Book Review: Trust – by Hernan Diaz

My wife’s book club has assigned themselves Trust to read as the current book. Sometimes I tag on and read their book – but I stay away from the book club. Let me take a wild guess: Nobody in her book club is going to finish reading this book. I got to 37% before I finally gave up.

Trust won the Pulitzer Prize – go figure.

This book is utterly unreadable. I have a hard time believing that anybody can possibly finish reading this book. It’s about nothing. It starts out with a story about a young financier named Benjamin Rask and his wife Helen, both socially inept but somehow financially brilliant. Benjamin inherits his father’s tobacco empire and when both of his parents die, he promptly sells it and builds his own financial empire. Then he marries Helen, a young woman without any social skills. Today they would both probably be on the autistic spectrum. It is not clear how the two are becoming tycoons and billionaires in the New York of the 1920s.

There is NO DIALOG in this book. The characters are never speaking. The entire book is exposition. There isn’t even much character description. It just tells you, on and on and on, what the characters are thinking and doing. As a result, they never become real. They have no personalities, no depth, you can’t picture them. And they never do anything. Nothing happens. Yes, the author tells you what is going on, but you have to believe him. Since nothing happens, there is no story, there is no suspense. You don’t want to turn the pages to find out what happens next.

The only reason I kept turning the pages was because I thought that sometime soon the story must start. And then, at about 34%, the first book about Benjamin and Helen just stopped almost mid-sentence. Another book started, and the author described the unbelievable life of another brat rich guy. More exposition, more of no action, no story, no suspense.

Please, let me out of this!

As always when I don’t finish reading a book, I refrain from rating it.

If you find yourself reading this book and finishing it, I’d like to hear about it. You should earn a prize.

Pulitzer anyone?

A Tale of Two Products

Many products these days are just plain crappy. Stuff is made out of what I like to call “Chinesium.” A screw driver made out of Chinesium is dull after the first few uses and you end up buying a new one, spending the money twice.

Here are two products that made a significant difference in my life over many years:

On the left you see my Philips Sonicare electric toothbrush. On the right are my GoodFeet orthotics.

I bought my first Sonicare, a predecessor model of this one, almost 20 years ago, and it lasted about 10 years before it died. Then I got another one, and that lasted 10 years. This one here is the next generation. Ironically, this one died within a year and I have another one yet again – but that’s another story. My point is that using an electric toothbrush made a gigantic difference for my oral health and hygiene, and I wish I had had one as a child. My teeth, due to neglect of care and probably outright bad nutrition in the Germany of the 1960s, were full of fillings by the time I turned 20. Then I spent 20 years with  my trusted dentist fixing things up, and the final 20 years just maintaining the status – and much of it thanks to the Sonicare.

When I was in my mid thirties, my feet started hurting badly to the point where I could no longer hike and walking was painful. I was lucky to find a good podiatrist who custom made orthotics for me, and I have worn them in my shoes ever since. The orthotics were a miracle cure. I was better overnight. And I am an avid hiker and walker to this day. No pain – but I need my orthotics. The custom units the podiatrist made for me cost a lot of money at the time, and lasted maybe 10 years, before they broke. My doctor had retired by then, and I found the GoodFeet store and bought myself a set off the shelf. They cost about $200 at the time, and the ones you see in the photo above are still that first pair. I would say that pair is now 30 years old. They are indestructible. And they are still the same miracle cure. I will probably never need to buy another pair, and since they are always in my shoes, there is no chance I’ll ever lose them, either.

Here is the tale: Both of these product are miracle cures.

The toothbrushes are now made out of Chinesium. The last one literally only held up for a year before it no longer worked. Since they “only” cost about $100, I hadn’t kept warranty documents, so I just bought another one – keeping the receipt this time. However, you have to change the heads out every few months. It’s like the razor and the blade. It’s the brush heads that cost some $30 for a set of three and that’s how Philips makes its money. What a racket business model!

In contrast, the orthotics are just as miraculous and important, but there are no blades, no brush heads, and they last forever. GoodFeet is a great company with an amazing product, but I have no need to buy their product ever again – it’s that good.

I can’t help it that there is a difference between one product and another, one making an ongoing revenue stream, and the other being just one-time sales.

Pick your product well when you start a company!

Impromptu Hike of Stonewall Peak

While we were camping in the Cuyamaca area, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, I decided to do a quick hike of Stonewall Peak. We had done that hike before in 2021 – a pandemic outing – and you can see a full description here.

This time I just parked my car and jumped on the trail at 4:00pm in the afternoon. Here is a shot from the trailhead, just off Highway 79. The setting sun was in my back, lighting up the mountain in fire.

Here is another picture, a few minutes farther up the road. The trail does not stay this wide and clean and it turns into switchbacks very quickly.

Here is a view from the trail about halfway up the mountain.

Finally, at the top. The elevation is 5,730 feet, and the parking lot was at about 4,900 feet. So it’s only and 800 feet elevation change. The bars on the right bottom of the picture are a frame for a display that is not yet installed. In the center of the image is Cuyamaca Lake, very empty and only a shadow of what it was 20 years ago. All the rain of this past season and the hurricane did not make much of a positive difference to the water level.

Our campsite at Pinezanita is five miles away from this point, pretty much straight behind the mountain the the center.

[click to enlarge]
The hike from the parking lot to the peak is about two miles long. It took me about an hour to get to the top. I had to go a little slower as I forgot my hiking poles and I needed to pay attention to my foot work lest I trip. I was back down in within less than two hours just before it started to get dark.

Stonewall Peak is great quick hike with very dramatic vistas in all directions high above San Diego.

Walking on a Cruise Ship

On August 29 we were on the cruise ship Noordam on the way out of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. The Noordam’s deck 3 is the main deck where all main exits are, with access to the life boats. There is a plank path all around the ship, from bow to stern. In the bow, there is a plaque indicating that the distance around the ship is exactly 0.33 miles, meaning that three times around the ship comprises a walk of one mile.

To get a sense of the scale of the ship, here is a (partial) picture of her [lick to enlarge]:

Deck 3 is where the orange life boats are, just at the top of the black painted hull. The top deck is number 10.

I decided to do my customary two mile walk in the late afternoon on the way out of Glacier Bay National Park. The wind was brisk, particularly when walking forward toward the bow. I estimate that the ship was moving at a speed of about 14 knots or so.

I turned on my Garmin Instinct watch to track my walk, and it was supposed to be an experiment. The Garmin tracks walks with all manner of statistics, and it saves a map of the walk. I have displayed such maps many times on these pages, usually when I show hikes. I was interested what a “walk” of two miles would look like going around in circles on a moving ship.

Doing the two miles, or six times around the ship, took about 35 minutes. Here is the map:

Obviously, it’s on water and it shows up as a straight line. The width of the ship is only about 100 feet or so, which is not enough to show up as a wiggle on the path. The red and blue areas are fast and slow. I would have registered as walking faster going backwards away from the direction of the ship’s movement. But it did not turn out that way at least consistently. It may be that the ship slowed down or speed up at one point, or that my Garmin was starting to get wonky.

[Note, the Garmin was getting wonky, and I have since upgraded to an Instinct 2 for that reason].

I wish I had another chance to do this experiment over again with a reliable device. But there you have it, a map of a two mile walk on a moving cruise ship.

Book Review: A Farewell to Arms – by Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms is known as one of the best American novels about World War I. Hemingway wrote it when he was just thirty years old. He was in the war as an American ambulance driver on the Italian front.

The story is autobiographical. Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver, falls in love with Catherine Barkley, a British nurse. Caught in the atrocities of war, the two eventually end up together in Switzerland.

A Farewell to Arms is a love story inside a war story. It depicts the brutality and senselessness of war and what it does to the people that are swept up in it.

The book was Hemingway’s first bestseller and catapulted him to the top of American literature. It is often called one of Hemingway’s best works.

As it is often the case with me and famous literary works, I don’t rank them as highly as one might expect. I like Hemingway’s terse style, his using omission as a literary device. For instance, there is no sex in the book, but it’s obvious that Frederic and Catherine have plenty of it, to the point where the book was banned from newsstands due to the presence of pornography.

I can assure you there is no pornography whatsoever in A Farewell to Arms. The sex is solely in the head and imagination of the reader.

I found Hemingway’s dialog stilted and silly, and based on their interactions, the love between the two protagonists contrived and superficial. Besides the depictions of war, most of the human interaction didn’t seem real to me. I was reading a book, or better yet, I was working my way through a book.

Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns – by Khaled Hosseini

If you check my Ratings Key for 4-star books here is what you find:

  • Must read
  • Inspiring
  • Classic
  • Want to read again
  • I learned profound lessons
  • Just beautiful
  • I cried

A Thousand Splendid Suns checks all these boxes.

In addition, reading it now is extremely timely, given the recent departure of the United States from Afghanistan on August 30, 2021.

We hear the story from the perspective of two young women, girls at first, in alternating chapters.

Mariam was born in 1959 in Herat in western Afghanistan, the cradle of Persian culture. She is an illegitimate child of one of the richest men in the city, Jalil. He has three wives and nine legitimate children among them. They all live in one large mansion as a happy family. Mariam and her mother, however, live in a hovel he had built for them a couple of miles out of town, up a steep hill, away from the city, and away from his “respectable” life. But he apparently loves Mariam enough to come and visit her once a week and spend quality time with her. She grows up into her teenage years loving and adoring her father, not knowing any better that life could be different. One day she walks to the city without permission, arrives at her father’s house and quickly finds that there is indeed a difference between her and her other siblings. Within just a few days, at the age of fifteen, she is married off to a middle-aged man in Kabul, Rasheed. Despite per protests, Rasheed takes her with him and her life changes drastically. Rasheed is a brute of a man who thinks nothing of beating a wife with a belt until she bleeds.

A few houses down the street from Mariam and Rasheed lives a young family with a little girl named Laila. There are two older brothers. Laila’s father is somewhat of an outsider in the neighborhood. He is an intellectual, a teacher, who loves his books and cherishes education, even for a girl. Laila grows up in a loving, albeit poor, family. Her best friend is Tariq, a neighborhood boy who is two years older than she. Laila’s older brothers go to war against the Soviets and eventually both die for the cause. Laila’s mother is so shaken, she becomes morose and sickly. Eventually, a stray rocket hits their house. Laila is the only survivor but severely wounded.

Rasheed and Mariam rescue her, and promptly, Rasheed decides to take Laila as a second wife, against Mariam’s will. This stroke of fate puts the two women, a generation apart, into the same household under the boot of a severely abusive man.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is about the devastating abuse and systemic destruction of women in a regime and society where a few theocrats have absolute power over the lives of millions of people. It is also about the history of Afghanistan, starting in the 1960s and through about 2007. It describes the years before the Soviets invaded the country in the 1980s, their eventual defeat, the rise of the Mujahideens, their devolution into bands of warlords bent on destroying their own country for personal gain and power, and finally the rise of the Taliban, pre-Osama bin Laden. It illustrates in vivid detail what the Taliban, basically a bunch of uneducated goat-herders and religious fanatics, did to their own country and most importantly, to 50% of their population – all the women. We witness the hardships of women under that regime, and then, as we all know, the post 9/11-years as the American’s supposedly liberated the Afghans from the Taliban. Things started getting better again in the country and people’s lives started to improve.

That is where A Thousand Splendid Suns ends. There was hope. There was light again for girls and women.

The bitter, brutal irony is that I read this book not in 2007 when it came out, but fifteen years later, now in 2023. I know that the Americans left the country under very adverse conditions for the Afghan people. I know that the country fell into the hands of the Taliban again within days of America leaving, and I know, from reading A Thousand Splendid Suns what happened to the Afghans – again.

It’s easy for us to make decisions about how we feel about Afghanistan being a world away. Reading A Thousand Splendid Suns is crushing, challenging, and most of all thought-provoking. We didn’t do anything new to Afghanistan. We were just another invader in the revolving door of systematic subjugation of a nation and its people, a nation that could not be defeated by two superpowers in two generations, but a nation that also hasn’t figured out how to live and prosper on its own.

The Afghan people are not to be blamed. The sick interpretation of Islam and the fact that an entire nation is willing to subjugate itself to its dogma is at the root of the problem. And that is exactly why there should never be any connection between politics, government and church, any church at all.

Reading this book, I realize that through my entire lifetime on this planet, the people of Afghanistan have suffered, badly suffered, and there is no end in sight even now.

Job Interview Strategies – Take Two

I just found this old post that I wrote August 2008 – literally 15 years go. Even though the world has changed a lot since then, job interviews are still the same.

Yes, many today are online, and that changes the perspective for a number of my points, but many are as true today as they were then.

So here is that post again:

Focus on the Objective

If you are called for an interview, the company has decided it is interested in you. They already have your resume, you have made it past the first round of eliminations, and at least on paper you appear qualified. They called you in because they want to get to know you. They want to know what you are like to be with. Do you live up to the impression you made with your paperwork?

Keep this in mind when you go into an interview. You are qualified. You have the right education. None of that is all that important now. What is important is that you show that you can do the job, and that they like you. Who wants to work with somebody they don’t want to be around.

Focus on that, and make sure everything in your interview is consistent with that objective.

Look Right for the Job

Make sure you appear congruent with the job you are applying for. Lawyers wear suits and have neatly trimmed hair. Rock musicians wear blue jeans and tie-dyed shirts. Marketing professionals wear suits, dresses and stylish clothes. Computer programmers wear blue jeans, but when they go for interviews, they wear suits.

Take out your earrings if you are a man. Cover your tattoos. Remove visible body piercing objects. Now is not the time to show your individuality. Do not wear too much jewelry. One ring is ok. Do not wear bracelets, whether you are a man or a woman. They get in the way when you shake hands and they jingle and thus distract.

If you don’t have a suit, now is the time to buy one. You don’t need many. Just one good one. That counts for men and women. You always look good in a suit.

Unless you are applying to be the creative head of an Internet company or record label, make sure you are clean shaven and properly groomed. If you are a woman, makeup is ok, but make sure it’s understated. The interviewer does not want to notice your makeup.

And no matter what the job, no cleavage, short dresses or unbuttoned shirts for men.

Walk the Walk

Remember that the first impression you make is usually the final impression. The scary part is that if you are walking from the lobby to the office, and it takes 30 seconds, you have just passed or failed the entire interview before you have even taken a seat.

Therefore, when the interviewer meets you in the lobby and takes you back to her office or a meeting room, make sure you stay with her. Don’t fall behind by walking too slowly. Make sure you wear shoes that allow you to keep her pace. I personally always test my interviewees by walking fast and watching if they keep up. I don’t tell them that, of course.

Politely decline coffee or water or any other refreshments you might be offered. Those would simply distract you. And getting them would divert valuable attention from you in the first 30 seconds. Every second should focus on you.

Find Something in Common

People like people who are like them. So when you enter somebody’s office, find something you have in common with the person. If they have artwork in their office, and you know anything about art, ask. If you see family pictures, and there is something you can relate to, comment on it or ask a question about it. Better yet, if you can determine that you have mutual acquaintances, or you share a hobby, or you went to the same school, or you grew up in the same town or state, that is wonderful. Engage the person with questions about this subject you share. People love to talk about themselves. And they automatically like you, because, after all, you are just like them.

Remember that above all, your job, as you enter the interview space, is to find something in common with the person and note it. This is easier when the interview takes place in the person’s office. It’s harder in a conference room or other neutral space.

But try, try hard, because that alone can make the interview.

Prepare Answers

Study your answers to the questions you should expect. Some basic questions are:

  • What are your goals?
  • Where do you want to be five years from now?
  • Why have you left your last job (if this is not your first one)?
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • Why do you want to work for our company?
  • Why should we hire you over somebody else?

Prepare answers to those questions, write the answers down, and read them every day. They should become completely effortless.

After every interview, immediately write down any questions you were asked that you didn’t feel comfortable answering, and then prepare a stock answer. This way you expand your wealth of responses and with every interview you become more prepared.

Prepare Questions

Most interviewers will expect that you ask them questions. You need to have questions prepared. There is nothing more deflating than to interview somebody that does not have a question.

Make sure you express interest in the company. The more questions you ask, the more they answer, and when they are answering, they are doing the talking, and you are doing the listening, and that’s how a good interview should be.

At the end, the interviewer will simply realize she enjoyed talking with you, and it won’t cross her mind that she did all the talking.

Most people like to talk, and talking is much easier than listening. So, have lots of questions you can fire off, so you can do lots of listening.

It will be a successful interview.

Questions Not to Ask

There are some questions that you should not ask.

1. How much does the job pay? – This is not the time. You’ll figure this out later after they decide they want to hire you.

2. How much vacation do I get? – You want a job, or do you want vacation?

3. Do you have casual Friday? – Duh.

4. What are the benefits? – While this is not an unreasonable question, I recommend that you hold it for later. It’s premature, takes the focus away from the objective, and is awkward. When they offer you the job, you’ll have plenty of time to negotiate the benefits.

Be Honest

Don’t fake anything. Don’t make up anything. If there is something you don’t know, about the company, the job, a subject, anything at all, don’t lie. The interviewer will know. You will look like a phony.

There is nothing wrong with not knowing something. Freely admit it, state that you will find out, or ask them. They will be flattered that you asked.

Always be honest about everything, your education, your grades, your previous salary, the reason you left your last job. If you get the job, the truth will come out. If you were deceptive, you will be embarrassed. If the interviewer does not like your answer, or the truth, you really don’t want to work there anyway.

So always be honest.

Ask For the Job

Before you leave, always ask for the job. You would be amazed how many people interview and never ask for the job.

As the interviewer, it is very easy to give the job to the person that actually states that they want the job and that they are excited about it.

If there are two candidates, both fully qualified, both nice, both would fit into the organization, the interviewer will much more likely offer the job to the person that actually asked for it. Very, very simple.

Before you leave, at the latest when you shake hands, explicitly ask for the job: “I think I’d be great in this position. I would like that job. I am looking forward to hearing from you real soon.”

What interviewer can then ignore you after that?

Book Review: Yestertime – by Andew Cunningham

Ray Burton, a journalist from Florida, travels to Flagstaff, Arizona to support a good friend who is dying of cancer. After his friend dies, he drives to the outskirts of the city to visit Hollow Rock, a ghost town. By accident he stumbles into a hidden cave where he finds a trunk left by a man named Stan Hooper in 1870. Along with some old belongings, there is a note, and a camera with several memory cards. Clearly, that can’t be. So Ray picks up the trunk and drives it home to Florida. When he starts researching the name Stan Hooper online, he soon gets a visit from a couple of goons with the NSA.

This is a very poorly written book, and I am not worried about giving away some of the plot – it’s so inane anyway. There are time portals sprinkled around the world that are one-way. In other words, you can go from the cave in Flagstaff to the bustling western mining town of Hollow Rock just by walking through a passage in the cave. But you can never go back. The only way out is another portal to another time. You hope you can find your way back home, but none of the characters traveling in time ever do.

We never find out who built the portals and why, but a group of six people in the year 2105 figured it out and started traveling the portals – why? – that’s not clear. There seems to be no mission. They are not allowed to tell anyone about the portals, and they are willing to just kill one another for blabbing, but still, they all blab. That’s how Stan Hooper started traveling, and that’s how Ray got involved.

The book has no end. It just stops suddenly, and it’s an obvious setup for a sequel or a series. I won’t read the next books since there isn’t enough of a story to keep me interested.

The author does not seem to know how to tell a story. He doesn’t show the reader. He tells the reader. The book is mostly exposition, with some terrible dialog sprinkled in. The characters, including the protagonist, are all shallow and non-descript. Even their names are boring: Mitch, Herb, Max, Stan, Alan, Hal, Natalie, Jim.

He likes the characters to kiss: “…he said, smothering her in kisses…” or “…in his arms and kissed her deeply….” or “…her arms around me and kissed me hard on the lips….” All the kisses are “deep” and “hard.” Of course there is also sex, but the way it’s told is too weird:

Natalie and I were becoming closer with each day. She was as genuine a person as I could have hoped for. Being around her made me understand why she had wanted to escape the movie world. But she also seemed to genuinely have feelings for me, even though I was almost twenty years older than her. Just as she had the first night, the second night back in the cabin she had slept with me on the floor. No sex, just companionship and the need to be close. There was something more, but we’d only known each other for a few days, so I guess I’d see where it led.

Oh, well, it led to more of the same.

One strange coincidence: This book plays a lot in and around Flagstaff, Arizona, and I actually was in Flagstaff last Saturday when I read the final chapter of Yestertime. After I closed the book in my Kindle, I went over to Google Maps and searched for Hollow Rock, just in case. I might have wanted to search for the cave.

I didn’t find any Hollow Rock.

Indictments and Government Contracting

In my work, I just spent the last few weeks writing a major proposal for services to a large state. The proposal was over 300 pages long, and here is a small section of clauses I needed to fill out. The column on the left shows my responses.
It’s a good thing that I am not under indictment on any felony charge, because if I were, my company would not be able to submit this proposal.

I could run for president, though.

Book Review: Children of Time – by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Children of Time is a book I had known about for a long time but never decided to read. One of my – somewhat illogical – reasons was that it deals a lot with spiders. I don’t like spiders at all. You should have seen me on my walk this morning when I went out before 6:00 am, apparently the first walker in my neighborhood. I ran right into a spider web between my house and a tree that obviously was just woven over night. I did the incredible spider dance, frantically brushing my face and body to get rid of any nasty that I might have picked up. Yes, I don’t like spiders at all.

My son-in-law, also an avid science fiction reader, recently mentioned that the book Children of Time was one of his favorite science fiction stories of all time. That was enough to put me over the edge and I finally read it. It’s a big book with a print length of 608 pages, but it’s even a bigger book content-wise.

There are four main themes in this story that are woven together to create this plot.

  • Theme 1 – Earth is being destroyed and polluted by humans to the point where it becomes uninhabitable
  • Theme 2 – Humans leave in generation ships
  • Theme 3 – Terraforming technology
  • Theme 4 – Evolution and uplift

As you might imagine, every one of these themes is a complex subject for a novel, but putting four into the same book seems impossible. Yet, the author accomplished just that.

For Theme 1, this is an epic story. Humanity has achieved travel to the stars. The solar system is populated with colonies and terraforming technology. The first starships have left to explore other star systems. But at home on Earth, humans have polluted the planet to the point where is no longer livable, and various factions, including religious ones, are starting to go to war over resources. Eventually, humanity self-destructs, not only physically, but a computer virus (a little far fetched) disables all automated systems it can reach. Only the farthest-away space ships have a chance to evade the virus. Eventually, a few thousand years go by, and that world is known as the “Old Empire.” A new generation of humanity rises from the ashes and again ascends to space travel. Their level of technology is well below that of the Old Empire, and much of their frontier work is comprised of finding and salvaging Old Empire technology. Usually they find it in orbiting hulks of ancient space stations. These new humans are now spreading again to the stars in search of planets they can terraform.

For Theme 2, there is no magic technology that overcomes the speed of light, so the starships only travel at a fraction of the speed of light, making journeys take decades or even centuries. Since humans can’t live that long, they are put to sleep cryogenically and the ships operate robotically and wake  humans only when they arrive at their destinations, or when there is a problem or a decision to be made.

I love generation ship stories, enough that there is an entire category that labels them in this blog. You can select it on the Categories dropdown on the right. This is a pretty good generation ship story.

For Theme 3, it always strikes me as odd that the Earth is so polluted and destroyed, it can’t be lived on, but some dead ice planet light years away can be terraformed so human life can sustain itself. Is it really easier to terraform an alien environment than to rekindle the Old Earth? Maybe not, but it sure makes for a good foundation for a story about star travel.

For Theme 4, this is a book about evolution, and more importantly, uplift, the process where one species helps another along in evolution to develop sentience. In this story, a human-developed virus is released into nature with the intent of helping apes become intelligent and sentient. Humans intended to create a slave race. However, things did not go as planned, there were no apes for the virus. But there were spiders. Over time, as the spiders became more and more intelligent, they became sentient, rose to be the dominant species on their planet, developed civilization, technology and eventually space travel.

Imagine if spiders became as smart as humans? What would their dwellings look like? What kind of society would they build? How about their cities? What about wars and weapons? How would they communicate?

And now imagine humans landed on the planet of the spiders. What would the spiders think of them? And how would the humans view the spiders? Would they be able to communicate?

Children of Time is a good uplift story. However, it does not come close to the works of  the master of uplift, David Brin. If you are interested in this subject, I recommend you read Sundiver, Book 1 of the Uplift Saga, to get you started. I do not have a ready review of that, since it’s been too long ago that I read those books, but I found them utterly fascinating.

I am glad I read Children of Time and I made it past my fear of spiders, at least for the book. I am still killing them when I see them in the house, though.

Ring and a Trip to Costco

Today I went to Costco to buy, among other things, a Ring doorbell. It comes packaged with an indoor camera as a bundle. At the store, they have a display where you simply pick up a card, pay for the card, and then go to the Costco merchandise cage where a staff member takes your card, checks your receipt, and gives you the item.

And that’s what I did. The package cost $179.99. This is the box the clerk gave me. It seemed large and heavy for what I thought I was buying. Also, it seemed oddly non-retail.

But I didn’t question it much, took it home, and opened it up.

I took out one of the boxes inside, and to my surprise, there were three more. Each one of these is a doorbell/camera bundle.

I took out my product, this time from a slick retail package like I’d expect from a high tech product and proceeded with the setup and installation.

I think Costco needs to train its staff better, particularly those who manage the cage with the high value items.

Tomorrow I am going back to Costco to return the $720 worth of merchandize I took out of the store without knowing it.

AI and Nietzsche – ChatGPT Making Things Up

Friedrich Nietzsche

Today there was a long segment in the CBS Series “60 Minutes” that discussed artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact on society. Most of the examples were from Google’s Bard. One of the sections talked about hallucinations, and how the AIs are making things up.

This reminded me of a recent experience with ChatGPT you might find amusing. I was looking for a segment of Nietzsche where he discussed how Christianity is poisonous to human life and humanity. Rather than searching a number of books, I asked ChatGPT. Here is my exchange:


Which Nietzsche passage talks about Christianity being poison to human life


The passage you are referring to is from Friedrich Nietzsche’s book “The Antichrist” (Der Antichrist), specifically in section 39. Here is the relevant passage:

“The Christian faith from the beginning, is sacrifice: the sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of spirit; it is at the same time obedience and self-annihilation. When you encounter suffering in your life, it is not in order to make you better, but solely in order to degrade you and humiliate you… Christianity is called the religion of pity. Pity stands in opposition to all the tonic passions that augment the energy of the feeling of aliveness: it is a depressant. A man loses power when he pities. Through pity that drain upon strength which suffering works is multiplied a thousandfold. Suffering is made contagious by pity; under certain circumstances it may lead to a total sacrifice of life and living energy—a loss out of all proportion to the magnitude of the cause. The case of the death of the Nazarene is a mere trifle by comparison with the sort of things that are continually enacted on a grander scale, under the auspices of holy pity, throughout the length and breadth of Christendom.”

In this passage, Nietzsche criticizes Christianity for its emphasis on sacrifice, self-annihilation, and pity. He argues that Christianity degrades and humiliates individuals by suppressing their freedom, pride, and self-confidence. Nietzsche believes that Christianity’s focus on pity as a virtue is detrimental to human life, as it weakens individuals and drains them of their strength and energy. He further suggests that Christianity’s influence has led to significant acts of suffering and sacrifice throughout history.

Alright so far. This came back in a second after my question. I didn’t have to search. The passage is in The Antichrist, and particularly in section 39. I read the passage and most of it made sense. I had what I wanted.

But the English translation just seemed kind of flat to me. Nietzsche, among many other things, is one of the most important contributors to the modern German language and his style is unique. For that reason I asked ChatGPT to not just give me a flat and vapid translation, but rather the original text.

Here is what I asked:


Do you have the German original text to this: [and here I repeated it’s sample quote from above].


Certainly! Here is the German original text of the passage you requested:

“Das Christentum von Anfang an, Opfer: Opfer aller Freiheit, aller Hochmuth, alles Selbstvertrauens des Geistes, zugleich Unterordnung und Selbstvernichtung. Leid, begegnest du ihm, in deinem Leben: nicht um dich zu vervollkommnen, sondern bloss um dich zu erniedrigen und zu erniedrigen… Das Christentum heisst die Religion des Mitleids. Das Mitleid steht in Gegensatz zu allen stärkenden Leidenschaften, welche die Energie des Lebensgefühls vermehren: es ist ein Niederdrückendes. Der Mensch verliert Kraft, wenn er mit-leidet. Durch das Mitleid wird jene Abzehrung an Kraft, welche das Leiden bewirkt, tausendfach vermehrt. Das Leiden wird durch das Mitleid ansteckend; unter bestimmten Umständen kann es zur völligen Preisgebung des Lebens und der Lebenskraft, zu einem Verlust von über alle Verhältnisse gehender Grösse führen. Der Fall des Todes des Nazaräners ist hierbei ein Fall von geringster Art gegen die Dinge, die in der ganzen Länge und Breite des Christenthums unter dem Patronate des heiligen Mitleids fortwährend in grossem Stile aufgeführt werden.”

Please note that the translation provided in my previous response was not a direct word-for-word translation but captured the essence of Nietzsche’s ideas.

Now I got suspicious. This looked very wrong. The German is not elegant, not Nietzsche-like at all. It is what I could call broken German at best. I then went to my Kindle system and bought the original German edition of Der Antichrist and looked for section 39. I quickly found that section 39 has nothing to do with this subject. Only a number of text searches finally got me close. Searching for the keyword “Nazarener” finally brought me to section 7, where I found the segment below which loosely matches the blue section above. “Nazarener” only appears once in the entire book.

From Kindle:

Man nennt das Christenthum die Religion des Mitleidens. – Das Mitleiden steht im Gegensatz zu den tonischen Affekten, welche die Energie des Lebensgefühls erhöhn: es wirkt depressiv. Man verliert Kraft, wenn man mitleidet. Durch das Mitleiden vermehrt und vervielfältigt sich die Einbusse an Kraft noch, die an sich schon das Leiden dem Leben bringt. Das Leiden selbst wird durch das Mitleiden ansteckend; unter Umständen kann mit ihm eine Gesammt-Einbusse an Leben und Lebens-Energie erreicht werden, die in einem absurden Verhältniss zum Quantum der Ursache steht (– der Fall vom Tode des Nazareners)

— Der Antichrist (German Edition) (p. 7). Kindle Edition.

Where it found the first five lines of its text I have no idea. I could not find it and didn’t have the patience to look further.

Of course, it did give me a disclaimer:

Please note that the translation provided in my previous response was not a direct word-for-word translation but captured the essence of Nietzsche’s ideas.

From this you can see it went back to its previous response and admitted that it was its own translation – I presume. It didn’t lift if from a professional translation published in an English edition of The Antichrist.

Rather than giving me the original text that I asked for, it gave me a translation back from its first poor English translation, so what I might have accepted for the German original was a translation of a translation. Why it thought it was from section 39 is a mystery. It definitely didn’t tell me the truth when I gave me this translation of a translation rather than the original text I requested.

In summary, ChatGPT just simply “made things up” in response to my question. The only value it provided was giving me the name of the book – but even that I might have guessed.

Christianity? Antichrist? Take a wild guess!

From my experience here I can conclude that if you want something mediocre written quickly, ChatGPT can be very helpful. But if you are doing serious research, or you want to get the truth or reality, beware.

AI, like your crazy brother-in-law at the backyard barbeque, just makes stuff up. Maybe in that regard it is All Too Human – to ironically quote another Nietzsche work.

When in Dallas

After 40 or so years of visiting the Dallas area, with literally hundreds of layovers at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, I have never actually been in downtown Dallas, until today.

This morning I woke up at my hotel at 1700 Commerce Street. It was going to be a hot day, so a morning walk at 7:00am seemed like the right thing. I was within a mile of the spot where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I walked down Main Street heading east and soon reached the famed, or infamous, Dealey Plaza. Here is a map, and the red arrow shows the exact location of Kennedy’s death.

I was there around 7:00 in the morning and there were no tourists yet. It was all empty and quiet. Later in the day this area gets quite busy with many tourists walking around and taking pictures. I avoided all that by being there early.

The above photograph shows the location of Kennedy’s death (red arrow) and the window where the shooter sat (blue arrow). The address of the building is 411 Elm Street in Dallas. It was a book depository in 1963.

Here is another view from a little further away. You can see there was hardly any traffic that early in the morning.

Here is another view of the same spot, this time from the center of Dealey Plaza. If you click on my photograph and zoom in where the arrow points you may see a white X that is actually marked on the street on the very spot.

Bob Dylan wrote a very moving song in his last album Rough and Rowdy Ways titled Murder Most Foul. The song is about the Kennedy assassination.

Twas a dark day in Dallas, November ’63A day that will live on in infamyPresident Kennedy was a-ridin’ highGood day to be livin’ and a good day to die

You can find the full lyrics here. I recommend you listen to the song. I can’t post it here for copyright reasons.

The sixth and seventh floor of the former book depository are now a museum named The Sixth Floor Museum. It opens at 10:00am, so I had to come back later to visit the museum. I it did not regret it. There are countless exhibits of posters, photographs and audiovisuals.

This picture shows an exact copy of the rifle that was used. The actual rifle that killed the president is at the National Archives.

And most eerie and deeply disturbing, here is the window from where the shot was fired. The area is enclosed by glass in the museum, and the book boxes are of course staged. There were book boxes the shooter used to rest the rifle.

I stood there for quite a while and let it sink in. This very spot was the place where U.S. history changed when a popular president was killed by a loser with a cheap gun.

I still remember the day. I was six years old and I had just started second grade in elementary school in Germany. My mother told me about what happened before I went to school. She wanted me to be informed in the event that the teacher brought it up.

When I was in the museum I watched some video clips of the day’s events. There were the ominous clips of the motorcade rolling down Main Street in Dallas, literally Kennedy’s last minutes alive, showing him waving to the crowds on both sides of the streets. Then the car reached Dealey Plaza and turned right onto North Houston Street before turning left again onto Elm Street to the fateful spot. I looked up and saw the building and the window where the shooter sat that very moment. He was not visible, but the window was definitely open – this was just seconds before.

In another clip, it showed the Kennedys arriving on Air Force One at Dallas Love Field that morning. It showed Jackie in the now famous bright pink outfit coming out of the plane and walking down the stairs, followed by the president. Lyndon Johnson greeted them. Eventually Kennedy entered the open limousine. As it pulled away, there was a Texas Lone Star flag behind the car, and right next to that flag was a Confederate Flag.

And that also made me stop and think.


Philips Sonicare 4700 Toothbrush Fails

After using the previous generation of the Sonicare toothbrush for at least 10 years, I bought two new Sonicare 4700 brushes for myself and my wife less than a year ago. I bought them at my dentist, which probably made them more expensive than if I had gone to Costco. I paid about $100 each.

In the last few days, mine started failing. The brush shaft became loose and wobbly, and since the effectiveness of an electric toothbrush is based on vibration, it simply did not work anymore.

I was going to invoke my warranty, but the Philips website was not very helpful, and I had no idea where my receipt was. Who expects a toothbrush to fail and registers it after the purchase? Not me! I didn’t keep a file on my toothbrush like I would on a car or a computer, for instance.

Enter YouTube. The first video I found was from deependstudios. It described exactly how to open the toothbrush. Without it, I would never have figured it out.

I gave it a shot, what did I have to lose? 

Here is the toothbrush removed from the housing and the tools I needed. Yes, there is a hammer there, and to understand why, watch the above video. Unlike the deependstudios guy who ended up ruining the charger while trying to open it, I was able to avoid his mistake and fix my toothbrush like new – thanks to his video and instructions.

It all comes down to one screw, seen here in the center of the picture.

The Sonicare is made in China, who would guess, and it seems it’s all made out of Chinesium. This screw, which holds in the vibrating shaft, had come loose. Who would design a toothbrush where the most critical functional component that makes it work is attached by a tiny screw that comes loose with vibration?

I had to make a trip to Home Depot to get some thread lock, I put a tiny dab on the tip of the screw and fastened it tightly. I needed to use my computer grade tiny screw driver set to do that. My normal tools were too large.

All new! My toothbrush is back in business. I am sure this happens a lot to these units. I am amazed that Philips isn’t coming up with a better design.

All thanks to this video by deependstudios.

A Tale of Two Hikes

Within a week from each other, I went on two hikes that were in some ways very similar, in others, very different. Here is the tale of two hikes:

On Monday, June 12, I hiked part of the Halemau’u trail on Maui in Hawai’i. Here is my post about that hike.

Exactly a week later, on Monday, June 19, I hiked part of the Fuller Ridge Trail on Mt. San Jacinto in Southern California. Here is my post about that hike.

For similarities: On both hikes I went in and out on the same trail. There were no circular options. On the first hike, I went in for 2.8 miles and then turned around. On the second one, I turned around at the 2.3 mile point, because it was the high point. Both hikes had a high point right around 8,000 feet. On both hikes I was on the trail for about three hours.

But the differences were much more dramatic.

Trails in Hawai’i are much rougher. Volcanic rock is sharp, sometimes brittle, and difficult to walk on. Even when the rock is smooth, like on boulders, it’s slippery and uneven. Volcanic rock does not break in sheets like granite, so surfaces are rounded. Walking on Hawai’ian trails requires actively looking at foot placement of every step, to the point where my neck would start to hurt from the constant looking down to my feet. This way, I also miss some of the views. Sure enough, a few times I’d look up and enjoy the sights while walking, and I’d promptly twist my ankle. Not a good idea miles out in the wilderness. Trails in California are generally wooded. Yes, there are rocks and boulders in many places, but foot placement is much simpler. You can look up along the trail and walk safely much of the time. That’s much better for the neck.

The fauna in Hawai’i is much reduced. There are bugs and flies, but not many, and I can never remember being bothered by bugs. While there are ants in Hawai’i, since they were introduced through human activity over the last couple of centuries, they are not everywhere. When you sit down for a snack on a California hike, you always have to be careful about sitting down near an ant nest. They seem to be everywhere, and ants are one of the main reasons why I never liked cowboy camping (sleeping without a tent). There are also gnats and mosquitoes from time to time, although that depends on the season. There are a lot less bugs in California than there are on the East Coast of the United States, of course.

In California, there are always several animals you have to be on the lookout for: Bears, mountain lions and rattle snakes. I have been lucky enough that in all the decades of wilderness hiking, I have never run into any of these animals, but it is always a worry and a concern when hiking. In Hawai’i, there are no snakes, and no native mammals, so no bears, mountain lions or any other predators. There were no mammals at all on the islands until sailing ships brought them with them, including domestic animals, and of course rats and other pests.

The Hawai’ian weather is tropical; we call it pajama weather. You can live in shorts and T-shirts all day and all night long. You really never get cold. That is different at altitude, of course, so it depends on the hike. Jackets and windbreakers are needed above 5,000 feet in elevation and vital at 10,000. But for the most part, it’s very warm. Although the sun can be brutal. Sun screen is a must. There are many similarities in California. The sun is also brutal most of the time, but it gets cold at night and warm clothes are necessary. California is essentially a desert, hot in the day and cold at night. So appropriate clothing is important.

I thought you’d enjoy this short analysis of two very similar, but very different hikes I was fortunate to do within just one week. The contrast struck me.