Friday, January 31, 2020

My 2019 Books and Movies

In 2019, I finished 17 books and 70 movies.

My favorite fiction from the past year: The Sympathizer (Viet Thanh Nguyen) and The Nickel Boys (Colson Whitehead). Both were vivid and dramatic, and I loved them, and I highly recommend them both.

My favorite non-fiction: Guns, Germs and Steel. I'm coming late to this book by Jared Diamond. I remember a co-worker reading this in the mid 1990s, and I had put it on my radar back then. I managed to finish it last year as an audio book, but the material was so compelling I bought a used copy. This is a sweeping book about the key drivers behind the formation of modern societies.

For the movies, my favorite by far was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Humor, emotion, music, and amazing action. But a close second was Incendies, a story that rocked me just like it did the children depicted in this brooding movie about family and history.

Nickel Boys

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Tidying Up

I enjoyed Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up when it was published in the US in 2014. It was a bestseller, and when my wife bought it, I skimmed through it also. I liked Kondo's key idea: keep only what brings you joy.

It's a deceptively simple criteria to apply. It's simple because the question is straightforward. It's deceptive because you might expand the definition of joy, lumping possessions under "it used to bring me joy", or "it was a joy to receive it."

I own a lot of things, but not all of them bring me joy. Because I have an unfinished basement, I can afford to keep things simply for nostalgia's sake, or inertia's sake. I can afford to keep all my excess baggage.

My wife and I were inspired by Kondo's ideas though. We began to purge things more frequently since 2014. We know that the joy of possessing something can be short-lived, and nothing is wrong with that.

A fond acquaintance told us "You own possessions, possessions shouldn't own you." As my wife and I perform the magic of tidying up, I remind myself that the most joyful things are things I can't possess: health, relationships, ideas. The rest can be given away.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Signs of Encouragement

On my way home I pass a small house that has two yard signs bearing a message that lifts me. The first: "Don't Give Up." The second: "You Got This."

I probably noticed these signs sitting in traffic, since this house is near a traffic light. After a long day of fighting work problems, it's easy to get discouraged. I think: "I didn't get enough done", or "I'm not cutting it." Perhaps it is the early winter darkness, but this line of thinking can easily seep into the rest of my life. Personal annoyances and irritations can become overwhelming. But that's what life is, isn't it? Along with the positives are the not-so-positives, and it's up to you.

So when I saw these signs, I sat up straighter. "Don't give up, Rick," it was saying to me. "You got this!" Only you, Rick. If not me, then who? Don't give up! You got this.

As I drive on, I think about how some people do give up. "I can't handle it," they think. I send them the positive message from these signs. If not you, then who? Don't give up! You got this.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Scaring Myself at the Movies

I just finished watching "Gone Girl" (2014). This movie is probably closer to a psychological thriller than a proper horror movie, but the end result for me is the same: a good scare! I generally have avoided horror movies, but when I think about dread and fear and suspenseful experiences at the movies, I think of these five.

Alien (1979) - From the appearance of the alien out of the bloody guts of Kane's stomach to the frightful appearance of the alien in the end, it's a horror movie in space.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)- All I have to think about is that last scene, and that scream, and I'm scared all over again. I should probably rewatch this but I know how it ends!

Get Out (2017) - When our hero is held in that chair by that frightening family I was getting that great panicky feeling: what horrific thing is going to happen to him? This is a fun horror flick.

The Omen (1976) - The slow-motion reveal of the antichrist's birthmark is what I most remember about this superb scary movie. When evil is portrayed in a child, that adds to the scare factor.

The Exorcist (1973) - The grand-daddy of scary movies. Regan's rotating head, her frightful taunting and swearing, and all that bile and gore make this an all-time horror favorite. I can't bear to watch it!

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Turkeys of Turkey Hill

Our house is on a hill named Turkey Hill. It's a small hill, just 351 feet according to the USGS. At the top of the hill is a blue water tower, and depending on how clear it is, you can see this from as far away as Porter Square in Cambridge, six miles away.

We have lived here since the mid-1990s, but in the last few years we've been seeing wild turkeys. They seem to be coming from the hill that is their namesake. Wild turkeys! Walking, pecking and hop-jumping up and down our low fence and into our yard.

They seem to always travel in groups, and they seem to have a regular schedule of walking past our door. For a few months we saw two large turkeys and a baby turkey, and we named the little one Tetrazinni. After a while the little one stopped showing up and we made up a story that it went off to turkey college.

The best part of watching them is seeing them take flight. I learned that domesticated turkeys are too heavy to fly, but wild turkeys can fly. At the end of our yard is a steep ledge surrounded by trees. Depending on their mood, they will sometimes fly down to the bottom, parachuting with their wings gently waving. Other times they will flap their wings hard, and they will rise slowly to the branches near the tree tops. They seem quite tired when they get to the top.

I like my turkey neighbors!

Saturday, August 31, 2019


Our house is too big now
We're missing our teen
With her up in college
We've lost our routine.

Her room has her stuff
Lots of movies and books
It's just as she left it
Every time we take looks.

Our chores are now different
We clean a bit less
We're cooking for two
There's not that much mess.

We love that she's learning
But school's a good drive
With FaceTime and texts though
We're not too deprived.

For all of us three
We feel all the feels
It's a new phase of life
Let's see what reveals!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Self-Driving Cars

Futurists have been ushering in the era of the self-driving car, but I was glad to see a recent article proposing more caution. A recent fatality involving a self-driving car underscores this. The emergency backup driver in that fatality was not paying attention to the road. Why would they? After all, the car was driving.

Two years ago I started teaching my daughter to drive. At first a lot of what I was showing her was checklist and task oriented. As we started driving I tried to demonstrate continual awareness and anticipation. It was a constant stream of me saying "look out for this", "watch that", and "this person is signalling." Driving is continually reacting and making decisions.

Trying to replicate what the brain is doing while driving is going to be quite the feat in artificial intelligence. Lots of driving involves intuition and, in some cases, improvisation. I couldn't even imagine the computer science behind how you'd do this, though I suspect machine learning is a part of it.

A co-worker said he cannot wait for the age of the self-driving car to arrive. He thinks it'll be the end of distracted drivers. Machines don't get distracted. Despite laws, people still peek and peck at their mobile devices before, during and after traffic lights.

I like the baby steps that the self-driving car is taking, namely starting with smaller vehicles on controlled roads. Let's get collision avoidance figured out, then the computer will at least hold their own on real streets with real self-driving drivers.