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When Trisha’s father passed away in 2004, he left her his library. Over the years, she kept only the most precious pieces. In her den, on a prominent shelf, is the fifteen book set of the Complete Works of Charles Dickens, by the Kelmscott Society Publishers, New York. The volumes are not dated, but I found through online research that they were published in 1904.

The books are now brittle, some of the spines have crumbled, and I don’t think any of the books themselves would survive a reading. They would disintegrate from being handled.

But precious they are, on that shelf, to remind her of her father, who himself must have acquired them when they were already old.

I have never read any Dickens, but it gives me comfort to know the complete works are in our house.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the King of Thailand:

The King of Thailand – [click to enlarge]

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn was officially crowned last week. The coronation represents the renewal of the monarchy’s power after the death of the king’s father in October 2016. The new king placed the crown on his own head. In Thailand, kings are regarded as almost divine. Like kings before him, Vajiralongkorn is protected by one the world’s strictest lese majeste laws, which make criticism of the king and other royals punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

It turns out, I published a post about the king in October 2016 in this blog. You want to check this out, as it contains some pictures and videos of the king and his consorts that are not very flattering. I just have to make sure that I don’t travel to Thailand now, lest I get arrested at the port of entry and thrown in a Thai prison for 15 years for being critical.

I am fortunate that I am protected as a citizen in a country that cherishes free speech and allows the people to criticize their leaders – at least that’s what it’s been up to this day and age.

 

Just as I was finished reading Where the Crawdads Sing, as I was transitioning back to Sapiens, I received an email from my friend Wolfgang recommending The Red Badge of Courage. How could I resist?

Within minutes I had downloaded the book and started reading. I recognized the first few pages and concluded that I must have read it before, many years ago, and forgotten all about it.

Not so. I now realize that I had started reading it – after all, it’s a classic – but put it aside after the first session, never to pick it up again. In my days of  reading hardcopy books that was quite possible. Once a book went down below the top five on the reading stack, there was a real chance that it never came to light again, ever. And so it must have been with The Red Badge of Courage.

It tells the story of “The Youth” as the author refers to him, a farm boy named Henry Fleming who enlists in the Union Army during the American Civil War, against his mother’s advice, as many a boy was wont to do when peer pressure was applied. He goes to war with gusto, only to realize that war is weeks and weeks of boredom, interrupted by occasional hours of terror and fright during battles. In the Civil War, men lined up shoulder to shoulder in rows, facing the enemy, who also lined up. Then they shot salvos at each other, which randomly thinned out the respective lines. Reloading took much time, getting ready for the next salvo. The human soldier was completely expendable. I don’t know how I would handle such a situation, and I am grateful that I never in my life had to. But the youth was terrified and ran away in shame. Eventually he found his way back to his regiment, and through successive engagements found his courage, and eventually became a hero to himself and his comrades. The title “the red badge of courage” comes from a red blood stain from a battle injury.

Stephen Crane wrote the book decades after the war and published it in 1893. He never experienced war firsthand himself, so his descriptions all came from what others told him. Notable also is that Crane died of tuberculosis in Germany in a sanatorium in the Black Forest in 1900 at the young age of 28. The Red Badge of Courage was his most acclaimed novel. It is a short book that you can read in a few hours, and many readers find it boring and challenging to read. All of the dialog is in southern farmer dialect, heavy with apostrophes and difficult to read. Here is an example:

But the tall soldier continued to beg in a lowly way. He now hung babelike to the youth’s arm. His eyes rolled in the wildness of his terror. “I was allus a good friend t’ yeh, wa’n’t I, Henry? I ’ve allus been a pretty good feller, ain’t I? An’ it ain’t much t’ ask, is it? Jest t’ pull me along outer th’ road? I ’d do it fer you, wouldn’t I, Henry?” He paused in piteous anxiety to await his friend’s reply.

— Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage (AmazonClassics Edition) (p. 67).

This is difficult for us Americans to read. I wonder how Wolfgang fared, being a native German reader? But then again, he told me he read War and Peace in Russian, so this must be a walk in the park in comparison.

I stuck with it and finished the book. I am not much of a “classics” guy, and The Red Badge of Courage, while an impressive little story, didn’t touch me all that much. I felt like I was reading it as a result of a class assignment, which, in a way, it was. I finished it, and in my subjective rating it gets two stars.

Yes, there is a city in the distance. You can see the Golden Gate at the right side, next to the large building.

San Francisco in the Gray [click to enlarge]

The irrigation system in my yard is a disaster. There is no consolidated controller, and each zone is regulated by a battery-operated controller with the attached valve. Here you can see one that I took off made by DIG.

They are confusing, unintuitive and sometimes aggravating to work with. If you don’t buy all of them at the same time in the same batch, there are different flavors, and none of them work the same.

There are many moving parts and they are hard to install. Once installed, they never seem to last. Over the past 12 months, in four out of six zones where I had them the controllers simply failed. During last season, I had to patrol them once every few weeks just to make sure they were still working. They’d reset themselves and go to default, so in the middle of the night the sprinklers would come on. Headaches after headaches.

I researched and found that there are different manufacturers but the results are similar. Byzantine designs, confusing user interfaces, cumbersome to install.

I wanted a centralized controller for regular valves, but that would have meant running wires all over my yard from the garage – a daunting project.

Then I found the solution. Zilker.

The valves are sleek and simple. There is one button and one LED. Click once, green light, water is on. Click once again, red light, water is off. Nothing more to do. Here is one next to the old DIG:

The valves cost about the same as conventional valves, about $65 each.

There is a base station in the house which controls the valves wirelessly. The base station connects to my WiFi, and the app on my iPhone controls the base station. The user interface is consistent and intuitive. The system connects to the weather station of my choice and it actually does not water if it rains – which, if course, is not very interesting in Southern California. It never rains. The other day I turned on my sprinklers from the airport. Just because I could!

Here is what the Zilker valves look like installed. They connect into garden hose adapters. So you can put one on your hose bib outside, put the garden hose on the other side, and it will control the water of any device at the other end of the garden hose.

My irritation with irrigation has been mitigated.

To read more about this great product, go to Zilker.

It’s 1952 in the marshland in coastal North Carolina. Kya is six years old and the youngest of five siblings. They live in a shack in the swamp. Pa is a loser and a drunk, and he abuses and beats Ma and the kids. One day Ma just walks away and never comes back. One by one the older siblings also drift away. Pa sticks around for another four years, but is gone sometimes four or more days in a row, who knows where. Then one day, when Kya is about ten, Pa does not come back. She is completely abandoned and forced to raise herself and survive. Kya grows up as a feral child, known as the Marsh Girl, a mystery to the towns people.

Where the Crawdads Sing is the debut novel of Delia Owens, a zoologist and non-fiction writer. She is now 70 years old and this is her first novel. I found the work truly amazing for a first novel. I just finished reading a truly bad novel, which I rated as zero stars. From the first page of reading Crawdads I was drawn in and captivated by the excellent descriptions, the suspense, the story, and the characters. Where the Crawdads Sing is one of the best novels I have read in a long time. It is a unique story about a set of characters we would not come across in our normal daily lives. It draws us into that life and environment until we become part of it. We feel the pain, the abandonment, the loneliness, and the longing of Kya as she grows up into a remarkable woman.

The book has all the elements needed: a strong story, unique characters, good and evil, suspense, challenge, pain, and an abundance of natural beauty all around with excellent descriptions.

When I was done with the book I went to the Amazon reviews and checked out out some of the 1-star ones, the people who didn’t like the book. Many thought it was unrealistic or unbelievable. Some, who were familiar with the North Carolina coast land said that the descriptions of the geography were not accurate. Some said that there are no crawdads in salt water marshes. Some said that the dialect used by the locals seemed somehow “wrong” or stilted or inconsistent. All those flaws may be real and factual, but none of them bothered me as I read the book.

I remember reading and feeling deep emotions all throughout, I shed quite a few quiet tears behind my glasses from time to time, and I truly enjoyed every minute of it. At the end, I didn’t want the story to be over.

It may have its flaws, it may be unrealistic, it may not be true to the local details, but it was a powerful book that left a strong imprint on me, one I will remember for a long time.

This is a book that deserves four stars from me.

In an episode of Dr. Who:

Road Warrior Tales

Today I traveled to Seattle. I need to be in Olympia, the capital of Washington tomorrow, but I am staying near the SeaTac Airport both nights. Olympia is just an hour’s drive south of here.

I get off the plane, pick up my rental car, punch in the directions to the Embassy Suites where I like to stay. When I get there, it does not look familiar, but to a guy who has spent more than 30 nights in hotels already in 2019 those hotels all start blending in together. As I am checking in, the desk clerk can’t find a reservation. Now I am stumped. I am certain I made a reservation, but maybe I just thought I did and forgot to actually do it. “Do you have any rooms?” They do. It’s a miracle what $250 a night and a Hilton Diamond card can do for you.

I get a room, go upstairs, open my computer, and start looking for my reservation. Sure enough, here it is: At the DoubleTree!

I went to the wrong hotel! You know you’re a road warrior when you go to the wrong hotel and never think twice about it.

So I go back down, cancel my stay, and make my way to the DoubleTree at SeaTac. The hotel is somewhat more dated than the Embassy Suites, but when I look out of the 11th floor window from the balcony, I see this:

Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier in all its glory.

The mountain looms large in the evening light, some 50 miles away. At 14,411 feet (4,392m) it is one of the highest mountains in the United States outside of Alaska, and just a few hundred feet lower than the famous Matterhorn in Switzerland. Rainier is a majestic mountain.

These are the rewards of a road warrior.

A Reddit user has posted a list of science fiction books that he considers his top 15 list. You can click on he link to see the details. My daughter, who knows I read a lot of science fiction, sent me the list. She suggested I open a post and say that I have spent the last 50 years reading nothing but science fiction, and here is my list….

A cursory glance revealed that I have a completely opposite view on some of his books, specially the first two, and I agree with many of them. I made a list of the books below, showing my ratings (zero to four stars) if I have reviewed the books, and commenting on those I have read but did not review. Note, I have “only” reviewed every book I have read since 2007, so there are about 40 years of reading where I only have vague memories of the results, and there is not enough time to read them all over again just to do a review. Ah, so little time!

  1. The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell)My rating 1.5 stars – This book is generally highly rated, but from my review you can tell I had serious issues with it.
  2. Hyperion Series (Dan Simmons) – My rating 2.0 stars – Just a lukewarm book, and I definitely didn’t want to read the next in the series.
  3. The Stand (Steven King) – Not reviewed, but read twice, and with more than 1,000 pages, that’s a feat – I have not reviewed The Stand because I read it long ago. It’s not a science fiction book, but it’s one of my top 10 of all time. I think King wrote a masterpiece with The Stand.
  4. I, Robot (Isaac Asimov) – I have not read these books.
  5. Dune (Frank Herbert) – I have not read the Dune series. I know they are classics, everyone says they are great, but I can’t read them. I cannot get into them.
  6. The Forge of God (Greg Bear) – I have read this book and remember nothing about it. I like Greg Bear books a lot, but I won’t spend the time to read this one again. Probably a good recommendation.
  7. The Forever War (Joe Haldeman)My rating 3.0 stars – I have actually read this book twice in the last eight years. I liked it a lot. I enjoy most of Haldeman’s writing.
  8. Not Alone (Craig Falconer) – I have not read this book, but this recommendation makes me think I should. Getting it onto my list.
  9. The Sirens of Titan (Kurt Vonnegut) – I have not read this book either, but I have now put it on my list.
  10. Nightfall (Isaac Asimov + Robert Silverberg) – I have not read this book, but looks promising.
  11. Old Man’s War (John Scalzi)My rating 3.0 stars – Great read, recommend highly.
  12. Childhood’s End (Arthur C. Clarke) – I read this decades ago and I remember it’s a good book, but that’s all.
  13. Spin (Robert Charles Wilson) – I have not read this book.
  14. Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein) – I read this book when I was a teenager. I remember I liked it. There is a horrible movie made after this book, which does not do it justice.
  15. Footfall (Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle) – I read Footfall a long time ago. It plays in my home area of Southern California, and I knew many of the locations. It’s an epic, and I would be rating it highly if I were reviewing it now.

In 2012, Peter is a retiree in Snohomish, Washington. He buys an old house and starts fixing it up, when he notices something odd about his shed. One night Peter sees lights out there and when he goes to investigate, he meets Henry, the old man who sold him the house. Henry let’s Peter in on the secret: The shed is a time portal. You set your mind to “when” in time you want to go, and walk through it, and there you are. Simple as that. And thus we have a time travel story.

Peter loses no time exploring the Snohomish of his youth in the summer of 1958. He crosses over almost daily, gets an apartment, buys a car, and establishes an identity there. During a return trip to 2012, his granddaughter Emily notices something weird and soon Peter comes to the conclusion he has to confess. Emily is let in on the secret. Since Emily is only 15 and a minor, they also include Emily’s mom.

For reasons that I can’t fathom, other than making a story, they decide that Emily will take a quarter of high school in the fall of 1958. They make preparations and put the plan in motion. But there is a school bully and he is one “bad hombre” to use the author’s word.

This book is really bad for a lot of reasons, so bad that it is worth pointing it out. There are about 50 reviews with high ratings on Amazon and I just don’t understand how that can be. Half of them seem to be by Snohomish residents who obviously like to read about their cafes, streets and businesses. There is a nostalgic element. But why is this book so bad? I will list the main reasons:

Grammar and Spelling:

The book it littered with grammar and spelling errors, so many I didn’t count them. Here is an example – red highlights are mine.

As we ate, she asked, “Why did I remembered what happened and the other kids didn’t?” I explained, “We kept our memories by returning though the portal. To the other kids, it was like rewinding a tape and recording over it.

There are two major grammar oversights in one paragraph. This might be acceptable to some readers, but to me it’s an insult. I paid $3 for this book. I now have a list of bookmarks of all the grammar and spelling errors that annoyed me enough to mark them. Did anyone at all, including the author, ever read this book before publishing it? Apparently not. But they expect the public to pay for this.

Juvenile Writing:

The book is full of clichés and trite expressions. When the author didn’t know how to describe something, he resorted to some colloquialism. It felt cheap.

Bad Writing in General:

The author does not know how to make a dialog work. There is some dialog, like in the example above, but it’s stilted at best. Since he can’t write dialog, he uses exposition throughout and indirect dialog. For instance, on the same page as the above excerpt:

I gave her a hug and told her I was proud of her and that I loved her. She began sobbing and turned and buried her head in my shoulder as she hugged me back.

Pretty much all the talking in this book is done this way. The narrator says what he said, rather than saying it. Sometimes that works, but this entire book is written that way. None of it is real. The entire book tells us what happened, rather than showing us what happened.

Filler Descriptions:

The book is stuffed with unnecessary descriptions, of what the characters are wearing every day and what they are eating:

She ran to the entrance in her new, knee-length, gray wool skirt that Dorothy had made for her a few days earlier. She had on white bobby socks, her saddle shoes, her white Jansen sweater, a light blue jacket, and a bright blue scarf around her neck. I watched as she ran to the door. It made me tear up a bit when I realized how much she looked like her grandmother had when I’d first met Linda at WSU.

Ok, you get a picture of what Emily looked like that day, but the author does it in every appearance. It does nothing to move to the plot along, just fills pages with words. He does the same thing with food. Every time they eat, and they do a lot of eating in this book, he describes the menu in detail:

As I entered the kitchen, I gave her a hug around the shoulders and asked if I could help. She gave me the chore of setting the table while she finished with the rest of breakfast. It was a wonderful breakfast of fried eggs, hash browns, bacon, toast, and orange juice.

There is nothing special about the breakfast. But why list it? Why talk about every item they eat every time with every meal? If it does not contribute to the story, it should not be there. My estimate is  that the whole book could be condensed to about 50 pages if the author just left out all the filler stuff that has no need of being there. Here is another example:

Dorothy had prepared a great meal. The dinner started with a wonderful salad of lettuce, nuts, raisins, tomatoes, fresh peas, croutons, and blue cheese dressing. The main course was sirloin steaks and baked potatoes—the ones left from the bag I’d purchased at Safeway the day before. They were dressed with sour cream, whipped butter, and bacon bits. Dessert was fresh apple pie à la mode. Dorothy told the kids that she and I had driven all the way to the Monroe Farmers Market to get the apples. They all enjoyed the meal immensely.

This is the author’s attempt to make it seem real, kind of like Stephen King does when he describes details. But he picks the wrong boring details at the wrong times in the story to provide color. The fact that dessert was fresh apple pie à la mode just isn’t advancing the plot. And we don’t need to know all the ingredients of the salad. Really!

Nonsense Plot:

This is supposed to be a time travel adventure, and while there was room for it to be just that, the author missed the chance. It’s basically a nostalgic story in 1958 to pander to Snohomish residents and their memories. He could have just written a period piece. The protagonists didn’t need to step through a portal in a shed from another time to do any of the stuff they did. They could have just lived there and the story would have mostly been the same. The time travel pieces of the plot were very minor, unimaginative and in some cases nonsensical. This was not a time travel book.

In Summary:

I don’t like to blast a book with negative criticism, but in this case it’s necessary. The author clearly didn’t bother to have an editor read the book even once before he started selling it. Why didn’t he ask one of his friends who wrote a Five-Star Amazon review to give him a list of grammar fixes? He could have done that in an hour. This shows me that the author really does not care about the quality of the book, but he does expect us in the reading public to pay money for the privilege.

I read all the way through, because that’s my policy. Some books I just can’t read all the way through. When that happens I don’t give myself the right to actually rate them. I just state that I couldn’t keep going. This book was short enough that I kept with it, even though I suspected it wasn’t going to get any better.

So here goes:

 

 

This is zero stars, by the way. The real stars are gold covered. See some of my other reviews.

About Cathedrals

With all the press we are now getting about the devastating results of the fire at Notre Dame, I have been thinking more about cathedrals and why they inspire us so. More than 10 years ago I wrote a post about the Cologne Cathedral and the awe I have of it – religious building or not – and what the building of a cathedral meant – and today means – to mankind.

Here is that old post about the Cologne Cathedral – der Kölner Dom

If you have any interest in learning more about the building of cathedrals in medieval times, you might want to read Follett’s series of books starting with Pillars of the Earth. It takes you right into the world and the hearts of the people that built these structures.

And I remain in awe.

Instant Family is about a middle-class couple with no children, who are re-evaluating their lives. He (Mark Wahlberg) is a contractor who buys and flips houses. When they investigate adoption, they find out that the first step is becoming foster parents. They go through the training and eventually, at a big meet-up picnic, find a 15-year-old girl who comes with two smaller siblings. And thus starts the adventure of a white working class couple picking up an instant family of three Latino kids.

The foster parent community is a special one, and it has its challenges. Natural parents can show up all of a sudden, and the kids you have just gotten used to could be taken away from you overnight.

Instant Family is a better movie than I expected it to be. There is some slapstick like humor that is a bit over the top, but it’s tastefully done. It puts a spotlight on the plight of children who either have no parents, or whose parents are so unreliable that the kids need to take care of themselves. It’s a part of our society that we don’t really think too much about unless we’re in the middle of it.

The human drama comes through, and it brought out a few tears as the story progressed. I am glad I watched Instant Family. It entertained me, I learned, and it pulled me in emotionally. At the end, it was wonderfully, if predictably, satisfying.

The Spaghetti Face

I lifted this from Facebook this morning. And as it usually is in Facebook, it’s hard to figure out how to give attribution to the artist. If anyone knows who the artist is, please place a comment here, and I’ll insert a credit statement.

I am an artist myself, and I am extremely impressed when I see artists use a new medium to make something remarkable with it.

Sometimes that might be simple driftwood. Sometimes it is spare metal parts, sometimes electronics. I have seen artists do amazing things with screws on boards, putting them at different depths.

Who would have ever thought that you could make a face out of spaghetti?

Amazing.

…or is it?

Recently I had a layover at Washington, DC’s Ronald Reagan Airport (DCA). Remember, this is the airport of our nation’s capital city. When you land at DCA, try to sit in a window seat on the left side of the plane. Almost all the time, the landing approach is to the south, and you get a wonderful glimpse of the Mall, the Capitol building at the end, the Washington Monument in the front, and the White House to the left, all in plain view, seemingly close enough to reach out and touch. Capital glory at its best.

…until you get off the plane and enter the DCA airport terminal. Quite often, if you land in a small commuter plane, you don’t even get a jet bridge. You walk on rickety metal stairs and ramps, outside, then enter a bus, wait until the entire plane is empty and all the people are in the bus, all the while breathing fumes of jet engines and bus exhaust all around.

The terminals are dilapidated, musty and crowded. The facilities are in want. It feels like you are in a third world county airport. It does not seem like you are in our proud nation’s capital. It is embarrassing.

Take, for example, a modern Asian airport, like Singapore Changi Airport, which has received the title of “World’s Best Airport” for seven years in a row.

This is an example of an airport of a thriving country which does not spend trillions of dollars on overseas wars in all corners of the world. It’s a country that invests in its infrastructure.

Jimmy Carter recently took a call from Donald Trump to talk about China. Carter’s main point reportedly was that China hasn’t spent a single dollar on war in many years. It has built an infrastructure of roads, it has more than half of the entire world’s high-speed train tracks, it has some of the world’s greatest and most modern airports, and it loans the United States money.

We need to rebuild our country’s roads – all of them. We need to fix our crumbling bridges. We need to improve our airport infrastructure.

When I watched the video above about Changi, I could not help but think of the book King Rat by James Clavell. The prison camp the entire story plays in is located near the premises of the Changi airport. Read King Rat, a 4-star book (in my rating) and marvel about the difference 75 years can make, from the bed-bug infested prison camp to the Jewel at Changi airport.

The rich people in the $100k camper vans will fight with the strength of a thousand suns for their poppy fields and their plastic straw bans, but do they care that a few hundred miles south of here is a militarized zone where thousands of refugees are forced into the desert to their deaths? Refugees fleeing violence in Central America that was facilitated by U.S. policies and intervention? That their bodies are not recovered, that humanitarian aid workers are arrested for leaving food and water for them? That Cabeza Prieta wildlife refuge, a wilderness area where there is much infrastructure to protect the endangered sonoran pronghorn and where the ground is littered with the bones of refugees, recently added a clause to its permit application specifically prohibiting hikers from leaving food and water?

No, they don’t care.

I would trample every poppy in every single poppy field if it meant that they would care.

— Carrot Quinn’s Blog

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