Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Quiet Day by the Fire

It was cold here today, the temperature down into the 20s when I woke up this morning. So I built up a fire in the fireplace, and planned to spend my day sitting in close proximity to the fire, reading, and not doing much else. To that end, I was mostly successful.

I finished reading Simon Winchester’s new book, Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World. A good book, as I find just about all of Winchester’s books to be. The book rekindled my yearning for wide-open spaces. A passage on suburbs, which could describe the area in which I live just south of Washington, D.C., highlights the artifice which, like a poorly fitting show rubbing away at a heel, bothers me more and more.

In the suburbs beyond the urban limits, the degradation of the land has been more insidious, its demoted status often cunningly disguised. Such land as appears to exist is mostly artifice, a simulacrum of countryside, the greenest of its expanses available at great expense to the golfer or more ironically to the members of what for the past two centuries have been called country clubs. These last are institutions placed well beyond the real country they seek to resemble and offer a reminder—for a considerable annual fee—of the rural dreamland that some old-timers recall went before.

Meanwhile, I kept warm in my suburban home by my neat fireplace, with wood I avoided chopping myself (I enjoy chopping wood but there is no practical way for me to do it here) and every now and then, paused to dream of wide-open spaces.

Next up, for those curious, is Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace’s book, Creativity, Inc., about which I have heard many good things. Winchester’s Land had me leaning toward something by or about John Muir, but I don’t have the heart for that at the moment.

Movienite.txt

In an effort to watch movies I’ve never seen, and to avoid making decisions, I wrote myself a little script the other day called movienite I grabbed a list of 600+ movies under the TCM Channel on HBO Max. I randomized1 the list and created 2 text files: movienite.txt and watched.txt.

I wrote a little command-line script (hat tip that to that decades-old, but reliable sed command) that shows me the first line of the movienite.txt file: the next movie to watch. Since it is very unlikely that I will watch a movie every night, I wrote a second script that that moves the first line of the movienite.txt file to the end of the watched.txt file.

The first movie that popped up (and, yes, I did watch it) was a Charles Bronson film called 10 to Midnight, a police thriller which was pretty terrible writing, and pretty bad acting, but that made it that much more fun to watch. Wilfred Brimley was in the film as well.

I like the randomness of it. It’s once less decision to make. I joked with Kelly that it’s like the old Saturday Night Movie in the 1970s: you get what you get, that’s it.

If you are curious, here are the next 9 movies that I’ll be watching at some point. I did peek at the first ten, but I haven’t looked at the list after that, and I don’t plan to. I like the element of surprise too much.

  • Hobson’s Choice
  • Gone with the Wind
  • The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
  • The Kid
  • Modern Times
  • The Man with the Golden Arm
  • How to Be a Player
  • Cheyenne Autumn
  • Swordfish
  1. It’s pseudorandom in that sequels aren’t picked before the previous film has been watched. So movienite won’t put Superman II before Superman: The Movie.

BREAKING NEWS: Disturbance in Christmas Village

I’ve got a busy day today, but I didn’t want to break my streak of posting every day. So here’s some breaking news. There has been a disturbance in our Christmas Village that I noted when I woke up this morning. Fortunately, there were no casualties. The NTSB is on-scene investigating. This story is evolving.

Footage of the disturbance in Christmas Village

For the record, I suspect the Little Man, who was last seen attempting to fly this plane after dinner last night. The Dairy Queen escaped unscathed.

Tim Conway’s Elephant Story

I know that this is a classic episode of The Carol Burnett Show, and it has floated around the Internet for some time now. But every now and then, when I feel the need for a laugh, something to really revitalize my mood, I’ll turn to a video like this, and it is incredible how well it works for me. They say laughter is the best medicine, and in my book, this video and Tim Conway’s genius (and Vicky Lawrence’s one-liner at the end) prove this adage true. If you are in need of a laugh, well, you’re welcome.

Long Time, No Write

I can’t recall the last time I went more than 2 months without posting something here on the blog. I’ll try not to let that happen again.

Things have been busy: busy with work; busy with kids distance-learning; busy with a couple of kids in school classroom learning; busy with life in general.

The busy days have even impacted my reading. For the first time in several years, I am not going to reach my reading goal for the year. I set a goal of 110 books this year. At present I’ve read 88 with two more likely to be complete before the year is out, for an even 90. Part of the reason is this general busyness. Part of it is the long books I’ve taken on this year. Six of the books I’ve read this year have been over 1,000 pages:

  • The Dark Tower by Stephen King (1,050 pages)
  • The Reformation by Will Durant (1,025 pages)
  • Truman by David McCullough (1,120 pages)
  • Master of the Senate by Robert A. Caro (1,167 pages)
  • The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (1,007 pages)
  • Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (1,088 pages)

The two remaining books (Oathbringer and Rhythm of War, both by Sanderson) are each over 1,100 pages. That’s totals around 8,700 pages in just 7 books! Which, you know, takes time.

Anyway, I just wanted to pop in and say that I am alive and well, and plan on getting back to some sort of regular posting schedule here, and to apologize for being away for so long.

Thanks for sticking around!

R.I.P. Carl Reiner

I learned this afternoon that Carl Reiner died yesterday at age 98. I read several Reiner’s books over the years, including I Remember Me and I Just Remembered. The Dick Van Dyke Show, which Reiner created, was one of my favorite TV shows, despite its originally airing a decade before I was born. The episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee featuring Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks is one of my favorites.

Rest in peace, Carl Reiner.

1,000 Hours of Audiobooks in 2019

Given all of the reading that I keep track of, one thing I haven’t managed to track is how many hours of audiobooks I actually listen to in a given year. The Audible app shows only the last 5 months worth of listening metrics, and several days ago, I found myself wondering how much it might be. Today, I found out, thanks to an email from Audible. It turns out that through yesterday, I’ve listened to 936 hours of audiobooks this year.

This turns out to be about 2-1/2 hours each day on average. But the number is a bit understated for a few reasons. First, given that it has to be through yesterday, it doesn’t count today or tomorrow, which, based on the last several days, will add another 10 hours to that figure. So we have 946 hours.

Then, too, it has been a long time since I have listened to any book at normal speed. Indeed, listening to a book a normal speed makes the narrator sound drugged. I typically listen at 1.5x normal speed, with some books (depending on the narrator) at 1.75x normal speed. Call it an average of 1.6x for the year. In that case, in my 946 hours of audiobook listening this year, I’ve listened to 1,514 hours worth of audiobooks. That’s an average of 4.1 hours/day compressed down to 2-1/2 hours a day thanks to the faster listening speed.

I am currently reading (listening to) Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson and the Making of Middle-Earth by Ian Nathan. I expect to finish this book tomorrow, and that will give me 114 books read this year. Of those, the vast majority, 105, are audiobooks.

I’m often chagrined thinking about how much more I might have read if I’d embraced audiobooks sooner. I friend of mine has been using Audible since the late 1990s, while I only got started with Audible in 2013. Indeed, I am on the record claiming I could never listen to an audiobook–which just goes to illustrate the folly of being closed-minded.

Some of the time I spent listening to books this year did not go into completing a book. I give up on quite a few books each year, and if I give up on a book, it doesn’t make it to my list of books I’ve read. I’ve never kept track of the books I give up on so I don’t know how many or how often it happens. I’m considering keeping track in 2020.

I’ll have more to say on the books I read this year later in the week, after the year is over. I plan on posting a list of my 12 favorite books of the year, as well as a separate post on the 10 best books I read this decade. Stay-tuned.

16 Books (and Counting)

Earlier this month, I finished reading my 100th book for the year. It is the second year in a row that I have read at least 100 books. Last year, I read 130, and I don’t think that record will fall this year. However, yesterday, I set a new reading record for myself: I finished my 16th book in a single month.

Last year, there were two occasions on which I read 15 books in a month, October and November. So far, this November, I have read 16 book. I will likely complete one more book before the month is out, but it is unlikely I will finish the book that I started to read yesterday before the end of the month: Don Quixote.

The last two pages of my reading journal contains a chart and some tables where I keep these stats. I am looking forward to inking in the final number for November on Sunday morning. (The photo was from late October before I finished the month. The count in the October 2019 box is 13 books.)

The last two pages of my reading journal.

Looking at those pages gives me some sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I note that the last month in which I read nothing was January 2015, and the last month I read fewer than 5 books was September 2017. Last year I hit double-digits in 8 out of 12 months. This year it’s half that so far.

I think the chart also demonstrates I am something of an optimist. It captures my months reading stats through 2045. In 2045 I’ll be 73 years old, which still seems like a long way of. All told, the chart covers 50 years of reading. Next year will mark 25 full years that I’ve been keeping my list/journal. It will also be the year that I surpass a total of 1,000 books read since starting my list in 1996.

25 Years and Counting

25 years ago today, I started my first job out of college. I’d graduated about three months earlier, and spent the summer after my graduation continuing to work in the dorm cafeteria office, where I did some computer work. Meanwhile, I looked for full-time job.

I graduated with a degree in political science and journalism, and really had no idea what I wanted to do for full time work. I was good with computers, having grown up learning to tame them, and when a job came up with a company looking for computer people to work at the corporate “helpdesk”, I applied. I was eventually called for an interview. That interview lasted all day. Then, nothing for several weeks.

Eventually, I got a call offering me a job. It came with a salary, and benefits, and I was really excited about it. I took it. My first day was on October 17, 1994.

Fast forward a quarter century. Today, I am still working for the same company. My role has changed over the years, as has my location (in 2002, I relocated from California to Virginia), but I still work for the same department as I did when I first started, although it has gone through a number of name changes in the 25 intervening years.

When I tell people I’ve been with the same company for 25 years, the response I get is a nearly universal, ” That’s unheard of these days.” All I can say is that I wouldn’t really know, never having worked anywhere else since graduating. I will say that longevity is fairly common where I work. In fact, I am not even in the top 100 in terms of longevity. Indeed, even within my own department, I am 16th overall in terms of how long I have been with the company.

My kids asked me this morning if I liked working there, given that I have been there so long. I smiled, and nodded, and said, “Yeah, I guess I do.” When I first started, I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the first year. Everyone else seemed so much smarter than me. Now, they still all seem smarter than me, but they tolerate me, and I’ve got to admit, I think I’ve finally warmed to the place.

I’ve always been the slow, but steady type, after all.

Books I’m Looking Forward to in October

October may be a rare month for boys* but it looks to be a great month for books. I don’t know why, but there are a ton of books that I am looking forward to reading coming out in October. Here are some of them:

  • Letters from an Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson (October 8)
  • Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years by Julie Andrews (October 15)
  • Edison by Edmund Morris (October 22)
  • The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini by Joe Posnanski (October 22)
    Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré (October 22)
  • Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography by David S. Reynolds (October 29)
  • Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (Full cast audiobook starring Meryl Streep) (October 29)
  • Blue Moon: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child (October 29)

These are just books coming out in October, above and beyond the books I have queued up to read soon. Having recently gone through my worst reading drought in nearly two years (I read only 5 books in August, my lowest since January 2018), it is an embarras de richesse to have so many books to look forward to.

*A reference to Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

Stalking the Music

Now and then, I see one of those memes asking parents to name something from their youth that their kids wouldn’t recognize or understand. There are plenty of obvious answers to this, but one occurred to me recently as I listened to my kids ask Alexa to play various songs for them (many of them from the Descendants franchise).

The ability to ask for and instantly hear any of several million songs is something that I couldn’t do at my kids’ age. Indeed, to listen to music, I listened (mostly) to the radio. If there was a song that I really liked, waiting and waiting, hoping with each fade out that the next song (after the inevitable commercial break) would be the one that I was waiting for was my only real tool. I can remember daydreaming about the ability to listen to any song I wanted to, any time. The closest I came, as a kid, was by stalking the music like some game hunter sitting patiently in a blind, finger poised over the trigger of the “record” button on the radio/tape player I had, waiting for the desired song to play.

Even that was imperfect. Often, I was surprised and caught off-guard, and I’d cut off the first few bars of the song. Or, the D.J. would jabber into the first part of the song and so the recording would be corrupted by his banter. Even when I did manage to catch the song perfectly, it was often buried in the middle of a tape, and I’d have to hunt around for minutes trying to find it. So much better was record album in which I could simply drop a needle in the appropriate groove.

Now, none of that matters. It is not even quaint; it is an extinct activity. If I want to hear a song, I have only to ask for it to be played. I get a perfect digital version, far better quality that what the radio played, or what I managed to capture on tape. To my kids, the thought of stalking the music is inconceivable.

And yet, there is something of a letdown to the ability to hear a song whenever you want. Perhaps it is the spontaneity of the radio, or eager anticipation, but asking Alexa (or Siri) to play a song for me diminishes the experience in some small, intangible way. The exceptions prove the rule. Occasionally, there is a song that is not available from Apple Music, and when that happens, it seems, my need to hear the songs grows desperate. It is a rare throwback to the days I spent stalking the music with a radio and tape player.

Today is Great: A Daily Gratitude Journal for Kids

I’ve written quite a bit about diaries, journals, and notebooks over the years. I got a relatively late start with my own diary. I was already 24 and I wish I’d started sooner. A few years back, I tried to get the Little Miss to start a diary, but as with many diaries, it didn’t last very long.

So I was delighted to learn recently that my friend Vicky, who runs the popular Mess for Less blog, has a new book coming out called Today Is Great: A Daily Gratitude Journal for Kids.

Her book birthday is coming on October 1, so if you have kids interesting in diaries and journals, and who are looking for a fun way to ease into the process, be sure to check out the book!