Sunday, August 28, 2011

On Bugs, Books and Blessings

Aw, look at the pretty flowers!

So, there was this one time I was eating a bag of sunflower seeds at work (I used to work for a sculptor many years ago, as a sander/polisher). I ate some of the seeds, and the day ended, so I left the bag there with the rest of my supplies. I had torn off the corner of the bag to access them - just tilt the bag and dump some in my mouth, eating them as I worked. You get the idea...

So I come back the next day to work, set up my work area, start working, and resumed eating the seeds. After about a half-dozen mouthfuls of seeds, I tilt the bag up to my mouth, take a big pull, filling my mouth with seeds... and I feel something go into my mouth that is definitely not a seed. It is way too big, and not salty, and actually kind of cold. And it is wiggling.

Like a machine gun, I spit the seeds out of my mouth all across my work bench, wide-eyed. When I spit out the great big, black water bug, it hits the floor and starts to waddle away. I let out an incoherent gasp/cry and stomp on the bug. I spit on the floor, repeatedly, panting, thoroughly disturbed. The sculptor I worked for heard the commotion and came in my workroom to find me pale-faced and speechless, pointing a trembling finger at the squished bug on the floor. I tried to explain to my boss what had happened, mostly using hand signals and miming, since I was still too freaked out.

Of course, the bug must have crawled into the bag sometime in the middle of the night.  I picture it struggling in the shifting bag of seeds as I took repeated mouthfuls that morning, the bug wondering (the way bugs do, I'm sure) what on earth was happening. Finally, the time came when it slid out of the bag and into legend. I was so undone, my boss sent me home for the day.

And now, the famous Cadbury Eyebrow Commercial...

I have never seen a video that stunned me to this extent, so funny I couldn't even laugh. I stood there watching it yesterday (when Eldest Daughter played it for me), mouth open, doing a strange, slow-motion double-take, laughing on the inside, motionless on the outside, in some sort of disconnected limbo.  I am (as many of you know) a huge fan of absurdity, and that video has to be the new benchmark. When the girl busts out the balloon at 0:48, I thought my head was going to explode, as I did a world-record "Wait... what?"

I must have been in just the right mood and frame of mind to see that... my first coherent thought after watching it was "I HAVE to put that on my blog!"

So I started and abandoned yet another book. This time, the first book in another highly-acclaimed series, one by author Adrian Tchaikovsky called Shadows of the Apt. The book is called Empire in Black and Gold, and has been heralded as one of the great fantasy series currently available. It is well-written -- the author certainly knows his way around a page. I just can't seem to click with the whole vibe of the book. The races of people are all sort of a magical hybrid of people and insects... there are Beetle-people who are short, strong and stocky; there are Mantis-kind, who are ferocious fighters, with barbs growing along their forearms (like mantids); there are ant-kind, who can all communicate through thoughts and act as one, like ants in a ant colony; there are fly-kind, who are small and can fly; etc. There are about a dozen different races/nations, and they act like people (basically) but with bug-like traits that are magic based. The militaristic Wasp-kind are cast in the role of "barbaric hoard out for world-domination" and a rag-tag group of other insect-based "people" are tasked with trying the thwart the eminent invasion.

As you might imagine from my opening story, the bug-thing just doesn't work for me. Ironically, I'm abandoning the book at 18% through, as I did with The City & The City (my previous book attempt). Coincidence, I'm sure.

Speaking of books, I want to do a little house-cleaning in my office, and I'm getting rid of books. I wanted to give you all first crack at some of them before I donate them to a garage sale. If you live in the US and would like one (or more) of these titles, email me (or Facebook message me) and I'll send the book(s) to you as a gift.

The Lies of Locke LaMora, by Scott Lynch
Storm Front, by Jim Butcher
A Storm of Swords, by GRRMartin
Warriors, by Various Authors
Empire in Black and Gold, by Adrian Tchaikovsky
A Feast for Crows, by GRRMartin
Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson

Lavodyss, by Robert Holdstock
Assassin's Apprentice, by Robin Hobb
The Talisman, by Stephen King & Peter Straub
Hawkwood's Voyage. by Paul Kearney
A Shadow in Summer, by Daniel Abraham
Across the Face of the World, by Russell Kirkpatrick
The Night Angel Trilogy. by Brent Weeks

The Sword of Angels, by John Marco
The Jackal of Nar, by John Marco
Odd Thomas, by Dean Koontz
The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
A Clash of Kings, by GRRMartin
The Lion of Senet, by Jennifer Fallon
Point of Impact, by Stephen Hunter

All up for grabs! In a week or so, whatever is not requested will be donated to some garage sale of some kind. I'm working on my digital library now... takes up far less shelf space! I already have digital copies of several of these books, and those that I may want to read again at some point in the future, I'll just buy digital copies of when the time comes.

And now, a couple funny animal pics...


OK, fine, it's "cute", not "funny"...

I wonder if they shift with the sunbeam as it moves across the floor?

So, school is starting again. That means I get to be stay-at-home dad one day a week, to school Youngest Daughter in the fine art of being a first-grader. She lost her first tooth tonight; one of the bottom-front ones. She was so excited. She's going to take it to school to share with her class, when the time comes. I'm glad she lost it -- she has one more bottom-front to lose. Her adult teeth were already coming in behind her loose baby teeth (like a shark!). I'm going to take her to the dentist on Tuesday to get her teeth evaluated. We'll see what he says. I'm sure whatever the good Dentist decides, it will be expensive...

It was a terrific summer. Perhaps my best ever. Wifey and I are in uncharted territory. We are doing very well; I feel closer to her now BY FAR than I have the entire time I've known her (20+ years). I have my theories on why this quantum shift has occurred, but the theories are still half-baked, so I don't want to toss them out here just yet. One things is certain: it is wholly unexpected, and could not have come at a more opportune time. I was broken, spent, done. Then, the world changed.

And on that note, I am done for tonight. Let me know if you want any books.

Dave the Intrepid

Thursday, August 25, 2011

There and Back Yet Again, By Davebo Baggins

Greetings! Back from Vegas, and what a trip!

First, apologies for not posting before or during the trip. As I thought about it, I considered the wisdom in announcing to who-knows-whom that wifey and I would be out of town, when I'd already established that our kids were staying home. Yeah, not smart. "Hey, I'll be away from home for the next week or so, and my sweet little girls will be home, all alone!" I don't know who reads this blog... but I found out recently how easy it is to get my contact info (phone, address, etc) right there in my Facebook profile (I've since hidden it). Yeah, not cool. Anyway, I decided to stay mum about it all, and wait until I returned to announce that we'd officially gone.

So, yeah.

We started out vacation by taking the family to the San Diego Zoo last Saturday. I hadn't been for a long time -- and now I remember why. Yeah, me and crowds don't mix. The sun cooked me, and every adult there was accompanied by a child or children, of varying degrees of loud and/or obnoxious. But the girls love it, so we put the admission price ($$!!) toward year-long passes, so they can run off to the zoo and/or Wild Animal Park for the next year, to their hearts' content.

The Wagner Girls + Rhino

We bid farewell to the girls Saturday night, left them in Grandma's care, and spent a night home alone. Sunday around midday, Sister dropped wifey and I off in downtown San Diego with luggage and high expectations. We checked into the Hilton Bayside, grabbed a quick bite to eat at a gaslamp eatery, then hit Petco Park for an afternoon Padre game. They were starting off with a "number retirement ceremony" for the great Trevor Hoffman. We had really good seats...

Sorry for the shoddy photo-stitching job. I didn't feel like making it perfect. Anyway, Petco is a terrific park. It was hot, so we left after 6 innings. Padres ended up winning the game, but I didn't really care either way. It was fun to soak up the atmosphere. And apparently, Trevor Hoffman retired a few years back, with a staggering 601 career saves, which is the highest number of career saves in Major League Baseball. Kudos to him. He's a shoo-in for Cooperstown, apparently.

Here's the Hilton, eh. Nice! Coronado bridge in the background. Just out of view to the right is the waters' edge.

Here I am, on the cool walking bridge between the Hilton and Petco Park.

The little woman and I, enjoying the game. She has a kids' head growing from her shoulder! Runnn!

We enjoyed another meal downtown after the game, and then retired to the hotel, to work out in the fitness center, and go to sleep. The next day (Monday), we packed up our luggage, checked out, and took a nice, leisurely 3.5 mile stroll to the airport! Yes, we walked to the airport (luggage in tow). I didn't think I could do it, but we made it! Yeah, I'm, like, in good shape and stuff.

We flew out to Vegas (boy, were our arms tired!), and took a shuttle to the Vdara. Here is a pic of it I found online...

It is in the heart of the Vegas strip, in a massively expensive new zone called City Center, which includes three high-end hotels, a large, high-end shopping/dining center, and some high-end residences/towers. Only the Aria (the largest hotel) has a casino... the rest (including Vdara) are just really nice, low-stress places to stay, away from the uproar, while right in the center of it (if that makes sense). Here's our view from the 51st floor...

Click to enlarge. It was really nice. Sorry again about the poor photo-stitch job.

I found a video clip on YouTube by a guy that did a quick tour of his room at Vdara, which is identical to the one we stayed in, if you're interested. Again, it's not me, it's some other guy!

The view of the pool 50 floors below, from our room.
And here's a very strange, large sculpture made out of canoes, right in the heart of the Vdara-Aria plaza. Some yahoo probably got paid millions of dollars to design and build that sculpture. It's probably called "Canoe Believe I Got Paid For This?"

And so evidently there is a new side of Vegas that shuns the traditional drunk college crowd and chain-smoking middle-aged slot-playing crowd, and instead caters to people (like wifey and I) that just want to stay in a really nice room, and eat really great food. We ate twice at Mesa Grill at Caesar's Palace (owned by Bobby Flay), and I have to say, it ranks among the very best food I've ever eaten. We ate at a place called Olives, overlooking the huge fountain at the Bellagio hotel. Also very good. And we ate at one of Wolfgang Puck's Pizzeria's, which was also exceptionally good. Here's the appetizer we ate...

I'm not normally one of those people that takes pictures of their food (to post on Facebook, usually), but in this case, it was too beautiful to pass up. The fact that it tasted even better than it looked was an added bonus.

We also each ate a Pink's hotdog, but we were not impressed...

Beyond that, we walked all over the place, roamed through countless shopping centers, ate great food, and relaxed. We even hit up the fitness center, and laid out at the pool (in 110 degree heat!). It was a terrific trip, in nearly every regard. It was romantic as well, but there's no need to go there... :)

All in all, I am super-glad we went, and I look forward to going back. We may try and stay at the Wynn Encore next trip.

An interesting side-note: I was asked today (now that we are back) if it was supposed to be a secret that wifey and I went to Las Vegas, as though people at church were not supposed to know that we were going there. That question, asked in all seriousness, sort of baffled me. The idea being that good Christians aren't supposed to go to Vegas or something. For the record, I have absolutely no problem with going to Vegas, or with letting anyone and everyone know I went there. "Sin City"? Sure, if you look for it. But our time there was enjoyable, and untainted. I had a wonderful time with my wife, had great food, unwound, loved it. The junk was easy to avoid/ignore. Maybe it isn't that way for others, but for wifey and I, it was. I'm not ashamed in the least, nor do I feel I should be.

I guess that's grist for another day. Bottom line, I'm glad we went, and I'm glad we are back. I don't know if I could have afforded another day. It was terrific, but man, was it not cheap. Now, back to my diet and workout regimen. I'll join my wife in great shape soon... I'm making great progress, vacation notwithstanding.

Other stuff to talk about, but it will have to be another time.

Onward and Upward.

Dave the Traveler.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Content In Southern California... Long May It Last!

Cool picture, eh? I like it. It's a city called Dubrovnik, in Croatia, and is, according to Wikipedia: " of the most prominent tourist destinations on the Adriatic Sea."

So, next time you're touring the Adriatic, drop by, eh!

Had a great birthday yesterday. Thank you to everyone that wished me a great day on Facebook... I went to work on my birthday for the first time in longer than I can recall, which was just fine for me. I had a workout with my trainer, then after work, we all went out to eat at BJ's (great food), and then I came home to spend time with my lovely wife. All in all, it was a very good day.

I even had a healthy cake!

So, in my search for something good to read, I decided I'd finally give China Mieville a try, and dive into The City & The City - a book which has garnered tremendous accolades over the past couple years. Check out this list of awards: 2010 Arthur C Clark Award winner (his third time winning), 2010 Hugo Award winner (Best Novel), 2010 World Fantasy Award winner (Best Novel), 2009 BSFA Award (Best Novel), 2010 Nebula Award nominee (Best Novel). As well as countless gushing reviews by people comparing him to every great name in literature.

Plus, it has a unique premise. So, I figured it would be a sure bet.

I was wrong. I am officially giving up, 18% through the book. I just couldn't follow well. Plus, crime novels don't really do much for me. And the "literary" style was at times impossible for me to figure out what he was trying to say. Quit trying to impress me with flowery, oddly-structured sentences! Get out of my way and let me read your story! Sheesh! I'm certainly not opposed to "real writing"... I just don't think it was done right in this case. There's a difference between saying what you want to with style, and rewriting sentences so that you have to really work at understanding what is being said.

All that to say, it wasn't my cup of tea, long list of accolades notwithstanding. If it was a physical copy, I'd offer to send to to whoever wanted it, but alas, it is digital. Sorry, your loss! MUAHAHAH!!!

I pick the dog on my team!

It's almost Fall... Summer draws to a close. That means, back to school time. No biggie. Transitioning from one season to another is easier when you have something(s) to look forward to! Of course, I'm talking about Skyrim, which comes out November 11th. But there's also Serious Sam 3 and Torchlight 2 (which both were supposed to come out during the summer...). Plus, I believe Brandon Sanderson's new Mistborn novel is releasing soon. Lemme check... yep, November 8. So, yeah, I've got plenty to look forward to. Once Skyrim releases, I may be missing for the rest of the year!

Well, I'm gonna hit the road for now. The guy will be here any minute to discuss new carpet with me, and I have to hunt down an appliance repairman to fix our dryer.


Dave the Content

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Quick Post, In Passing...

This picture is contrary to my current mood/life condition... fear not, things aren't gloomy and/or storm-tossed. Things are still wonderful - in sort of an unprecedented way. I just liked the picture, that's all...

In fact, this is quite a time of transition for me, in many ways. Changes are afoot. I've mentioned in the past couple posts about how I've been spending less and less time on the computer... this blog has been paying the price for that. Less frequent posts are trending toward still-less frequency. I know that, ultimately, it won't be that big a deal for the handful of you that still read this. I mean, if this blog fizzled to a stop, I'm sure you'll shrug your shoulders and move on, no biggie. For me, I'm torn. I enjoy this blog tremendously, and have, over the years. But for the first time ever, I'm enjoying spending time with my wife more. I'm sure you all understand that. However, I cannot stress strongly enough how different, unexpected and heretofore thought IMPOSSIBLE this is. Wifey and I have always seemed to be counter-posed magnets repelling one-another... and now somehow we have been re-configured so that we've snapped together... it is wonderful, unexpected, unexplainable... and I don't want it to end... ever... I have half a mind to just move forward and not look back.

But this blog has been a great journey for me, and I likely won't just cut it off. But for the time being, it looks like my activity here will be tapering off.

Just thought I'd let you know....

I like the view from up here!

Now, on to today's business...

I've been reading things lately... I finished reading Hunter's Run, which was a great bit of sci-fi story-telling. However, I can't really talk about it, even in the most general of terms, with spoiling the story in ways that will ruin the discovery, should you wish to read it yourself. I will, however, post a quick summary for those of you that won't ever read it, in case it tickles your interest... but if you plan on reading it at some point (Logan!), then skip down to the Adrenaline Video below...

Hunter's Run, by G. Dozois, GRRM and D. Abraham: A Summary
Ramon Espejo is a prospector on a planet called Sao Paolo, and is not a very savory character. Violent, foul-mouthed, stubborn, given to drinking and fits of anger, he kills a man in a street fight that ends up being someone important, so he must flee the city for a while, so things can blow over. Out into the great unknown wilderness he goes, to hopefully find mineral deposits that will bring him the fortune he has forever been pursuing. Once way out beyond civilization, he accidentally uncovers a hiding alien race... and they want to remain hidden. Now he must flee, on foot, and hope to escape the aliens who are hunting him... and they are using a very unique tool to track him...

This story is part adventure, part self-discovery tale, part buddy tale, and all grit. If profanity bothers you, pass on this one, since it is loaded with it. But if watching a bad man transform into someone honorable and redeem himself in satisfying ways is your cup o' tea, then give it a go. The book is well-written, and reads fast, and hooked me solidly, keeping me for the duration of the tale, until the satisfying conclusion.

Summary of the summary: Solid sci-fi adventure, well written and fun to read. 4.25 out of 5 stars.

Another great adrenaline video is HERE. It has Frenchies in it!

I've read two other short titles lately (which I picked up for my Kindle App for .99cents each). A post-apocalyptic tale called The Old Man and the Wasteland by Nick Cole, which is patterned after (and full of references to) the classic Hemingway book The Old Man and the Sea. And I also read a sci-fi piece called The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson. Both were quite good, though each had little things that bugged me. I won't review them here, since I'm running out of time for writing this post. But both were worth reading. I also grabbed a butt-load of free samples. I'll let you know if I find anything terrific..

Now go out there and conduct yourselves accordingly!

I'll try to check back in soon. I had other stuff to say, but I'm out of time...


Dave the Late

PS Dave O has updated his blog, after all this time... go check it out, if you get a minute. Dave-O is The Man.

Friday, August 5, 2011

On This August Occasion...

Is it August yet? It is? Schweet!

Still riding high, as far as life in general, and life around the house. I'll leave it at that, out of fear of sounding like I'm gloating. Bottom line, it feels great to feel great.

On the other hand... O, come on, you knew there was going to be an "on the other hand"!

On the other hand, my To-Do List has taken on monstrous proportions.

That's me, on the left. My To-Do List is on the right...

In part because, as I said in my previous post, I have been spending far less time in front of this computer. I've even been going to bed much earlier than normal (no more 2am nights... or even 1am nights... ah, sleep, I missed you...) As a result, all the stuff I used to get done as I whiled away the hours in front of this glowing box is not getting done. Work-related, church-related, personal-related... it is forming into a perfect storm of pressure. I want to get as much of it done as I can before my birthday trip.

Wow, that was boring. Sorry.

Here's a video showcasing examples of the special effects that were done on the recent season of A Game of Thrones.

And here is a cool travel video... as usual with Vimeo, for best results, High Def, full screen.

There, that should tide you over while I ramble about more boring personal nonsense.

Actually, I should fire off a quick book review, before the unfortunate book completely evaporates from my brainpan.

The Hundred-Thousand Kingdoms, by NK Jemisin: A Review
So, after this debut fantasy novel received award nominations and accolades last year, I decided to skip over my normal routine of downloading a free sample of a book (to see if I liked it enough to buy it) and went straight to purchase. I mean, any novel that is nomination for a Gemmell award in the Best Debut Novel category has got to be good, right? Right. (Of course, I only downloaded the free samples of the other nominees, so that theory holds no water... I think I was taken in by the cool cover).

So I made the purchase, and filed the book away in my virtual library, for future reading. Well, after finishing A Dance With Dragons (yay!), I decided Ms. Jemisin's title needed a good, honest look, so I dove in.

It is told in first-person, retrospective form, which usually bugs me. But when this form is done *just right*, I can normally hang on long enough to make it through a substantial portion of the book, if not all of it. I made it through this one to its conclusion, not only because it was done *just right*, but because of its quirky, almost schizophrenic delivery. By that, I mean the narrator would stop and start and back up and say, "hold on, something else happened before that..." and backtrack, and overlap the telling. She would also appear to have conversations with herself while telling the story, which was unique.

In spite of the unique delivery, the fact that I made it half-way through the book without being able to recall the main character's name (or any other's) was not a good sign.

Yeine is from a ruling family in the far north of the continent featured in the book - the name of which I don't recall. She has been called south, to the capital city of Sky, for reasons beyond her, simply because her grandfather (the supreme ruler of all Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, whom she had never met, and whose name I also can't recall...) had sent for her. Being a dutiful subject, she made the long journey. Upon arrival, she finds out that her grandfather is getting ready to retire (so to speak), and that his heir will need to be chosen. Yiene's two cousins (one cut-throat, the other a drunkard) thought they would be the only potential heirs... but grandfather has sent for Yiene, to mix things up a bit.

Yiene finds out soon enough that she's being used, as a pawn - a sacrificial one at that. Not just by her grandfather, but by the captive Gods who live in Sky's palace as well.

Many centuries before, the Three Gods went to war. One God ruled the day, the other the Night, and the third ruled the transitional times (dusk and dawn). One God was victorious, another was killed, and the third enslaved. The Gods had children before this, who had picked sides in the God's War... those that chose the losing side were also enslaved. These defeated Gods are held captive in Sky, serving the ruling class.

These captive Gods want their freedom again. They put a plan into motion decades before. A plan that involves Yiene.

That should set the stage for the tale, without spoiling much.

Regardless of what you may feel about the potential in the premise, the story is really a tale about relationships. Almost all of the action takes place inside the palace at Sky. There are no grand quests or great battles or Dark Lords here. It's all about a rather naive Yiene trying to survive the treacherous palace politics between Gods and man. There is plenty of magic. But not much action, in the traditional fantasy sense. And as relationship-centric as the tale is, it was a loooong time before I could remember who was whom, based on names. The characters just weren't very distinct. In fact even now, a few days after reading it, almost all of the names have fled me. I only retain vague impressions of various people in the tale.

It might be because the pace was so swift in the first half of the tale. Events that I knew were supposed to be impactful simply lacked any punch, because I hadn't had time to make many meaningful observations about the characters (or even remember who was who). Fresh revelations and twists were wasted on me. "Wait, who was he/she again?"

I'm beating a dead horse here.

Bottom line, I think there were enough unique traits and characteristics of the novel to warrant a single read-through, but I won't enthusiastically recommend it, as a "drop what you're doing and read this book" type of thing. It had some good ideas, but they weren't allowed to develop well enough, in my opinion. I don't regret reading it, but I have no doubt that, before summer is over, I won't be able to recall much, if anything, of what I read. And I have no interest in reading the sequel.

Summary: 3/5 stars. A good effort, but needed more time to cook.


There, that's out of the way. Now I can let it go. Free up some room in my brainpan...

I'm reading a sci-fi tale now, called Hunter's Run. It has three names listed as author(s), so I assume it's a collaboration of some sort. All that I've read thus far (about 30% through at the moment) is by an author named Gardner Dozois, and is a solid, interesting tale. The other authors are Daniel Abraham and George RR Martin. I assume they each take over at some point.

Anyway, I think I figured out the big ending twist early on in the book. It will be interesting to see if the twist was really that obvious, or if it is a red herring. I hope it's the latter. I'd hate to think they were so inept as to project their ending that obviously. I don't normally go for Sci-Fi, but this is a good, gritty, easy-to-read tale.

Good doggie...

Well, I'm not sure what else there is to say at this point. I really should be working on the perpetually-late newsletters for my clients. Maybe I can finish them tonight, and take joy in scratching that item off of my To-Do List.

Squish me luck.

Dave the Goof