Now with occasional clarity. My 2015 Reading List <p>Last year I read 13 books and felt pretty good about myself. Then I read a book review from someone this year who had read <em>53</em> books this year. 53! My humble list below is much better than last year but is nowhere near that level of dedication.</p> <p>I'm publishing my list a couple of weeks early this year because I doubt that I'll finish another book before the year ends.</p> <!-- more --> <dl> <dt>The Guns at Last Light - Rick Atkinson</dt> <dd>A great ending to the Liberation Trilogy. Spoiler Alert: We won the war! My biggest complaint with the book is that it could have used more maps. I essentially had to read the book with Google Maps open on my tablet so that I could see things like the Belfort Gap and other locations mentioned in the book that weren’t given their own map in the book itself. </dd> <dt>Beds in Heads — Jacob Tomsky</dt> <dd>A memoir written by someone who worked in hotels for years and years. It was interesting, but the book could really be summed up in two points: 1. Be nice to the people who work in hotels; they can make your life easier. 2. Tip everyone who works in hotels; they can make your life easier. </dd> <dt>Why The Allies Won –– Richard Overy</dt> <dd>This was a rereading of a book that I'd read in the past. Having read so many other WWII books of late, I was hoping for some additional insight into both this one and the others. The most obvious difference between this book and the others is the fact that this one was written by a British author, rather than an American. This jumped out in two primary areas: 1. The American psyche was not taken as a given, but was actually discussed. 2. Montgomery and his foibles and follies were not criticized as deeply. One real selling point of the book is that it does devote some attention to the Eastern front and the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, something other books often gloss over. </dd> <dt>The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms –– N.K. Jemisin</dt> <dd>Made it about halfway through this book before giving up. It was basically a murder mystery set in a fantasy kingdom. The characters generated no interest or sympathy within me so I decided to move on to other books I might actually enjoy. </dd> <dt>Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans — Gary Krist</dt> <dd>This isn’t really a book with a number of threads that are woven together. It’s a book with a number of threads that just happen to be in the same book. Almost every part of the book (particularly the Ax Man section) could be pulled out into a free-standing work. But then those works would have to be deeper dives or shorter works and apparently that’s not what the author wanted. So while I enjoyed the book, nothing about it was compelling nor did I find the stories to wind together all that well. Most connections between the various sub-plots and characters seemed tangential at best. </dd> <dt>The Spy Who Loved -- Claire Mulley</dt> <dd>An interesting story about a Polish woman who was a spy for the British government in multiple countries during WWII. Krystyna Skarbek certainly managed to live her life to the fullest in almost every respect. She spoke numerous languages fluently which made her very valuable as an intelligence asset. She demonstrated repeated courage and quick thinking in dangerous situations, sometimes while literally under fire. Unfortunately, the culture of the time wasn’t ready to accept an independent woman who did as she pleased and this made her life much harder than it otherwise might have been. She needed freedom and action and the society of the times were not ready for her to have it. The book is a good read, well-researched and well-written. </dd> <dt>If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska — Heather Lende</dt> <dd>A collection of anecdotes and musings from a journalist who lives in a small Alaskan town of 2400. The book ranges widely across topics as diverse as food, religion, life, death, children, fishing, flying, and numerous others. However, Lende is a good writer with an ability to spin a good story and an eye for the important details about a person. It is a worthwhile read. </dd> <dt>Find the Good – Heather Lende</dt> <dd>I hadn’t intended to read two books in a row by the same author but this one showed up at the library in my reserve queue so I had to read it or let it go until some undetermined date in the future. This is a collection of ideas around finding the good in any situation, illuminated by anecdotes from small-town Alaska. I liked this book less than the first one. </dd> <dt>Great North Road – Peter F. Hamilton</dt> <dd>An impulse read. Thankfully I read it on my Kindle because it was over 900 pages long. Hamilton never says anything in two words when five will do. Regardless, it was an interesting and compelling sci-fi read about the ecological destruction of a planet and an encounter with alien life. </dd> <dt>The Martian – Andy Weir</dt> <dd>Bought this for my Kindle after I saw the movie trailer. After reading it I clearly understand why the movie rights were purchased and why the movie got made. It’s a great read, especially if you enjoy learning about the science of space exploration. </dd> <dt>The Man In The High Castle – Philip K. Dick</dt> <dd>A purchase made after seeing the pilot made for Amazon Prime Video. Suffice it to say that the two are only vaguely linked. The book was interesting, though it wasn’t necessarily something I enjoyed. It speculates about an alternate past in which Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan have conquered America with the exception of the Rocky Mountains. </dd> <dt><dt>A Better World – Marcus Sakey</dt> <dd>A sequel to a book I read last year. This one was well paced and interesting but didn’t really introduce any new ideas from the last book. </dd> <dt>The Six-Gun Tarot – R.S. Belcher</dt> <dd>A book that was different from my usual reads. It was a cross between a Western, a fantasy, a religious treatise, and probably a couple other genres. I wouldn’t say it was overly compelling, but it was entertaining and worth reading. </dd> <dt>The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey</dt> <dd>This was supposed to be a good book and the library recommended it so I gave it a try. I quit after reading 150 pages or so when it became clear that it was jut another zombie book. Since I have zero interest in zombies, I had zero interest in finishing the book. </dd> <dt>The Junior Officer’s Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars – Patrick Hennessey</dt> <dd>I gave this book 191 pages before setting it aside. The book is about one British officer’s thoughts (note that I didn’t write experiences) while going through training, and then fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. The titular group appears for a few paragraphs a couple of times in the book and has no reason to be on the book’s front other than it is a snappy title. Hennessey’s thoughts also, aren’t very interesting, compelling, or groundbreaking. Save your valuable time on this Earth and read something else. </dd> <dt>The Court of the Air – Stephen Hunt</dt> <dd>An interesting steampunk/fantasy hybrid that essentially serves as the pilot episode for the Hunt’s Jackelian series of novels. There were a few times when I felt that deus ex machina was employed by the author, but overall the story was good. </dd> <dt>The Dragon's Path – Daniel Abraham</dt> <dd>Straight-up fantasy. I enjoyed it while reading it but just a few weeks later had trouble remembering what it was about. The characters are generally OK, and the plot isn’t entirely predictable. This was book one in a series but I’m not sure yet whether I’ll pick up the second installment. </dd> <dt>The Kingdom Beyond the Waves – Stephen Hunt</dt> <dd>The second book in the Jackelian series of novels. Takes one of the main characters of the first novel and weaves him together with some new characters and one who made a token appearance in the first novel. If anything, this was easier to follow than the first novel. There’s still more than a bit of deus ex machina at points, but if you accept that you’re going into some of that the rest of the book is pretty good. </dd> <dt>The Only Thing Worth Dying For – Eric Blehm</dt> <dd>An excellent journalistic account of the first Green Beret team inserted into southern Afghanistan to topple the Taliban. It reinforces how just a handful of highly trained soldiers can change conditions for thousands of people across hundreds of miles. It also reinforces how an even smaller number of people can ruin lives and an otherwise successful operation through careless actions. I’m glad I read this book. </dd> <dt>All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr</dt> <dd>A novel, but set largely during WWII. It’s been very popular this year and spent plenty of time on the best sellers lists so I thought I should at least give it a try. It was…fine. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. The characters were relatively interesting and the plot was relatively original. I just didn’t feel moved by it. </dd> <dt>Whatever Happened to the Metric System: How America Kept Its Feet – John Bemelmans Marciano</dt> <dd>The title here is a bit of false advertising. Only the last couple of chapters (out of sixteen) really deal with why America doesn’t use the metric system. The rest of the book is about how the metric system came about. There is also extensive discussion of things that I wouldn’t necessary call the metric system. While the process of decimalizing the calendar, the day, and the monetary system are tangentially related to the what we would consider the metric system, they aren’t part of the metric system itself. The book really drags in the middle when international congress after international congress is convened to argue over various measurement systems. Overall, however, the book taught me a great deal about measurement systems through time. </dd> <dt>What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions – Randall Munroe</dt> <dd>This book just begs for a place next to your toilet. Each section is of just the right length for enjoyment while attending to one of life’s necessities. Having written that, I’ll admit that I read the whole thing without once bringing it to the bathroom. My two favorite questions regard the throwing of a baseball at relativistic speeds and stacking elements from the periodic table. To wit: </dd> </dl> <blockquote><p>Q: What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?</p> <p>A: You could stack the top two rows without too much trouble. The third row would burn you with fire, the fourth would kill you with toxic smoke. The fifth row would do all that stuff plus give you a dose of radiation, while the sixth would explode in a radioactive, poisonous fire. Do not build the seventh row.</p></blockquote> Tue, 15 Dec 2015 00:00:00 -0600 Florida, Easter, Curling, Life <p>It appears that winter has finally released its icy grip on those of us here in Wisconsin and with tulips starting to peek through the soil in the garden it is time to recap the last couple of months.</p> <!-- more --> <p>In late February/early March we once again met Sarah's family in Florida for a week of sun and fun. The kids, once again, were thrilled that the house Tina and Mike rented had a pool in the back. Garrison really showed off how great a swimmer he has become for someone just six years old. He wasn't daunted at all by the fact that the water was over his head in at least half the pool. He just jumped in and swam and had a great time. Dinah isn't to Garrison's level of competence in the water yet but she's working on it.</p> <p>Both kids enjoyed going to the beach, making sand castles, and collecting shells on the beaches we visited. The ocean wasn't terribly warm, but it was tolerable and I was able to stay in for an hour or more at a stretch. It was peaceful and quiet a good forty-fifty yards from the beach. We saw dolphins swimming the water several times and plenty of birds.</p> <p>Garrison really wanted to go mini-golfing while we were in Florida and he seemed to enjoy it. Dinah couldn't have cared less about the mini-golfing but she did enjoy visiting the botanical gardens, especially the kids area.</p> <p>The worst part of going to Florida (other than the usual and copious warts of Florida itself) was the trip down there. We left our house around 14:00 on a Wednesday and didn't arrive at the rental house in Florida until about 15:00 on Thursday. Along we way we lost an old cell phone that one of the kids used as an alarm clock and a green fleece at security checkpoint; spoke with Chicago PD about the lost cell phone; stayed at a hip, modern airport hotel for all of six hours; had our tickets changed numerous times; ran for multiple close connections (never making one); and had our luggage somehow catch flights that we couldn't, thereby arriving before us. In short, it was a travel nightmare but I give our kids full credit. They never got sullen or cranky or emotional. They were real troopers, even when they're parents got flustered.</p> <p>March also saw the end of my curling season. My league team won all of three games this year. We just couldn't win on a regular basis and the biggest reason was probably that we often failed to make shots.</p> <p>Garrison's reading skills are motoring right along. At his most recent parent/teacher conference we learned that his current reading skills are in-line with what is expected of an advanced first grader late in the first grade year. That was heartening, to say the least. He also seems to be doing well with math. We got some flashcards from his teacher at the conference and we periodically use them after dinner while we're sitting around the table.</p> <p>Garrison has been playing basketball on Saturday mornings at the local YMCA. It's a bit of strange league with teams and parents who act as coaches with games that last an hour. Fouls short of muggings aren't called; traveling is only called if you try to walk end-to-end without dribbling once; and there are frequent stoppages in play for both sides to substitute their entire line-ups. Oh, and score isn't kept. But when your teams consist entirely of kindergartners and first graders it seems like you need to keep the game simple. Garrison is still working on figuring out how the game works so he wasn't one of the most aggressive players on the court but he always tried hard and kept a good attitude, which is all that you can ask of someone in that situation. He and I have worked on the game a bit in the driveway and he's been incessantly bouncing the basketball of late so maybe something stuck.</p> <p>Dinah is also doing well at school. She is making progress towards writing her name. She can produce recognizable shapes for most of the letters; she just needs to polish them up and put them in the right order. She's also continuously working on exerting her own personality and Independence. She particularly like to push back against Sarah for some reason. It drives Sarah crazy sometimes but it seems like part of the growing-up process.</p> <p>Both kids were excited by the arrival of Easter today. Garrison was up at 06:20 this morning to try and get an early start on finding hidden Easter eggs. We had to send him back to his bedroom until shortly after 07:00 so that Dinah would have a chance to get a few eggs herself.</p> <p>We took a nice walk this morning after breakfast to enjoy the pleasant Easter weather and to give the kids a chance to burn off their jellybean sugar. The best part was getting to the end of a peninsula extending into the lake and hearing ice breaking up in the warm weather.</p> <p>There are a few new pictures in my <a href="">photo album</a>.</p> Sun, 05 Apr 2015 00:00:00 -0500 Matouk's Hot Pepper Sauce <p>Matouk's Hot Pepper Sauce is almost undoubtedly the only food&mdash;perhaps the only thing&mdash;that has ever come to our house from Trinidad and Tobago.</p> <!-- more --> <p>I picked up a bottle of this sauce on a whim from a local Asian market. I was hoping for the second coming of Desert Pepper XXX Sauce, which originated in Costa Rica, and is one of my all-time favorite hot sauces.</p> <p>This sauce is not Desert Pepper XXX, but it isn't bad either. It definitely has some kick, but isn't melt-your-face-off hot. It has some definite vinegar flavor and also some citrus flavor which means it doesn't pair well with everything. It does pair well with Mexican and Caribbean food which, given its origin, isn't surprising.</p> <p>Would I buy it again? Probably. It's a nice change from the ubiquitous Tobasco and El Yucateco, but the flavor profile is so specific you don't want to use it on everything.</p> Fri, 13 Mar 2015 00:00:00 -0500 Swimming Lessons <p>This morning I jokingly asked Dinah if she was going to swim like a fish or sink like a stone at swimming lessons today.</p> <!-- more --> <p>She looked at me very seriously and said somewhat ominously, "You'll have to come with and find out."</p> <p>From someone else that might be a bit scary but when a three year-old does it you can't help but laugh.</p> Wed, 14 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0600 My 2014 Reading List <p>Unlike last year and the year before, I didn't get to sixteen books this year. In fact, there were long stretches of the year where I didn't even have book started. Regardless, I still polished off a fair number of books.</p> <!-- more --> <p>As you read the list below I'm sure a one big theme will jump out at you and that is a heavy emphasis on WWII. I'm not sure how that happened but I need to balance it out with some reading about other topics this year. Having written that, I still need to get and finish the third volume of the Liberation Trilogy so 2015 will not be entirely WWII-free.</p> <dl><dt>A Man and His Ship - Steven Ujifusa</dt><dd> A book about the ship building industry in America at the turn of the 20th century, particularly the passenger ship industry. I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it when I picked it up, but Ujifusa did a great job with what could have been really dry material completely unconnected to modern life. </dd> <dt><dt>An Army at Dawn - Rick Atkinson</dt> <dd>The first in the so-called Liberation Trilogy written by Atkinson about WWII. An excellent study of what went both right and wrong during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of northern Africa. Atkinson’s writing is clear and direct and very enjoyable to read. It definitely filled in some gaps in my knowledge about the campaign to drive the Axis out of Africa.</dd> <dt>American Gods - Neil Gaiman</dt> <dd>A book that many people love that just didn’t resonate with me. I finished it but didn’t particularly enjoy it. Honestly, I'm not sure what the fuss is about.</dd> <dt>The Day of Battle - Rick Atkinson</dt> <dd>Another excellent book by Atkinson about WWII. This one focuses on the Allied campaign in Italy. While I had some passing familiarity with the Gustav Line and Monte Cassino, this book really brought home the terrible price paid by everyone in Italy (Allied, Axis, and civilians).</dd> <dt>Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile - Nate Jackson</dt> <dd>If this is the best memoir about the contemporary NFL written by an ex-player that’s really denigrating the entire genre. I couldn’t even finish this one. Repetitive and generally uninteresting. He isn’t a bad writer but he isn’t good either.</dd> <dt>Overlord - Max Hastings</dt> <dd>An extremely in-depth but still accessible account of successes, failures, shortcomings, and victories on both sides of Allied landings in Normandy.</dd> <dt>The Stormcaller - Tom Lloyd</dt> <dd>Awful, just plain awful. Couldn’t even finish it. Took every fantasy trope and used them all in one book. The nobody who just happens to be insanely powerful and the only person who can save the world. The mismatched band of characters who each just happen to be unique and key to helping that individual save the world. Etc., etc. Other books use those tropes and the rest of the book is done well enough that the fact that we’re walking over the same ground again and again can be forgiven. I couldn’t overlook them in this book.</dd> <dt>The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien</dt> <dd>Went back to read this for the first time in probably ten years. Much quicker read and a shorter book than I remember. It was worth re-reading however. Tolkien’s work definitely stands the test of time.</dd> <dt>The Last Policeman -- Ben H. Winters</dt> <dd>Picked this up on a whim when I found out it was an Edgar award winner. Good decision. Compelling read. It’s a story about a detective trying to solve a murder in a world where an asteroid will hit the planet with disastrous consequences six months from now. The apocalypse is coming, and we know the exact date it will occur, but it hasn’t happened yet.</dd> <dt>Blackett's War -- Stephen Budiansky</dt> <dd>Coverage of how science and scientists were used by the Allies during WWII. Plenty of politics in here, primarily between scientists, and I got the impression that some of it was used to fluff out the actual science to make the book longer. Regardless, I enjoyed the book. Not a page turner by any means but a worthwhile read.</dd> <dt>Brilliance — Markus Sakey</dt> <dd>This was a page turner. Interesting exploration of what it might be like if insanely gifted people started appearing in society at much higher numbers than they currently do. A bit of a sci-fi/spy novel that isn’t particularly deep, but compelling.</dd> <dt>Incarceron -- Catherine Fisher</dt> <dd>This was an interesting book about people trapped inside a sentient prison and about people outside the prison trapped inside a rigid and regressive social structure. I generally enjoyed the book but I’m not necessarily sure that I’m going to read the sequel. Unfortunately, I can’t clearly explain why but given how the first book ended I’m not sure that I want to devote more time to the series.</dd> <dt>Ready Player One -- Ernest Cline</dt> <dd>I read this two years ago and every time I’ve seen it since the urge to read it again struck. When the chance to buy a digital copy for just a couple of bucks arose I grabbed it. I finished the book in a little less than 24 hours and it is still a great book. If you were growing up in the 1980’s and if you enjoy videogames or television or movies of the time period then you will likely enjoy this book.</dd> </dl> Thu, 01 Jan 2015 00:00:00 -0600 Post-Thanksgiving <p>We hosted Thanksgiving this year and one of the advantages is that you get to choose the menu. As usual, when we host Thanksgiving, we steered clear of the traditional menu.</p> <!-- more --> <p>I've got nothing against turkey, per se, it just isn't very interesting. In addition, almost every traditional side dish is only actually enjoyed by one member of my family and at best tolerated by one other person which leaves everyone else actively disliking it. For instance, I happen to like the sweet glazed sweet potatoes, but Sarah and the kids won't eat them. Sarah loves stuffing; I tolerate it; the kids hate it. Sarah like gravy; I tolerate it; the kids won't eat it. Garrison loves rolls; Dinah tolerates them; Sarah and I don't need the empty calories.</p> <p>Since I would be doing the cooking, I put together a menu that let me do the vast majority of the difficult cooking the night before. We had lasagna, pepperoni pizza, butternut squash soup, roasted brussel sprouts, and plate of fruit. We opened a bottle of home brewed pinot noir and my mom brought homemade angel food cake and whipped cream. It was a good meal and no one went home hungry.</p> <p>After the meal Garrison and I went sledding on one of the local hills. It was fun for both of us. I was surprised that more people weren't out there but the lack of crowds made it more fun, as well.</p> <p>I had a four-day weekend so we also had some fun around town. We avoided the crowds at the malls and went to the state Capitol on Friday and took a walk around a newly opened observation level. Garrison in particular enjoyed seeing pictures of the old Capitol buildings (the first was torn down; the second burned).</p> <p>Friday night we ate dinner at Feiler's which is an old-school Wisconsin supper club that I've been wanting to try for a while. The menu is what you'd expect and the four of us dropped the average age of the customers there by about fifteen years just by walking in the door. The kids enjoyed it, however. Garrison inhaled his pork chop and enjoyed the seemingly unlimited access to rolls. Dinah enjoyed her hot dog and fries. Both kids enjoyed getting washable(!) markers instead of crayons.</p> <p>My mom joined us Saturday morning for a walk out Picnic Point. We took the sled for Dinah to use when she wasn't up for walking (which was more often than not) since it was easier to pull the sled over the snow than to push a stroller. There were a hundred or more swans on the lake which was fun to see since I couldn't remember ever seeing so many swans in one place at once. Sarah asked a couple of people with a spotter scope what kinds of swans they were since it wasn't immediately obvious. Apparently they were all tundra swans with one mute swan in the mix. The morning was reasonably warm (in the mid-30s), the sun was out, and the sky was blue. It was a <em>great</em> morning for a hike.</p> <p>Today we put the tree up. That's always a chore, but at least it's done for another year.</p> Sun, 30 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0600 Winter, suddenly...again. <p>Last year I put up my Christmas lights in early November because it was a a relatively nice fall day and the forecast said the the next week or so was going to be cold and snowy. Well, it got cold and snowy and didn't let up until Spring arrived in April. I felt pretty smug that I didn't have to go up on the roof in the cold and snow to put up some lights but it was odd that the cold and snow arrived and never let up.</p> <!-- more --> <p>This year was more of the same. On Sunday, 09 Nov 2014, I put up our Christmas lights on a relatively nice Fall day. The forecast called for the next week to get cold and snowy and so I went up on the roof while Sarah and the kids cleaned out the van.</p> <p>Now we're once again facing the sudden and apparently lasting onset of winter. With single digit temperatures this morning, along with below zero wind chills, and periodic snow showers during the morning it feels like winter is here for the duration again.</p> <p>It wasn't that long ago that we played croquet in shirt sleeves on Thanksgiving in our back yard. This is now two years in a row where we've gone from 50&deg;F to 8&deg;F in what seems like the blink of an eye.</p> <p>Kids all over town are enjoying the snow, at least. Garrison and Dinah made a pair of snowmen in our front yard with the inch or so of snow that we got on Saturday night. Both kids also tried sledding down the small hill from our patio into the back yard. I noticed other kids on other sleds as we moved around town this weekend.</p> <p>We took the kids swimming at the YMCA over the weekend. That's another sign that winter is here. We can often be found at the open swim session during the winter as an excuse to get out of the house. Garrison is now tall enough to touch the bottom on the shallow end of the pool and keep his head fully above water. Dinah still needs her float vest to get around, but she gamely dog paddles all over the pool.</p> Mon, 17 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0600 Drying Instructions <p>It seems like all of the clothes and linens in our house are labeled with drying instructions of "Tumble Dry Low. Remove Promptly."</p> <!-- more --> <p>What I need are more clothes with realistic instructions like "Tumble Dry Highest Heat Possible; Leave in Dryer for Two Days."</p> Mon, 10 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0600 Superheroes <p>Sarah bought me a cover for my Kindle that has pictures of numerous Marvel superheroes on it. I've been reading a book on the Kindle this week so the kids have seen me carrying it around.</p> <!-- more --> <p>Tonight after dinner, Dinah asked me if I wanted her to get my "Super Julio" book so that I could read it after breakfast tomorrow. It took me a few minutes to figure out what she was saying, but apparently superheroes are "Super Julios" in her world.</p> <p>We spent all weekend getting our house, yard, and cars ready for winter. The weather forecast for the next week is fairly ominous so we felt some pressure to get it all done in a weekend. I even got our Christmas lights up this weekend. We won't turn them on until after Thanksgiving, but it's much more pleasant to put them up in 50&deg;F weather than in 25&deg; weather.</p> Sun, 09 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0600 Humming <p>Dinah sometimes just kills me with her use of language.</p> <p>Today she was in the basement with Sarah. Dinah was just humming away, probably one of her current favorites like "B-I-N-G-O". Anyway, after a couple of minutes of humming she very proudly said, "Mommy, I'm hummus-ing!"</p> Mon, 27 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0500