Sunday, January 31, 2016

My 2015 Books and Movies

I finished 34 books last year. I posted them on Goodreads.

I read a bunch of books that were made into popular (and current) movies: The Martian (Andy Weir), The Fifth Wave (Rick Yancey), LA Confidential (James Ellroy), Still Alice (Lisa Genova), Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates), Black Mass (Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill) and The Finest Hours (Michael Tougias and Casey Sherman). I also read some bona fide literary prize-winners: Midnight's Children (Salman Rushdie) and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon).

Of my 2015 list, the book that stayed with me throughout the year was The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (Jeff Hobbs). It's the non-fiction story of a young inner-city kid from Newark, NJ, who has received a golden ticket: a free ride to Yale University. He graduates, but doesn't entirely give up his inner-city mentality. He died in a drug-related shooting.

Jeff weaves a fine narrative about Robert's upbringing. He presents the good and the bad in a measured and neutral manner, which compounds the impact of Robert's decisions. It's one thing to know that certain decisions are bad, but it's another to consider whether one is capable of doing anything else. It's a superb book, and one that I highly recommend.

In 2015, I watched 23 movies. The Martian, Inside Out, and The Peanuts Movie were favorites, but the one jaw-dropping movie for me was Interstellar. It's a huge regret that I didn't see this in the theater.

Monday, December 28, 2015

A California Christmas

On Christmas day this year, the temperature was nearly 70 degrees (Fahrenheit). It was an unusually warm day, capping off a series of warm weeks that Massachusetts hasn't experienced in quite some time. The warm weather so late into December seemed to be our consolation from last Winter's terrible storms. I joked that this is our California Christmas.

When I was in college, I did an internship in Pasadena, California. I lived there from June 1988 through December 1988. Being able to walk around in a light jacket during December felt like a miracle, and I loved every minute of it. "I could get used to this," I thought. I remember how sharp the cold felt when I returned home that Winter to New Jersey.

As I write this, Massachusetts is poised to have its first Winter event of the season. The predictions call for a light coating of snow which many hardy New Englanders will declare as "nothing." I count myself among those hardy people. I enjoyed our California Christmas, but I look forward to a classic New England Winter.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Wear and Tear

When I empty the dishwasher, whenever possible I make sure to put the newly cleaned dishes under the ones that are already stacked in our cabinet. I feel this evens out the wear and tear on our dishware.

This isn't a hard rule. If we only put two dishes in the dishwasher, because we had to clean a bunch of larger items, I don't take down the ten dishes in the cabinet just to put the two new ones on the bottom. I put them on top. I'm not a crazy man!

I do this because I remember reading how rain water will eventually split a large boulder, or how wind and sand will shape rock formations after a thousand years. With my strategy, my dishes will last longer because they're evenly exposed to the dishwasher water and detergent.

Or maybe I'm overthinking this.

Either way, only someone a few generations from now will be able to verify this!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Praising "In Our Time"

"In Our Time" is my favorite podcast.

The show is a brisk 40-45 minute discussion on all manner of subjects: history, art, literature, and science. The host is Melvyn Bragg, a British writer/broadcaster with a firm grasp of whatever the subject happens to be. His guests are three academic specialists in the subject matter: a panel of articulate scholars.

When I first learned about this podcast, I picked out the subjects that were of interest to me: engineering, science and math. As I grew familiar with show and its format, I found that Melvyn's manner made any subject seem vibrant. He could produce an almost urgent note in his guests. I've listened to many great talks about history (both popular and obscure), art, poetry and literature.

All the guests are steeped in their subject. Whereas Melvyn has broad taste and knowledge, his guests are at the proverbial deep end of the pool. Without exception the scholars are articulate about highly specialized knowledge, and their enthusiasm for their subject can be quite infectious.

Melvyn would surely be considered a Renaissance man: a person with diverse interests and talents. It's clear that he prepares a certain way before each show, and he is the one that dictates the pace and the angle of approach. He defers to his guests, but he makes it clear that it his show, and he keeps things lively and brisk.

Add this show to your podcast collection, and broaden your mind!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Product Placement

I pulled my 2007 Subaru Legacy sedan into the Panera parking lot. It was a short distance to the door, but it was raining. I pulled up the hood of my New England Patriots hoodie, and jogged across the lot. The restaurant was full of people: no one wanted to prepare anything at home, I guess. I ordered a Strawberry Poppyseed salad for myself. My wife calls it a candy salad because there's so much fruit in it, but I like its sweetness. As my order was being prepared, I pulled out my Apple iPhone 6, and browsed for pictures of the Minium, a new minimalist smartphone. Eventually I got my food and I went back outside. I looked up and rain drops fell on my Theo Bosrand glasses (705 Matte Black). I began running to the car, wishing I had worn a hat instead.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Beating an Addictive Game

In July I started playing "Can You Get to Twenty" on my iPhone. It's a pairs matching game that is very simple to understand, and you can play it in a web browser here:

The game has a gentle start as you go from matching 1 tile to 10 tiles, but once you reach 10, the tiles are linked, and this can only be described as diabolical. The game increases its speed remorselessly, and I found myself bug-eyed watching all the tiles for matches. Once you start matching 15 tiles and beyond, it's haywire.

A full game from 1 to 20 would take about 10 minutes, and each time I played my body and brain would go from a relaxed to furious and frantic. I loved the sensation, however, and each time the game finished, I immediately pressed play to try again.

Was I ever able to reach 20? Yes, and I tweeted about it! But the game doesn't end at the glorious final match. The game instead continues, and once again you dive into a delicious hyper-active state.

I knew I had issues when I began to play the game immediately after dinner. No reading, no computing, no writing. Just this video game. It does allow you to start at the higher levels, so I'd start up at 15. Immediately, I'd be thrown into the hellfire of the final levels, but it was exactly what I was craving.

After a session of playing the game, my heart would be racing. It was hard to reset myself. I didn't like how long it took before I could fully unwind myself from the energy that the game generated. I didn't like how the answer to unwinding was often to play the game some more.

One night after reaching 20, and not sure whether I should start another game, I decided instead to delete it. I was feeling addicted to the game, and I didn't want to lose any more control. I did make sure to buy the in-game purchases, to reward the designers. They definitely created an addictive game, though just a bit too addictive for me.

Friday, July 31, 2015

U-Haul People

I refilled a propane tank at a nearby U-Haul, where people seem always to be in transition.

I saw a woman alone, her car filled with belongings. Was she returning a truck? Or scouting one out? I imagined that she was moving away. The stuff in her car was the gear she needed when she got to where she was going. Maybe she was making the last trip to her new place.

I saw a bunch of people that looked like a family. One or two parent looking types. One or two sibling looking types. They were hugging each other, in front of a U-Haul truck whose hatch was still open, allowing me to see what looked like an apartment's worth of stuff. It's early for students to be arriving in Boston, but maybe it's not too early to make a trip to a Midwest or West Coast school?

I saw a young couple, proceeding slowly from the office, papers in hand. "They've got each other," I said to myself. Maybe they're moving in together, and they needed a truck to to consolidate stuff.

The attendant made the propane tank hiss. The odometer read three gallons. He capped the tank, and gave it to me. Did people at the U-Haul look at me, and deduce that I was the local?

I drove away and at the first stoplight, I realized how familiar I was with this road. I could go left, right, or straight, and it wouldn't matter: I could get home. The familiarity is comforting and suffocating at the same time.

When the light turned green, I went straight.