Friday, October 30, 2015

Strata

I accidentally discovered Bradley Beaulieu based on reading an online recommendation of his series, The Lays of Anuskaya. After reading that trilogy, I was more than impressed in his ability to weave an epic tale, to paint landscapes, and to develop three-dimensional characters that you knew and could care about. After my time in those works, I downloaded his novella Strata, co-authored with Stephen Gaskell. Strata takes place several hundred years in the future, a time when most of the natural resouces of Earth have been used up. To satisfy the incessant demand, huge solar mining cartels have set up massive-scale colony operations about the sun's chromosphere to harvest energy from the core of the sun and direct it back to Earth. For many years the cartels have promised adventure and coin for its workers, but once they arrive at the stations, they find there is little chance to get back home. The work is grueling and the lifestyle is bleak. Tens of thousands of workers amounting to nothing more than a force of slaves with no opportunity for their voices to be heard.

The only bone that the corporates toss to the workers is to allow them to stage skimmer races in the convection zone of the sun. A little distraction that helps to placate and distract the worker ants. Kawe is a good racer and has a chance to win the championship. The golden egg of the race competition is that the winner gets a ticket home to Earth. However, Kawe has joined the racing circuit not just for the thrill. As part of the worker's resistance movement, he has volunteered to drop triggers into the sun that cause solar flares that could shut down mining operations long enough for the workers to riot and take control. Kawe's handler, Smith Poulson, was once the best skimmer operator in the colonies. Once upon a time he too was a mover in the resistance, until he was taken down as an example to others who would sow dissent. Now Kawe is trying to influence Smith to look beyond himself, to use his hero's reputation to rally the workers and stand up for themselves.

A gripping tale that really paints the bleakness of the situation, captures the mood simply and powerfully, and makes you appreciate the opportunity for redemption in one who had long since given up. I can definitely see why this novella has won its share of awards for excellence in science fiction.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

In the News 18

While I have not touched an actual newspaper in some time, I do skim through the online news headlines each day. There is always something that catches my attention, whether it involves human conflict, a human interest piece, the sports wrap, or just the usual absurdities. In this series, I carve out a space for my opinions, reminiscences, or comments.

Brooks Robinson - Robinson played 23 years in the Major League Baseball from 1955 to 1977, all for the Baltimore Orioles. Even though he played while I was old enough to be a baseball fan, he actually was just a bit before my time and I have no recollection of watching him play. However, he was part of two World Series champions, won 16 Gold Golves for his fielding excellence, and was voted as the 1964 American League MVP. He was enshrined in the baseball Hall of Fame in 1983. His reputation is one of being a class act and a good man. On October 6, 2015 Robinson announced that he was selling all of his personal baseball memorabilia to raise money, not for his own personal needs, but to give 100% of the money to charity. That is a great story and Robinson modeled for us how we are to give unselfishlessly.

Jerry Parr - On March 30, 1981 an assassin's bullet nearly killed President Ronald Reagan. Outside the Washington, DC Hilton, John Hinckley took 6 shots at Reagan from only about 10 feet away, with one of the bullets richocheting off the President's limo and striking him in the chest. One of the Secret Service agents on detail that day was Jerry Parr, who risked his life to safe the President. In an amazing bit of coincidence, Parr was motivated to become a Secret Service agent after watching the 1939 movie "Code of the Secret Service", starring actor Ronald Reagan. Jerry died of heart disease on October 9, 2015.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Observations 112

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • While stumbling about on Amazon the other day, I came across a book entitled, "The Slow Regard of Silent Things" by Patrick Rossfuss. I have no idea what this book is about, but the title caused me to say aloud, "Cool!"
  • On my recent trip to Italy, the restaurants provided separate bottles of vinegar and oil with their salad courses. What am I a chemist?
  • I recently received an invitation to an event that promised, "Heavy hor d'oeuvres will be provided". Hmmm. Would that be lead-encrusted shrimp or concrete-stuffed mushrooms?
  • On Oct. 23, 2015, Lincoln Chafee released a press statement saying that he was officially dropping out of the race for U.S. President. My official response was, "Lincoln who?" Perhaps
    he is related to our 16th president.
  • What the heck am I still doing mowing the grass at the end of October? October?!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Mezuzah

The Jews have a number of ancient observances that many still hold to. After many centuries, they still cling to rites passed down from their ancestors. One of these observances is the mezuzah, a way to provide a daily reminder of who they belong to and where they have come from. The mezuzah is a box that contains a parchment scroll inscribed on one side with Biblical passages and on the other side with the word Shaddai (God). Often these boxes are hung from the doorpost of the home to provide a regular reminder as the homeowners come and go throughout the day.

In our western culture, the notion of a mezuzah might bring to mind the picture of Orthodox Jewish men who wear phylacteries (or prayer boxes) on their heads. These prayer boxes are used for the same purpose, namely, to remind the Jews of their God in a way that should impact how they live and how they interact with others. While I certainly don't have prayer boxes attached to my door post or to my body, I do have reminders that cause me to pause, to reflect, and to pray. My mezuzah's include:
  • A crumpled Post-it note in the bottom of my lunch box to remind me to say grace with my lunch. The note is long since rendered unreadable, but it serves its purpose.
  • A framed picture of my daughter that sits on my fireplace mantel.
  • My Our Daily Bread booklet that reminds me to spend some devotional time each morning.
  • A plaque that sits in my gardening shed showing praying hands with the reminder to spend time on my knees before God.
  • A small spiral bound notebook that sits on my desk. I use it daily to keep track of people that I want to remember to pray for.
I should note that the inspiration for this piece came from a section in Mark Batterson's new book If. I will be posting a review shortly.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Waiting

There are some personal disciplines that I have been able to maintain no matter what else might be going on in my life. For example, over the past ten years I have been amazingly consistent with my exercise. Every three days I spend an hour on my elliptical regardless of whether I feel like it or not. Developing a consistent pattern was not easy, but after a certain amount of time, it just became a part of my life. I recognized how important exercise was to my health and I stuck with it. Today, I rarely even question whether I feel like exercising. I just do it.

However, not all areas of my life are in such good shape. One area that is a total train wreck is my ability to be patient. When I want something I develop a singular focus and will not be swayed. I start to develop a mindset that makes me think that I can run a marathon in just a few minutes when in actuality I can only take one slow, plodding step at a time. Reality sets its own pace regardless of my desires. No action that I take, no worried thoughts that I let sweep across my landscape, no blood-boiling pacing about will make the sun rise any sooner in my east or set any sooner in my west. Yet in such cases where I want something to happen, especially if it is not fully within my control, I rarely let logic get in my way. Patience is a discipline that I just cannot seem to grasp.

When I am in a hurry for something I typically turn to God with my petitions and my concerns. Then I get fooled by my own internal voice thinking that whatever pops into my head is derived from God answering my prayers. I have acted countless times on my own ill-considered schemes thinking that I am being a good Christian with utterances like, "I would rather be obedient and wrong than ignore the promptings and proddings of the Spirit." While that sounds wonderfully pious, it is most often me bull-rushing ahead trying to force things that need time, space, and a lot of hard work.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Fires of Heaven

The fifth book in Robert Jordan's uber-epic Wheel of Times fantasy series is entitled The Fires of Heaven and follows immediately after the end of the previous part of the tale, The Shadow Rising. In this novel the narrative focuses on three main story arcs that interleave and mesh at regular nodes throughout the story. In the primary arc, the Dragon Reborn, Rand al'Thor, has fully become his own man. Even though the wheel of time weaves as it will and he is pulled along, he has finally broken free from the manipulations of the Aes Sedai and one Moiraine Damodred. Rand has refused to let pain, loss, uncertainty, or fatigue pin him down and leave him impotent. He boldly acts to impose his will across the land, putting down the petty schemes of would-be power mavens as he works to prepare mankind for his final battle with the Dark One himself.

In the Aiel wasteland, Egwene al'Vere has become a member of the tribe of ancient Wise Ones, a group of women who are cousins to the Aes Sedai. Egwene has been working to develop her unique skills as a dream walker, one who can enter the unseen world to gain information about the minions of the Dark One. The Aiel have secluded themselves in the wasteland as punishment for betraying the Aes Sedai hundreds of years ago. However, they are a part of the prophesies and have joined their lot with Rand after he demonstrated convincingly who he was and the power that he controls.

Finally, Nynaeve al'Meara and Elayne Trakand have been on a secret mission for the Amrylin Seat, the leader of the Aes Sedai, to hunt down a secret sect of their number who have pledged their souls to the Dark One. Many battles and daring adventures fill their lives as they escape by a thread through luck, through skill, and through fate. Yet they do not know that the White Tower has fallen and they are entirely on their own.

Throughout the entire tale, the thirteen lieutenants of the Dark One himself, the immortal and powerful Forsaken, are scheming their dark schemes to seize absolute control, even against their tainted Lord. One after another of them has set their targets on our heroes, not counting on them to come out of their encounters with the upper hand. Another wonderfully vivid and engrossing chapter in the tale. So far, an absolutely top-notch series. I now move onto the sixth book in the series, Lord of Chaos.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Art of Breaking Up

One of the things that you learn in life is that practice makes perfect. The more you work at a given craft, the more skillful that you become. Today's post is a clear demonstration of that in my perfectly honed skill at breaking off relationships that need to end.
  • I once dated a lady who used far too many hackneyed expressions. I ended it by explaining to her that "it's not you it's me."
  • I once dated a ornithologist who studied entimology in her spare time. She was a chaste woman. I had to break up with her because it was apparent that she didn't know anything about the birds and the bees.
  • A woman I was seeing worked for the local Department of Sanitation. I had to end things with her because she was always talking too much trash.
  • I went out with a banker for a time but I had to bring this to a close. I told her that I had simply lost interest.
  • I became close for a time with a neurosurgeon but her schedule kept her at the hospital far too much. When she asked why I was calling it quits with her when things seemed to be going so well, I explained that it was kind of like brain surgery in that I had changed my mind.
So, if you are stuck in a pickle of a relationship and need a smooth way to find the exit, let me know. I am sure that I can come up with something masterful. Who knows, if you are really lucky, it might even make it into one of my pithy and mildly amusing self-help blogs.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Observations 111

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • Ever heard a pro team coach who is on the hot seat asked if they are worried about getting fired when their job security is splashed across the sports page headlines? 100 times out of 100 they give the answer, "No I am not worried. I am just focusing all of my energy on our next game." Hmmm, then why do I smell urine in your presence?
  • Whenever I hear Stephen A. Smith from ESPN go on with his usual over-the-top, pointless, ill-informed, empassioned diatribe, I see only a satchel that holds much breeze ... Oh, and Stephen, I am looking right into the camera to tell you that.
  • Who are these people who pronounce their last name nothing like it is spelled? The bit from Monty Python with the man named Raymond Luxury-Yacht who insists it pronouned Throatwobbler
    Mangrove always comes to my mind.
  • If I say something that can be taken one of two ways, either as a complement or an insult, then I really meant it in whatever manner upsets you the least.
  • After sitting through the talks at a week-long conference, one thing became clear. The number of colors used in Powerpoint presentations is inversely correlated with the age of the person giving the presentation.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

iTunes Latest - 30

I have been a user of iTunes since 2011. This service has allowed me to bring music back into my world and to reconnect with so many great songs from my past and to find some great new recent stuff as well. One of the things that I really like about music is how it becomes part of the soundtrack of the different seasons of our lives. So, I thought that I would share my latest five downloads and a bit about my thoughts on each song.
  • I'm Leaving You - Scorpions (1984) - When I was a freshman in college the album Love at First Sting had exploded with its big single Rock You Like a Hurricane. However, this song was definitely one that I liked. Simple, straight on, but somehow powerful.
  • Broken Heart - White Lion (1991) - This band was definitely a talented and well-known act in the late 80s/early 90s but fell off the map after a strong three album run. This song showcases their trademark sound, from the pipes of Danish lead singer Mike Tramp to the licks of guitar virtuoso Vito Bratta. Even in pain there is hope of starting over again.
  • When the Children Cry - White Lion (1988) - Want a haunting rock ballad with a powerful message and superb guitar play? Then this one is for you. A tune that most certainly stands the test of time for me more than 25 years after it was released.
  • Through the Rain - Cinderella (1994) - This band was another few album hit maker before they disappeared. I love the passion and the hopefulness that shines through in this one ... Sometimes the sun shines through the rain.
  • Spy in the House of Love - Was (Not Was) (1987) - For fans of eclectic pop/soul fusion groups (which apparently is a thing), this is a song that will have you tugging down the brim of your fedora and sliding into your groove. This tune is unique and I absolutely loved rediscovering it after many years away.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Italian Recollections

Too often when I go on travel to a conference for work, I tend to develop tunnel vision. I get so focused on survival and schedule that I miss out on opportunities to find my smile and to better enjoy new vistas, cultures, and experiences. In order to get to or from such venues there are always hassles with figuring out and dealing with all of the planes, trains, buses, and ferries. Of course, a big source of frustration and distraction is wading through long lines, dealing with long layovers between the legs of such journeys, and figuring out which way to go and how to get there when
arriving in a foreign land where you don't speak the language. Then once at the conference location, I tend to focus on my various roles and responsibilities. Giving my presentation, chairing various sessions, leading discussion sections, going to the talks that I am interested in, and meeting with various folks of relevance to my research. Then there is foraging for food at meal times when you don't know where anything is and you are on a tight schedule.

In my most recent trip, a week-long stay in northern Italy, I purposefully tried to find some positive things to celebrate each day. I thought I would share here a few things that I noted.
  • At coffee break one day I went outside for a brief stroll. In a hidden garden that I stumbled upon, I found a beautiful Pomegranate tree laden with fruit.
  • On the morning bus ride to the conference site, while stopped at a traffic light, I watched a small boy lost in play while his mother looked on with a smile on her face.
  • While lost in a massive train station in Milan absolutely teeming with people, a worker randomly came up to me and offered to walk me through how to buy my ticket and then he took me through a lengthy maze to my platform. Without his chosing me out of thousands of people, I would never have been able to figure out what to do.
  • Twice during the week I got to talk to my daughter via Skype. These calls were the two longest phone conversations that I have ever had with her. It allowed for us to connect and I did not feel so alone.
  • At each meal during the week, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I found someone to spend time with. It took all of the pressure off and gave me opportunity to relax and socialize a bit.
  • While riding back to my hotel on the bus one day, it was drizzling rain outside. We drove past a school as it was letting out. The children were all positioned outside in single file waiting for their teachers to allow them to go to their parents. The children's raised umbrellas created a beautiful garden of color.
Even though my journey from start to finish covered more than 15,000 miles and left me bone-weary upon my return, looking back I think that I did O.K. I believe that I am satisfied that I did a bit more than just survive my experience.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Shadow Rising

The fourth entry in Robert Jordan's epic Wheel of Time series is entitled The Shadow Rising and serves as a wide ranging extension of the narrative developed in The Dragon Reborn as the heroes of the tale are separated far and wide where they must face their own unique trials. Multiple story arcs diverge and interleave as prophesies are unfolded and the Dark One makes further gains in his escape from his bondage.

The hero of light, the Dragon Reborn, Rand al'Thor is in a desperate battle to fulfill his destiny against mind-numbing fatigue and frustration over the hands who wish to kill him or control him. Without really a clue as to how he is supposed to go about saving the world from the power of the Dark One, he manages to fall back on instincts and vague feelings about which step he must take next. Precariously he walks along a knife's edge one step from destruction and defeat. Finally, the leadings and manipulations of the Aes Sedai are able to control and corral him less and less. Moiraine, the powerful sorceress who has led him away from his home in the farming community of Two Rivers, has been shut out by Rand, and her frustration at her failure to keep him in check is growing. She does not yet realize that Rand is following the path that he must. One by one he must face the powerful protectors of the Dark One.

Perrin Aybara has found his way back to the Two Rivers to battle the monstrous armies of evil who have been sent to draw Rand out from the safety of his protectors. Perrin, a thoughtful young man whose only dream was to be trained as a blacksmith, has grown to become a leader of his people. Not only does he repel the horde, but he grows fully into manhood as he not only saves his community but he frees Rand from the bait of distraction.

Egwene al'Vere, Nynaeve al'Meara, and Elayne Trakand continue in their quest to root out the schemes of the black Ajah, those Aes Sedai who have pledged their souls and allegiance to the Dark One. Even though they are young in their training and often ill-equipped from the standpoint of experience, they each possess raw abilities and talents that have not been seen in Aes Sedai in generations. Bit by bit their work is gaining traction, but even still, they seem to be overmatched in each encounter they face. Worse yet, they do not yet realize that the White Tower has fallen and they are completely on their own.

A fascinating set of narratives that I have absolutely embraced. I now move onto the fifth book in the series, The Fires of Heaven.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Quick Hits 46

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

The other night I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep. To kill some time, I turned on the T.V. and it was tuned to a Comedy Central show of Dave Atell. The part of his routine that I saw was focused on some very adult themes, involving sex and sexual situations. Even though it was very clear what he was saying, they still bleeped out the cuss words (actually only some of the cuss words). I couldn't help but wonder what the point was and what this says about us as a society. With what the censors allowed to be shown, do they think that they are actually protecting us from anything?

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"Love" of Traveling

I am on travel this week, to a conference deep in the heart of Italy. By the time that you read this I will likely have been in a pasta coma for several days with numerous marinara stains on my clothing. It will do you no good to send out an expedition to rescue me as I will be too far gone. However, if you should see me wandering around in the streets muttering incoherently to myself, it is because I
am not a fan of traveling. Whenever I am on the road, I seem to find non-stop bothers that cause me to grumble incessantly. For example,
  • I cannot find a single bag of Cheezy Poofs within a square mile around my hotel. What am I to snack on in the evening? Where is a 7-11 when you need one?
  • What passes for television in Europe is laughable, nonsense. Where is my Family Guy, my American Dad, and my other civilized fare?
  • I am forced to use public transportation to get from my hotel to the villa where my conference is being held. It is so frustrating being surrounded by all those foreigners. Why can't everyone just speak-a the english?
  • I am convinced that each 8-hr plane trip ages a body by roughly a full calendar year. Have you ever been trapped in a small metal tube with 300 folks who have not taken a bath and/or shower in the last 12 months?
  • I regularly enjoy a good cup o' java in the morning. When I say "cup", I mean a nice sized travel mug. However, in Italy they only sell coffee (pronounced espresso) in thimble-sized cups. Who invented this nonsense? How do they make room for cream?
You might think that these complaints don't amount to a hill o' beans. While I might agree with you on any one single item on my list, considered in quadruture, they push me well above my grumbling threshold. Arrivederci amici miei!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Trip Around the Sun

I have been a fan of each of Mark Batterson's books. He has a way of writing that is often at once simple and straightforward but also profound. If you reflect on his lessons or his advice or his admonishments, you would conclude that he hasn't said anything new or earth shattering. However, I would say that he often says things in a way that gets past my defenses and my distractions. Often I will read a chapter or a paragraph and have to pause and reflect because he has set my mind to pondering.

Early this year, Batterson released a book entitled A Trip Around the Sun with co-author Richard Foth. It turns out that Batterson and Foth, who is 30 years Batterson's senior, have a long history together. Foth spent nearly two decades acting as Batterson's mentor and sounding board. However, somewhere in this time, the relationship became fully symbiotic. Batterson is as often the mentor to Foth as Foth is the mentor to Batterson. In this devotional, the two tackle a range of topics, with each sharing their own unique perspectives. However, regardless of the chapter theme, the arc of the entire book is about viewing life as an adventure and making the most of each day. In some respects this book is a 200-page-long kick in the pants with an entirely uplifting and energizing style. One of the recommendation blurbs on the back cover of this book called it "an owner's manual for an abundant and adventurous life." I think that this pretty much hits the nail on the head. Life can be a great adventure no matter where we are along the road.

Next up for me is Batterson's latest release, If (Trading Your If Only Regrets for God's What If Possibilities). I look forward into diving in very soon.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Flashback

I recently attended a conference for work. This is not all that unusual of an occurrence for me as I take part in roughly half a dozen of these types of meetings every year. This one happened to be one of the larger ones in my field and takes place every other year. As the conference was held at the Marriott just up the street from my lab, I arrived early on the first day so that I could get registered and then find my seat in the auditorium. Things went a bit quicker than I had planned for and I had about 45 minutes to kill before the start of the opening session. I pulled out my laptop, connected to the wifi network, and proceeded to do a few things. From my vantage point in the meeting room, I had a pretty good view of the lobby of the conference center. As part of the meeting, a continental breakfast was setup and every now and then I peered out into the lobby and could do a bit of people watching.

It was kind of interesting how the more senior folks just fell into step and looked completely at ease in this venue. However, the graduate students and postdocs were bouncing off the walls in their nervous excitement. Even if they were just standing quietly, they still were easily picked out. Many years ago, I was one of those hyper-excited newbies. Thirsty, but nervous and nearly overwhelmed, tight-roping on the edge of sensory overload.

My first talk at a major international conference was in the early 1990s in Washington, D.C.. I was a new graduate student and had a major case of the butterflies. However, I had memorized my talk and managed to finish reciting my final words just as the timer went off. I got one softball question and managed to answer it in a few words before I happily fell back into my seat. A bit later in the session, another student was giving her talk when the fire alarm went off. About 20 minutes later the alarm was cleared and we resumed the session. The chairman asked the student to pick up where she left off when the alarm sounded. She turned stark white and exclaimed, "I only know it from the beginning!"

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Scorch Trials

The second book in James Dashner's Maze Runner series is entitled The Scorch Trials and its narrative follows immediately after the first book in the series, The Maze Runner. There a group of a few dozen teenage boys were apparently held captive in a compound bounded by an enormous maze. At the end of The Maze Runner, the boys, under the leadership of Thomas, finally escape the maze and its tortures. They were determined to face their captors only to be whisked away to safety by what they thought was a group of liberators. In The Scorch Trials, we find out that the liberators were just another fold in the schemes by the same group that had delivered them to the maze in the first place. Once again the group find themselves in danger, but they have learned more about what is going on and what is at stake.

A government group called WICKED is apparently running this show. Due to an extended period of radical sun flares, much of the Earth has become little more than harsh desert and a sizable fraction of the planet's population has died. Of the surviving fraction, a great number have been inflicted with some sort of disease called "the flare" that might just wipe out the remainder. It seems that WICKED was put together by the surviving governments to find the cure to this flare. How the attempts at finding the cure are connected to what the boys have been put through is not clear. It just seems a sadistic plot by unseen forces to torture a group of youngsters. What makes things all the more confusing for them, is that despite everything that they are going through, every now and then they receive some hint that they were initially willing participants in the schemes of WICKED. However, with their memories erased, they feel like victims.

In The Scorch Trials the boys are put through further tests where they must make their way across 100 miles of desert wasteland to what has been called a "safe haven". However, each leg of the journey is full of tests and enemies, including a second all-girl team of survivors from a separate maze system. Apparently WICKED has put them in direct competition in a survival of the fittest test. As the story ends, all of the survivors are rescued and led to believe that WICKED has learned what it needed to learn. However, that certainly is not the case for Thomas who finds himself betrayed once again. I now move onto the third part of the story, The Death Cure.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Quick Hits 45

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

A store sells two sets of running shoes (a.k.a. "sneakers"), identical in every identifiable way except that one of them has a small extra piece of leather sewed to its side. Why is it that so many consumers are willing and eager to pay 10 times the price for the version with the extra piece of leather?

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Observations 110

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • At the bottom of my blog page is a click-able button that says "Complain to Google", so I clicked on it and whined about the nasty, rainy weather I was experiencing at the moment. I then mewled on about the leaves covering my yard and the pain that I am experiencing in my shoulder. Wow, that made me feel a bit better.
  • In the storm warnings and meterological posturing over hurricane Joaquin, there was not a single word on when we were supposed to begin our looting. Why can't these folks ever tell us what we really need to know?
  • One of the most awkward things about going to the dentist for a teeth cleaning is when the hygenist flosses your teeth.
  • I get so frustrated by selfish drivers. However, what may be worse are those unselfish drivers who hold up traffic letting other cars enter the roadway while the rest of just want to get to where we are going.
  • It is never, and I repeat never, a good thing when your credit card statement requires extra postage to be mailed to you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Moneyball

My view of professional sports has changed completely since I was a kid. Back in the day, how I loved to follow my favorite teams. I would live and die on every play, keeping score in my various notebooks. I would scream myself hoarse during the course of the games as I followed that group of players who I had come to know over the years. I would use the terms "we" and "us" as if I really were an innate part of it all. Today, it is all about money. The players and the owners don't even try to hide the fact that this is business. They no longer feel even the slightest tendency to hide what they are all about. No matter how much of the dirty laundry of professional sports is aired publically, the ratings keep going up and up and up. Endless scandals only seem to grease the wallets of the advertisers and the broadcast networks. More money, more money, more money.

How many times have we heard from some loud-mouth athlete jawing it up in front of the camera that the latest 100 million contract offer from their team is a disrespectful insult? How many ways can teams sell themselves? Trying to watch sports on television, one only sees a screen plastered with advertisements from one corner to the next. It is all so frustrating. So cloying. So disheartening that what should be a relaxing spectator sport has become something so cut-throat, and that is even before the teams take the playing field. Team rosters made over before, during, and after the seasons make it so that fans don't root for teams, they root for uniforms of a particular color scheme.

The other day I turned on sports radio just as the program went into commercial. Three consecutive ads ran for fantasy football leagues from different outfits. Complete saturation of the airwaves. When the program returned after the commericials, they were broadcasting a minor league baseball game. When the announcer indicated that the stadium was near to capacity, my first thought was to wonder who want to see a bunch of nobodies who will likely never see even a shadow of the limelight? My second thought was an answer to my first. Maybe it is folks who still just want to see athletes play the game.

Monday, October 5, 2015

In the News 17

While I have not touched an actual newspaper in some time, I do skim through the online news headlines each day. There is always something that catches my attention, whether it involves human conflict, a human interest piece, the sports wrap, or just the usual absurdities. In this series, I carve out a space for my opinions, reminiscences, or comments.

Jimmy Carter - Jimmy Carter has been judged by history as one of the poorest U.S. presidents ever. Someone who was completely overmatched by the system and as a result was too often ineffective and impotent. However, since he left office in 1981, his image has slowly evolved from one of ridicule and dismissal, to one that commands respect. He is widely viewed as a humble man, a bridge builder, and an elder statesmen. His efforts with his own Carter Center resulted in the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. He has been lauded for his long-standing involvement with Habitat for Humanity. Mr. Carter announced on August 20, 2015 that he has been diagnoised with brain melanoma. His public announcement was handled with absolute class and noted strength. His point of view was that nobody should feel sad for him as he has a great life.

Martin Milner - A name many won't recognize if they are under 40 years of age, but Martin Milner's resume in Hollywood is long. He has dozens and dozens of credits from the 1950s to the 1990s before he retired. However, for me I remember him most from his longstanding role as honest and principled LAPD officer Pete Malloy on the show Adam-12 (even now I can recall the police radio dispatcher with her ever-present call of "1-Adam-12 ... 1-Adam-12"). I watched this show on TV after I got home from school in the afternoon and it is strongly linked to my childhood. Martin Milner died on September 6, 2015 at the age of 83.

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Maze Runner

Some long time ago now, a fellow blogger sent me a recommendation for a series of books by James Dashner called The Maze Runner. I purchased the series shortly thereafter and it has sat in my library awaiting its turn in my reading queue. The first book in the series is entitled, The Maze Runner. The story falls into the now curiously well-populated genre of young adult post-apocalyptic dystopian science fiction (that is indeed a mouthful). This series is certainly unabashedly a close cousin to the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins and the Divergent series by Veronica Roth (among others). In many ways, The Maze Runner series is derivative, but it also has a unique voice and a building suspense that keeps one turning pages. However, compared to other books in the "young adult" category that still have mature scenes, this series is noticeably geared to younger readers. That is not meant to be a criticism, but the weave of the fabric is not as intricate and the colors are not as vibrant as some other young adult novels that I have read.

The story begins when a teenage boy named Thomas awakens in a dark elevator. His mind is a complete blank. After a while the elevator opens into a sizable expanse known as the glade. The glade is surrounded by massive walls. Contained within the walls are several dozen other teenage boys, all with similarly erased memories, some having survived in the glade for several years. Outside of the walls is a seemingly endless maze. The boys have organized a strong leadership, with each member given a specific role to serve the community. One group of boys is assigned to explore the maze by day to learn its secrets and to look for a way out. By night, the walls of the glade close and the massive maze rearranges itself. To be caught in the maze after hours is certain death due to the unspeakable monstrous grievers that patrol the space at night. Shortly after Thomas appears in the glade, the first girl is sent. She bears a sinister warning from the creators ... everything is about to change.

New arrivals to the glade are typically scared beyond measure, however even though Thomas has arrived with his mind completely emptied of memories, every now and then he has a nagging feeling that he has been in the glade and in the maze before. He works with the other boys who have been exploring the maze and comes to understand that the pattern of the maze is providing some sort of clue of how to escape. However, nobody has any idea why they have been taken from their past lives and put into this life or death game. Who could benefit be putting such young lives in harm's way? However, more than one of the boys has had visions that the creators who control the maze are trying to learn something important, but dreams can easily be dismissed in the immediate struggle to survive a harsh and alien existence. I now move onto the second part of the story in The Scorch Trials.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Quick Hits 44

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

You have fallen in love with a song and believe that its lyrics speak to you when you happen upon an interview with the artist. He talks about his motivation for writing the song and you find that it is about a tawdry one-night stand or some pointless drug trip. Can you still enjoy the song or is it now tainted for you?

What do you think?