Friday, May 30, 2014


I just finished reading the book Adrenaline by author Jeff Abbott. This story focuses on Sam Capra, a young CIA agent who is part of a special undercover counter-terrorism group based in London. Sam has been chasing an elusive man known to be helping fund a number of clandestine groups working against U.S. interests. One morning Sam receives an urgent phone call from his pregnant wife Lucy, who is also a CIA agent, begging him to leave his office immediately. As soon as he walks outside, an explosion levels the building and Sam glimpses his wife driving away with a man he has never seen before. Sam then falls under immediate suspicion and is tortured for information by his superiors who have labeled him a traitor against his country. Immediately his entire world unravels and in his fog of confusion his begins to focus his mind on how to find his wife and child.

In time the CIA learns nothing from Sam and he is brought back to the states, where he is monitored very closely, not only by the CIA, but also by several other mysterious groups. One of which is related to a criminal syndicate group known as Novem Soles and the other is a group known as the Round Table whose main purpose seems to be to help people. Over a period of a few months Sam lulls his CIA watchers into inattention and he engineers a plan to slip from their watch back to Europe. On his journey he meets a lady named Mila, who is part of the mysterious Round Table group. She offers him money, support, and protection to help find his family if he will lend his expertise to find the kidnapped daughter of a major international business tycoon. Ultimately we learn that this tycoon isn't the loving father that he appears to be and that he is playing with fire in his involvement with both Novem Soles and the Round Table. As Sam works to rescue the tycoon's daughter, he soon learns that the group that kidnapped her was also responsible for taking his wife. It also appears from all evidence that Lucy is not who Sam thought she was.

This book is a fast-paced thriller from start to finish. The villians are dark, shady, and brutal individuals. Kill or be killed. The low-level thugs are, however, well developed characters that are not just literature cut-outs. Their high-level masters have much more than a quick buck on their minds, and their plans are rooted in power and control of the world. A very enjoyable story that follows on in The Last Minute, where Sam continues on his mission to rescue his son.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


Do you know any of those folks at your workplace whose calendars are filled with meetings from the moment they walk in the door until the moment they head home? They scurry from meeting room to meeting room, can't be late, got to hustle. Yet some of these same folks never say much of anything or contribute anything of great value. They fool themselves into believing that they are making an impact at their jobs because they are so busy. They equate being busy with productivity. Yet a quick observation of these meeting dwellers reveals a very different conclusion. They do little more than take up space and utilize the group's limited resources without any real payout. All sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I think this is a problem for many of us in our everyday lives. We have schedules filled from sun up to sun down with plans and activities, so we equate that with making a difference. Yet much of what we devote our time and energy to is simply filler. If we could somehow gain some perspective by observing the difference that we are making or the impact that we are having within our families, we would find that our efforts might not add up to anything of lasting value.

All of our comings and goings take away time from more important things like being present for our spouse or spending some quality time with our kids. How often do we feel the urge to take care of chores on our to-do lists that could just as easily be consolidated or shifted to a time that has less of an impact on our family life? Sure some chores and activities are required to keep a home churning along. However, my old pastor used to often say, sometimes you have to cut away the good to make room for the great. Maybe letting those dishes sit in the sink until morning might allow you to sit with your wife and talk about your day. Maybe putting off the yard work until tomorrow might give you the chance to sit with your son or daughter and get to see their world with just a little more understanding. We are busy, but what are we so busy at? Does it really matter?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Still Loving You

I was sitting on my porch reading my book the other night when out of nowhere a song drifted into my mind entitled Still Loving You by a group called the Scorpions. I knew that I wanted to share this will someone who I still care about deeply and think about every day. It's O.K. that they will never read this post. It doesn't stop my feelings and the promise that I made.

If we'd go again
All the way from the start
I would try to change
The things that killed our love

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Observations 55

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.
  • Have you ever let something that should have amounted to no more than a passing curiosity consume you to the point of distraction? It happened to me the other day when a car passed me and I wondered what kind it was. Then the adventure began ...
  • The other day I went into a colleague's office for a meeting and I set my coffee cup down on his desk. I then proceeded to knock the cup over, spilling the brown liquid all over his desk. In his panic to contain the flood tide, he used the report that I had carefully written as a make-shift paper towel. Who knew my words were so absorbing?
  • A label on a bottle at the store read, "clinically proven mildness". Geez, I hope that I never obtain such a label.
  • Have you ever done that move where you are erasing something and go beyond the edge of the page, such that on the return stroke you crumple the paper beyond recognition? Grrrr.
  • One of the great things about having seniority at work is that you can publicly show disgust with one of your colleagues and get away with it. It makes all of the long hours worthwhile somehow.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

Each marker represents some fresh-faced kid, scared out of their mind, but standing up to make a difference for those who couldn't or for those who wouldn't. The markers stretch out in all directions seemingly without limits. Take a moment today to give thanks and remember. Even if you don't agree with everything your government does or support every elected official, those who served or gave their lives in service, undeniably paid a dear price.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wag the Dog

I just finished reading the Larry Beinhart book Wag the Dog that was given to me by my mother. The cover contains a review blurb from The New Yorker that reads, "A tour de force of subversive wit." While I would agree the book was meant to be subversive, I don't think it was written from a humorous bent. Instead, I think it was more an attempt to wake people up to what could be or might be happening right beneath our noses, and how our nation's leadership has the means and the opportunity to play its citizenry like a two-dollar fiddle in order to control headlines, images, events, and, ultimately, power. This fictional account of a scheme by the president to orchestrate world events to improve his favor in national opinion polls does not seem all that far-fetched given some of the antics of our leadership that have come to light in the news despite their best efforts. I think if we ever came to know the actual truth of what our chief executives and their minions have done, we would be appalled and sickened, especially given the costs involved in terms of dollars and lives.

I had always thought of the term "wag the dog" as a cousin to the expression "put the cart before the horse". However, this idiom means to purposely divert attention from what would otherwise be of greater importance to something of lesser importance. Our government does this all the time and any reasonably connected person can likely cite multiple examples from the news. In Wag the Dog, Beinhart writes a story from the point of view of a detective caught up in a game of the U.S. president to start a war on foreign soil that is planned out by a Hollywood director, with all angles of coverage controlled and manipulated with the sole intent to boost the president's "numbers". The book uses the war against Iraq that followed their invasion of Kuwait (during the elder Bush administration) as this manufactured event. It includes a mix of accounts from the public record and fiction interpolated from real events to not only tell a story, but also to raise our level of suspicion of our country's leadership. Too often we see their motives are controlled by their huge egos, their desire to have a positive legacy, and their view of the world as some sort of game where they control the movement of the pieces. This book was both interesting from a story-telling point of view and worrisome given what the political games that I have witnessed over the years, especially considering that the bits and pieces that I am aware of are most surely just the tip of the unsightly, immoral, and sketchy truth of what goes on behind the scenes every day.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sweet Spot

There is a fleeting, but magical sweet spot in our youth. That wonderful, carefree period when we are old enough to wring every bit of adventure from our day without looking back, but young enough not have a single burden on our minds about what the future may hold. We are old enough to have plenty of freedom and young enough not to be shackled with any lasting regrets of should've, would've, could've. It is that blessed time when we can be soldiers one moment and pirates or astronauts the next. Our only limitation is the far-reaching bounds of our own ever-fertile imaginations.

The other night I sat outside on my porch after dinner. I still had a couple of hours of daylight and there was a nice cool breeze wafting about that made it just a perfect time to relax with my book. It was then that my peace was interrupted by squeals of delight coming from just over the fence in the neighbor's yard. I placed my bookmark between the pages, closed my eyes, and just listened to that wonderful make believe. No harsh words, no conflict, no reminder of all of the troubles of the world. Just kids living in that wonderful sweet spot of unaffected innocence. After too short a time for me, their mom called them inside to start to get ready for bed time. The spell was broken and I had to come back to my own reality. That's O.K., my own memories of that time for me were rekindled with fondness.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Quick Hits 19

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.

If you could wish for anything in the world and have it come true, would you wish for something for yourself, something for your family, or something for the world?

What do you think?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Ford County

Earlier this year I read John Grisham's first novel A Time to Kill, a story about what constitutes justifiable homicide after a hate crime has been committed. The story took place in Ford County, a backwoods corner of Mississippi battling many of the same issues and racial divides from the 1960s and 1970s. The townfolks mostly consisted of simple, hardworking laborers. A corner of the U.S. relatively isolated from outside influences and pure of any big-city attitudes. It is in this setting that Grisham returned to explore just a bit more with a series of short stories in his 2009 book, Ford County. The collection included seven tales that filled in more details of the people and the places that fit in well with the Ford County that we had already come to know.
  • Blood Drive - Three young rednecks set out on a roadtrip to help out a friend who was in accident. Their goal is to give blood to help save his life. However, their addictions and desires sidetrack them. Plus, it turns out, they really don't know much about their so-called friend.
  • Fetching Raymond - An aged mother and her two grown sons go to visit her third son, who is serving a life sentence for killing a local deputy. It is only upon their arrival at the prison do they come to understand that he is hours away from his execution by gas chamber.
  • Fish Files - A small time lawyer gets an unexpected payout from a company on a nearly forgotten lawsuit. He pockets a large sum of money and chooses to leave his old, boring life behind.
  • Casino - An accountant's wife leaves him because he has gotten far too set in his boring ways. Sitting in a casino to distract his thoughts, he learns that he has an uncanny talent for blackjack. Suddenly a player is born.
  • Michael's Room - A lawyer who years ago successfully defended a doctor from a lawsuit brought by the family of a boy born with severe birth defects comes face to face with how each of his court room arguments to discredit the family were wrong.
  • Quiet Haven - A con artist has honed a scam to bilk money out of retirement homes. When he gets his payout, he moves on. Along the way he also plays the elderly, befriending those without heirs so that he can take their money.
  • Funny Boy - A local boy with AIDs comes home to die. His appearance and their fears of the unknown has the whole town talking and railing against him.
A great way to spend a few nights, even if you have never read A Time to Kill. A well written set of works that are engaging not because of unexpected shocks or plot twists or drama, but because of the attention to detail of his plot descriptions and his characters.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Big Words Hurt

One of my core missions here on this blog is to help enlighten the world by assisting with your edumacation. Not only does this include carefull prooofreading and snarky elitism, but fully high-brow content and, yes, big words. Whenever I stumble across one of those 20¢ words in my reading time, I harken back to a vivid memory from an elderly professor of mine with rather pointed features, who exhorted me just to get on with it. He would croak semi-intelligible phrases like "time waits for no man" or "I have baloney in my slacks". Of course, truer words have never been uttered.

So, given all of this back-story, I still tend to cut across the grain. Both in my office at work and my library at home, I keep a thick book chock full of them-there words called a dictionary. When in the course of my reading I come across big, bloated, greedy-for-letters words, I immediately look them up online to find out what the heck is going on. If I kept all this learned-goodness to myself, I would feel selfish, which could lead to pride. So, over the past few weeks, I have kept track of several words that popped up so that I could pass on what I have learned.

  Needlessly Big Word     Synonym  

You will notice that in the above table, I list the "big word", but also an equally acceptable synonym (also known as a homophone). Why the authors didn't just use a simple, approachable, man-about-town word, makes clear that they got paid by how much ink they gobbled up.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Water Walker

The second book in Ted Dekker's The Outlaw Chronicles series is entitled
Water Walker. The first part of the story (Outlaw) introduces us to a man named Stephen (Outlaw) who is the son of a missionary. Stephen grew into manhood under the guidance of a prophet and wiseman. He then went out into the world to spread the gospel. But the story of Water Walker is not about him. It is about a young girl living with a foster family. Alice is intelligent and sweet, but she has no recollections of her past, her memory extends back for only about 6 months. We learn that she was part of something called "Project Showdown" (which Dekker wrote about in his Paradise Trilogy - Showdown, Saint, Sinner). When the project was dissolved, the children had their minds erased and were distributed to different foster families. However, again, this is just part of the backstory to connect this work into Dekker's oeuvre and is not particularly relevant to this story.

It turns out that Alice was a child born of an affair between an rising-star senator and one of his staffers. The senator was gearing up for a White House run and needed to hide his tracks, so he used his connections to have Alice's mother Kathryn committed and then sent Alice off to Project Showdown. The senator later died, but set up a sizable trust fund for Alice to inherit once she turned 18. Kathryn, once she secured her freedom, was desperate to find her daughter but the trail was cold. When we meet her we find a woman definitely not of sound mind. She is being controlled by a man named Zeke, who has somehow found out where Alice is living and arranges to kidnap her from her foster family. Alice is then brought to an isolated compound where her mother subjects her to ritual cleansings and baptisms and rules upon rules, all under the watchful eye of Zeke. Zeke's dominance over Kathryn and Alice is all part of his elaborate plan to lay claim to the trust fund money. Alice, a pure soul, manages to maintain her sanity and learns to survive and adapt. Ultimately, Alice shows such love to her mother that her eyes are opened to what Zeke is doing and they escape his tyranny.

If you are a reader of Dekker, you will once again recognize his overused themes of "looking beyond the skin of this world" and "you are not your costume". Regardless of the hackneyed themes, I did enjoy the characters Wyatt (Alice's stepfather) and Bobby (Alice's stepbrother) who were genuine, sweet, and nicely fleshed out. Zeke and Kathryn where more like stock characters embroiled in a mostly contrived plot. This book was a reasonably quick read, and though it was nothing particularly deep or compelling or well developed, I still enjoyed my time with it. The final book in this series is entitled Hacker and is set for release later this year.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Observations 54

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.
  • I went into the bathroom the other day at work and a man was sitting in the stall. What was odd what that he was loudly humming a happy little tune and tapping his foot with noted glee. He did not stop when I came in.
  • John Milton once wrote "Turnip greens awaken slumbering desire in even the most quiescent spouse." If that is true, image how freaky they get with a course of spiny nettles.
  • I arrived a few minutes early to a meeting at work and sat down. On the table next to me I placed my small notepad. My boss came in and set his stuff near the table and ran off to the men's room. When he got back he reached to my notepad and tried to take it. I told him it was mine, but he clearly didn't believe me. Perplexed, he looked around until he saw his stuff. When he pulled out his own notebook, it was a full-size 200-sheet, 5-subject notebook. Geez, I can see now why he didn't believe me.
  • Is it possible for any country to be considered truly civilized if its vehicles are not outfitted with intermittent wipers?
  • You know, a baby carrot is not supposed to be just a regular big honkin' carrot cut into 2-inch-long pieces. Perhaps someone needs to relay this critical fact to the folks who sell these bags of alleged "baby carrots".

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


When I was a teenager, I remember how the summer vacation from school seemed to last forever. It felt like I had an unlimited supply of days to lay around the house, shoot some hoops, or ride my bike on the trails in my neighborhood. In those days I never once had a thought that I would grow up or have adult responsibilities. It never occurred to me that my time was finite or that my youth was a temporary season.

Today I have a teenage daughter whose time with me is nearly over. In short order she will be going off to college and to start her own life. When she was much younger and we were laughing and playing those daddy/daughter games of childhood, I thought that they would last forever. When she would plead her usual bedtime question, "Can we read just one more story?", I would tell her that she needed her sleep because we had adventures to live tomorrow. I never gave a single moment of thought that those moments would run out.

At the end of the most days now, I feel a fatigue in my bones. My muscles are sore, my knees ache, my back is stiff. I know that I am just following the path that we all must follow. The miles behind me outnumber the miles I have left. Sometimes when I am still and look out there, I can almost see the terminus. Hazy, some distance off, but definitely approaching. I often wish that I could go back now and read just one more story to that young version of my daughter. To feel her small arms wrapped tightly around my neck and the joy in her kisses, sweet as honeysuckle.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Separation of Church and State

The second book by author Joseph Max Lewis is entitled Separation of Church and State and it represents another branch from the same tree as his first book The Diaries of Pontius Pilate. The story is in the Christian thriller genre and centers on up-and-coming TV newsman Tim Lewis. Tim happens to fill in as a guest moderator for a sick colleague on a highly rated "Face the Nation" type show, where a Catholic Cardinal (who is an ex-lawyer and ex-Special Forces!) gets the better of a Harvard law professor on a constitutional debate. This leads to Tim getting in trouble with his boss at the "Fox News" type network called RNN, because his boss wants strict control of all content that is broadcast. It turns out that this is just the beginning of the troubles that young Mr. Lewis will come across. In short order, he makes a recording of his boss at RNN talking about his anti-Christian agenda and the murder of a Supreme Court Justice, who dies the very next day. Tim soon learns that some powerful people are aware of his recording and will stop at nothing to get their hands on it.

The world power organizations from government to industry to law enforcement to the clergy are being infiltrated by members of a fervently anti-Christian organization called the Society for Human Enlightment. Their goal is to neuter the Christian movement and ultimately to wipe Christians off the face of the Earth, much like the Nazi party attempted to do with the Jews in Germany. This group is well funded, well connected, and ruthless. These are the bad guys. Opposing them is the less well connected side of good, the Fellowship of the Essentials. The Society and the Fellowship are engaged in a cloak and dagger game of cat and mouse, tit-for-tat, back and forth, move and countermove. Tim comes to quickly understand that his life is in danger and with the help of Society operatives, comes to realize why his recording is so damaging to the Fellowship. In the end the efforts of the good guys thwart the efforts of the bad guys (for now), and Tim gets his girl back and finds God.

The book wasn't a bad read, but it was awkwardly constructed. I had the very palpable sense on every page that I was reading a book. Stock characters, stilted dialog, and a very cheesy feeling permeate this one. Apparently everyone in the U.S. in every backwoods corner, is connected to the Society. They are so committed that on a moment's notice they will set aside their normal lives and any notions of community and law to kill without hesitation, all to lend support to a secret society bent on pushing the U.S. down a path toward a Christian holocaust. The convoluted plot was so over the top that there was no way to suspend belief and become part of the narrative.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Grind My Gears 36

I have a printer just down the hall from my office at work that I share with about two dozen other folks in my group. Although there is no written protocol for using this printer, there is most certainly a tacit understanding for picking up print-outs from this device. It is actually amazingly simple. You print your job out, you walk over and pick it up, and then you get the heck back to work. If there is someone's print-out already in the output tray, you sort through the stack to make sure that you get your print-out, and you put the rest neatly back in the tray. However, what I find is one of three things. 1). My print-out is nowhere to be seen, even though I clearly heard the printer warm-up and go through its motions just after I hit the "send" button. This typically means some chunky bar with raisins either carelessly took my print-out along with his and didn't bother to bring it back or they figured what I was working on was more interesting than their own drivel. Curiously, I have even found some of my missing print-outs sitting in the recycle bin just next to the printer. I guess that I really didn't need them after all. Thanks Bazooka Joe for doing the heavy thinkin' when I was clearly not capable. 2). When I arrive at the printer, the output pages of several jobs are spread all over the place almost like a cool, refreshing, category-5 tropical storm washed over the machine just before I arrived. 3). Sometimes I walk out to the printer to find a co-worker poring over my print-out like it is a copy of the National Enquirer with a riveting "news" story about a three-headed alien baby. When they see me approach, they then sheepishly hand me my print-out or pretend like they weren't doing what we all know they were doing. People who don't know the proper etiquette for usage of a public printer really grind my gears.

Friday, May 9, 2014


Ted Dekker's latest series is called The Outlaw Chronicles. The first book is entitled Outlaw. The story begins in the early 1960's where we meet a southern belle named Julian Carter. She lives a very comfortable life on an old plantation, but her family life is quite difficult. Her father pressures her into getting married and giving him a grandson. Yet she quickly regrets her choice of husband and ultimately they divorce, leaving Julian to raise her baby Stephen alone. About the time Stephen is born, Julian starts to have a recurring dream that has a palpable reality to it. She sees images of an exotic land of incomparable peace and beauty. After months and months of this dream pulling on her, she comes to view it as a sort of vision, calling her to be a missionary. Given that her life in Atlanta has provided her no reason to stay, she decides to follow God's calling and is led to a land off the coast of Australia. On a sailing trip with her son, the boat she is on is caught in a fierce and unexpected storm and capsizes. She is later found by a group of natives near a remote island and taken prisoner. Her 2 year old son is nowhere to be seen and presumed dead.

Over the next few months Julian comes to understand the heart of the people that have captured her. While some might call them uncivilized, they are simply following the long-held traditions of their tribe. Julian initially struggles with anxieties and fears that her life is over and that she is fated to die in this remote land. However, many local women are barren, and a tribal leader who can produce a son is highly esteemed. Julian gets caught in the ever-spiraling power games of two of the most powerful tribal leaders. One is a man of honor and peace. The other is a man of brutally and fear. At first Julian is despondent and angry that she answered God's call only to have her gift rejected at the hands of these barbarians. Ultimately, she comes to see that the visions that led her to this land were a presage of her destiny, to help bring God's light into this dark land.

The first part of this book was used to establish the setting, the conflict, and the different characters. I felt that while some of Julian's motivations were not entirely clear or justified by the character that Dekker had been developing, he was still holding his own reasonably well. Suddenly, at the book's two-thirds mark, Dekker made an abrupt change in his narrative approach as he introduced a fairly unbelievable and awkward spiritual element in the story that was forced, overplayed, and irksome. At the climax of the story, when the bloodlust of ten thousand pagan natives had reached its zenith, they all turned into sobbing Christians because the protagonists willed them to see the light of forgiveness. While I still enjoyed the story, this is definitely not his best work.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Quick Hits 18

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.

Would you have still married your current spouse if you had found out that they were going to be in an accident within your first five years together that would leave them severely disabled for the rest of their lives?

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Gone are the days of princesses and fairies,
   never again will we plan exciting adventures together in the park,
        where every smooth stone and bottle cap was a treasure to be collected

Gone are the times when your eyes would light up when we would go out for ice cream,
   no more evenings of reading story after story cuddled up together,
       when your giddy laughter would fill the room when I brought you a brightly colored balloon

Gone are the afternoons of fishing at the pond with make-shift poles and shredded bread for bait,
   no more strolls along the walking path sharing stories and dreaming our dreams,
       when your best day ever was watching Winnie the Pooh videos laying across my lap

So many special memories are now closed chapters of volumes,
   each relegated to gathering dust on the shelf

Yet I know in my heart that every moment from our past is still present and has a purpose -
   each helps to form the strong foundation of our relationship today

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Best Cartoons

I have been burning the midnight oil for the past few months thinking, considering, and sifting through a veritable mountain of data. A question came into my mind that was begging for a definitive, unassailable answer. I didn't want to toss out opinions or the wishy-washy tally from a show of hands from the sketchy rabble that I am forced to interact with each day. I wanted the truth.

What are the eight best cartoons of all time?

My research results are fully detached from any sort of market research that is known to be contaminated by "special interest groups" and the tainted dollars of "big business". My data is not subject to the latest fad or polluted by inane nostalgia. It is the product of hundreds of hours of data sifting on the fastest supercomputers in the world. These are machines that can perform at nearly 50 petaFLOPS without stopping to refill their coffee cups or wasting time hanging around the water fountain gossiping over the oh-so-charming antics of some little Timmy Whatshisface. We are talking high performance scientific computing with results that are air-tight and unimpeachable. Results only a bed-wetting cretin would dare to even think of raising an objection against. The results obtained for the best cartoons of all time are, in no particular order, as follows:
  • Scooby Doo, Where are You?
  • Phineas and Ferb
  • Back at the Barnyard
  • Spongebob Squarepants
  • Looney Toons
  • Pinky and the Brain
  • Family Guy
  • American Dad
So, there you have it. If your personal favorites didn't make the list and you feel a certain sense of outrage, go whine to little Timmy Whatshisface. Facts are facts as data is data.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Observations 53

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.
  • A sure-fire way for rain to pour unchecked from the heavens, even when the forecast does not call for it, is for me to put down some grass seed in my yard. Grrr.
  • I just read a news story about a megachurch pastor who cheated on his wife. The message board that followed was filled with a few hundred comments. Nearly all of them showed that they think Christianity is a scam because of all of the stories just like this. Christians are pretty good at providing fodder for non-believers to remain non-believers.
  • One of my superpowers is that I can nearly always tell if a man wearing a suit doesn't regularly wear one.
  • I came across the following quotation by Honoré de Balzac, "Love may be or it may not, but where it is, it ought to reveal itself in its immensity." I can only say that I agree.
  • Have you ever been to a meeting with someone who could explain something in a few words but would much rather hold everyone hostage by rambling on and on and on?

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Gate Thief

The second book in Orson Scott Card's Mither Mages series, The Gate Thief, picks up just after the first book The Lost Gate ends. There we met Danny North, a teenager who had just come to understand that he was a gatemage, a wizard with incredible abilities. After untold generations of wars and dispute, a fragile truce has existed among the different mage clans on Earth based on exposing and killing any mages with the ability to open portals that connect two different places. The practice of culling the gatemages was felt necessary because they might have the ability to open a gate between Earth and the distant world of Westil. If a mage were to make the trip from Earth to Westil and back again, his powers would be immediately enhanced ten-fold. Such wizards would then give their clans an advantage that might allow them to rise up and seize power.

Danny has slowly grown into his strength over the several years since he first discovered who he was. He has already survived an encounter with Loki after he made his first Great Gate to Westil. Loki is a powerful gatemage who closed up all gates between Earth and Westil more than a millenium ago. Furthermore, he had the ability to steal all of the gates created by any gatemage. After Danny encountered Loki in Westil, he rendered Loki nearly impotent, somehow using the fragments of what he knew, along with his great power, to take nearly all of Loki's gates. However, instead of becoming drunk in his power and raising himself to be a god on Earth, he struggled to understand why Loki had closed all of the gates in the first place. Loki was no prankster as had been assumed. Instead, he had taken on the burden and the responsibility to protect both Earth and Westil from Set and his minions, powerful creatures who sole purpose was to enslave all of humanity.

The Lost Gate was a decent story, although I felt that the character development was a bit lacking. More specifically, I felt no particular reason to embrace Danny North. However, the settings that Card had developed, as well as the ideas in the narrative, intrigued me and made me want to push on to The Gate Thief. It turns out that I was well rewarded with the second part of the story. It was tightly written, compelling, and had some good lessons to teach. In the afterward, Card mentioned that he is presently planning for his Mither Mages series to be completed with a third volume, although a release date is not yet set.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Lost Gate

Having read all of the books in Orson Scott Card's Enderverse series, I was curious to read something else that he had written. When I saw the pair of novels that belong to his so-called Mither Mages series, The Lost Gate and The Gate Thief, I decided to check them out. The first book, The Lost Gate, introduces us to the North clan, a family of wizards or mages that live a secluded existence. Each of the family members exhibits a special skill with some aspect of nature, such as the ability to control fire or wind. The North family was once one of several dominant wizard families on Earth, whose most powerful members were worshipped as gods through the ages. However, more than a millenium ago, a gatemage named Loki closed all of the portals between Earth and Westil. It is the passage back and forth between these two worlds that heightens the power of the mages. With the portals closed for so long, the mages are now graced with nothing more than the magic to perform low-level tricks.

The mage clans are ever vigilant for the appearance of another gatemage with enough power to open up a gate back to Westil. Should such a wizard appear he could give one family powers and control far beyond the others. The fragile truce between the mage clans is predicated on a number of understandings, one of which is that anyone with the ability to control gate magic is killed. Danny North is a 12 year old boy who seems particularly ordinary, lagging behind the training of his even younger cousins. However, he suddenly comes to learn that he is, in fact, a gatemage with some potential. Being young and excited about his newfound abilities, he does not take sufficient care to hide his skills. In order to survive he makes the decision to go into hiding and to find allies who will not only protect him, but help to train him.

Over the period of several years we follow Danny as he begins to grow into his powers and survives an encounter with the Westil gatemage Loki who had originally closed all the gates to Earth. The family histories are not clear why Loki closed the gates. It had come to be accepted that he was a mere prankster, but we begin to understand that he may have done this to protect both worlds. As Danny continues to learn who he is and what he can do, he must try to understand why the gates were originally closed and to stay out of the clutches of the mage families who want to use him so that they can claim control of the world. Now, onto the second part of the story in, The Gate Thief.