Project #1

So far so good. One day into the new year, and not only have I spent a lovely day with my family, but I’ve also completed my first project. Done. Finito.

Well, sort of…

In an attempt to resurrect this ol’ blog from the trash heap I realized that I not only needed to start writing in it, but I needed to reacquaint myself with the inner workings and get inspired to actually work on it again. Thus sometime yesterday afternoon it came time to begin the transition from the awkward Site5 to the modern DigitalOcean. And so I built my first cloud server, learned how to setup nginx, re-learned how to setup mysql, and reinstalled WordPress from scratch. All while building the configuration in a way to lead room for some other sites/projects that may come this way.

But nobody will know this is going on. Because I still need to work out several kinks. Like connecting this site to social media so that I can tell people what is going on wasqea7.

But this is day #1 and project #1. So I’ll take the little successes where I can get them. Because 2016 was a pretty crummy year. And 2017 is going to have some rough edges. But I am going to make it through this year if it kills me.

Book Review: The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson

Disclaimer: I was given an advance copy of this book with a request for a review.

The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson

Last year I came across a recommendation for a book called The Room and just had to read it. No, not the best-selling Room that was turned into an Academy-award winning movie (although I also read that, and watched it, and you should too, because it’s great). No, I’m referring to the lesser known short work by Swedish actor/author Jonas Karlsson. In it, the antisocial Bjorn seems to find a secret room in his office that none of his coworkers will admit is there. Here is my brief 4 star review from Goodreads:

To some extent, this is the book that I wanted to write: an absurdist look at modern life and conformity. I love its humor, darkness, intensity, and brevity. Jonas Karlsson does not waste the reader’s time with unnecessary details simply to drag out his clever conceit. The character Bjorn comes across as the 21st century ambitious stepson of Bartleby.

Such a compelling review, I’m sure you just want to rush out and pick up a copy yourself, right?

Regardless, I really loved the book and when I saw that he had a new one coming out this year called The Invoice I was totally stoked and didn’t even bother reading the summary. Certainly there was some mysterious invoice that the protagonist would need to find the origins of. Maybe he would keep shredding the paper and yet it was always on his desk. The possibilities are endless!

At this point you may think my trademark sarcasm is overflowing but trust me, this is sincere.

Yes, this book is, indeed, about a mysterious invoice that shows up in our hero’s mailbox one day. An invoice for an extraordinary sum that he quickly assumes is a mistake, but soon finds that not only is it very serious, it is a matter that affects everybody. It turns out that the time  has come for people to pay, for lack of better words, for their quality of life. Unfortunately in the case of our unnamed protagonist, his bill has reached a level one might expect of a celebrity or a movie star or… a CEO, not that of a video store clerk living in a crummy apartment eating pizza mostly by himself.

Unlike his last work, Jonas Karlsson does not focus on the absurd setup for too long. Instead he uses the conceit as an exploration of the nature of happiness. Crap, I think I may have written the same line in my last review. As incredibly different as these two books were, there are some similar themes. But The Invoice is a much more lighthearted look at what matters most in life and how that is measured. Is there really an objective way to look at our experiences? Does our attitude toward life shape the highs and lows as much as the actual highs and lows themselves? Can a part-time film buff with few personal relationship and no plans for the future really be one of the most satisfied individuals in the country?

Karlsson is an enjoyable writer with a brevity that serves this kind of narrowly-focused speculative fiction well. I would give The Invoice 4 out of 5 stars if I knew how to add ratings.

Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Disclaimer: I was given an advance copy of this book with a request for a review.

Dark Matter by Black Crouch

Here’s the thing, I have a tendency to figure out sci-fi plots rather quickly. I’m sure most sci-fi fans can say the same thing. There’s a somewhat limited number of ideas to go around (time travel, clones, working class vs. elites, etc.). So when I started reading Dark Matter and figured out the basics of what was going on with our semi-mild-mannered protagonist I got worried. Was I just going to go through some logical progression of how Jason Dessen, the local college’s physics professor who gave up on a brilliant career to start an unexpected family, figures out into what type of alternate reality his kidnapper has dragged him? Would the story provide any real suspense beyond some made up sciencey BS to justify a convoluted plot?

Crap, I think I already said too much. Forget those questions…

But seriously, that was not this book. Sure, I probably had the first 70 or 80 pages pegged as Blake Crouch paints a picture of a man with a happy, albeit uneventful, family life that resulted from his abandoning a path that would have won him all sorts of awards that rival the Nobel. And from my vantage point, it seemed obvious who was kidnapping him and where he was being taken. However that didn’t stop the novel from being enjoyable, because he paints the picture well.

Our hero, Jason Dessen, is a believable and relatable kind of guy. He is not driven by ego but rather by the question of whether he’s given up too much of his ego for what might be considered a mundane life. He loves his wife (who also walked away from her aspirations to be a serious artist) and their son, who is most responsible for the divergence of their lives from the original paths they had wanted, but is that enough? Did he make the right decisions? Would he be happier as a celebrated theoretical physicist? What would have become of his relationship and child?

And what if he could actually find out the answers to those questions?

I really don’t want to say too much about the plot, because Blake Crouch does such a great job of letting all of this unfold in front of the reader and it’s easy to spoil. The science may be just a flimsy take on some real theories, but the execution is great. The concept of the box (uh… you’ll have to read the book) is very clever and makes the whole journey to find Jason’s real self almost make sense. Honestly, as crazy as the story gets towards the end, it really does continue to make sense in the semi-logical construct Crouch has erected.

There really isn’t much I can say bad about this novel. It’s suspenseful and thrilling and the metaphysical discussion is thought-provoking yet fun. Without sounding too pretentious, Crouch successfully touches upon some deep ideas. What makes us… well… us? Do we dictate the choices we make or do those choices dictate who we become? Is every possibility truly possible? Can those possibilities change us to the point that we are unrecognizable? Whether or not alternate or parallel universes exist, they provide a fascinating basis for a thought experiment on human nature and this story goes beyond just a surface skim of the concept.

Overall I found Dark Matter to be an enjoyable sci-fi thriller that’s even a little intellectually stimulating and highly recommend it. If I could figure out how to post stars on this page it would be 4 out of 5.

This blog goes to 11

A friend of mine pointed out that his blog turned 7 today. I was surprised because it was so close to my own “blogiversary.” (Does anyone still use that term?) So I checked and realized it wasn’t just close, it actually was my… anniversary of starting a blog. The old tradition was for me to forget about it until the 27th and then just copy and paste my entry from the previous year explaining what an idiot I was. Because, you know, keeping track of the day your blog started was very important at the time.

Anyway, since this is my first entry in a while and I probably haven’t talked to most of you outside of some random Facebooking, you should be able to guess that my “communicate more” thing hasn’t been panning out so well. But I will say that the health kick is definitely on the upswing. The gym around the corner finally opened and I’m already back up to 2.5 miles of running most days. Another week or so and maybe I’ll be back in my 5k form so that I can actually run a 5k.

Reading has definitely become a big focus and not only am I reading pretty much everyday, but I’ve already finished 4 books and am on pace for my challenge to read 24 this year. The photography and building hobbies are sort of on hold, but thanks to a trip to Disney World, spending time with The Kay has been more heavily prioritized. A lot of time spent with Legos has meant that sometimes she even wants to be with me instead of Mommy. Score one for Dad!

As for vinyl… well at least I’m listening to a lot of music in one form or another. And that reminds me, with new albums being dropped by the likes of St. Vincent, Wild Beasts, Beck, Neneh Cherry, Phantogram, Com Truise, etc. it’s about time I put a wrap on 2013. Maybe I’ll finally write something about the great albums from last year…


Just to keep ourselves at least enough to carry on

One of these days I should really write something long and unnecessarily expository about Neutral Milk Hotel get redirected here. For those music nerds out there, you should already know what I’m talking about. But for the rest, those 3 words probably just cause confusion or indifference. So to make it simple I’ll just say that they are an indie rock back from the 90s led by Jeff Mangum who, after putting out 1 excellent and 1 epic album, disappeared for a decade.

After obsessing over those albums for years, I finally got a chance to see Jeff perform solo when he officially rejoined the human race back in 2011. He did not disappoint and, in spite of his reclusive nature, hinted that a full band reunion might just happen. As wonderful as hearing songs so near and dear in an such an intimate setting was, the prospect of the full-on, cacophonous, fuzz noise experience of Neutral Milk Hotel live kept me wanting for more.

Well, last night I got more.

I don’t think I could possibly convey how absolutely awesome the show was. There were accordions, uilleann pipes, a toy saxophone, magnificent beards, a pornstache, several types of horns, a questionable sweater, at least 3 hand saws, and one guy bowing a banjo. Combined it formed a joyous noise that kept us all on our feet for its entirety. It’s a shame it had to end – thankfully I’ve got a ticket for their Philly show in 2 weeks…

If you love Neutral Milk Hotel, get to one of their shows. And if you have no idea who they are, step outside of the usual and give them a listen.


New Year’s Revolutions

First of all, I love this commercial:

The deadpan “New Year’s revolution? Oh no.” reaction cracks me up.

Second of all, just like every discussion about “resolutions” I feel the need to state that I’m not really “into them”.  The idea of making a bunch of promises to yourself to make pretend that this is the year you won’t spend Sundays eating cheese and drinking beer in your underwear is just silly. Because when you spend Sundays eating cheese and drinking beer in your underwear, you’ve probably got enough disappoint going on in your life that realizing you broke a simple promise to yourself can only make things worse.

However the transition from the old year to the new one is a fairly appropriate time to reflect on what areas of ones life could stand some greater (or lesser) attention. And so I can disappoint other people as well as myself, let’s spell those out here. Continue reading “New Year’s Revolutions”

I miss blogging

I’ve been writing this post in my head for something like 2 or 3 months, but that’s just how difficult sitting down to post has become. And it’s one of the reasons I miss being here.

I know it’s an odd sentiment. We’re about to enter the year 2014. Even Jason Kottke declared the blog dead. Everybody prefers Facebook and twitter and tumblr and other sites missing capital letters and vowels and… common decency. And the realty is, if I want to blog all I have to do is log in and write something. There’s even a few posts from this very year proving that the capability is still very much mine.

But it goes beyond that. Over the past few months I started paying attention to the spiral downward of one of my previous favorite bloggers and it started to bother me. Not that I felt sorry for her situation – she clearly has brought it upon herself. Rather the fact that it’s all come to this… does that even make sense?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I actually miss the community and activity that revolved around blogging. Whether someone became famous or was just a guy across the Internet, there was a connection – many connections in fact – that could be made. Ads were a way to pay for hosting and branding was strictly for corporations. Bloggers (and readers) were excited to unveil new designs and every comment had the potential to start something.

At this point I’m obviously babbling. The thoughts were probably coherent weeks ago and instead it’s all just trickling out in little snippets. I’m not saying that posts galore will soon follow this vapid filler, but simply trying to convey the notion that the move away from individual blogs towards the insipid little blurbs that find their way to Facebook or the witty but hollow tweets and constant re-posting on other sites makes me sad.

Argh. Anyway, let’s just say that in the coming year I’d like to communicate more. Maybe that’s here. Maybe it’s over the phone. Maybe it’s via physical letters. Whatever the method, I need to find the connections that I used to find via this site.

Hope you had a good year and the next one is even better.

I just ran 3 miles

You probably already saw a mention on Facebook or Twitter from a couple weeks ago when I hit the 3 mile mark. That was true and false. My entire run in the morning had finally grown to 3 miles. But that still included the warm-up, cool-down, and breaks in the middle. My body was finally taking me through the entire first mile before I really hit a wall and had to slow down. While really great to be doing that well, it still wasn’t a solid 3 miles of running.

Today it was.

Three months ago when I first got up in the morning in the middle of a heat wave and put on sneakers to head out for my first “run” it took me about 34 minutes to walk 2.1 miles. I think I went around the high school track once and that constituted the entire “running” portion of the morning’s exercise. As my running increased and my time decreased, more laps were added and my route was adjusted. Eventually it was 4 laps at the track with long stretches of running. And then I got tired of the dirty looks from the gym class and decided to stop running at the high school.

So then I find myself on the road trying to find a new path. And I hit the mile mark. And I adjust my breathing. And I adjust my gait. And then I’m still running. And that day I go 2.1 miles – the same as my first day total – running without a break.

And then came the doctor.

Last week it was time for them to take a look inside and see if they find anything. So far so good. More tests in the coming weeks, but maybe just maybe my colon is in for the long haul. Either way, the test (and getting a cold) shut me down for 2 days. I didn’t run for 3 straight days and only walked on the 4th. For me, that’s a big deal. I can’t break the habit or it’ll die. And while I picked it back up, I wasn’t getting back to 2 miles straight right away.

And then this week I did.

This week I was back in form. And each day it was the 2 mile mark in the middle of a hill that broke me. Until today it couldn’t. There was an epiphany – if I can push myself through the wall at 1 mile, why not 2? And so I adjusted my breathing and adjusted my gait and found myself headed towards the “finish line”.

So I’ve got to hurry up and make my morning shake and take a quick shower before bolting off to work. But first I just wanted to bask in a little self-satisfaction that I hit another milestone today. 3 miles in under 28 minutes. Not bad.

And as an added bonus, here’s the song that pushed me through that wall: