Thursday, November 27, 2014

Tis The Start Of The Holiday Season

The first bloom of 2014-2015.
Today is Thanksgivings (in the United States anyway).  To me it is the official start of the holiday season.  The is probably one of my favorite times of the year.  There is always something in the air ... cheery ... hopeful ... heart warming.  I also have a liking for Christmas music.  Earlier this week our Christmas cactus decided to announce the holiday season a few days early.  I guess this makes it official.

This is the first year in seventeen that The Wife and I have spent Thanksgiving apart.  She is at her parents making Thanksgiving dinner.  She will be staying with her parents a few days helping out.  I will be having Thanksgiving dinner at my Mom's and keeping his silliness (Iago) company.  I may even go to see the Holiday Lights Festival tonight.  I've been meaning to do it for a while but I've never had the chance before.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Book: Henry Kissinger's "World Order"

It was time for me to get serious so my next book was Henry Kissinger's "World Order".  Kissinger discusses the concept of world order throughout history, exploring how different cultures have different takes on it, and how it has changed through the years (centuries ...millennia actually).  I ended up learning a lot about history - a good thing - but I was a bit disappointed at the author's attempt at predicting how world order will change in the future.

Kissinger points out three different models of world order: The Western (first European then an Americanized version) westphalian model, the Chinese-centric model, and the Islamic model.   He describes the Western and the Islamic is some detail but glosses over the Chinese (strange since it was Kissinger that open up China to America in the 70s).  The book follows the historic narrative showing how the Western model has changed overtime including the major change that occurred when America started putting in its two cents worth.  The Chinese and the Islamic models really haven't changed much over the centuries.  The Chinese is very leader-centric i.e. the Emperor controls the order of all under the heavens and that's that.  The Islamic model flows from Mohammed and the Koran and thus has remained constant since the creation of the Koran.

In the latter chapters Kissinger looks at technology - computers, the internet, and atomic weapons - and explores how these things may change the world order in the future.  Here he gets vague.  He mentions the irreconcilable differences between Western and Islamic models but does not speculate as to how, if ever, the differences will be handled.  In a way the last few chapters just showed that we don't know what to do and the future is a mystery ... even to those in the know.

I liked the writing style of the book.  It flowed well and didn't feel muddled or stuffy like many history books can.  The book, which came out in September of this year, is surprisingly up to date.  Current events like ISIS and Ukraine are mentioned and overall feels contemporary.  I'm sure history will make sure that doesn't last too long.

One little aside.  If I have heard an author's voice, I sometimes catch myself reading their books in their voice.  For this book, reading the book in Kissinger's low, slow, heavily accented speaking voice slowed me down enough that I had to finally break that weird habit I've had for so many years.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Photograph: Bearded Builders

"Bearded Builders"
by Bruce H.
I don't know about you guys but I'm kind of getting tired of the beard craze.  It might be because my beard, when I let it grow out, makes me look old.  Having said this I found this van parked in downtown Omaha and I have to admit it's funny!  (Click on the picture to enlarge it.)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Movie: "Interstellar"

After a great night of music, the Wife took a day off so we could recover from the late night before we headed out for an early movie.  Since we've gotten Netflix we rarely go to movies.  I prefer to watch in the comfort of my own home with a clean bathroom, food in the fridge, and a pause button when I need to use either.  There are, though, some movies that need a large screen to experience fully.  When I do go to the movie theater I usually go in the middle of the week and I see the earliest showing I can.  This usually means a near empty movie theater with few distractions, ringing cell phones, noisy kids, or talkative people.

"Interstellar" is one of those movies that needs a big screen.  In this case an IMAX theater.  The Wife and I sat in the center of the theater and became immersed in this epic space adventure.  I have to say that I was impressed.

"Interstellar" tries very hard to stay within the scientifically plausible. You can tell that the technical adviser (in this movie's case Kip Thorne) was listened to and he did a great job with the science ... until the last half hour.  I won't spoil the ending.  I will say that a very important principle of science is violated near the end.  I do not mean that some science was stretched into the realm of speculation.  I have no disagreement with a little artistic license and science stretching.  The principle that is violated though is too important.

The ending rubbed me the wrong way and, frankly, the engineer in me prevented me from enjoying the movie as much as I wanted to.  The Wife, on the other hand, really enjoyed it ... definitely more than I did.  I will say that the visuals are amazing and I liked the characters.  The political overtones at the beginning felt a little heavy handed at times but I can live with that.  It definitely was a nice part two to our mid-week break from things.

So, If you are planning to see "Interstellar", check your engineering and physics degrees at the door and just enjoy it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Music: The New Pornographers With The Pain Of Being Pure At Heart At The Slowdown

We've both been a little distracted and busy the past couple of months and we needed to get out of the house and take our minds off things.  This week we packed a couple days of entertainment into twenty-four hours.  The first half of our entertainment was on Tuesday night and involved music.
An encouragement for the band ... and to everyone at the Slowdown.
After going out to eat in the old Market, the Wife and I braved the cold "Arctic Chill" and went to the Slowdown for a concert.  I like the Slowdown.  It's a small, intimate venue that lets you get up close with the performers and there isn't a bad seat in the house.  We arrived after the doors had opened so the tables to one side of stage - our favorite spot - were full.  We moved up to the balcony (we'd never been up there before) and found a nice table next to the railing with a nice view of the stage below.  I have to say that the balcony may be my new favorite spot in the Slowdown.  We chatted up one of the friendly security guys while we waited for the show.
The Pain of Being Pure at Heart.
The warm up band was The Pain of Being Pure at Heart.  I'd never heard of them before which, I have found, is usually the case for small venue warm up bands.  They had some good stuff but it was not very memorable and I felt that the vocals were a little weak.  They were meh.
2014-11-11_New Pornographers_010
The New Pornographers.
The main act was The New Pornographers.  I was introduced to their music by the GodSon.  I wasn't sure about it at first but it grew on me.  Most music is like that for me: first I don't like it and then it grows on me.  By the time we went to this concert I was very familiar with a lot of their songs (thank you Spotify) and I really enjoyed their music including the two encores - it's been a while since I saw a double encore at a concert.  They played every one of my favorite New Pornographer songs.  I would call that a success.

We both really enjoyed our evening of food and music.  It was a nice distraction from real life.  The distraction would continue the next day ... which I'll share in another post this weekend.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Wow ... What A Difference A Day Makes.

Today it topped out around 60°F (15.5°C).  It is now dropping below freezing and will remain below freezing until at least the weekend.  I guess winter is here a tad early this year.

The camping trip I was hoping to squeeze in this month is now off.  I don't think wearing all my layers would have kept me warm when the temperature drops into the teens.  I doubt I'll go camping again until spring.

Bike riding on the trails is also shut down for the season.  This morning I took my bike down to the basement and put it up on the trainer frame.  For the next few months I will be riding in my basement while watching Netflix and TED talks.  Now I can't use the temperature, wind, or rain as an excuse not to ride my bike.

We haven't had any snow yet but I'm sure it's just around the corner.  Hopefully it will not be a dry winter so I can get out and snowshoe.  If there isn't any snow I'll still get out and walk.  It takes a lot to stop me from walking.

All of you out there experiencing this arctic blast, stay warm!

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Book: Patrick Rothfuss' "The Slow Regard Of Silent Things"

I rate my books on Goodreads.  I have only given the five star best rating to three books.  Two of those three were books by Patrick Rothfuss.  When I saw his new book, "The Slow Regard of Silent Things", came out I was hoping it would be the third in the Kingkiller Chronicles.  I want to read the next chapter in the story of Kvothe.  This book is not a Kingkiller book.  This book follows a week in the life of a character from Rothfuss' other two book, Auri.

Auri is an odd character.  A young girl living in the tunnels under the university ("the underthing").  She communes with the things around her and lives a free spirited life alone in the shadows.  She interacts with her world, and it is her world, in an almost poetic way.

As I was reading about Auri I got the impression that this young girl was suffering from OCD.  She lived a life of simple rituals where everything has a place and there is a place for everything.  When things were out of place her world turned dark until things were set right.

Rothfuss has a very easy reading style.  The words flow off the pages easily.  This book adds an almost poetic style on top of the easy flowing words.  It made it a joy to read even if the story is not what you expected.  The book, a short 170 pages (much shorter than the other two books which averaged over 850 pages each), left me wanting more.

Hopefully, now that we've seen how she lives, we will see more of Auri in future Rothfuss books.