Saturday, October 18, 2014

Book: Ian McDonald;s "The Dervish House"

My last two works of fiction have been interesting reads.  What has made them interesting is the settings.  In most of the science fiction and fantasy books I have read the action takes place in cultures with similarities to North American and/or European cultures.  "The Golem and the Jinni" and my latest, Ian McDonald's "The Dervish House", both take place in different cultures.  "The Golem and the Jinni" involves Jewish and Syrian Christian cultures (though it was in early twentieth century New York).  "The Dervish House" takes place in a near future Istanbul.

"The Dervish House" takes place around 2027.  The book weaves the lives of a group of people living in an old Dervish house.  The people range from an old Greek economist to a child with a heart condition.  A religious interpreter of the Koran to an antiquities merchant.  The book takes these disparate lives of  half dozen people and the people they interact with and watches how their lives tangle during a five day period after a terrorist bombing on a city tram.  In the end you have a story about cultures, religions, finances, and nanotechnology.

I consider the different culture of eh book as a plus but I have to admit it was hard at first to keep the different Turkish and Greek names straight in my head.  This led to a slow first third or so but I eventually got everything straight and I started to care for the characters and where they are going.

I only have a few little things that bugged me.  First the nanotechnology in the book - a central figure in the book -  seems a bit too sophisticated for 2027 (I could be wrong about this ... time will tell).  The second is a lot happens in those five days.  Too many things.  A month would have been more realistic to me.  Lastly, the author has a bad habit of abruptly shifting from the present to flashbacks.  Some of the transitions were so unexpected that I became confused and had to reread parts to figure out where and when I was.

Despite these issues, I enjoyed reading about the inhabitants of the Dervish House.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Five Little Piggies ...

I know I've talked about this before but blisters are the bane of the hiker's existence.  I usually get them on the heals, ball of the foot, or on the toes. When I was walking my second Camino we would say, when counting blisters, toe blisters didn't count.  Yes they would hurt but they wouldn't stop you from walking.  They could take some of the joy out of the hike though.  I decided to try out a possible solution.

I've already mentioned a few things I do to prevent blisters like lubing up your feet and wearing two pairs of socks.  Lubing up is just what it sounds like - using some type of lubricate like Body Glide or Vaseline to reduce friction against the skin.    Wearing two pairs of socks consist of wearing a thin, moisture wicking inner sock (or liner sock) with a thicker sock (often a merino wool sock like OmniWool, SmartWool or Wigwam) over it.  The idea being to transfer any friction off of the skin and onto the liner sock.  These two fixes are more effective against the heal and ball of foot blisters than toe blisters.

.My potential solution to toe blisters has to do with the liner sock.  I decided to try changing the type of liner sock I'm using.  Namely, I'm trying funky looking toesocks.  I hope, since each toe is totally encapsulated in cloth that there will be minimal friction between the toes thus preventing blister formation.
Injini Liner Toesocks

I'd heard of these socks from a Camino forum comment.  Someone posted that they loved them.  I thought what the heck and bought a couple pair to try out.  The Injinji Liner Toesocks are thin and moister wicking like proper liner socks.  They are made with coolmax which is known to anyone who has bought athletic clothing.

I tried them out yesterday on a thirteen mile walk around downtown Omaha and through the Dundee and Benson neighborhoods.  When I first put them on they felt odd but the sensation quickly went away.  They fit tightly over you feet and hug your toes.  I wore a pair of thick Omniwool Merino wool blend socks over the liners.  The liners felt good over the four hour walk.  They didn't slip or bunch up anywhere and were comfortable.

Obviously one hike does not a test make.  I rarely get toe blisters after a single long walk - it will take a multi-day hike to really test them out properly.   I should, though, have some results later this year as I lengthen my hikes.  I have a soft corn on the side of one of my toes that often starts hurting during longer hikes.  It doesn't need consecutive days of hiking to irritate it.  It just needs a few long hikes.  Hopefully I will post a follow up later in the year.

I will say that so far I like them.  The only short coming is the price which, at $9.00 per pair, is a little steep.  If these turn out to prevent toe blisters they will be worth every cent.

If anyone has any experience with toesocks and blisters, feel free to share your stories in the comments.  I'd love read them.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

I Did It ... Now It's Your Turn

Early voting started on Monday in Nebraska so I did my civic duty and voted.  The sad thing is I ended up leaving a lot of the ballot blank.  I have a rule: I do not vote for anyone who is running unopposed.  Sadly there are quite a few positions on the county ballot with only one candidate.  Doesn't feel right.

Now that I've voted they'll stop showing all those political ads, right?  Right???  RIGHT???  Damn.

P.S. One thing struck me as I arrived at my polling office.  The office was located behind a Keno parlor.  With the quality of political candidates we are forced to choose from, it often feels like a gamble ... and one with bad odds too.

Monday, October 06, 2014

The End Of A Saturday Morning Tradition.

I remember when I was young, living at the Lake of the Ozarks, every Saturday morning I would get up really early, sometimes before the parents were out of bed, and I would plop down in front of the television and watch Saturday morning cartoons.

I would switch from one channel to another trying to absorb the best mix of cartoons I could.  It wasn't that hard back then since there were only three channels to choose from.  I would watch the roadrunner escape, Tom get humiliated by Jerry, have no fear because Underdog was there, and I would wonder what mystery those meddling kids would solve this week.  It would last until Johnny Quest saved the day and my brother would kick me off the TV because American Bandstand was coming on.

I continued the tradition in college.  I didn't always get up early on Saturday mornings but when I did it was often to sit in bed and watch cartoons.  I stopped watching them once I got a job.  I still watched cartoons but they were late afternoon or evening shows, not Saturday morning ones.

Over the last twenty-something years the Saturday morning cartoon block has slowly died.  I didn't realize it.  NBC stopped doing it in 1992.  The last of the big three to have a cartoon block was ABC who ended it in 2004.  Just a week ago, the last broadcaster (the CW) ended their block of Saturday morning cartoons.  This last weekend was the first time in over fifty years ... the first time since I was born ... that there weren't any Saturday morning cartoons. (Read more about it here on Gizmodo.)

Cartoons are still there.  You find them on the Cartoon Network, Disney, Nickelodeon, and even Comedy Central.  Cable is what killed the Saturday morning cartoon.  That and the FCC mandating more educational television.  The cartoons have been replaced with live action educational shows.

When I heard about all this I was a bit sad.  No other children will be able to experience those lazy Saturday mornings watching animation anymore.  The fact you can watch it all day on cable just cheapens the experience I think.  That's the thing about abundance.  When things are scarce, they become valuable but when things are abundant and easy to find they loose their value and loose their importance in our lives.  The only thing left over is nostalgia and a sense of loss and that ... is sad.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Book: Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project"

Who doesn't want to be happy.  The question is, how does one go about increasing their happiness?  That is sort of what Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun" attempts to answer.

The book is a personal account of how she created a resolutions chart and filled it with resolutions that would, based on her research, increase her happiness.  Each month she tackles another aspect of her life - marriage, having fun, work, etc. - adding four or five resolutions to her chart.  By the end of the year she has accumulated over forty resolutions.

At the end of the year while she considers herself happier, her husband didn't totally agree with her.  Having said this, I think she sounded happier and I suspect her husband was just not perceptive enough to notice the change.

There are a lot of ideas in this book that you can use.  The book is not a how-to kind of manual though.  It is a memoir.  The book is full of  I-I-I.  I tried this.  I did that.  I changed my attitude. I-I-I.  At times this was annoying but it is what it is.  Having said this she writes about many ways to improve her happiness and some of her stories resonated with me.

Will I start my own happiness project?  Probably not.  It felt like a lot of work.  I will think about many of the ideas listed in the book and, who knows, I may find a way to add a little more happiness in my life because who among us couldn't use a little more happiness in their lives

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Quiet ....

I've been really quiet lately.  I've been a bit sedentary and have been reading a lot.  I've only posted six times this month and that's including the one you are reading right now.

So ... what have I been doing?  I've been trying to ride my bike more but I have not been very successful.  I planned to ride three times a week, or twelve times for the month, but I managed only three bike rides.  I have been very successful at coming up with excuses.  Not very encouraging.  These rides are meant to be preparation for riding RAGBRAI next year.  Strange how the idea of riding RAGBRAI really appeals to me but I am not very enthusiastic about actually preparing for it.

My motivation has been struggling since our return from Africa.  I just can't get things started.  The couch ... and the television it faces ... has gotten a work out this summer.  When I'm not watching TV I'm on Facebook or Twitter.  In other words ... not being very productive at all.  The result is I'm not preparing for next summer and I've even gained a little weight.  Not that much actually but I am approaching the weight I was when I had bad blood test numbers.  I got my numbers down last time by losing ten to fifteen pounds.  I wouldn't want to have my blood tested right now.   I try to tell myself that the gain is because muscle weighs more than fat but my lack of activity lately doesn't jive with that rationalization.

That is just about it really.  Sleep, eat, do chores, surf the social web, watch TV, ... rinse and repeat.  Not the healthiest of lifestyles.

So I'm trying to regain some motivation.  I'm trying to get out more.  I've  started to walk once a week again.  On Saturday I went on a Backwood's led hike this last weekend at a park I'd never been to before (Neale Woods) - it was nice but buggy, a victim of the time of the year (it was a year ago I got all bit up at Waubonsie on another Backwood's led hike).

Sunday the Wife, her Sister-in-Law, her niece, and I went to the Brownville Flea Market and enjoyed a nice sunny day browsing rusty treasure.  (The ice cream I had there didn't help my weight situation much but it was oh so good.)

I will get on my bike and I will kill two birds with one stone - prepare for RAGBRAI and loose some weight.  Heck, I'll kill three - I would also be preparing for next year's Trek up the Tower.  October will be a more productive month.  I promise.