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Bob Dylan turned 80 on May 24, 2021. I clearly remember Bob Dylan’s 40th birthday. I have been around almost as long as Dylan, I guess.

I am reading Life Magazine’s special edition for this 80th birthday. It’s a mini biography, of course with lots of photos as you expect from Life Magazine, and as I am reading about the old songs that had such an influence on my in the 1970ies, I remember Dylan and some of the other artists in my life.

One a musician, one a composer, one a writer and one a philosopher. I painted their portraits. Here they are in chronological order:

Ludwig van Beethoven – painted in 1979, 36 x 36 inches

08/79 Oil 36×36

 

Henry Miller – painted in 1979, 36 x 36 inches

06/79 Oil 36×36

 

Friedrich Nietzsche – painted in 1980, 24 x 18 inches

 5/80 Oil 24×18

Bob Dylan – painted in 2001, 28 x 22 inches

01/01 Oil 28×22

I lost track of the first three paintings early on. I have no idea if they even still exist somewhere in somebody’s attic. But the Dylan one is still with me, albeit in a stack in the garage with all the other paintings that never got framed or rated sufficiently to be taking up wall space in our house.

I painted Dylan the year he turned 60. It seems like yesterday.

Those are the four artists in my life that rated a painting.

Just recently, we went camping for a weekend. Here I am before sunset, sitting by the fire pit, ready to light the campfire.

Here I am camping with Devin some 25 years ago. At the firepit, just after sunrise. It was cold, and the coffee and hot cereal felt great.

Notice the blue chairs. We still have those very same chairs now.

Good memories.

Underground Railroad won the Pulitzer Prize and was a Winner of the National Book Award. It’s definitely an acclaimed novel.

The story follows Cora, a slave girl in a Georgia cotton plantation. She is an outcast because her own mother ran away, thus abandoning her, leaving her “a stray.” As Cora grows up she tries to come to terms with her abandonment and she wishes she knew what happened to her mother.

Eventually another slave named Caesar, who came to the plantation from Virginia, asks her to escape with him. She accepts and follows the footsteps of her mother, off the plantation, just to be hunted by posses tasked to bring back “escaped property.” Cora’s journey from one state to the next is harrowing as she tries to stay ahead of one reckless and determined slave hunter.

In Underground Railroad the author does not just use the metaphor of what we know the Underground Railroad was, but rather he depicts it as an actual set of tunnels underground, connecting different cities and states, with concealed depots or stations maintained by station masters. I found this approach strange and unnecessary. The depictions of the antebellum American South, where the institution of slavery was one of the core structures of society, would have been enough in itself. A society where one class of humans was legally entitled to own another class of humans, to the point where they could abuse them sexually, sell off their children, split up families and work them to death without any hope of escape. Born a slave, always a slave.

The Underground Railroad brings that period of darkness in our history to the forefront, and reminds us here and now in 2021 that human rights still have a long way to go in America. We have little right to lecture other nations on human rights.

I have read and reviewed a couple of other books about slavery, and for your quick references they are listed here:

Book Review: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl – by Harriet Jakobs | Norbert Haupt

Book Review: Uncle Tom’s Cabin – by Harriet Beecher Stowe | Norbert Haupt

 

Tatsuo Horiuchi wanted to paint after he retired, but he didn’t want to spend money on supplies, and he didn’t want to buy a painting program. So he used what he already had: Microsoft Excel.

After using Excel for three decades myself, I didn’t know you could possibly use it to paint. I am amazed about the level of creativity and ingenuity this artist exhibits.

Fern (Frances McDormand) is woman in her sixties. She spent her entire life with her husband, who was happy working in a sheetrock factory in northern Nevada. She was never able to realize her own dreams, because she was accommodating her – dreamless – husband. Then he died abruptly. When the sheetrock factory, pretty much the only employer in town, closed, the town died. Even the zip code was retired (true story).

Fern abandoned her house and life, and moved into her van, cruising the American west, including Nevada, Nebraska, South Dakota, California and Arizona.

This movie is carried by McDormand’s acting. Nothing happens. There are countless shots of desert with the sun setting in the distance among the stark mountain ranges that characterize the west. Fern keeps standing around, and walking around, in one encampment after another, with really nothing else going on. We are witnessing a nomad and we can’t really tell if she is happy.

McDormand won an Oscar for this performance. When she received it, she issued a howl, and many people didn’t know why. It turns out it was a tribute to the film’s sound mixer Michael Wolf Snyder who had passed only about a month earlier.

Another bit of trivia is that with Nomadland, McDormand now has more lead actress Oscars than Meryl Streep. Pretty impressive.

Nomadland is a boring movie, a depressing movie, where nothing really happens, but it makes you think about your own life nevertheless.

 

The iPhone 6 came out in September of 2014. I bought the iPhone 6 Plus on April 23, 2015. It was the top of the line on the market then and I paid $500 including tax. I bought the largest version since I wanted to be able to do all my Kindle reading on the phone, so I didn’t need another device.

I was successful with that, and the iPhone 6 has been a rock-solid companion for me ever since. It was sleek and thin in design.

About a year-and-a-half ago the battery started failing, so I went to a local shop, and for less than $50, I had a new battery installed. It was like new.

I use my phone for calls, texts, emails and, most importantly, reading books. Everything worked fine.

Then one day, my work required that I use the phone for two-factor-authentication (2FA), which means I have to use it to log into my computer. The app for 2FA could not be installed on the version of iOS on my phone. So – I was left with no choice but abandon my perfectly-working phone just so I can get a new one that supports that 2FA app.  Of course, all my workmates had been laughing at me for using a five-year-old phone, but I couldn’t help it, it worked fine, and it did everything I needed to do with it.

I bought the iPhone 12 Pro Max. With tax, it set me back $1220.-. Pretty expensive for something I don’t really need or want, but have to have.

When I got it, I noticed that Apple had let the design go. My old phone was thin and sleek and weighed only six ounces. The new one was about the same size, but a bit thicker, with an edge around it, rather than curved edges easy on the hands. And it weighs eight ounces, which is noticeably more when you hold it in your hand a lot when reading books.

The 12’s claim to fame is the new camera system, which uses a concept called Lidar to take pictures. Supposedly it can capture spatial information better and make pictures more three-dimensional. Not something I need but I get.

However, I noticed one thing that I could not believe at first: When you lay it down flat, the camera lenses stick out, and it does not rest properly. See the quick video I shot:

Steve Jobs, who chastised engineers for sloppy work inside computers – things users never saw – would never have accepted a product with a major design flaw like this. I call it a design flaw, because I want a phone that I can lay down flat on a table without it rocking.

I bought a case for it, which cures the rocking problem, but it makes it even heavier and bulkier. Steve Jobs used to sneer at cases. He asked why you would cover up something as beautiful as an iPhone with a case?

My iPhone 12 Pro Max works fine. I am enjoying battery life that lasts me four days of use, and I can run my 2FA app. I can read. I paid $1220 for what I would call a poorly designed product, so poor that I am motivated to write a blog post about it.

 

This cactus has been with us for decades. It loves to live in its small pot. Most the time it’s scraggly, green, and sometimes the leaves die off.

It does not bloom very often, but when it does, it’s spectacular. The blossoms in their glory only last about a day or so. Make sure to click on the image and enlarge, so you can see it in all its splendor.


There are some beasts in the Anza Borrego desert.

No, this is not photoshopped. This is a real photograph of me this afternoon.

Found this in my Facebook feed:

So true!

I might add that the modern German soul, to this day, has in its blood an aversion to overt displays of patriotism, like flags, banners, and military parades and all the pomp that comes with it. Germany spent the first half of last century focused on that, being consumed by that type of patriotism, and eventually it was destroyed. Tens of millions of people died.

Modern Germans tend to have an aversion to flag waving patriotism. When they land at LAX and you take them home in your car, they invariably start counting the American flags they see everywhere and ask: Why?

I was up at night in 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. It was well after midnight in Germany, I was 12 years old, and I got special permission from my parents to stay up. I think I was up all night. I learned to dream early.

When I was just 8 years old, one of my friends had a topical encyclopedia, where one book was about the solar system. We didn’t have any high resolution photographs of any of the planets in 1964. So Mars was just a fuzzy red blob.

More than 50 years have passed, and now NASA has successfully flown the tiny helicopter named Ingenuity on Mars. To commemorate the momentous occasion, NASA included a scrap of fabric from the Wright Brothers flyer in Ingenuity. The Wright Brothers flyer was the first powered flight on Earth. Ingenuity was the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. And we got to watch it (after many light minutes of transmission delay).

See the entire experience here:

I am fascinated that we can see mountains on Mars in clear view. It’s an enormous journey from the grainy image in the encyclopedia. Mars is right now 180 million miles away, much farther than the sun, yet, we can see the little helicopter rise.

What an amazing time to be alive!

Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LeBeouf) are a young and loving couple in Boston, awaiting their first baby. The room is ready. The expecting mother is radiant. Sean works in heavy construction, currently building a large bridge. When he comes home he becomes a doting husband and excited father to be. They are planning on a birth at their home, assisted by a midwife.

During the birth, things go unexpectedly wrong, and the baby dies minutes after birth. Their lives change as they are each independently trying to cope with the terrible loss. Her own mother, a domineering and challenging woman, meddles and makes Martha’s life even more impossible. Everything comes to the breaking point.

This movie is challenging to watch. The extensive birth section at a the beginning sets the stage. It is, by far, the most graphic and realistic birth scene I have ever watched. You’re right in the room with them, especially when the baby’s heartbeat starts slowing down.

I am not sure if I would recommend to young couples who are expecting childbirth to watch this, or not. I can say for sure, they’ll learn a lot.

The story is about the human spirit, and how it eventually transcends challenges. But it’s not a happy movie at all.

I had never seen images of Willie Nelson as a young man before. All I could ever remember is braids and a beard. Here is an early video.

I have to close my eyes when he sings and I get the familiar image of him in jeans and braids.

This story tries to speculate what it would be like to change the past. Quinn Black wakes up one morning, goes to work, and along the way witnesses a terrible accident in which is boss and friend dies in front of his eyes.

The next day, he  wakes up again at the same time, and makes small changes, but can’t avoid the inevitable outcome. Groundhog Day – they made a movie about this decades ago.

Quinn realizes that he can just will himself to any day or time, generally in the past that he can remember, and relive it. However, when he goes back to his youth to meet up with his best friend, he is not the old Quinn, he is the old Quinn in the young Quinn’s body of that time.

The “rules” of time travel are very nebulous in this story, and it’s not very scientific.

I simply got bored and lost interest. I read 104 out of the 307 pages, stopped at 33%, never to go back.

I usually force myself to finish a book, but some are so bad, I can’t do it. That’s why I have a category “books not finished reading” that you can search and see all the other ones.

Consistent with my own rules for reviews, I do not rate a book I didn’t finish.

As far as time travel stories are concerned, I recommend you skip this book, and its sequel. There is nothing original or even remotely interesting here.

 

 

Kodachrome is the brand name for a color reversal film introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1935. It was one of the first successful color materials and was used for both cinematography and still photography. Kodachrome film sales were discontinued in 2009 after nearly 75 years in use due to plunging sales and to the rise of digital cameras. There was one lab left in Kansas in 2010, and it was closing its doors.
This movie is based on A.G. Sulzberger’s 2010 New York Times article “For Kodachrome Fans, Road Ends at Photo Lab in Kansas.”
Famed photographer Ben Ryder (Ed Harris) is dying of cancer. He has a full-time nurse and assistant named Zooey Kern (Elizabeth Olsen) who takes care of his health needs, but he knows he only has a few months to live. He is completely estranged from his only son, Matt (Jason Sudeikis). They have not seen each other in many years, when Zooey appears at Matt’s job and tries to convince him to go on a road trip to Kansas with his father, so they can develop the last few rolls of film Ben has stashed away.
Ben is a cantankerous old man, crass, inappropriate and self-absorbed. He has neglected his family – and his son – all his life so he can advance his career. Father and son do not appear to be reconcilable, until Zooey pulls some strings. The three of them hop into Ben’s old convertible Saab in New York and head for Kansas.
Kodachrome is a road trip movie about an old dying guy who has one last wish. We have seen many of those before, and this one is as predictable as most of them. But we love our road trips, and we love to reminisce about them. Kodachrome touches that nerve, and it offers a tiny glimpse into the world and soul of an artist, whose profession drives him to be away from those he loves.

Among my earliest childhood memories is going into my grandfather’s garage/workshop/toolshed. In Germany in the 1950ies,  that was a wooden shed with a dirt floor. He had a few motorcycles with side cars stored there. There was a workbench full of tools, and tools were hung all over the walls. I remember being grossed out by all the spiderwebs everywhere. The tools all looked ancient. They were rusty and heavily used, or so they seemed to my 4-year-old eyes.

In the current edition of Popular Mechanics Magazine, on page 67, I found this unassuming article in the side bar. The Forever Hammer. Here it is, and it tells about the Estwing Rip. I will let you read the article now, since it sets the stage for the rest of my comments.

This is what makes Estwing more than a hammer. It’s a piece of expertise wrought in heat-treated steel. Use it for all it’s worth, and pass it down to the next generation of hammer swingers.

This article, benign as it is, written about something as prosaic as a hammer, touched me deeply and brought out a flood of emotions, from nostalgia, to joy, to a sense of history and belonging.

Back to my grandfather: Why do old guys hang on to their rusty tools? When we’re young, we can’t understand that. But I have become my grandfather now myself. And the article reminded me of my own set of hammers.

Yes, you guessed it, they are Estwing hammers.

One summer afternoon in 1981, literally 40 years ago just like in the article above, I went to a hardware store in Phoenix, Arizona and bought two hammers. One was a 28-ounce framing hammer, the other a mason hammer. This is what it looks like new:

My framing hammer spent years of work on my toolbelt when I was in my early twenties and built houses. It has framed a dozen houses. The mason hammer was my trusty tool to lay foundations with cinder blocks, or to build brick fireplaces. After the initial several years of heavy construction use, both hammers became relegated to the tool box in my garage, where the salty Pacific air of Southern California has put a good coat of rust on both hammers. They are now 40 years old, but solid as steel, and they could easily build another dozen houses.

I will never need another framing hammer. I have one. It’s not pretty, but like an old rock ‘n roll song that brings back the feelings of that special moment with that special girl, just looking at my old hammers brings back the hot Arizona wind in my hair, perched on a roof, pulling up trusses and toe-nailing them down on the top plates, the beginning of my adult life, the feeling of endless years ahead with no limits, and the vigor and passion that comes from building something that I know will outlast me.

I will never need another framing hammer. I have one. It’s in my garage in my tool box. It’s rusty. I understand my grandfather now.

It’s one of my most precious possessions.

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