25 July 2016

Barry is the Best

With my apologies for the crummy phone photo - this is what Barry the Hummingbird looks like when he's sitting outside on the feeder:




This is how he sees himself:



Good Books are Good: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This book was on a list of recommended SF&F novels I bumped into a while back. I picked up a couple of them and one was trash (literally trash - I enjoyed throwing it away more than I enjoyed finishing it) but this was excellent. It has garnered numerous strong reviews and awards so you can either take my word for it or aggregate all the feedback and decide for yourself. It is excellent. Highly recommended for all readers.

24 July 2016

Musical Interlude: Alone by Marshmello



This smash hit has been described on the radio (when I was in Hell Phoenix and had to listen to the radio) as "happy trap". I don't disagree with that categorization, but I would suggest that it's more fun than happy, and who doesn't need a little more fun in their life? Your kids will probably love it, is what I'm saying.

The mixes from marshmello are kind of all over the place but probably great in person, if that's your thing. 

23 July 2016

Good Books are Good: Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp

Do you like cycling? No? Oh. What about weird coming of age stories set in the Netherlands? No? Oh. Hmm... not sure this is the book for you.

I confess I'm not much interested in cycling or coming of age stories set in the Netherlands either but this book was good. It's very much a retrospective, first-world problems, white middle-aged guy story. (Dutch people LOVED it - they bought hundreds of thousands of copies, made a movie out of it, etc.) I fit the target demographic and as such the book appealed to me on levels that may not appeal to you. If you regularly read Jodi Picoult or Nicholas Sparks novels then you should maybe give this one a pass. (And also you should read better books.) 

It is a difficult novel to classify - kids grow up? Kids go cycling? Bad things happen? Adults go cycling? No idea. I liked it. You might not. It's that kind book. 

Long Time No Talk

Not Actually a Bond Villain
Two weeks between posts is a long time. We have have so much to talk about! I usually fill this space with rhetoric about politics but our current two-party system has delivered only two options for a presidential candidate. One is a warmongering (though otherwise moderate) Republican, and the other is a barely sentient, toad-shaped blob of orange whip. What's a voter to do? One is bad, the other is worse. Sam Harris says he will 'hold his nose and vote for Hillary', which is an endorsement, I guess.

Anyway congrats to Drumpf on his nomination. He makes G.W. Bush look like a polished statesman, so it's true that money can really buy anything. I look forward to seeing how he blusters and bullies his way through debates. It will be difficult for a craven politician like Hillary to take him seriously, because he is not a serious man. He is a spoiled brat playing the tough guy, and that plays well with the faux-tough electorate looking to blame someone besides themselves for their declining economic influence. The only thing more embarrassing than his candidacy are the people that believe his nonsense. For a party that got extremely bent out of shape over Obama's ambiguities and vagaries back in 2008 the GOP faithful seem to be very content to let Drumpf free associate platitudes. Funny how that works.

Election season! Get excited!

10 July 2016

Read It: All Quiet On the Western Front

I picked up a copy of All Quiet on the Western Front to re-read. *(They can be had on amazon for pennies, plus shipping.) There is a very informative series of videos on youtube that can get you caught up on all the minutiae of WWI, and there are a great many historical novels that can do the same. These overarching narratives will talk at length about troop movements, and shells fired, and lives lost. So many lives lost. Too many to count. It was a nightmare beyond reckoning.

Through all that numbing information the actual cost and consequences of the war get lost. It's all well and good to know that the troops were in one place or another, but what where they doing? All Quiet On the Western Front makes an effort to bring that to light. It is a superb book that is just as thoroughly modern and relevant today as it was the day it was published in 1929.

Mostly they were trying to kill other people, at which they excelled, and also they were trying not to die, at which they did not.

The book itself is a slim volume that can be read through in a few sittings, if you have the stomach for it. More likely you will have to read it in smaller sections, as the wretched misery of trench warfare in 1916 is only occasionally interrupted by 'happy' moments.

If you read only one book about WWI, or only one book about war in general, then this is the book to read.

30 June 2016

The Lobster Place in Chelsea Market, Manhattan, NYC

The Lobster Place (Interior, Partial)
There is a place in Chelsea Market where you can get a delicious lobster roll, and also lobster bisque, and also sushi, and also boiled lobster, and a great many other things. It is called The Lobster Place. I took a picture. Here it is.

28 June 2016

Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller

This is a fascinating, insightful book. Miller writes with clarity about the nature of human violence in modern Western society and punctures the myth of the dojo and practiced martial arts training. It's an interesting topic in part because I (and probably you) live in a society where people prefer to ignore violence, pretend that it exists at a remove, and move blithely through the world as though it can't happen to you. Ignorance is bliss. 

You don't need to live in fear or paranoia, but a greater understanding of violent human nature is probably a good idea, not least so that you can recognize a real danger when it presents itself.

The book does not attempt to share techniques for training or exercises. Instead it does what it says on the tin (meditations): philosophical topics rooted in real-world experience. 

Highly recommended. 

Punctuation is Important

From Friend Scott, via the internet:

Dear people who type in all lower case,
We are the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.
Regards,
Upper Case Letters

27 June 2016

I Went There: Phoenix

10:00 PM in Phoenix is Lovely This Time of Year
(One in an occasional series.)

Phoenix is awful. Phoenix is what would happen if someone decided to build a huge shopping mall in Hell. 

The only nice thing I can say about it is that there is a weirdly disproportionate number of attractive women there. Why is that? No idea. Must be some kind of social pressure, like in some Southern cities. It is weird. They must enjoy being sweaty, because living in Phoenix is like living in the business end of a blowtorch.

26 June 2016

I Went There: Manhattan

Room with a View Means I Take a Lame Photo
It's been a couple weeks since the last post because I was in  New York / San Francisco / Phoenix for work. Lots of airports and hotels and uber rides and conference rooms but along the way I was able to have some good experiences. They put me in a hotel room with a view of a tall pointy building. So that was fun. Ate some really good Korean food in Koreatown in Manhattan, which was also fun.

In between attending a conference for work and meeting with customers in Manhattan I was able to visit some amazing food places. I could eat at Gotham Market every day and never get tired of it. I would also weigh 800 lbs in about three weeks. Everything looked amazing. Same with the Chelsea Market. Went to both those places on the same day, because you work up an appetite walking around the upper west side.

Also visited lavains (purveyors of the finest store-bought cookie that I have ever had, and possibly the best cookie available at any price), and also Balthazar (purveyors of a great many delicious items, but I was there for the coconut cake). You can skip the hassle of trying to get a table at Balthazar and just go to the bakery and get a slice of that cake. It is the shit. Technically it is the same as the Minetta Tavern Coconut Cake, so you can review the recipe here if you want to try and make it at home. If you want some help let me know - my kitchen isn't big enough for that project, although I may try and build it this winter just to see if it can be done.

Yeah there are other things in Manhattan besides food but the American Museum of Natural History is well documented (underrated). So is Central Park in the summer (overrated). Plus the Hayden Sphere was under construction so I couldn't visit the exhibit. So that sucked. Still a great trip overall. Manhattan is a superb visit but it wears me out.

12 June 2016

Good Books are Good: America's War for the Greater Middle East by Andrew Bacevich

America is at the Mall
As per usual, not much to report. Work and the gym, and sometimes I go places (and go to the gym, or yoga). In the next two weeks I have to go to New York City, San Francisco, and Salt Lake City. It would be great if it weren't exhausting. Middle aged white guy problems for real. 

In between trips to exotic locales I finished America's War for the Greater Middle East by Andrew Bacevich. It was very good. The book examines the United States continuous (and continuing) failure to demonstrate any kind of success in its' ongoing war in the Greater Middle East. 

Bacevich adroitly points out that the rise of military commitment in the Greater Middle East started up in earnest just as the cold war was winding down. What a happy coincidence this turned out to be for the US military industrial complex! (Was it actually a coincidence? No!) He also points out that, unlike the war in Vietnam, everyday life in America changed not at all: there were no sacrifices, no draft, no request from the government to maybe cut back a little on the conspicuous consumption. Quite the contrary: the public has been asked to proceed as if we are not at war. Why should we do otherwise?

This lack of investment or involvement encourages apathy on the part of the American voter, and it enables the various participatory entities to piss away trillions of dollars on military operations across the globe to no appreciable effect. It's quite a little racket the senior level military commanders, politicians, and defense contractors have set up for themselves. All this while the rank and file soldiers get put in the meat grinder.

If you are at all interested in a tidy summary of the epic catalog of failures that is US foreign policy and military action in the Greater Middle East then you will be fascinated. Highly recommended. 

06 June 2016

There is No Such Thing as Free Will

I wrote about this already when I covered the book Free Will by Sam Harris, but there is an article available in the Atlantic that covers the same topic, and examines the implications. Enjoy.

05 June 2016

Let's Do This: Pastry Class - Verrines

What is a verrine? I had no idea before I looked it up on the Googletubez. All I knew was that I had limited interest in a class on macarons because those are pretentious, trendy cookies. It's great that macarons are So Hot Right Now but enh, whatever. So I signed up to take a class on verrines, which was a very good choice because a) verrines are goddamn delicious, and b) verrines are usually comprised of dessert components that I think are goddamn delicious. Synergy, for your face.

Fun facts about verrines: it can be anything you want as the dessert type is actually the way it is served (in a small glass or cup thing) - the only limit is your imagination. So that's fun. Another fun fact is that the form factor (served in a cup/glass/small container) gives you the chance to use ingredients and textures that would be impossible in a cake or other pastry, because the container will hold everything together. How great is that? Pretty great.

So what did we make? Oh man we made some delicious items. First type of verrine had a seared banana custard layer, a chocolate sponge layer, a mango/passionfruit jello layer, vanilla and rum whipped cream layer, and a crumble top. It was good.

The other type was a vanilla custard layer, a vanilla sponge layer, a strawberry puree jello layer, a pistachio whipped cream layer (!!), and a bit of chocolate covered rice krispies on top. It was also good.

I've got big plans to make some verrines at the crib. Mine are going to be in a larger glass though. Not too big, but larger than those tiny shotglass sized treats we made at the swank pastry shop/school. Serving dessert in minuscule portions is a sadness. Let us not perpetuate this sadness in the world.

Speaking of perpetuating sadness, the pastry class draws all kinds of people. No men besides me and the instructor, which is typical. The range of kitchen experience on display among the students was... broad. I can tell at a glance if someone has spent any time in the kitchen by whether or not they put their hair back when they come to class. Put another way: if you put an apron on and don't pull your hair back and out of your way at the same time then you have no idea what the fuck you are doing in the kitchen. That said, there were 8 people in the class and three of them didn't know that if you don't get your hair under control it will turn up in the food. One of the students didn't even know how to make whipped cream. A reasonable person might imagine this impossible, as the entire recipe is in the name of the dish. But here we are. We got through it anyway. (I made the whipped cream.)

Very much looking forward to taking more classes. Even if it's macarons.

30 May 2016

MOAR BOOKS: The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales

This is an entertaining book, very easy to read, and also somewhat difficult to categorize. There is violence, the narrative jumps back and forth in time, and while details are frequent the macro view is occasionally ignored.

If you want to punish yourself with some of the reader reviews on amazon (never do that! why would you do that?) then you will quickly notice that the complaints are that the book is confusing or that the characters are shallow, or similar things which completely miss the point of the book. The point is that the regional office is under attack, and that drives the story. How it drives the story, and the characters, is well explained, although the tendency to shift back and forth in time during the narrative will only make sense after you get to the end.

Highly recommended.

29 May 2016

Read a Book: The Numbers Game - Why Everything You Know About Soccer is Wrong

The Numbers Game aims to use statistics to take a closer took at what is (and isn't) valuable on the soccer/football pitch. It is a very interesting read, although much less accessible than Moneyball in that there are no central characters to drive the narrative. (The authors do a a good job covering some of the personalities in the game but they don't have much punch.) Instead the facts drive the narrative, and while that doesn't make for a very good option on your movie script, it is a very informative and educational book. If you like statistical analysis applied to athletic endeavors then: highly recommended.

28 May 2016

Reading Sam Harris: Free Will // Letter to a Christian Nation

We are big fans of Sam Harris in this blogspace. He is a very practical man, and I like practical people. I picked up several of his books and have been making my way through them. The books are quite short, which I appreciate, since typical pattern in an academic book is to make your point once, then make it over and over again so that it fills up enough pages that you and (especially) the publisher can make some money when the book gets published. This is boring and sucks and it's why you can skip the majority of the pages in books like Reclaiming Conversation (an otherwise good book!) without missing much in the way of pithy content.

I started with Free Will, a slim volume that explains why free will is an illusion. You can finish this book in a single read, although breaking it up into smaller chunks will make it easier to process. Harris writes: "Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have." (Page 5) He spends about 60 very tidy pages providing proofs for this position, and doing some work explaining the implications. Highly recommended. 

After taking a break to read some fiction I read Letter to a Christian Nation. This book is a direct response to all the hate mail that Harris got after he published The End of Faith. Like Free Will, this is a very compact, economical book. Harris takes only as many pages as he needs to rebut the absurdity and hypocrisy that surrounds modern evangelical Christianity in the United States. He is not a man to waste words on boring topics, and his cool rationality is a soothing balm if you want to purge the memory of some new and impressively stupid religious news. Highly recommended. 

27 May 2016

I Thought You Said Your Dog Would Not Bite

CUTE
Didn't mean to suggest that the sweet pups in the last post is my pups. If I got a dog that would be the first thing I mentioned. I bought that bear as a gift for my accountant because it is his office dog, and that dog is awesome. In related dog-sharing news, this is Bruno the Portuguese water dog meeting a tortoise for the first time. Much excitement. Very reptile.

As an aside: Feel free to name your dog whatever you want, but if you choose a name that ends in "oh" (like Bruno, or Bilbo, or Bo, or Potato) then make sure you choose a negative cue that is different than the word "no", or else the dog will get very, very confused. That dog owner sucks. Don't be that dog owner.

Operation Macballs continues apace. Gotta retrain the brain. Keeps your brain fresh, or so I'm told.

Operation Drop Some Ell Bees is well under way. The Fat Kid is in a pool with some of the other peeps to see who can whip themselves into shape in preparation for the 4th of July. I have been supporting the efforts of my fellow competitors, and by "supporting" I mean "dropping cookies off at the houses of". Same thing. I cannot make them eat delicious treats but I can at least make them available. Here to help, people.

If the title of the post doesn't make sense then enjoy this classic. You're welcome.