Garden update

Garden 2010 Garden Boxes

The garden is going gangbusters.  A few updates:

  • We had a bunch of salads made from our lettuce, and we’ve had a bunch of peas, both sugar snap and green.
  • The potatoes took a beating in a couple recent rainstorms, so instead of sticking up, they’re lounging around everywhere now.
  • The asparagus look hilarious, the rhubarb looks poorly, the peppers, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes are fluffy and green all around.
  • The members of the squash family are sprouting (we just planted them last week), and the tomatoes are already starting to grow little greenies.  Some recent photos below, along with old photos.


Asparagus Asparagus gone to fern


Peppers by the wall


Sweet potatoes (close) and Tomatoes (far)

Sweet potatoes and tomatoesTomatoes and sweet potatoes

Potato flowers

Potatoes a' growinPotato Flowers 3

See also: Garden City, Growing Season is Upon Us

Titanic’s Last Secrets

Titanic's Last Secrets
Titanic's Last Secrets

Titanic’s Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, by Bradford Metsen

Reading Shadow Divers was like reading an adventure novel.  There was some science and some history, but plenty of excitement.  Titanic’s Last Secrets puts much more of its effort into the history.  It’s an interesting book, and compelling, but something probably much more interesting to Titaniacs than to the general readership.

The book tells the story of the search by Chatterton and Kohler to find out more about the Titanic’s sinking.  They discover some new pieces of the hull that their analysis suggests changes how the ship sank.  It’s a pretty esoteric argument, but the long and short of it is that the design of the ship comes up looking much worse than it had in the most commonly accepted theory.  A few bits about the book:

  • While the narrative of the discovery and dives is solid, the book excels in its discussion of the Titanic’s history.    In particular, the book spends a lot of time discussing the design and building process of the ship, including lots of personal insight into how the designers made decisions and how they modified later ships as they learned from previous ones.
  • If you worked in the Harlan & Wolff shipyard, you didn’t use your name.  Instead you got a nickname that became your moniker at work.  Also, you only got 7 minutes per day for going to the bathroom.  After that, your pay was docked and you were “crapping on your own time.”
  • The conspiracy part of the book is, unfortunately, its least supported.  The idea that Harlan and Wolff agreed with this new version of events but covered it up for liability reasons is intriguing, not that surprising, and not really proven.
  • When I started reading this book, Jenny asked why, if some big new piece of the Titanic puzzle had been discovered, we hadn’t heard more about it.  It turns out that the reason we haven’t heard more about it is that this isn’t so much a big new piece of the puzzle as another of MANY theories.  I’ve also learned that despite my real interest in the Titanic, I’m a novice as far as the real Titaniacs are concerned.
  • I love the story of Emily Jessop, the parlor maid who survived the Titanic and the later sinking (during WW1) of the Britannic.  After the former, she complained that she’d forgotten her toothbrush.  With the latter, she remembered to bring it.

The whole theory (spoiler):

The crux of the theory in Titanic’s Last Secrets is that Thomas Andrews designed expansion joints (meant to allow for the twisting of the hull during normal sea stress) that were not adequate to the pressures the hull experienced during the sinking.  The boat couldn’t, according to this theory, have lifted far into the air the way it does in the James Cameron movie.  It would have broken much lower.  There’s a good summary of the theory on Wikipedia.

This week’s tweets

This week, in tweeting…

  • 21 June: Listening to Norm Sherman’s album. It’s gold, baby. GOLD.
  • 21 June: My JPC article from last October is being translated into Vietnamese.

More next week, I’m sure.

The Garden Party

The Garden Party
The Garden Party

by Katherine Mansfield; from Librivox, narrated by Luci Burgoyne

Mansfield’s book collects a series of stories about life in the 19th century, mostly for women, mostly for the wealthy or at least the middle-class.  There are a number of character sketches or scene sketches with lot plot arcs that deliver a punch.  Some thoughts on a couple that I liked the most:

  • “The Stranger” does a great job describing the longing and sadness of a husband who’s missed his wife.  But there’s a deeper need there that gets wrecked, and the end of the story is quite poignant.
  • “Miss Brill” shows the way a few offhand comments from a couple asshats will ruin your whole day.
  • “The Singing Lesson” is perhaps the most sad, to me.  A teacher leads her choir to sing songs that reflect her mood regarding a grim letter from her fiance.  The end that uplifts her spirits isn’t, in fact, uplifting.

Now that I think about it, this is one grim book.  Not as many “women downtrodden by their roles in the world” as I thought there would be, but more just stories about the dark reality of life in the modern world.

Big Computer Reboot

My nerd readers out there are going to be annoyed with me.  I went back to XP.

The story: A couple years ago (3 to be precise), I rebooted my computer and went halfsies, installing Ubuntu on half and WinXP on the other half.  I didn’t go all Ubuntu because I wanted to play games (w/o messing around with WINE) and my scanner is Windows only.  Since then, Ubuntu has been very nice, and I’ve had almost no problems with it.  Windows has been, well, Windows.

BUT: There are quite a few workarounds.  I have to keep rebooting to use my scanner.  To use some bit of software I need.  To do this or that.  And I don’t really gain anything from Ubuntu (except quick install time and geek cred.)

So with my tax return from this year I bought a new 1.5TB hard drive and a new(er) graphics card (Radeon 9500GT 1GB, up from a Radeon X800GT 250mb), so it’s time to do a full reboot on my home PC.  And I’ve decided not to futz around with Ubuntu.  I feel bad about this, sorta.  But it will also be nice to scan right away, to game right away.  The install is going to be a bummer, though.

  1. I started on Tuesday morning.  Putting in the new hardware took about 20 minutes.  The Dell I have is made for hardware upgrading, so I only had to undo 1 screw — all the rest was latches that pop open.  Nice.
  2. Then I went looking for my software key for Windows.  I couldn’t find it.  After two hours, I was about to give up, when I found it in the first folder I looked in–why it wasn’t there before, I blame UBUNTU.
  3. Then I started the computer and found that it worked.  Put in the XP disc and away we go.  Oh crap, I forgot that I was going to have to format my giant new hard drive.  Cue 3.5 hours of formatting.  Sigh.

Break for Tuesday afternoon date with Jenny.  **ENDORSEMENT: If you have a career that lets you be at home on Tuesday afternoons, and so does your wife, hire a babysitter and go out every week.  You won’t regret it.**

  1. That evening, I updated XP and downloaded the newest versions of FIREFOX, THUNDERBIRD, OPENOFFICE, PICASA, AUDACITY.  I then installed the Adobe Design suite, Quicken, and a few drivers and stuff.
  2. Steam is gonna take forever.  Left it downloading Half-Life2 overnight.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

I want to believe
I want to believe

Who were the people clamoring for this movie?  Was there some contingent out there that said “What we really need is a big screen episode of the X-Files that doesn’t address the old mythology at all.  I need me some supernatural-ish procedural drama in my movie theaters?”

And if there was, who listened to them?

I ask because I can’t figure out why they made this movie?  It’s fine, don’t get me wrong, as a longish episode of the old show.  You’ve got your old conflict between desire to believe and the rational rejection of supernatural claims; you’ve got your old unexplainable crap that results in things like two-headed dogs; you’ve got creepy scientists; you’ve even got FBI people hating on Fox Mulder again.  Or to put it another way, you still have all the same things you’d expect from an X-Files episode.  But nothing more.  Nothing to suggest that they need a big screen movie.  As I said above, I just can’t figure out why they made this movie.

A couple more thoughts:

  • As often happened in the T.V. show, the science-horror part of the episode emerges only briefly, at the end.  It’s a good one, though.  Like I said above, a two-headed dog is involved.
  • There’s a strange side plot about a pedophile priest and Scully’s ambivalence toward him.  I didn’t remember this from the original show, but as the skeptic, shouldn’t she be an athiest?  Isn’t it kind of weird to have a religious person be the voice for detached reason and science on a show like this?  Also, you get a nice little side-dig at the current health care system in which a priest becomes a one-man death panel as well.  Delightful!
  • Wait, did I mention that Billy Connelly plays the priest?  So that’s nice, anyhow.
  • A piece of shoddy storytelling: apparently Mulder and Scully are either a) living together, but that’s revealed so casually that you don’t get it until halfway through the film or b) hooking up with little or no tension in the air.  Perhaps they’re friends with benefits?
  • Mulder oscillates wildly in this film, first detached and skeptical himself.  Then, with little or no reason that I could see, he’s suddenly totally convinced. It’s also not clear to me whether Mulder still IS or ISN’T looking for his sister.  Which is it, Chris Carter?!

The Tough Guys

Now that summer’s here, I thought I’d start my book cover Wednesdays again.
The Tough Guys

Misery Loves Comedy

Ivan stabs his own eye
Ivan stabs his own eye

by Ivan Brunetti

Misery Loves Comedy collects much of the early Fantographics work of cartoonist Ivan Brunetti, who draws dark, misanthropic, morose comics laced with black humor.  His stuff has the grotesque straightforwardness of R. Crumb and the everyone-hating perspective of Peter Bagge or Harvey Pekar on their bad days.  Add in a dose of Chris Ware depression (and a touch of Charles Schultz to boot) and you’ve got Ivan’s work.  (Full disclosure: Ivan is a colleague of mine at Columbia College Chicago with whom I’ve worked a little bit.)

This is one of the most up-and-down experiences I’ve had reading a comic.  Some parts I enjoyed immensely.  In particular, I love the detailed parodies of other comics, including careful attention to their styles.  These work in both tone and content, though as often as not the parody has to do with shifting the valence toward sex and hatred from whatever the comic’s usual stance is.  I also really disliked many of the comics for their unrelenting viciousness and nihilism.  I spent my entire reading of the comic see-sawing between gasping horror and amusement.  Perhaps that’s the idea.

I include this image here, as it encapsulates much of what the comic’s about.  Brunetti, or his comic-book doppleganger, ponders how much he hates the world and everyone in it.  Then he contemplates perpetrating violent and sadistic acts or experiencing them.  And then there’s often a punchline.  Kind of.

Most strange, honestly, is the disconnect between my experience of Ivan as a person and the “Ivan” that comes across in the comic.  In meeting with him a few times, I tend(ed) to see him as quiet, pleasant, somewhat funny, helpful.  But now part of me wonders if during the quiet he was raging at the world inside.  Is it all a ploy?  If a writer/artist says “I think about this:” and then tells us what he thinks about, that can’t be a gimmick, can it?  Because he did have to think about it to say he thinks about it.  So on some level, he does think about it.  And then what do you do with the autobiographical moments from his wife and/or psychologist?  Are these memoir-based performance art?

Definitely not for everyone.  Not necessarily even for me.  But quite a read.  Be forewarned, though.  I’m not kidding at all about the violent and sadistic acts.  There are a lot.  Like watching Hostel or something.

Cool Old art

I have a particular fancy for making old art public.  When I find a pre-copyright book with art, I like to scan the art and make it available on Flickr.  I’m sure this is a common hobby you’re quite familiar with.  So anyhow, we were at the friends of the library book sale and I found, for $1, a 1911 copy of The Mansion, a story that gets mentioned as similar to A Christmas Carol and written by a Unitarian minister.  I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve scanned and uploaded the art.

Check out the slideshow above.

Tweets, 14-20 June

  • 14 June – Stare agape and consult with co-parent in whispers: the best way NOT to reassure your child that her first wood tick isn’t a big deal.
  • 17 June – via boingboing: death metal “what a wonderful world” –
  • 17 June – Less than 10 hours until the Book sale at Forest Park Library. Oh good, what I need is more books. @forestparkreads
  • 19 June – Excellent day: Planted squash, zuke, pumpkin. Went to pool, book club, pot luck bbq, pool again. Noticed I’ve read over 50 books this year.

The Killer Inside Me

The Killer Inside Me
The Killer Inside Me

by Jim Thompson

We read this book for my mystery book club, the second noir crime novel of the year. It’s pretty good, but Wow, so dark.  A few thoughts:

  • The narrator dances along a fine line of making you enjoy him with his jaded hatred of everybody and the way he plays the rubes in the town, making them think he’s a pleasant, simple country sheriff’s deputy instead of a depraved murderer.  Interestingly, he’s both.
  • A curious disconnect arose at my book club discussion of this.  On one hand, one fan of the book suggested that Thompson’s writing is spare and straightforward.  “There’s no filler in this book.  Everything goes straight to telling the narrative.”  On the other hand, another member complained about the circuitous language Thompson uses to tell parts of the story–particularly the segments about sex.  He uses euphemisms that I’m sure would have been common currency in the 1950s but are obscure today.  So we had comments that the book is both straightforward and annoyingly confusing.
  • There was a healthy discussion about how we should feel about Lou (the narrator), particularly in whether or not we can/should feel any pity for him.  I reminded people that our culture doesn’t (at least nominally) believe that insane people are responsible for their actions.  And the group pretty strongly agreed that Lou was nuts.  But there was disagreement over whether or not to pity him or to think that he deserved punishment.
  • It’s hard to tell what the book thinks about women.  There are no women in any positions of power — just as ‘love’ interests for Lou.  There’s a shadowy history of (and an opaquely described tendency to) sado-masochism tied up in Lou’s love life.  I thought it was pretty straightforward, but my group mates were a bit more befuddled.  But if every woman secretly wants to be  beaten before she has sex, Thompson’s world is a grim place, IMO.
  • As the book comes to a close and we see the narrator’s plans slowly begin to unravel, the subtle signals with which Thompson conveys that shift startle and amaze us.  As everyone in the group agreed, whether they liked or hated the book, it’s very well written.

The A-Team

The A-Team
The A-Team

I’m sure you can find lots about this elsewhere on the interwebs, so I’ll cut right to the chase: not bad.  Entertainment Weekly gave it a B+, and I’d put that about right.  Maybe B.  It’s your standard action movie excitement, with a bit of Mission:Impossible with more punching.  The humor isn’t bad and the characters translate pretty well as far as I remember, though I don’t really remember the original show very well.  A few other thoughts:

  • The show seems to operate in a bubble where a few U.S. law enforcement badges can be waived around and local law enforcement will bow and back away slowly.  In one particularly preposterous moment, a man who’d just shot up a downtown business district in Switzerland with a machine gun never even touched local hands, as far as I can tell.
  • The nods to the old show were nice, but not overwhelming.  I read a comparison to the new Star Trek somewhere, and I’d say it’s a good comparison, but this film isn’t as good.
  • Along the lines of point 1 — the CIA gets way too much leverage in this movie.  Much like the NSA in Enemy of the State.  Bureaucrats and secret agents aren’t superhacker superheroes with infinite funds.  Probably.  Of course, I get hush money from them.  And black helicopter rides.  Ha ha just kidding.  Really.  Kidding.   ?
  • The plans, as advertised, are a bit on the preposterous side, but they also aren’t as clever (at least some of them), as I’d hoped they’d be.  The big reveal at the end is clearly telegraphed really early, and there’s a gaping hole in one of the early plans.
  • Finally, the wrestling with nonviolence that Barracus goes through is interesting, but ultimately not that satisfying.  If you don’t mind a little spoiling: he decides that violence does solve some problems.  It’s a realistic version of the wrestling, I think, but because it’s not given enough space or time, the young people watching the movie who haven’t thought much about the issues may decide that there’s not much to think about.

Anyhow, it’s a fine summer romp with plenty of explosions and funny stuff.  Favorite line: “No, they’re trying to fly that tank.”

Murdoch Mysteries

Murdoch and Crabtree
Murdoch and Crabtree

Inspector Murdoch is a particularly clever member of the Toronto police department, circa 1895.  He reads up on the latest scientific discoveries and uses them to solve cases.  He’s trained his constable, an affable man named Crabtree, in the detection of ‘fingermarks,’ for example.  But Murdoch is no one-trick pony: he also uses solid deductions and makes great use of forensic sciences with the help of the lovely Dr. Julia Ogden (What!? A female medical examiner? Shocking.)  It’s an enjoyable series, with the only exception being the tortuously slow evolution of the brewing love between Murdoch and Ogden.  A few more thoughts:

  • By making Murdoch slightly eccentric, they can give him modern sensibilities without seeming anachronistic.  They also mix those modern sensibilities with era-appropriate ones, making him a complex character.  The best aspect is the Victorian approach to emotions and life that saturates his behavior.  He can’t seem to open up himself to anyone.  Works very well.
  • The relationship between Murdoch and Crabtree succeeds brilliantly.  George is smart and eager, and makes a great side-kick.
  • The police chief is a great character as well–honorable, but old-school.  He prefers the old methods (beating confessions out of prisoners, for instance), but he recognizes Murdoch’s intelligence and is generally on the right side of the important issues.  It’s almost heart-breaking when he’s offered a position on a key committee only to discover he’s also being offered the job of lackey for some wealthy suits.
  • The show dances along the borders of decorum, class, race, and gender skillfully, never really making the episodes about those things, but certainly weaving them into the story.  For example, one episode involved the murder of a member of a university rowing team; it turned out that one member and a prime suspect was a poor man who’d been let onto the team as a ringer.  The class issues came to the fore during the investigation, but weren’t the subject of it.
  • The show mixes humor and mild drama very well.  A solid procedural with a taste of historical fiction and a bit of science-y fun.

Season 2 is in the queue now.

Wednesday morning quick bullets

"go-faster-stripes-2" by Norma Desmond (cc-attr-noncom-sharealike)Busy busy today, with a missing babysitter so my work day will be shorter than hoped.  Quick bullets:

  • Ordered the second piece of upgrade hardware for my big desktop rebuild.  Upgraded the RAM to 3.0 GB last year.  Bought a new hard drive (1.5 TB) and have just ordered a new graphics card (Radeon 9500GT, 1GB).  Will rebuild next week or this weekend.
  • Birthday was nice: got a binary clock, a new zombie t-shirt, and a couple books.  Saw the A-Team.  Ate peanut butter pie and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese.  Am now living in a palindromic birthday year.  I wonder if that has significance.  My Facebook birthday is coming up soon.
  • Dear Lord, it’s already 16 June.  SOOO much left to do this summer.  Buckle down, lazy ass.
  • Avery used the word incorrect yesterday.  As in, “Daddy, I want some Hot Chocolate for dessert.”  “We don’t have any Hot Chocolate, Avery.”  “That is incorrect, Daddy.  Here it is (points).  You are incorrect.”
  • Almost done with a programming job I’ve been working on.  Keep going back to that when I should be grading.

Okay, back to it.