Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween!

To celebrate Halloween, I watched Hide and Seek, starring Robert De Niro and Dakota Fanning. I liked certain subtleties that were reminiscent of The Shining, but for the rest, the movie was fairly predictable and insufficiently scary. Thumbs down, I'm sorry to say!


Maybe this goal is too easy

I enjoy reading! But in the last year I’ve cut back a bit due to competing entertainment channels (movies on dvd). I’ve started reading a bit more, in the last two months, so maybe I don’t really need a specific goal to do this. But I don’t want to get out of the habit again, so I’m adding this goal as a reminder.

I most recently finished Mammoth, by John Varley. I’m a fan of John Varley but found this new one a bit disappointing. I also read Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America in October.

"Mammoth" by John Varley

"Mammoth", the latest science fiction novel from John Varley, is both entertaining and disappointing. I don't want to give away much about the plot, since it is probably best to read the book fresh without any information, as I did.

It's a fast read, and the plot is reasonably interesting. But I found the characters to be stale and not engaging, like the characters you find in a mediocre Hollywood film. And I'd swear that Varley is looking to sell the novel to Hollywood, with various jarring references to brand name products scattered around. Also, there were little inconsistent details that annoyed me throughout the book; nothing that affected the major plotline, just things that didn't make sense, but went unexplained. For example, and not to give anything away, when you've been taking all of your meals from a candy machine for a few days and you (presumably) don't have the use of a toothbrush, I don't think anyone will enjoy kissing you. Details like that jumped out at me and made me lose my focus.

I've read and thoroughly enjoyed a number of the early novels by John Varley - for example, "Ophiuchi Hotline", and the Gaea trilogy ("Titan", "Wizard", and "Demon"). I wish I could rec this book, but I would never buy it! I borrowed it from the library, and it's not a waste of time to read, when you're in the mood for something light (which I was - good vacation reading material).


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

"The Da Vinci Code" is Entertaining

Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" is a quick read. It's a suspense story that starts with a murder in Paris, and cascades into plots and conspiracies linked to strange claims surrounding the origins of Christianity. There's a bit of controversy surrounding the book (some Christians in an uproar), but I don't give a hoot about that. The book is entertaining; I didn't need to think too hard when reading it, but it didn't bore me to tears, either.

I just wish there were some notations in an appendix that helped distinguish known facts from the invented bits. These links are somewhat helpful: Bizarre Facts, Dan Brown's FAQ. The Wiki page is a little messy. It has a “Criticisms” section, which is not entirely convincing.

It’s interesting that, at the moment, when I use this google search I get a sponsored link from the Opus Dei site!


Finished Philip Roth's "The Plot Against America"

"The Plot Against America" – I can’t exactly recommend this. It tells the story of what might have happened if the anti-Semitic Charles Lindbergh had run against FDR in 1940, and won.

As a rule I don’t like alternate histories, and I guess this is no exception. I enjoyed the first chapters, told from the POV of Philip Roth, the child. But I didn’t enjoy the last few chapters, which tell the story primarily in a more dry, reportorial manner.

The good thing about a book like this, though, is that it helps to make history come alive. I hated history as a school subject. For the most part, the story is engaging. As an alternate history, it made me more curious about real history than anything I read as a student. I wish I’d been exposed to such interesting approaches to history when in school – it would have helped to make real past events much more interesting and memorable.

So: thumbs up for struggling history students, I guess.

I’ve got to post my favorite quote from the book [p 346 of the hardcover edition]: "I was still too much of a fledgling with people to understand that, in the long run, nobody is a picnic and that I was no picnic myself."


Monday, October 17, 2005

It's "Achieve Financial Independence Week"!

Achieve Financial Independence Week is the third week in October – this October 16-22. The Stower's Innovations Newsletter talks about it; in fact, they invented the week. Here's another link to

Yes, it’s a hokey marketing gimmick to get people to buy insurance. But don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater; there are some good ideas and suggestions in the newsletter. Food for thought.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Thumbs down

I just finished watching Admissions, but I can't recommend it. It's like a highly produced teen movie of the week. It's not that the performances were bad, just that the content wasn't there.

One little tree

One little tree
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

One brave little tree on an island, doing its thing for Autumn. The view is from the Mattabesett trail, where I took my hike today.

Went for a hike

I was eager to go for a hike today, since the rain finally stopped. The roads are still flooded in places, and I saw waterfalls in unusual places.

Unfortunately, the rain was replaced by gusty winds. It was as if Mother Nature took a look around at all the green leaves still on the trees, and decided that if they couldn’t be removed by persuasion, they would be ripped from the branches by force.

I don’t like hiking when it’s so windy, and normally I might have passed on the hike today. But the season is almost over, so I had to give it a try. I finally turned around after about 30 minutes. The winds were so strong I was worried about trees coming down on my head!

almost finished reading The Plot Against America

I’m reading the postscript now.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Movie rec

Worth watching: Off the Map. It's a thoughtful indie movie, a quirky movie; don't expect a profound ending, but the story is enjoyable. Something that resonated with me in particular was the believable claim that the family was living in New Mexico on an income of $5K per year (quite some time ago, I guess, maybe in the seventies?). Really nice cinematography too.... How can you go wrong in New Mexico?


Another hike

It has been raining all week, which discouraged me from hiking. Well, there was finally a break today. I went out for a nice 50 minutes. The trails are quite flooded – in some areas, they’ve turned into little streams. It was absolutely beautiful, and felt great to be out, anyway. I hope I can go again tomorrow.

Weightlifting workout

Just finished working out.

I'm loving the "Queer As Folk" soundtrack CD that I bought recently. I love working out to dance music, it's great for weightlifting! The only song that's a workout dud is Suffering by Jay-Jay Johanson - far too slow and pensive. My favorites are Spunk (of course!), You Think You're a Man, Dive in the Pool, and Crying at the Discotheque. All the other tracks are energetic as well - perfect to get me moving.

This is how I typically run through it:

1. Spunk (always play)
2. Dive In The Pool (always play)
3. You Think You're A Man (always play)
4. Proud (sometimes skip)
5. Lovin' You (sometimes skip)
6. Crying At The Discoteque (always play)
7. Suffering (always skip)
8. Shake Me (sometimes skip)
9. Summerfire (sometimes skip)
10. Start Rockin' (always play)
11. Do Ya (Feel The Love) (sometimes skip)
12. Let's Hear It For The Boy (sometimes skip)
13. High School Confidential (sometimes skip)
14. Straight To...Number One (always play)
15. Spunk ('Thank You!' Version) (always play)

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Car report

My car is a 1995 Geo Metro, which I bought reluctantly, but which I now love. It ran like a charm up until a few years ago, when it began to develop age-related problems.

The latest problem was a nagging worry for about the last six to eight months. The airbag light would flash on, for no particular reason, after I'd been driving the car for a little while. It would flash for about seven times as if it were signalling me in Morse code, and then it would stop. This is the same pattern that it flashes when you first turn the key in the ignition and all the other dashboard lights turn on as well.

The first time it happened I was in the middle of an hour-and-a-half drive, and it scared me - I was worried to continue driving. But quickly I grew used to it. I asked my mechanic about it, but he told me there was no way to diagnose the problem since it did not occur with regularity - no way to experiment on it while in the garage.

Eventually it went from flashing once every now and then to several times on every ten-minute trip. Finally I began to notice a couple of other lights flashing on briefly as well: the ABS light, and the battery warning light. With the battery warning light I took the car into the shop again. They checked the battery and said it was fine. The day after that, the battery light came on and did not go off from then on. Oddly no other lights came on: no more airbag light flashing or anything. But the daytime running lights didn't come on either.

The good thing was that, with the battery warning light on constantly, there was something for the mechanic to actually work with.

And well, it appears that they fixed the problem, knock on wood. They have replaced the alternator, which they say was faulty. They now tell me that the alternator can cause problems like the airbag light flashing (but if that's true, then why didn't they just check the alternator six months ago??). Since the new alternator has been in place for the past several days, there have been no more flashing lights, the battery warning light is off, and the daytime running lights are happily shining as usual. Hopefully that is the end of that!

Cost: $275 for a new alternator, and $225 for labor (@ $83/h).

This is going pretty quickly

I started reading Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America a few weeks ago. It was pretty quick reading, but then I put it down to read something else. I recently picked it up again, and it’s going pretty quickly. Should be done soon.