiple plot threads with multiple points of view. Patrick Rothfuss takes a different angle at the complex story. His is a tale within a tale, old as Arabian Nights, with the tale being autobiographical, the teller a born dramatist, with hints of tragedy dropped from the beginning. The story is almost classical Heroic fantasy fiction, though there is no sense of fate or destiny. There are no prophetic verses guiding the hero, or calling out signs for those around him to follow. Still, the hero is intelligent, witty, able to learn anything that he puts his hand to. Such stories often degenerate into action driven tales, propped up by the charisma of the hero. They often lack meaningful relationships besides loyalty, and a simplistic romantic love. The exception here is that Rothfuss realizes that capability does not equal constant triumph. Not all circumstances can be overcome with a plucky quip, a sturdy sword, and a well thought out plan. Real love requires more than a romp through the woods and a convenient stream. Friends can be loyal without being sidekicks.

The premise of hero as talented storyteller is novel, and the crafting of the story is well done. The language isn't complex, but there is care for how the words flow. Once the story within the story begins, it's quite immersive. The level of intensity ebbs and flows, so that you could sometimes call it uneven, but no story can maintain the same intensity over 700 pages. The book ends without any sense of completion, but is satisfactory nonetheless. Many books I've read recently end with an action packed climax, and then tying up loose threads. Instead, Name of the Wind ends with a quiet threat. There is no sense that, "Here Ends the First Book", but instead just an intermission in the tale. 5/5

Which is in contrast to:
Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erickson
I'm beginning to understand how this series will feel. Its complex, multiple plot threads are all understated, with the characters knowing more than the reader, until it is revealed, and is a surprise to both reader and the character, as their expectations are not quite spot on. With characters that hide as much as these do, the plot must be action driven. This is not to say that it's not fun, just that the characterizations are not deep. I'm getting the sense that as the series goes on, the characters will be revealed and developed slowly. While I will continue to read these books, it won't be with the same anticipation that I await:
1. The next Brandon Sanderson book(either Wheel of Time or otherwise)
2. The next book in A Song of Ice and Fire
3. The next book from Patrick Rothfuss
4. A book by an author I don't even know exists yet.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Books from the holidays

I got behind, so here's to you:

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
This was a simple con/heist/underworld revenge story. With so many slashes, you might have thought it wouldn't be simple, however, it read with momentum, never dwelling on any certain thing. A significantly light tone kept anything from being too serious. While there is death, I can't say that I felt any sense of grief, even though we liked the characters. I won't say this is a flaw, because it didn't appear to me that the author was trying for that kind of dark, tragic feel. It's not that Scott Lynch didn't achieve his aims, but I think I'm looking for a more complex story, something more than just entertaining. 2.5/5

Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erickson
A more complex type of story, with a larger cast of characters, a larger world, both geographically and politically. There is magic, and it is vague(mysterious?), powerful, but requires sacrifice. The book isn't perfect, the complexity sometimes gets away from the author, and the characters sometimes are not well-defined. This is partly a consequence of his method of introducing the story, world and characters, which is, he doesn't. When you meet characters, it's obvious that they know each other, or have heard reputations, but it's not always immediately clear what they know. This is both intriguing and disorienting. On balance, I think I like it. I'm going to give him at least one or two more books, see if I become more interested or less. for now, 3.5/5

The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
This is a series I've been reading since High School. The original author passed away, and the 11th book was going to be written by one of my newest favorite authors, Brandon Sanderson. There's a large fanbase, and they love to talk and speculate about the books. There has been some criticism that after the 6th book, nothing seemed to happen, or it all happened slowly. I never really noticed, and just enjoyed them as they came out. For those who it did bother, this book is a kind of apology. Lots happens, and it's some of the big outstanding stuff that happens. The only criticism I would offer(not that it's a perfect book, but I'm reading it for entertainment, so if it doesn't stand out, I don't notice/care) was one of the climaxes had a bit of a cliche resolution. The problem is, I don't know if there was another way to resolve it. While it was cliche, it felt inevitable and appropriate. If you like fantasy at all, you would like this series, but it's a huge time investment. 4/5

A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
This unfinished series is another I've been reading for a while now. Martin is notoriously slow finishing these books. Set in a world of knights, lords, ladies, kings, queens and "smallfolk", Martin deromanticizes the standard fantasy fare. These books contain some content inappropriate for children. The characters are real, their family relationships clear, and you care about the characters, even the devious, ignoble ones. Tragedies occur, and to main characters. Not just death, but the loss of children, serious injury, disablement, and betrayal. And every time it happens, you are sad, and you care. Women are treated about the way they were really treated in feudal times, with rape being a real possibility, childbirth a dangerous responsibility, dismissive men, and a few standout women that are treated by those around them either like a man, or like some force of nature. It's particularly interesting to read the viewpoint of a woman without real power, and yet is not a meek, submissive creature, but a real person, with an inner life of their own. None of the sex/rape is ever an onscreen adventure, and it's not discussed that often, but if you can't handle the discussion of sex, you should probably steer clear of these books. Overall, I give it a 4.5/5