Up to 1996, one in four people who climbed Mt. Everest died in the attempt. One in four.

Then, in 1996, when commercial outfits started taking up amateurs, things got more dangerous. 1996 was the most deadly year in Everest history, when 15 people died on the mountain, eight of them on May 11, 1996.

The events of that expedition and fateful day were chronicled by Outside writer Jon Krakauer in his book Into Thin Air. I read that book at the time, first because I have always been a fan of Krakauer’s writings, and second because I am a hobby climber. The book takes you onto the mountain and into the action and eventual disaster.

This movie brings the events of May 1996 to life. We get to know what drives the  women and men to put themselves into such extremely risky situations. Think about it: One in four people summiting Everest dies, usually on the way back down! What kind of mindset does it take to make a decision to accept this kind of risk?

The movie Everest tries to answer this question. Of course, the scenery, the tremendous forces of unbridled nature, and the indomitable spirit of the humans trying to battle it make for an epic movie.

Mild Spoiler Ahead…

I knew the story, I knew the outcome, I knew who would survive and who would perish. Rob Hall, the New Zealander guide and the main protagonist, was the first non-Sherpa who had summited Everest five times. Climbers don’t come more experienced than that. Yet, he perished on May 11, when one of his clients begged him to help him reach the peak. Rob broke his own rule and went back to the peak after turn-around time. He eventually paid with his life. Rob Hall, as well as the 250 other people who died on the mountain over the years, is still there, a frozen corpse, at the exact spot, in the exact position, where he took his last breath.

Everest tells the stories of the adventurers without moralizing and without unduly focusing on their individual triumphs or deaths. It just shows it as it is, at a place where humans are not meant to be.

Rating - Four Stars

gun deaths

With these numbers in mind, let us remember that our politicians are telling us we need to be afraid of terrorists.

Fearmongers, all.

The Martian

In the near future, six astronauts are on a mission to explore Mars. They are scheduled to be there for 31 days, performing scientific experiments. On day 18 an unexpected storm strikes and threatens to topple their ascent vehicle, stranding them all without hope for rescue. They decide to abort and leave. In the hustle back to the vehicle, one of them gets struck by flying debris from a broken antenna. When they can’t find him and he does not respond, the captain must make the decision to stay and search for him, dooming them all, or leave him for dead. They leave.

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) wakes up a few hours later half buried in sand, with his oxygen alarms going off. He is impaled by an antenna rod, but he was lucky that this blood and the cold sealed his punctured suit and kept him alive.

Mark makes his way back to the habitat, operates on himself, and as he recovers he realizes he is completely alone on a planet, with rescue capability years in the future, in a habitat that was designed for a month, and with a total food supply of less than a year. And worst of all, he has no way to communicate to Earth or his crew, and nobody even knows that he is alive.

But Mark is a botanist, and a mechanical engineer, and he has lots of time.

The Martian is based on the novel by Andy Weir, which I have read and reviewed six months ago. The movie, surprisingly for a science fiction story of this complexity and with this kind of detail, follows the book’s plot quite closely and focuses on those parts that lend themselves to visualization. Thus, the movie does not replace the book, but it supplies superb visuals. I loved the shots of their spaceship, with its rotating crew habitats and the internal passageways to and from them. There were some great shots of crew members spinning around looking outside and observing the docking ports.

I also enjoyed very much the rescue mission and the problems with orbital trajectory matching. Ten feet per second does not sound like a large velocity when you just say it, but catching a human in orbit traveling at that speed is equivalent to standing at a railroad crossing, watching a slow-moving freight train rolling by, and catching somebody jumping off it. Go try that sometimes!

All in all, The Martian is a great science fiction movie with a plausible plot and a very human story.

Mark Watney is somewhat of a wise guy, and his dry humor actually makes for a funny movie.

If you have read and liked the book, you will most likely enjoy this movie. If you go and see the movie first, you’ll still want to read the book for endless additional detail.

Rating - Three and a Half Stars

World Without Stars

In the distant future, when starships are commonplace and can jump to any place in space instantaneously, and humans are virtually immortal, a starship captain takes a trip into intergalactic space. He wants to be the first to take up trading with an alien race that originated on a planet orbiting a red dwarf star 230,000 light-years away from our galaxy.

But the jump goes wrong and the ship crash-lands on another planet around that star. To have any chance to make it off the planet, they have to cooperate with the local intelligent races.

There are no stars in the sky in intergalactic space. The Milky Way, 230,000 light years distant, spans about 20 degrees in the sky and is considered a ‘god’ by the locals.

But as expected, communicating with aliens isn’t as simple as it sounds, and much can go wrong.

World Without Stars has thought-provoking concepts, like instantaneous starship travel – well almost instantaneous. The ship has to match relative velocities with the target area, generally a solar system. The velocities can be significant percentages of light speed, so attaining them takes time and energy.

Anderson, however, does not deal with the concept of relativistic space travel in this book. Rather, a good half of the story deals with esoteric and anthropomorphic concepts related to alien races, their own rivalries and their views of outsiders. In other words: alien politics. If found the intrigues boring very quickly. Yes, they were supposedly aliens, but reading the stuff seemed like we were dealing with Neolithic humans and their petty squabbles with each other. I ended up skimming over many chapters. I don’t think I missed anything.

I wanted to find out how they would eventually get off the forsaken planet. Unfortunately, a deus ex machina came and bailed them out, and then the book was over.

Not Anderson’s best, not at all.

Rating - One and a Half Stars

Corridors of Time

Malcolm Lockridge is a former U.S. Marine in the middle of the twentieth century. He is in prison because he accidentally killed one of the thugs that tried to mug him. A mysterious, beautiful and apparently rich woman proposes a deal that he can’t refuse, in exchange for getting him out of prison.

She takes him into the woods somewhere in Denmark, where they enter an underground corridor with very mysterious properties. As you walk down the corridor, you walk past gates into different times. You exit the gate at a labeled time, and out you come into the selected era.

Lockridge quickly figures out that the corridors are used by enemy factions working on manipulating history to their advantages. He first becomes a pawn in their games, and soon finds himself as a pivotal figure in history, spanning from the Neolithic age almost 2,000 B.C and going forward about 4,000 years into the future from now.

Anderson has a unique descriptive style, which lends itself well to this story, where he has ample opportunity to put the reader into the deep past. When reading his description, I find myself seeing clear and vivid pictures in my head. Here is an example. Lockridge has just woken up in Denmark about 1,800 B.C, and he looks around:

White sunrise mists rolled low across a drenched earth. Water dripped from a thousand leaves, glittered in the air and was lost in brush and bracken. The woods were clamorous with birdsong. High overhead wheeled an eagle, the young light like gold on its wings.

— Kindle Locations 547-548

I found the story charming and entertaining, but confusing at times and occasionally tedious. The complex web of  international and intertemporal intrigue across the ages was so complicated, the story, the “time” line and the plot were difficult to follow.

The Corridors of Time is not one of Anderson’s best, but for a time travel buff, it’s a must-read.

Rating - Two Stars

One thing I know about my brother: He kept us safe.

— Jeb Bush, about George W. Bush during the 2nd GOP debate, answering Donald Trump’s comment


The worst and most deadly attack against Americans on American soil since Pearl Harbor happened during Bush’s watch.

Bush started two hugely expensive wars, killing thousands of American soldiers, and maiming tens of thousands.

Then he allowed the economy tailspin into free fall just before he left office.

And Jeb Bush says: “He kept us safe.”

How is that for monumental lack of judgment?


Rape and the Justice System in a College Town

Jon Krakauer, the author of Into the Wild, Into Thin Air, Under the Banner of Heaven, is a masterful journalist, researcher and author. I have read all his books. His last book before this one was Where Men Win Glory.

When we think about rape, the image of a thug wearing a black ski mask jumping out of the bushes at night, wielding a knife, and forcing a female victim to have sex comes to mind. That’s what we think a rapist is.

In reality, a large percentage of rapists are non-strangers, and very often the boundaries of rape are blurry. A couple starts out necking and making out, taking off each other’s clothes, and then something happens and the woman changes her mind. “No” may not be perceived as “no” by the male, one thing leads to another, and rape occurs. How will the police, the prosecutor, and the jury deal with these facts?

In the book Missoula, Jon Krakauer takes on this very challenging subject. With his customary meticulous style, he reports about the circumstances of a number of rapes in Missoula, Montana, involving the Grizzly football team and its athletes, which made headlines for a string of rapes and high-profile court cases.

The Department of Justice investigated 350 sexual assaults reported to the Missoula police between January 2008 and May 2012. Apparently few of these assaults were properly handled by either the university or local authorities.

When the accused are high-profile football players in a comparatively small community, it is a treacherous road for a woman who has been raped to report the crime. The criminal justice system structured so the defense has to tear down the victim, make her out to look like slut who “wanted it” and when she changed her mind, she took down the beloved athlete. It’s not unlikely that the rape victim is reviled and ostracized by the community, which makes her a victim all over again.

Due to this brutal reality, acquaintance rape is the most underreported crime in America.

Krakauer tells us about the experiences of several women in Missoula, starting with the nights when they were raped, and leading through their self-doubt afterwards. He shows how they were treated by the police, the prosecutors, and defense attorneys. He illustrates the vilification by the public. And he analyzes and describes the criminal justice system as it relates to rape.

This book is challenging to read. It takes a lot out of the reader to take in the minute and stark details of each rape. We feel like we are in the room when they happen. Missoula is a powerful and insightful book for anyone that wants to better understand rape in modern America.

Rating - Three Stars

The Hal Lewis Scam

So I saw this Facebook post today announcing a “Top U.S. Scientist” resigned over a “global warming scam.”

Hal Lewis 1

Here is the link. Please note the ample number of breast links on this “news” site for relevant background.

Hal Lewis

Note the date of September 29, 2015. If you read carefully into the article, though, you will notice that the original article is from October 2010. This is five-year old news, being passed off on Facebook as current. Hal Lewis died in May 2011.

Then I tried to research who Hal Lewis actually was. Far from being a “top scientist,” nobody in the scientific community of climate research even seems to know who he is. His last significant work in academics (physics) was in the 1970s, and he retired in 1991 from U.C. Santa Barbara. His claim to fame and Wikipedia notice is based on this letter.

Here is another post ruminating about Hal Lewis and his obscurity and credentials in climate science.

But it was posted on Facebook, so it must be true and certainly authentic in 2015. I guess I’ll change my opinion.

Conservative Logic

  • Fewer gun laws make the country safer
  • Lower taxes for the rich causes more job creation
  • Building walls solves our immigration problem (like prohibition solved our alcoholism problem)
  • Less access to healthcare makes us healthier
  • Removing access to contraception causes less sex, therefore less pregnancies and less abortions
  • Pro-life to save lives of the unborn and anti-life by starting wars and getting our young adults killed
  • Upholding religious freedom for one arbitrary group (Christians) by suppressing religious freedom of other groups (Muslims)
  • Not allowing gays to marry protects family values
  • Giving energy companies free reign and rights to drill, dig and strip protects our environment – or rather – our environment does not need protection, the market does this automatically
  • Closing abortion clinics results in less unwanted pregnancies and therefore less abortions
  • Renewable energy is too expensive and does not work, so we’ll continue to use fossil fuels until they run out and – then what?
  • Being pro-life and pro-gun seems consistent to them



Yesterday I had a brilliant, clear view of Yosemite Valley from the plane:

Yosemite from Plane 3

Yosemite Valley [click to enlarge]

A friend on Facebook posted this comment below the video of President Obama expressing anger about the lack of will in Congress to enact working gun laws:

This is bull shit!! What we need is harsher penalties for those who commit the crimes. We don’t need more gun control. Don’t change the gun laws, change the penalties for the crime!!

That had me pause. I happen to think we need stricter gun laws, and we desperately need a national registry for gun ownership. We already have one for social security, for income taxes, for FBI background checks; we have state registries for drivers licenses; we have private registries for credit reports, credit card ownership, and spending habits. We have an international registry for opinions: Facebook. It is my opinion that we need a national registry for gun ownership.

Now about harsher penalties for those who commit the crimes? The crime for  mass murder in many states is death, and in those states where the death penalty is not available, it’s life without parole. How are we going to make those harsher? I don’t get this argument.

Many mass shooters end up dead in the act anyway. They apparently walk into the crime knowing it’s a suicide mission. I just don’t believe that any pre-meditated mass shooter gives a single thought to the harshness of the penalty. He wants to have as many people as possible to go down with him, in his hate or confusion. Do we really believe he’d stop and draw a pro and con list and then decide not to do the crime because the threat of the death penalty?

This argument has also been used with rapists. Really? A rapist stops before the act and thinks about the consequences? If that really happened, there would be no more rapes.

Stricter gun laws, here they come!


Watching Kingsman was like watching a cartoon. And, I guess, it’s not surprising. The story is based on a comic book.

Kingsman: The Secret Service tells the story of a super-secret spy organization that recruits a street kid (Taron Egerton) through one of its agents (Colin Firth).

A tech tycoon (Samuel L. Jackson) creates a global threat, and the street kid, with his innocence and gusto, saves the world.

The movie got a surprising 75% rating on the Tomatometer. That just goes to show you that movies are now made for slapstick humor, lots of bang-bang-bang and you don’t really need to think.

It’s only been a few days since I watched Kingsman, and I have basically forgotten about it already.

Please don’t bother going.

Rating - One Star


I have come across these shower spouts in hotels from time to time. It’s really frustrating when you’re standing in the shower, the water is on with just the right temperature coming out of the spout, and there is no lever to divert the water to the shower head.

What the heck?


Apparently some hotels got tired of naked guests calling the front desk in frustration because they could not figure out how to turn on the water in the shower, so they put up this sign at eye level:


Even with this sign, I’d venture to guess that many a patron that does not routinely read engineering blueprints cannot figure out what the drawing means.

The gist is: you pull down the spout ring, which you can’t even see is there when you stand in the shower, to get it to work.

Why? Why? Why?

Did some designer jump up and down and yell:

“Look, Ma, I made something really complicated that used to be simple, trivial and functional! Now everyone is going to need help the first time they use this shower!”

Stunning Image of Pluto

This is one of the highest resolution images of Pluto released so far. I have reduced the size so I can display it here.


I remember fifty years ago, as a young boy, reading books about our solar system, when images of the outer planets were fuzzy blobs at best. I am a techie, I am into science, and I am absolutely delighted that I live in a time and an age where I can see an image of Pluto, an object 4.7 billion miles away, with this clarity.

Light itself takes 4.6 hours to get there. The New Horizons spacecraft which took this picture, flying by Pluto at a speed of 50,000 km/hour, took 9 years and 8 months to travel there.

And I get to sit here and post this picture on my blog.



Landfall is a story about sending a message through time. It starts when the FBI discovers a space capsule in the remote mountains of Alberta, Canada, that was assumed burned up thirty years earlier.

The story jumps back between what happened 30 years ago (roughly the present time of 2015 when the International Space Station is in orbit) and now (presumably about 2045) with the FBI trying to figure out what happened.

The book caught my attention because it’s about “time” messages. The author does a good job telling the story, but I found it so preposterous and incredible, that I had a hard time taking it seriously.

Fundamental to the plot is the need for an astronaut, in this case one of the protagonists, to surreptitiously get launched into space and dock with the ISS, and then take away an experiment, all without being “noticed” or stopped. It’s obviously not possible to launch a rocket into orbit with an astronaut on board without anyone noticing. But that kind of thing is exactly what is going on in this story. There is fundamentally nothing wrong with that, but it’s just too farfetched to make any sense.

The book reads easily and I finished it in a few days. But would I recommend it?


Rating - One and a Half Stars


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