Is Minesweeper really killing that much productivity?

Apparently the Montana state government thinks so. The latest controversy at the Child Support Enforcement Division is about whether or not Solitaire and Minesweeper should be on employee computers.

From the Helena Independent Record:

Some union and non-union employees complained that the games weren’t on the new machines, said Lonnie Olson, division administrator. They said some other divisions in the same department had games on their computers.

“I said if they want them, we’ll put them on,” Olson said, adding that he wanted to make sure division employees were treated the same as others in the department.

An anonymous tipster who said he worked in the private sector criticized Olson’s decision.

“If state employees have time to play computer games, then there are too many state employees,” the tipster said in an e-mail to the Independent Record. “As an employee in the private sector, I would run the risk of losing my job if my boss caught me playing games on my computer.”


I think there's a little Luddite-ism and general resentment of state workers here.


Book Review 25: What's the point?

Sarah said my geisha problem was related to this. My love of geisha was a manifestation of an impossible longing to experience a Japan that doesn't exist anymore. She said I would continually be frustrated in my quest for something culturally savage and pure in a world where culture is a domesticated mutt. I would keep falling into the arms of the lovely geisha, searching for an epiphany which would never come because I was after something forever lost.

Page 159-160

I really wanted to like Isaac Adamson's "Tokyo Suckerpunch: A Billy Chaka Adventure" more than I did. It promised to be a humorous detective story in Tokyo. Unfortunately, it just glides over the plot points and cultural references without doing anything "real."

It's like going a bus tour of a city where you don't get off the bus. You see a lot of stuff, but don't actually do anything. At the end of the day, it was a nice way to kill a few hours. You witnessed stuff, but experienced nothing.

That's the way this book feels.

Billy Chaka is a reporter for a magazine with the cliché title of "Youth in Asia." The pun was funny when I first heard it in the 80s, but Adamson wrote his book this century and could have done better.

Chaka is in Japan to cover the 19-and-Under Handicapped Martial Arts Championship. This is a neat idea and Adamson explores it a little, but before he can actually get into the story of the tournament, Chaka gets pulled in to other adventures.

Chaka is a regular visitor to Japan and wears the title of Gaijin (foreigner) with bemusement. He speaks fluent Japanese, knows all there is to know about Japanese culture, and has friends throughout Japanese society. He is expert fighter.

Chaka is also the best writer Youth in Asia has ever seen, and he gets tons of fan mail. He alone is responsible for the high circulation figures the magazine has.

Yet for all the magic he offers as a writer, he is much more a private detective.

I imagine Adamson is building up Chaka for humorous effect. The guy is the best at almost everything he does, and is smarter than anyone else around him. By making Chaka an absurd hero/character, Adamson may be trying to prepare a reservoir of humor. But it doesn't really work, and I have trouble suspending my disbelief with Chaka.

Chaka's main weakness is the Geisha. He is obsessed with Japan's traditional hostesses/entertainers.

My reporter's eye for detail was compromised when there was a geisha in the room.

Page 18

Chaka's adventures begin when he is sitting in his friend's bar after arriving in Japan to cover the tournament. A Geisha comes in, trying to escape pursuers. He helps her, then single handedly beats up four mobsters. And thus the chase begins.

When another friend is killed in a fire, Chaka hires his driver, and goes on the trail of this mysterious Geisha and the truth about the fire.

The story has some interesting twists and turns and Adamson does a good job of tying different elements of the plot together, in a story that involves film, organized crime, and unnamed religious cults.

While he does tell us what is happening, Adamson doesn't bother to tells us why it happens. At one point, about two thirds of the way through the book, a major character starts to give Chaka the full story and background about what is happening, why it's happening, and why it matters.

Rather than take this opportunity to actually give the reader the background of the story and put all the weird actions into context, Adamson takes the cheater's way out. Chaka falls asleep at the beginning of the exposition and wakes up when it's all over. So after all this time, the reader never gets to learn the back-story.

Much of the story is actually pointless. Like the bus ride I mentioned above, most of the book moves along with Chaka acting as a mere observer. The hero doesn’t really do anything except try and figure out what happened. While he appears to be a central element in the story, he does almost nothing to move the story along.

Billy Chaka isn't driving the boat of the plot here. Instead, he is bouncing around in the wake, like a water skier who lost their skis and is desperately clinging to the tow line. And yet, according to characters, he really matters. Maybe we would know why if he hadn't fallen asleep during the explanation.

While the over all plot is interesting, the problem is in the story telling.

The book tends toward the cliché, and not just in the magazine title. I am certainly no expert on Japan, but Adamson's Japan doesn’t seem real. The Japan of this book is built on a foundation of popular American preconceptions about Japan.

If I asked a bunch of different Americans, who have no direct experience with Japan, to list a bunch of things that they associate with Japan the list might look like this:

  • Geisha
  • High-end vending machines
  • Used panty vending machines
  • Yakuza members with missing fingers
  • Odd religious sects
  • Strict social hierarchy
  • An obsession with politeness in speech
  • Not saying anything directly
  • Love hotels
  • Karaoke
  • Bullet trains
  • Clean taxis

All those elements are in this books. Yet there is something fundamentally inauthentic about the way Adamson writes about the country. It's almost as if he made a point to stick as many "Japan" references into his book as possible, just to get them in there. In the end, we get an American pencil sketch of Japan, rather than any kind of authentic portrait or backdrop with the detective story.

In Japan, it was different. The trains were surgically clean, built with cutting-edge technology. To preserve their famous efficiency, they were crammed too tight for sentimentality. When you rode them, you didn't even feel like you were travelling, but being transmitted from one place to another like ones and zeroes being sent over the Internet. Japanese trains were just as depressing, only in a different way.

Page 108

Several cars blasted their horns, but it was impossible to tell whether their response was in agreement, dissention, or related to the Tsuguri sentiments at all. The sword society ultranationalistic ideology truck was bringing traffic to a standstill.

"We Japanese, the people of the sun, were once feared and respected as the mightiest nation in Asia. Now countries laugh at us. We have no defenses, no warriors, only an army of greedy slaves bowing to the West! We traded our swords for cell phones, our pride for microwave pizza!"

Page 11

Adamson does have some nice phrasing and descriptions in the book.

I stopped imagining long enough to cross the room and have a look inside the hotel mini-fridge. There wasn't anything left but a single kiwi-lime-strawberry flavored wine cooler. I needed a drink, but not that bad. I hoped I never needed a drink that bad and closed the fridge.

Page 187

She wore a simple black baby T, remarkable only for its elasticity and a purple vinyl mini-skirt shorter than haiku.

Page 254

Adamson puts together some vivid phrases that made me laugh with their understated humor. He goes off on some fantastically absurd tangents. At one point his characters spent four pages discussing the merits of taking the stairs in a building, instead of the elevator. It had almost nothing to do with the story, but it was awesome. It was fun, absurd, logical, and silly all at the same time. Sections like that and lines like those above show that Adamson has real talent.

But Adamson can't leave behind the cliché jokes.

As a writer, Kawabata was a pretty good terrorist.

Page 58

Now that's a joke I enjoy when I run across it in everyday life, but it's certainly not a new joke.

He was moving so slowly that he could have been working for the government.

Page 300

And I'm sure there were lines like that in Plato's Republic.

Perhaps I am missing the point. Maybe Adamson isn't writing a humorous mystery novel. Maybe he's actually writing a satire of a private detective story. Or maybe it's a satire of American in Asia stories and cultural conflict. It's possible that's what he's doing, and I simply don't read enough of those genre's to get the satire. It wouldn't be the first time I missed the point.

Even satire requires a level of authenticity which is too often lacking in this book. The author may be making fun of typical writing conventions, but if that's the case, he's not embracing them enough to turn them inside out. Instead, he's just checking them off a list.

I did get some enjoyment from the book. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. In general, I couldn't predict the next plot twist, but afterwards, the all made sense. And the book is great for some light reading. But it's too shallow to really dive in and take a look around.

I can't really recommend this book. It's too cliché, too stereotypical, and too pointless to be a must-read. I may try some of Adamson's later novels to see if this is an ongoing problem. "Tokyo Suckerpunch" is entertaining at times, and if you prefer to see cities from the inside of a tour bus, you may enjoy it. But if you prefer to experience something more deeply, this may not be the book for you.

More book reviews here.


Rap in the early 80s

The beauty of YouTube is that things I never expected to see again are right there and available to millions.

In the early 80s, rap music was starting to pop up on New York area popular radio and video programs. It was sure to take the country by storm.

At one point, I was going to learn how to break dance. Fortunately, that idea lasted only a couple weeks.

But I still managed to learn a few songs, if not the moves. One of my favorites was the classic novelty rap song "The Rappin' Duke."

Embedding is disabled for this video, but you can see it here.


Kirk vs Picard

2006-04 Star Trek Experience Gorn

Over at My Geek Life, they are exploring the 100 Greatest things about Star Trek. They just posted 51 thru 75. Unleash your inner geek and enjoy.

Arena made the list. It's the episode where Kirk fights the Gorn.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, they did a similar episode called Darmok.

And this is the difference between Picard and Kirk.

In Darmok, Picard refuses violence, throws away a knife. Then he spends time with the enemy and learns to communicate in a language of metaphors.

In Arena, Kirk throws a lot of rocks and then makes gun powder.


Could I be a Vampire?

According to this quiz, I could if I had to. I've always been a night person, so I could manage without sun.

I suppose of the various post-death critters that are out there, being a Vampire is the most appealing.

Ghosts just seem a little too ordinary and insubstantial. That kind of experience would just be really irritating.

Zombies don't do well on Jeopardy and really only last a couple weeks before they fall apart on their own. And there are also legions on internetters already planning for a zombie apocalypse. Who want to be the target of a prepared army?

Werewolves are a little too nature-y for my taste. Sure, I like going out into the wilderness and even wandering about by moonlight. But I also like going home to my books. Werewolves aren't know for their literary tendencies.

So, if I had to, I guess I'd choose to be a vampire.

You Could Be a Vampire... If You Had To

Like most people, the thought of being a vampire has crossed your mind. But you're not sure if you'd do it, even if you could.

Living forever doesn't sound half bad, if you could live forever with the people you love the most.

But do vampires even love? And would the vampire version of you even be you?

It's all too much to contemplate. Luckily, the chances of you ever becoming a vampire are astronomically low.

What you would like best about being a vampire: Living forever

What you would like least about being a vampire: Blood stained teeth


The dangers of canning

My sink was draining slowly. It took about 6 hours to empty. That's not good.

I did force it to drain this morning. I brought out the plunger and pumped that a few times. It seemed to help a little. Then I fired up the garbage disposal. That also helped, but it was a little scary. I looked into the drain and saw the disposal blades spinning. The drain guard appeared to be missing. I planned to add the slow drain and missing drain guard to the list of things that I need the landlord to fix.

The odd thing was that while the sink would eventually drain, the drain itself stayed full.

Tonight, I took another look and discovered the problem.

One of these was in the drain.

2006-11-21 Craberry Sauce (4)

Earlier in the week I finished a jar of home made cherry jam and put the empty jar in the sink to wash. I forgot about it.

Somehow, the empty jar slipped into the drain. The drain guard was still there. It was just forced open by the empty and now clear jar. The jar itself was just slightly smaller than the drain opening and fit in there perfectly.

I wiggled the jar out of the drain, and surprise, surprise the sink drained easily.

So the new danger in home canning is that if you're not careful, it can make you look like an idiot.

Easter and Retail

On Sunday I went to the University Village Shopping Center because I had to make a trip to Storables. Yesterday I posted about how cool Industrial Post Shelving is. Well, one problem if the flexibility of it is that when you buy it, you buy individual pieces. It's not a kit that comes in a box.

And when I put together my list yesterday, I was one shelf short for my design.

So off I went to pick up a shelf and get this project done. I figured it was likely to be a waste of time because the store would be closed for Easter. At least I though it would be a nice drive and maybe the Starbucks would be open.

As I recall, stores usually shut down on Easter. When I worked for CompUSA I think we closed the store just three days of the year -- Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.

When I got to the shopping center, not only were Storables and Starbucks open, they were packed. And so were most of the other stores. The Apple Store, Sony Style, Ravena Gardens, Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn -- they were all busy. The only store I noticed was closed was Crate and Barrel.

When did this happen? When did Easter become a big shopping day? It seems like a rather rapid turn of events.



Today I put together my shopping list and went to Storables. I needed more Industrial Post Shelving.

I first encountered Industrial Post Shelving (IPS) when I worked for CompUSA. We had tall racks on wheels that we used to stock shelves on the floor. We call them bakers's racks. They were great for moving un-palletized merchandise around the store.

I started using IPS extensively in my apartment about 6 years ago. I love the stuff. It's durable, flexible, and adaptable. I can create the exact set up I need to fit in the space I have.

And it just looks cool (though many people seem to disagree).

Naturally, it has an industrial look, but it's not overbearing in that respect. It has a nice, modern look to it. The simple lines and efficient design appeal to my techie nature.

It's not as cheap and O'Sullivan or Bush furniture from Office Depot, or whatever Ikea is selling, but it does last a lot longer.
I started my my entertainment system. Next, I added racks for my plants. Then I used it build my office shelves and desk. When I moved down to my new apartment, I pulled it all apart, and have been busy rebuilding the components into new designs to accommodate my new space.

It's really nothing more than a collection of posts and shelves in different sizes and shapes. You get little plastic sleeves that you slip over a post, at whatever height you want, then you slip a shelf over it. The snug fit holds and you don't even need any tools.

You can attach as many shelves as you want. The simplicity of assembly, and range of sizes make it a great system to build the system you need.

This time I did the set up, I decided to add a few extra pieces to give the units more stability, and to make it easier to change the shelf configuration. The above picture is a close up of two shelving units.

When building it, I could have eliminated one of those posts, and attached the shelves on the left and right to the same post at different heights. That's the way I've done it in the past, but the racks aren't as stable that way. Plus, if I want to reconfigure everything, I have to completely dismantle the system and rebuild. That's too much trouble.

So now, I build each vertical section independently and then use couplers to tie them together.

I still have a couple more plant shelves to build in my new apartment. After that, I may have a few spares left over from the move. I'll have to figure out how to make those useful.

And that's the beauty of the system. The spare parts aren't leftovers. They're just the start of a new system.


No Rock and Roll! No Rock and Roll!

The wild and the young
They all have their dreams
The wild and the young
They've got to be free

The sun never sets
For souls on the run
The wild and the young

In Queens, NY, in the mid-eighties we could not get cable (thank you, Donald Manes) and therefore had no MTV. But we did have U68, a UHF channel that broadcast music videos over the air.

That's where I first saw Quiet Riot's "The Wild and the Young." It's about a near-future fascist state that attempts to stamp out rock music and control the county's youth.

I don't recall if I liked it because of the rebellious attitude or because of the sheer silliness of it, but it quickly became one of my favorites.

It's awesome.


A clean apartment

Housekeeping has never been my strongest skill. But when I set my mind to it, I can do a pretty good job. I am out of my old apartment now and living in my new one, surrounded by boxes.

My old apartment looks pretty good, despite the 6+ years of normal wear and tear. It is mildly frustrating, though, knowing that it is the cleanest it's been in years, I did that cleaning, and I don't get to enjoy it at all.

I think the reason I can clean well when moving out of a place is that it is a one time project. When I'm done, I'm done. It's finished. Mission accomplished. I can win.

Day to day cleaning is different, though. As soon as normal housework is done, it's time to start all over again. And I hate that.


No, I'm not an 11 year old girl...

...but I have been watching Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel. And it's mildly compelling.

If you are not familiar with Hannah Montana (the show) it's and undercover pop star story.

Hannah Montana (the pop star) is a character played by Miley Cyrus, daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus (best known for his country cross over hit "Achy Breaky Heart"). Over the past few months tickets to Hannah Montana concerts were scalped for more than $4,000.

In the show, Miley Cyrus plays Miley Stewart. Miley Stewart pretends to be a normal, unfamous teenager in high school by day. By night, she is pop Hannah Montana, selling out concerts, winning awards, and recording platinum records. She lives with her father, Robby (played by Billy Ray Cyrus) and her brother Jackson Rod Stewart (played by Jason Earles). The show has featured guest stars like Vickie Lawrence and Dolly Parton. Miley, with her friends and family, get into all sorts of wacky adventures, often involving the secret of Hannah.

It's a Disney sitcom. It's safe. It's tame. Many of the subplots are predictable, and we've already seen them on the Honeymooners, Dick Van Dyke, The Bob Newhart Show, The Odd Couple, Laverne and Shirley, Three's Company, Perfect Strangers, and Friends. They're not breaking a whole lot of comedy ground here.

But it's not a bad show to watch while doing other things. The characters are likable. The music is sadly catchy.

The teen age actors -- both the boys and the girls -- are perfectly comfortable on screen doing silly slapstick comedy. It's fairly impressive to see pop star Cyrus willing to Chevy Chase style falls or take a milk shake in the face.

Sure, it's a silly show, but it doesn't pretend to be serious art. It's great for what it is. A Disney Channel Comedy.


What kind of puntutation am I?

This is one of the odder quizzes I've taken on line, but it kind of makes sense.

You Are a Question Mark

You seek knowledge and insight in every form possible. You love learning.

And while you know a lot, you don't act like a know it all. You're open to learning you're wrong.

You ask a lot of questions, collect a lot of data, and always dig deep to find out more.

You're naturally curious and inquisitive. You jump to ask a question when the opportunity arises.

Your friends see you as interesting, insightful, and thought provoking.

(But they're not always up for the intense inquisitions that you love!)

You excel in: Higher education

You get along best with: The Comma


Books? We don't need no stinkin' books

I really hope there's more to this story because as it is, this just makes me angry.

Apparently, the NY Public Schools are in such fantastic shape, they can just start throwing out brand new books.

From the NY Daily News:

Queens' Intermediate School 73 angers staff over tossed books

Hundreds of new or slightly used books were tossed into a Dumpster outside of a Queens middle school early Friday, outraging staff members who can't believe the waste.

Several garbage bags filled with copies of classic literature like "Little Women," "Sarah, Plain and Tall" and "Treasure Island" were discarded in a Dumpster alongside Intermediate School 73 in Maspeth.



Shatner-Palooza: We've got a box!

This is disturbingly awesome. William Shatner meets TJ Hooker and Captain Kirk in this spoof of the horrifying Seven. The twist at the end is great.

More Shatner-Palooza here.


The mail

I got the keys to my new apartment today. Move in actually happens over the weekend. I'm getting pretty excited thinking about way to use my new space.

Fortunately, I am moving within my building, which makes things a lot easier.

I also just got my first piece of mail at my new place:

Exciting stuff, huh?


You're flight is probably delayed...

...if the engine is open

2008-03-10 N775AS Alaska 737-400 at SEA Engine open (1)

They switched us to another aircraft and we left SEA about 40 minutes late. No big deal.

I did make it to Phoenix and the Hampton Inn in Scottsdale. It's one of the biggest Hamptons I stay in, and is on of my three preferred PHX area hotels. The others are the Embassy Suites on Rural Road and the Tempe Mission Palms in downtown Tempe. Where I stay depends alot on rates, availability, and where my event is.

I know this is an easy hotel to sleep in because I can hear my neighbor snoring.


Book Review 24: American cinema, Andrew Jackson, and more

I first heard Sarah Vowell's deceptively young voice during an episode of This American Life and was immediately creeped out by the way this 12 year old was talking. Once I realized she was, in fact, a grown, adult woman, I enjoyed her essays much more.

Vowell, a regular fixture on public radio is enthralling whether she's reading a story on NPR, sharing an amusing anecdote on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, or providing the voice of shy super hero Violet Parr in The Incredibles.

Take the Cannoli is collection of essays that saw earlier life in newspaper and magazine columns, or as radio pieces. It's a quick and entertaining read that explores Sarah Vowell as she explores the country.

Most of the time when I read a book, I hear the characters' or authors' voices in my head. Since I have never heard most of them, the voice is almost always the same (a sad variant of my own). Reading Take the Cannoli, however, I hear Vowels's voice as she reads every quirky line.

Vowell's essays are mostly about her. Not in a self centered way, but in a personal discovery way. Whether she's writing about her father's cannon, her explorations of Sicily, the Goth culture, mix tapes, or the Cherokee Trail of Tears, Vowell seems to be learning that the world is more complicated that she thought, and that she herself is full of surprises.

In the first essay, Vowell talks about her father and his love of guns. She was never a fan of the weapons and describes her first experience firing a gun like this:

The sound it made was as big as God. It kicked little me back to the ground like a bully, like a foe. It hurt. I don't know if I dropped it of just handed it back over to my Dad, but I do know that I never wanted to touch another one again. And because I believed in the devil, I did what my mother told me to do every time I felt an evil presence. I looked at the smoke and said under my breath, "Satan, I rebuke thee."

Page 19

Her father would go on to make a cannon. She joined him on a trip into the mountains to fire the beast:

Dad shoots the cannon again so they can see how it works. The other hiker says, "That's quite a machine you've got there." But he isn't talking about the cannon. He's talking about my tape recorded and my microphone -- which is called a shotgun mike. I stare back at him, then look over at my father's canon, then down at my microphone, and I think, Oh. My. God. My dad and I are the same person. We're both smart-alecky loners with goofy projects and weird equipment. And since this whole target practice outing was my idea, I was not longer his adversary. I was his accomplice. What's worse, I was liking it.

Page 23

In one of her later essays, she tries to overcome insomnia. She tries a variety of methods, but in the end, comes to the conclusion that the night has its own value:

Being up in the middle of the night is kind of nice, actually. It's quiet and dark and the phone doesn’t ring. You can listen to records and weirder movies are on TV. I've never known another life and now I'm not sure I want to.

Page 209

In my senior year of High School, I made described something in a report by reference the longing for the green light from The Great Gatsby. I though I was mighty clever at the time. And I even got a few points from the teacher for making the reference.

That's why I particularly enjoyed Vowell making the same literary reference in her description of a Frank Sinatra picture.

It pictures a young, frail Frank Sinatra sitting cross-legged on the boardwalk in Hoboken. The boys gaunt face wears a mask of resolve. He leans forward, just slightly, as if he is on the verge of standing up, as if his gangly arms and legs are willing themselves to that place where his heart already is. It is difficult, after you see that haunting portrait, to imagine that young Frank Sinatra as anything other than Gatsby, staring at the green light at the end of the pier.

Page 78
As a professional, writer Vowell does not limit her English class references to just literature. She discusses the psychological implications of a person's preferred form of punctuation.

Dave is trying to decide whether he wants there to be a space before or after the ellipsis. He's unsure. Is the ellipsis approach powerful because of what is not said after the dot dot dot, or is it a cheap excuse for not being able to verbalize? Conversely, do we parentheticals want to communicate by cramming more in between what we are, officially, saying? Or is it because we can't decide?

Page 203
Personally, I prefer the semi-colon; I like to tie my thought together, I suppose.

Vowell does not appear to be a fan of the comma. Most of them are missing from the text. I didn't notice this at first. When I read the book and heard Vowell's voice in my head, the pauses and breaks all seemed natural. I didn't realize so many commas were missing until I started typing out the passages I quote in this post. I kept having to back space and delete commas that I thought should be there but weren't.

Vowell talks about her atheism, her experience in retracing the Trail of Tears, her anger at seeing President Jackson on the $20 bill, and more. The material is often heart-felt if not light hearted.

Not all the material is filled with deep self reflection and personal transformation. Essays like, "Chelsea Girl," "Michigan and Wacker," and "Your Dream, My Nightmare" didn't suck my in quite like the others, but they are still great reads. They are just a little more detached.

Rather than do a detailed analysis of each of the 16 essays in this book, I'll just say it has my recommendation. It's a fairly quick read and Vowell held my attention through out. I picked up this book knowing I would enjoy it, and I was not disappointed. Take the Cannoli is sarcastic, funny, entertaining, thought provoking, and touching.

You can find more of my book reviews here.

Here are some of my other favorite passages:

I was a good daughter, a good sister, a good girlfriend, a good student, a good citizen, a responsible employee. I was also antsy, resentful, overworked, and hemmed in.

Page 60

I wonder how the teachers who were doing Huckleberry Finn the week of Littleton, handled the joking beginning, in which Tom starts his own gang and informs Huck and the other boys that their reason for being is "nothing but robbery and murder." Children's books can't say that anymore, even in jest. Which is too bad, because even though the two books' boy-talk brags about killing, when Tom and Huck witness an actual murder, it terrifies them, and Injun Joe the murdered is the object of their disgust and fear. Tom Sawyer articulates the difference between the language of child's play and the consequence of evil.

Page 119

Still, in post-Watergate, post-Vietnam America odds are that the more you shoot for Frank Capra, the more likely you are to end up with David Lynch. Once I notice that the town diner where we're having breakfast is about to celebrate something as corny as National Chocolate Ice Cream Day I start looking for lopped-off earlobes in my hash browns.

Page 120

The advantage is that twins share responsibilities. There is little or no pressure to become a whole person, which creates a very clear, very liberating division of labor. I did the indoor things, she did the outdoor ones. She learned to ride a bike before I did. I learned to read before she did. She owns at least three pairs of skis. I own at least three brands of bourbon. Driving was her jurisdiction. Criticizing her driving was mine.

Page 177

Before anyone breaks out the eyeliner, we all sit in a circle and go through my homework. The whole thing reminds me of graduate school seminars, except these people are smart and funny and have something interesting to say.

Page 214


A Wall of Books Part 07: Powell's Partner Program

You may have noticed the new Powell's search box on my side bar. It looks like this:

It's tied into the Powell's Partner Program. And it is a token effort at monetizing this blog. When you visit the Powell's City of Books website through that link, and then buy something, I get a small piece of that sale.

In the coming months, my book reviews will also link to Powell's through this program. Yesterday's review was the first one to connect to this way.

I looked at a few affiliate programs and Powell's seemed the most simple. It also has a good commission structure. Plus, I love shopping there whenever I go to Portland.

So I'll see what happens with this new program. I have modest expectations, but if I'm really lucky, it may generate enough revenue to pay for my free blogger hosting costs.


Book Review 23: Language like 20 year old Balsamic Vinegar

"Don't you just love it?" she said. "Everyday you stand on top of a mountain, make a three-hundred-sixty degree sweep, checking to see if there're any fires. And that's it. You're done for the day. The rest of the time you can read, write, whatever you want. At night, scruffy bears hang around your cabin. That's life! Compared with that, studying literature in college is like chomping down on the bitter end of a cucumber."

"Ok," I said, "but someday you'll have to come down off the mountain." As usual, my practical, humdrum opinions didn't faze her.

Page 5
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami is a great book.

Long time readers of Cromely's World may already know I am a big fan of Murakami (Dance, Dance, Dance and The Elephant Vanishes).

I enjoy reading his work because of the language.

With many authors, you read a book for the plot -- to get somewhere. It's like swimming the length of a pool. The goal is to get to the wall at the other end.

A Murakami book is like a giant hot tub. You climb into it just to be in it. You relish the ebb and flow of the warm, comforting water, water and seek out the occasional water jet.

The book itself is the experience.

Sputnik Sweetheart has many things in common with other Murakami books.

  • There's the language, of course.
  • The narrator is a man looking back at events that happened in the past.
  • The events in the book happened around the narrator; he did little to influence them.
  • There are powerful women.
  • And there is a strong mystical element to the novel.

Miu gazed steadily at Sumire, still holding her hand. Sumire could make out clearly her own figure reflected deep inside Miu's dark eyes. It looked to her like her own soul being sucked into the other side of a mirror. Sumire loved that vision, and, at the same time it frightened her.

Page 38

There is also a lot of talking. Much of the novel involves characters talking about present or past events over coffee, dinner, late night phone calls, and more. They even talk extensively about other talks they had.

But in the end, we talked all night. Every story has a time to be told, I convinced her. Otherwise, you'll forever be a prisoner to the secret inside you.

Page 143
In Sputnik Sweetheart, the unnamed narrator loves Sumire, but can't have her. College age Sumire loves the much older Miu, but can't quite have her. And Miu has her own issues.

Sumire was a hopeless romantic, set in her ways -- a bit innocent, to put a nice spin on it. Start her talking, and she'd go on nonstop, but if she was with someone she didn't get along with -- most people in the world, in other words -- she barely opened her mouth. She smoked too much and you could count on her to lose her ticket every time she rode the train. She'd get so engrossed in her thoughts at times that she'd forget to eat, and she was as thin as one of those war orphans in an old Italian movie -- like a stick with eyes.

Page 4
When Sumire disappears in the Greek Islands, Miu contacts the narrator for help. Then the secrets start to come out.

The back cover describes the book as a mystery or detective story, but it's really not. If you are looking for a good PI whodunit, keep right on looking because you won't find it here. There is a mystery, but there isn't an investigation like you might expect from a mystery novel.

The language is rich, as I've said. I'm not sure how much of that if Murakami, and how much of that is his translator. Regardless, they make a great team.

Murakami plays with the language in fascinating ways. From simple one-liners like:

Sumire frowned and sighed, "If they invent a car that runs on stupid jokes, you could go far."

Page 43

To oddly reversed similes:

There're no rooster crowing in my new place, Kichijoji, instead a lot of crows making a racket like some old wailing women.

Page 70
The story in this book is a bit of a departure for Murakami, though. Most of the time his characters are actually in Europe instead of Asia.

The story is also one of his more straight-forward tales. I had no trouble following it from beginning to end. I don't entirely understand what happened on the last page, but other than that I have no problems with book.

If you enjoy the experience of reading, or are a Murakami fan, this is a great book to have on your to-read list. It's a beautifully written text, with fascinating characters.

But oddly, there no Noboru Watanabes in this one.

You can find more of my Book Reviews here.

Here are some of my other favorite passages from Sputnik Sweetheart.

When did my youth slip away from me? I suddenly thought. It was over, wasn't it? Seemed just like yesterday I was till only half grown up. Huey Lewis and the News had a couple of hit songs then. Not so many years ago. And now, here I was, inside a closed circuit, spinning my wheels. Knowing I wasn't getting anywhere, but spinning just the same. I had to. Had to keep that up or I wouldn't survive.

Page 78

"Okay, consider this. Say you're going to go on a long trip with someone by car. And the two of you will take turns driving. Which type of person would you choose? One who's a good driver but inattentive, or an attentive person who's not a good driver?"

"Probably the second one," I said.

"Me too," she replied. "What we have here is very similar. Good or bad, nimble or clumsy -- those aren't important. What's important is being attentive. Staying calm, being alert to things around you."

Page 40

No matter where I find myself, this is the time of day I love the best. The time that's mine alone. It'll be dawn soon, and I'm sitting here writing. Like Buddha, born from his mother's side (the right or the left, I can't recall), the new sun will lumber up and peek over the edge of the hills. And the ever discreet Miu will quietly wake up. At six, we'll make a simple breakfast together, and afterward go over the hills to our ever lovely beach. Before this routine begins, I want to roll up my sleeves and finish a bit of work.

Page 131

"After my dog died I stayed in my room a lot, just reading books. The world inside books seemed so much more alive to me than anything outside. I could see things I'd never seen before. Books and music were my best friends. I had a couple of good friends at school, but never met anyone I could really speak my heart to. We'd just make small talk, play soccer together. When something bothered me, I didn't talk with anyone about it. I thought it over all by myself, came to a conclusion, and took action alone. Not that I really felt lonely. I thought that's just the way things are. Human beings, in the final analysis, have to survive on their own."

Page 195

So that's how we live our lives. No matter how deep and fatal the loss, no matter how important the things that's stolen from us -- that's snatched right out of our hands -- even if we are left completely changed, with only the outer layer of skin from before, we continue to play out our lives this way, in silence. We draw every nearer to the end of our allotted span of time, bidding it farewell as it trails off behind. Repeating, often adroitly, the endless deed of the everyday. Leaving behind a feeling of immense emptiness.

Page 206-207


A week to stay in bed

After yesterday's traipsing about hither and yon across three counties in Southern California, I finally settled into my room. I went to unpack and iron my clothes for today. I walked over to my suitcase, tripped over my big box, and finally made it. I pulled out my clothes for the morning. But there was something missing.

My pants.

While I carefully packed a day's ration of shirts and sock and whatnot for each day I'm down here, I seem to have neglected the slacks.

Now, I am no where near "cool" enough to get away with going to a business causal work event wearing jeans. I don't look avant-garde. I look like a scary electrician. And I know nothing about electricity.

So I set the alarm for the crack of dawn this morning, got up, put on my jeans, and headed off to my personal storage unit -- the local Target. Five minutes and $45 later, I had two pair of pants and could finally start my week.

I can't wait to see tomorrow's adventures.


A waste of 200+ miles

My work requires that I travel with 5-8 computers and a projector. I can't check them with my luggage because they will get stolen. The airlines specifically say they will not be responsible for any electronics in checked luggage. So historically, my best option has been to carry them on the plane. It was annoying, and you didn't want to be in line behind me at security, but it worked.

2008-03-03 Crate (1)

In recent weeks, I switched to a Pelican case. These things are nearly indestructible and are well padded. Plus I can lock the case. Now, the routine is to ship it through Fedex to my various events. It makes traveling easier. Most of the time.

Last week, I wrapped up an event in the LA area on Friday, and slapped the label on the beast. I asked the front desk at the hotel where the nearest Fedex drop off was so I could ship it to my next destination.

They graciously offered to take it for me and have Fedex pick it up from them. That turned out to be a big mistake.

As I waited for my flight to San Diego this morning, I checked the tracking information, and discovered Fedex had no record of the shipment. I panicked, hyperventilated, pulled out a bunch of hair, calmed down, got angry, and calmed down again.
2008-03-03 San Diego Airport and downtown

A quick call to the original hotel revealed that Fedex came and for some strange reason did not pick up the box. They were mystified as to why Fedex wouldn't take it; the hotel certainly wanted it gone. They were going to make Fedex take it this afternoon, but since I needed it first thing in the morning, I asked them to hold it.

So I flew into San Diego, got in my rental car, drove 120 miles from San Diego to the hotel near LAX, picked up my box, and drove back down to Carlsbad, another 100 miles or so. Through rush hour.

So 4.5 hours, more than 200 miles, and half a tank of gas later, now I have the privilege of tripping over it in my hotel room.

On the plus side, I did get to listen to two episodes of TWIT and two episodes of This American Life on my MP3 player.

Who says business travel isn't glamorous?

Saving money vs recession

I originally posted this as a comment on Kacie's blog Sense to Save.

I'm in a pessimistic mood about the economy right now. Typically, the advice given to individuals in a recession is to cut back on discretionary spending and save. Unfortunately, that responsible behavior may be just what makes the recession worse.

The problem is that the economic growth we’ve had over the past decade seems largely driven by consumer spending. The reason the economy didn’t drop into recession a few years ago is because people didn’t save — they spent money on all sorts of stuff. Greater savings would result in lower consumer sales which would translates into recession earlier.

The problems are two fold. First, a significant portion of that spending has gone to overseas manufacturers, rather than being fed back into manufacturers and labor in the US, to be then spent on more consumer goods in the US.

The second is that it seems we’ve built a giant Ponzi scheme to keep the economy going. We can stay out of recession as long as people keeping acquiring debt to drive the economy forward. Eventually, though, credit dries up, less money comes in from consumer spending and we end up in recession or worse.

Increasing savings is exactly what individuals should be doing. Unfortunately, if people do what they should, we are likely to have problems at the national level.

I don’t want to see a recession, but that may be what it takes to reboot the economy.


The cheap stuff can be the good stuff

Walk down the soda aisle of any large grocery store and you'll see the same thing. Either Coke products are on sale for something like $4/12-pack and Pepsi products are full price, or the Pepsi products are on sale and the Coke is full price. The next week, it flips.

But the generic sodas never change. They cost some thing like $1/99 gallons. The often skipped house brand Grape, Orange, Black Cherry, Cola, Root Beer, and Lemon-Lime products are golden.
This is the good stuff. Crisp sweet flavor and a stronger carbonation than I see from the big folks in the industry.

If any tries to stump you with that great Buddhist koan, "What does 'artificial' taste like?" relax, and hand them a generic soda. One sip and you know this flavor does not exist anywhere in nature. If you ever wondered about why we developed a major chemical industry in this country, it's so scientist could invent these beverage. Curing disease and inventing plastic were purely secondary concern. There is nothing organic or natural about these things. I'm sure even the water in them is made with top secret hydrogen isotopes.

Not only is this stuff good, but it's also dirt cheap. For every can of Coke you buy, you can get a truck of the generic stuff.

This isn't a new discovery for me. Back in high school, I lived on White Rock Black Cherry soda from the vending machine. Readers from the North East may be familiar with the scandalous topless fairy (Psyche) on every can. At one point I was eating Munchos and drinking Black Cherry soda for lunch every day. If I was really hungry, I might splurge on a frozen Charleston Chew. It's not like I didn't have plenty of other options for lunch. Bringing a good lunch was always an option, or I could have purchased one the cafeteria. But this particular diet seemed like a really good idea to me at the time, and I stuck to it with level of determination you have only in high school.

Today my eating habits have evolved from Munchos and Black Cherry to coffee and instant oatmeal (apple spice flavor, please) and if I'm feeling really hungry, I'll microwave a chimichanga. I've come a long way.

But my point is this: don't turn your nose up a the cheap, generic soda in the grocery store. Because that stuff is awesome.


A view from the Boardroom

The Alaska Airlines Boardroom (the member lounge) at LAX has a great view of the runway. The few pictures I did get did not do it justice. It's quite a site to see a 737 zip past a 747 while they taxi around. The 747 makes the 737 look like a Cessna.

2008-02-29 View from Boardroom at LAX

I'm not sure what this is. I'd do the research, but it's late. It might be a 727, but the nose looks like it was added on later.

2008-02-29 View from Boardroom at LAX (1)