Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, May 19, 2018

Sunday

We had a busy Mother’s Day, but managed to record a podcast. We didn’t have a guest, but wound up talking mostly about some books, movies, and TV shows that we’ve been watching. We are still actively working on scheduling guests for future shows.

We had a chicken pot pie for dinner and then I finished editing the podcast.

We had a long story last night: first Joshua and I read the first five chapters of a new book I bought him on Saturday, The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown. We enjoyed the first one, The Wild Robot, so we’ve been waiting for the sequel to arrive.

Fellowship of the Ring

Next, I read chapter 10 of The Fellowship of the Ring, called “Strider.” This one of course features Aragorn, also known as Strider. I was struck by his mild and conciliatory manner in print, compared to the way he’s made a little more menacing in the film.

There are a few odd details. Aragorn is apparently the person that climbed over the gate into Bree when the watchman’s back was turned; as the text describes it, we think that it might be a Black Rider. In this chapter, Aragorn does not yet describe the Black Riders very convincingly. There’s an odd detail that is never mentioned in the movie: Merry is apparently rendered unconscious by the “black breath.” This is probably not present in the movie because it just would have been too prone to ridicule (the halitosis of Sauron! Aiiieeeeee!!!)

We still haven’t seen the Black Riders do much that is truly menacing. Gandalf’s letter is revealed, and it contains his a silly number of postscripts. And there is the head-scratching detail about Aragorn’s sword: apparently the sword he actually carries around, in his scabbard, is Narsil, a sword that dates back to the First Age. This seems slightly ridiculous—it’s a broken stump. Is this really the weapon that Aragorn uses to defend himself and defend the borders of the Shire?

It makes a bit more sense when we learn that the sword, in Tolkien’s original back-story, is in two pieces, not a number of pieces. In the movie, it was shattered, and the shards are on display in Rivendell. But still, it seems like Narsil, thousands of years old and broken in two pieces, would not be part of Aragorn’s “everday carry” in fighting orcs, Black Riders, etc.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

After finishing “Strider” and sending the kids to bed, I read Grace the final chapter of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The ending of the story is quite satisfying. As I mentioned in this week’s podcast, if you read a description of the end of the novel after reading only the first chapter, it would seem unbelievable and unconvincing. But Jackson does such a beautiful job of setting everything up that when we get to the end, it seems like the only possible conclusion. I highly recommend this novel and I’ve really got to read more Shirley Jackson!

Monday

Back at work. It rained until early afternoon. Tonight I’ll go to Costco for groceries. I also need gas. And I’ve got a variety of small errands and phone calls to make. Last night’s sleep was bad: Elanor was restive. So I’m tired today.

Evening

What I bought at Costco: a berry pie; a chicken pot pie; sliced turkey; sliced ham; a box of sliced Italian meats (capocollo, prosciutto, and salame); ground turkey; sliced provolone; lamb chops; three dozen eggs; sliced cheddar; two boxes of Costco granola; a jar of Michigan honey; two bags of kale salad; two boxes of blackberries; a bag of rice ramen noodles; a bag of torta sandwich rolls; a bag of Costco whole grain bread; a bag of Dave’s Killer bread; a 3-pack of Flonase; a green t-shirt; a pair of shorts.

The Flonase is pricey: $49.99 for that 3-pack. But it’s been helping me out a lot, and I’m starting Sam on it, too. The t-shirt is a G. H. Bass t-shirt and I have a couple of these; they are suitable for wearing to work, and cost only $9.99. I have a couple more that I bought a year ago, and they hold up reasonably well to washing. The shorts are also G. H. Bass, cargo shorts, pretty nicely-made for $16.99.

The cart-load cost $282.37. Without the clothes and Flonase it would have been more like $200.00. It’s a measure of how stressed our finances are, in general, that this seems like too much to be spending to help feed 12 people for a week (although most of them are children and don’t eat all that much). Grace and I are really starting to get worn down by stress. We are hoping, hoping, hoping that the house sale will close soon and we can start—even just start—to feel a little less grinding stress about our money each month.

Dinner

Dinner was sandwiches, made with the torta rolls, toasted and buttered, and some of our homemade garlic mayo, and the ham and Italian meats. Grace made a smoothie out of some expiring strawberries and bananas. We had salad with it, and then had the pie for dessert.

After dinner Grace took the cheddar and turkey to our friend. I was going to try reading the kids a story, but Veronica went with Grace and baby Elanor was noisy. So the story didn’t happen. Grace got back close to midnight.

Grace is firming up her plans for the weekend. She will drive to Connecticut to attend a family member’s funeral. On Wednesday she will drive to Saginaw to pick up a rental minivan. So she will be gone Thursday through Monday. I have a tentative plan to work from home Thursday, Friday, and Monday. I’m hoping for good weather so that the kids will play outside.

Tuesday

Elanor slept better last night. We got the windows open and the fan on and it wasn’t too uncomfortable. Today will be cooler.

The kids stole my hairbrush again.

The bathtub drain is almost completely clogged. I’ve been putting an enzyme cleaner down the drain for a couple of days, but I don’t think it is really helping, since this is pretty clearly a hair clog. I used the plunger on it this morning. The plunger is not very effective, because there’s an overflow drain, and I’m this means I’m pushing or pulling air through the overflow drain. But the plunging will move things a little. I managed to get a few handfuls of hair out.

I would be able to snake it, but this drain has a permanently attached stopper. I can’t even fit one of those thin, flat plastic snakes around the stopper. It works if I use the extreme clog remover (basically, straight sodium hydroxide, aka lye). I’m not really happy having to use these things a lot, because of our pipes, and because we have a septic tank.

We had a screen to catch hair and keep it from going down the drain, but the kids tore it up. I guess I need to get yet another one.

Breakfast was Costco granola and coconut milk (at home), and cold brew and yogurt (at work).

Webmail is down again. For the fourth time in two weeks.

On the plus side, it does seem that with regular intake of sauerkraut, yogurt, and antacids, and some occasional peace and quiet, my reflux is improving a bit. I don’t think it will really go away completely until we get the money situation moving in the right direction again.

Wednesday

Lasts night Grace roasted the lamb chops and wilted a bag of spinach and we had a delicious dinner.

Because she is about to leave town, we needed to record this coming Sunday’s podcast episode last night. Gaza is on our mind, so we recorded a “hot take” episode. Gaza has been on our minds a lot, and weighing heavily on our feelings, so I’m very glad we got something out, even something rough. We are committed to doing our best to get a show out once a week, not necessarily only a good show. We are putting our faith in the idea that even if some individual shows are rough, going through the process of recording and producing them every week, and listening to ourselves, means they will improve.

I was not initially planning to produce and upload the episode last night, but because it was short, it didn’t take that long to process, and I realized that it might be very difficult to get quiet time to work on the episode with Grace away. So I went ahead and published it.

Fellowship

After finishing the podcast, I went upstairs and read half of chapter 11 of The Fellowship of the Ring. This is the chapter called “A Knife in the Dark.” In this re-read, I noticed some of Tolkien’s interesting systems of imagery. We return briefly to check in on Fatty Bolger, who is living in Frodo’s house at Crickhollow and trying to maintain the illusion that Frodo is still there:

Fatty Bolger opened the door cautiously and peered out. A feeling of fear had been growing on him all day, and he was unable to rest or go to bed: there was a brooding threat in the breathless night-air.

And then:

There came the soft sound of horses led with stealth along the lane. Outside the gate they stopped, and three black figures entered, like shades of night creeping across the ground. One went to the door, one to the corner of the house on either side; and there they stood, as still as the shadows of stones, while night went slowly on. The house and the quiet trees seemed to be waiting breathlessly.

The word “breathless” is significant here and fits in with the riders, with their “black breath,” Merry’s going out for a “sniff” or “breath” of air, and particularly in Merry’s dreams. First, in Bombadil’s house:

It was the sound of water that Merry heard falling into his quiet sleep: water streaming down gently, and then spreading, spreading irresistibly all round the house into a dark shoreless pool. It gurgled under the walls, and was rising slowly but surely. ‘I shall be drowned!’ he thought.

Then, when Merry was rendered unconscious by the “black breath,” Nob reported that

He seemed to be asleep. “I thought I had fallen into deep water,” he says to me, when I shook him.

Merry seems to be particularly susceptible to dreams, or visions, or possessions; recall that he “channeled” a long-dead warrior on the Barrow-downs, and “sniffed” or “breathed” the “black breath.” And when he returns to the Prancing Pony,

He shut the door hastily, and leaned against it. He was out of breath. They stared at him in alarm for a moment before he gasped: ‘I have seen them, Frodo! I have seen them! Black Riders!’

When the village raises the alarm, the held “breath” is let out to blow the horns, and Tolkien starts to refer to gales and winds:

All about Crickhollow there was the sound of horns blowing, and voices crying and feet running. But the Black Riders rode like a gale to the North-gate. Let the little people blow! Sauron would deal with them later.

Back in Bree,

Frodo soon went to sleep again; but his dreams were again troubled with the noise of wind and of galloping hoofs. The wind seemed to be curling round the house and shaking it; and far off he heard a horn blowing wildly.

There are more references to open windows, flapping curtains, and cold air.

Tolkien’s dated, racist language in referring to Bill Ferny’s companion from the South is unfortunate: he has “a sallow [that is, yellow] face with sly, slanting eyes” and in three places Tolkien calls him “squint-eyed,”, and in one place, “ill-favoured” (ugly), a term used later by Faramir to describe Gollum.

On their journey, as they approach Weathertop, the hobbits and Aragorn see flashes of light in the night. We will later learn, of course, that these flashes were caused by Gandalf’s engagement in a battle. Gandalf will later tell his story, in the chapter “The Council of Elrond.”

’I galloped to Weathertop like a gale, and I reached it before sundown on my second day from Bree—and they were there before me. They drew away from me, for they felt the coming of my anger and they dared not face it while the Sun was in the sky. But they closed round at night, and I was besieged on the hill-top, in the old ring of Amon Sûl. I was hard put to it indeed: such light and flame cannot have been seen on Weathertop since the war-beacons of old.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! If you are following along in the text, keep an eye out for more “breath” imagery, and more ways in which the seemingly minor characters, Merry and Pippin, are connected to events by their dreams and visions.

LabVIEW

At work I’m slowly but surely getting my head back into LabVIEW. One of the things I like about LabVIEW is the explicit typing; it is a more strongly-typed language than C. But… one of the things I don’t like about LabVIEW is the lack of explicit typing; it is a more weakly-typed language than C.

How can both those things be true? Well, “clusters” (the rough equivalent of “structures” in other languages) exist, and typing is enforced, but yet types can be hard to work with. I’m not an expert at it yet, so I’m sure that I’m still missing some tricks, but it is unfortunate that trying to enforce precise types seems to be considered “advanced.” It doesn’t seem to be very easy to apply a specific type to a cluster, and the programming environment will often let you get away with using types that are compatible—that is, clusters that have the same types of elements in the same order. In fact, it seems to be a little unclear how specific types are actually managed. You can’t, as far as I can tell, just pop open a property dialog and tell LabVIEW that a cluster should have an explicit, named type; and I don’t think there is a way to see some kind of list or registry of the type definitions used in a given VI, or across VIs.

In many cases types are just hooked up automatically when you wire things together, and that’s helpful. I like the way you can hook a cluster to an output of a “for” loop, and LabVIEW will automatically build an array of clusters. Arrays are safer than they are in a language like C; the “language” seems to be memory-managed, and tagged, and array objects contain within them their length, and so they can be iterated with complete safety. But it’s confusing when I try to reuse exact types from one VI in another.

Some things that ought to be easy remain pretty hard. For example, there are enumeration types, and they have an underlying representation (a numeric type). Let’s say you want to read an enumeration from a text file. There ought to be a reliable and rigorously error-checked way to turn a string into an enumeration. Enumeration types are precisely specified, so it ought to be easily possible to make the LabVIEW runtime look for exact matches between the string and the enumerations, and generate errors in an ambiguous situation. In the forums, I saw a suggestion to use the “Scan from String” function.

This works, if the strings you are parsing precisely match your enumerations. But they also pass “false positives.” For example, I have an enumeration type that is configured with the enumerations “RX,” “RX-1,” and “RXM.” If I feed the “Scan from String” function the string “RXZ” goes not generate an error, but is instead recognized as the enumeration “RX.”

Using the generic “Scan from String” function this way is confusing; it has many input terminals. We hook an “Enum Constant” object to the “default 1” input terminal, and when we do this, the “output 1” terminal changes its type from the default “double” to the type of the enumeration. The built-in documentation reads:

If you wire an enumerated type to default 1, the function finds substrings matching the string values in the enumerated type and returns the corresponding numeric value of the enumerated type.

This description is not very precise; if the function just attempted to match the first available substring, the string “RX-1” would always match the “RX” enumeration, which doesn’t happen. It seems like perhaps the implementation looks for matches, starting with the longest enumeration of the type.

In general, this function makes the same design mistake as scanf—it tries to be all things to all people.

If I wanted to write my own VI to convert a string precisely to an enumerations and throw out errors when a precise match is not found, I could do so; I’m sure I could search an array of strings for an exact match. If a match was found, I could coerce the index of the match into the enumerated type. But I was not, at least quickly, able to figure out how to turn my “Enum Constant” object into an array of strings to search. And if I created my own array to search, I’d be violating the DRY (“don’t repeat yourself”) principle; my array would have to be manually updated if some future maintenance programmer ever changed the enumeration. That future maintenance programmer might be me.

So, for now, I’m sticking with the imprecise “Scan from String,” but I’m not happy about it; this should be easier, and the built-in functions ought to, by default, help me do precise error-checking, rather than doing what amounts to a “grep,” when parsing my input files. And I hate that whenever I actually try to test my program’s error-handling, I find that it is, by default, much too forgiving precisely where I want it to be demanding. And I hate the way that LabVIEW tends to suck away my limited time when what I am trying to do ought to be straightforward and common.

Like all proprietary languages I’ve worked with, the ecosystem tends to be designed to feed an army of certified consultants and architects, which means that the incentives to simple, “candy-machine” interfaces are missing, and in fact the reverse is true; National Instruments, its training arms, and its armies of consultants all have a vested interest in complexity and hidden features.

DreamHost

DreamHost apologized, but webmail is not accessible today… again. This is the fifth day I’ve been unable to access my e-mail for at least part of the day in the last two weeks. We are trying to close on a home sale and manage some critical repairs. Grace and I are getting important updates from our seller’s agent and insurance company almost daily.

I’m scratching my head wondering if we have to figure out how to abandon DreamHost. I’ve been using their service for our (modest) web hosting and e-mail needs since Grace bought our domain, “thepottshouse.org,” sixteen years ago. As if I didn’t have enough infrastructure things to worry about.

Thursday

I’m working from home today. This morning Grace left for Connecticut with Elanor, to return probably on Monday. We didn’t have a story for the kids last night but I did start reading the first of Paul Auster’s City of Glass, the first novel of the New York Trilogy, out loud to Grace.

I have a feeling Grace isn’t really going to click with this one. I’m wondering if I will. Years ago I used to read a lot of so-called postmodern novels. That’s a contested category, but contains some amazing books like Crash by J. G. Ballard, Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs, and Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Some folks apparently include even novels like Nabokov’s Lolita in this category.

City of Glass does not seem as extreme or scattershot as something like Naked Lunch, but it is quite strange. I haven’t gotten very far yet—just two chapters in. But man, this is a weird book. I did some laughing out loud at the self-referentiality of it all. There’s the author, Paul Auster. There’s the narrative character, Daniel Quinn. The narrative character is a writer. He writes detective novels. Under a pseudonym. His novels’ narrative character is called Max Work. Then a man starts calling Quinn and demanding to speak to Paul Auster… and then things start to get strange.

Webmail is not accessible again. This is the sixth day in two weeks…

Friday

We heard that the house appraised out high enough for the sale to go forward. That’s great news! Something in me unclenched, just a little. It looks like the sale will now very likely go forward. It can’t come soon enough.

After work yesterday I packed the kids into the car and we ran some errands. We have a check from Liberty Mutual to reimburse us for money spent on repairs, as part of the damage claims. I can’t really understand the statement and estimate they sent; it’s very complicated. But I’m glad to get some money back. So we ran out to deposit that, and to get some drain cleaner, and then to get dinner out at Culver’s. I also made a stop at Nicola’s Books, because the copy of Mistaken Identity had come in. I also picked up a copy of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and a copy of The Martian (the novel), because that was the movie I was planning to show the kids when we got home. I couldn’t remember if we had a copy or not.

It turns out we now have three copies. (Oops). Does anyone want a spare copy of The Martian?

We watched the extended edition of The Martian. The older kids really enjoyed it, although I think it was too slow to keep Benjamin all that interested. The extended edition and theatrical edition are on the same disc; you select your choice. There was an edition of the Lord of the Rings movies on DVD that allowed you to select which movie to watch, and just inserted the additional scenes as it played. I assume this Blu-ray works that way, but I’m not sure about that.

The extended edition is only about ten minutes longer than the theatrical release. Some of the scenes are only slightly extended. We see a little more footage showing just how hard a time Watney has, dragging himself into the hab and performing surgery on himself to remove the broken antenna that has impaled him through his suit. There’s also a nice scene that shows Watney completing his co-workers’ science experiments, since their mission together was cut short. That’s a nice scene, but most of the additional minutes aren’t all that important or noticeable.

The Martian is a good movie, and I like it quite a bit, but it’s not quite a great movie. I think it could have reached “great” with a slightly grittier, dirtier, smaller approach to the spacecaft interiors (that is, more realistic all around), and slightly more of a focus on the beautiful and austere Martian scenery. Watney talks about going out daily just to look at Mars; why not structure the passage of time in the film around this idea?

In a couple of places the drama is “punched up” to the point of silliness, such as the crazy final “catch” scene, which piles skin-of-his-teeth rescue on top of more skin-of-his-teeth rescue. It wouldn’t have killed the drama, at this stage in the move, to have the carefully plotted trajectories of Watney’s final rescue actually work without the need for crazy heroics, because we’ve already seen crazy heroics by the engineers, and that, it seems to me, is really what the movie is about.

The movie lacks a strong character arc. Watney’s tenacity and sense of humor is apparent in the opening scenes, and it is unchanged in the last scene. The mission commander Melissa Lewis is a strong and compassionate leader and willing to risk her life for her crew in the opening scene, and also in the climax of the film. None of the crew really seem to have an arc in this regard. It is interesting how the whole crew agrees to make the same kind of personal sacrifice and take on the additional risk of the rescue mission, just as Lewis was in the opening scenes, but it didn’t seem like this was ever truly in doubt.

Some of the best scenes in the whole movie are the moments in which the script uses humor to, paradoxically, make emotionally fraught scenes more convincing. When Watney first communicates with the crew on the Ares IV, Martinez types

Dear Mark, apparently NASA’s letting us talk to you now, and I drew the short straw. Sorry we left you behind on Mars. But we just don’t like you. Also, it’s a lot roomier on the Hermes without you. We have to take turns doing your tasks. But, I mean, it’s only botany. It’s not real science. How’s Mars?

This “ball busting” dialogue seems to me both great and very convincing. In fact I’d like to have had more of this sort of thing: of Watney talking to the crew of the Ares IV, of Watney talking to himself. As far as I’m concerned the humor could have been even darker and that would have been just fine.

There was a real opportunity to show Watney’s convincing mental and emotional slide and whatever extreme measures he had to go to in order to remain sane. We see his physical decline, but the most extreme things we see him do, emotionally, is to throw a bit of a tantrum, or admit he is self-medicating with Vicodin. I’m thinking of one of my favorite films, The Quiet Earth, here. But Watney just seems a little too well-adjusted for his portrayal to achieve true greatness.

This was an adaptation, of course, and the book was good but somewhat tame, so maybe the screenwriters didn’t feel that they could punch up the story, emotionally, and instead punched up the high-risk action instead. Having seen the movie three times now, it feels like they stuck to the safer, less rewarding path.

I had a quick call with Grace before I went to sleep. She was still driving. She was going to push on through to make it to Hartford without stopping overnight. I heard this morning that she made it in about 1:30 a.m. and everyone is there safe.

I read just a bit of Mistaken Identity before bed, and a bit more of City of Glass. Mistaken Identity is dense but seems good. It probably wasn’t the best thing to try to read while sleepy, and I’m not sure I like the writing style yet; initially at least, it seems a bit disorganized. But this may be, or at least I hope it is, because the first chapter introduces the critical ideas in a rush, and then the next chapters unpack them. At least, I hope that’s how it is structured.

Haider touches on many topics, including the Combahee River Collective and the Clinton campaign, and at least initially his assessment of how the Clinton campaign made cynical use of identity politics is something I strongly agree with. But even in the opening chapter he goes beyond this critique, touching on the more radical civil rights figures such as Malcolm X, and brings up the liberal whitewashing of King’s actual agenda. I want to see where he goes with this, but Haider is also making important points about how all the identity-based agendas are not created equal; not every struggle is the moral equivalent of the struggle against racism.

City of Glass continues to be entertainingly weird!

Have I mentioned recently that I really like these editions?

Note to self: I want to get a copy of this edition of The Bloody Chamber.

I’ve also been continuing to read The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin. This is dry by comparison to Mistaken Identity, and I’m not sure it is actually all that good, but I want to give it a fair chance.

I took a mid-day break and went to Costco to get groceries for the next few days, to try to avoid rush-hour traffic. Traffic wasn’t too bad. I got a big cheese pizza for dinner, and tortilla strips and a layered dip to have as a snack with tonight’s movie. I got some pre-made tortas and breakfast burritos, bacon, and pancake mix, and a coffee cake for breakfast tomorrow. We’ve got lots of food. Which is great, because I really don’t feel like cooking all that much when Grace isn’t around to cook with me.

The constant arguing and noise from the kids is kind of beating me up, as is the struggle to get the kids to do some chores, to help keep our house from descending into complete chaos.

There’s been another school shooting.

Saturday

Dinner last night was pizza, chips, dip, and root beer… and leftover salad for those few of us that would eat it.

Last night we watched Thor, the Marvel movie from 2011. There are three Thor movies; the only one I’ve seen before was Thor: Ragnarok, which was mostly a fun, colorful party that didn’t take itself very seriously.

This first film has a few things going for it, and a few things that fall flat. The portrayal of Asgard is quite gorgeous. I thought that the rainbow Bifröst bridge in particular was wonderful. There are some terrific battle sequences. The giant, fire-breathing robot is a marvel to behold. Chris Hemsworth is certainly not bad as Thor; he’s just a little bland. The self-deprecating Thor in Ragnarok is a lot more fun and convicing.

The bad news is that the story really isn’t all that strong. Odin goes into some kind of coma, but it’s not clear why. Of course, he wakes up at the maximally critical moment. Loki’s motivations and character aren’t really well-unpacked. We meet Hemindall, the gatekeeper, played by Idris Elba. He seems like a character we’d like to get to know better, but he spends much of the movie frozen in a giant block of ice. There’s a love interest, Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman, but while Portman does a reasonably good job, it just isn’t all that convincing a romance. Some of the minor characters are more fun to watch: Stellan Skarsgård as Erik Selvig is fun to watch, as is Colm Feore as Laufey (the king of the frost giants). Overall, I think the critical consensus is correct, and this movie has some fun battles and nice details, but it just doesn’t rise to greatness.

I’ll keep an eye out for a discounted copy of Thor: The Dark World. We’ll probably watch it, even though the reviews are even poorer than those for Thor. I hear Natalie Portman gets to go to Asgard, which sounds fun, but it sounds like it wasn’t enough to save the movie.

Breakfast this morning was a coffee cake, coffee, chicken sausage with apple and gouda cheese, and fried eggs. I fried up a dozen sausages but they were not popular, although I thought they were quite good. So we have six in the refrigerator. Pippin was horrified by the cheese oozing out of his sausage, calling it “animal blood,” and then he wouldn’t eat anything at all. So this is unfortunately typical for Pippin; eventually he’ll eat something.

Last night and early this morning, I finished reading City of Glass by Paul Auster. This is a satisfying short novel, but it definitely is a piece of “metafiction,” more about itself and the process of writing and the relationship of writers to their works. The story gets progressively stranger as nothing that hs been set up takes the obvious and expected path. In the end we actually get an authorial intrusion; the author, writing in the first person, tells us about how he heard this strange story and was given Quinn’s notebook by his friend, the character in the book named Paul Auster. But then… who is the author?

Overall it’s an intriguingly weird book, but it’s definitely not for everyone. If you’re expecting an actual straightforward detecting novel, rather than a sort of existential detective novel about the relationship between author, characters, and readers, you will likely be disappointed.

I will probably not read the rest of this one to Grace, because I’m not confident she would really enjoy the self-referentiality; it seems like a story written for writers, or at least English majors. I’m guessing she would probably describe the story as “crawling up it’s own butt.” We had a good time with We Have Always Lived in the Castle, though, so I’m thinking maybe I’ll read her The Haunting of Hill House next. And I will almost certainly read the next two books in Auster’s New York Trilogy; they are also quite short.

It’s rainy and overcast today so the kids are having a Harry Potter movie marathon.

I have one more movie of the four I bought a couple of weeks ago; the kids haven’t seen it yet, and don’t know about it. It’s Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. We’ll see how they do with the Harry Potter marathon, how the weather goes, how our errands go, etc. Maybe we’ll watch Arrival tonight, or maybe not. It’s one of my favorite movies, and I’m sure at least a couple of the older kids will like it, although the younger ones may very well be bored.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (finished)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • City of Glass by Paul Auster (in the trade paperback New York Trilogy Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, with an introduction by Luc Sante and illustrations by Art Spiegelman)
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, with an introduction by Laura Miller and cover art by Aron Weisenfeld)
  • Mistaken Identity by Asad Haider
  • The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump by Corey Robin (second edition; the first edition was subtitled Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin)
  • The Martian (2015 film) (Extended edition on Blu-ray)
  • Thor (2011 film)
  • Arrival (2016 film)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, May 19th, 2018

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, May 12, 2018

Sunday

I wasn’t too perky on Sunday morning. I had one box of dehydrated hash browns from Costco left, so made that, and threw in some corned beef. There wasn’t very much, and one of our kids actually took a bunch and went into another room to eat it, so he wouldn’t have to share. I’ll leave him anonymous, but what an asshole!

Grace and I didn’t get any, but instead ate reheated nachos. I threw a fried egg on mine.

The afternoon was busy: Grace took Joshua to perform at a choir concert, which overlapped with our friends’ May crowning ceremony and potluck. So I took most of the kids out to Grass Lake. It’s always great to get out there, although it is quite a long drive.

Somewhat late on Saturday night Grace managed to get one of her Facebook friends, Angie, to join us for an interview. So we had an interesting conversation which became Conversation 41.

One strange note: I’m seeing myself “unfollowed” from Twitter accounts such as “Our Revolution.” I see someone share a tweet, and realize that I was following an account, but am no longer following the account, even though I didn’t do anything.

Many leftist Twitter accounts are reporting that this seems to be happening to them: their accounts are losing followers, apparently without the followers actually doing the unfollowing.

As of Sunday evening I’m following 293 accounts. I’m making a note of this just so I have some record if that number suddenly drops.

Monday

Unspeakable

Before work today I finished Unspeakable by Chris Hedges with David Talbot. This is a short book, and so it may seem curious that it took me so long to finish it. It consists of a series of short chapters in which Hedges is interviewed by Talbot. My excuse for finishing it slowly is two-fold: first, I wanted to be able to give it my full attention, and not read it while tired or distracted. And second, it is emotionally challenging; I might say also, morally challenging. Hedges is a not a warm bath but an ice-bucket challenge. His writing is a challenge to liberal self-congratulation and any level of comfort with fascism, poverty, militarism, racism, and our other sins. He sets the bar very high and his thinking always challenges me to get to the root of things.

I feel that I have much in common with Hedges, especially when he describes his education. In this article for Truthdig he writes:

Starting at age 10 as a scholarship student at an elite New England boarding school, I was forced to make a study of the pathology of rich white families. It was not an experience I would recommend.

I attended a private grade school for 3 years, the Erie Day School. My brother and I were living in a trailer in North East, raised by my mother, who was a single mother working at Hamot Community Mental Health. She’d take us early in the morning to my grandmother’s house where we would wait for a van to drive us to school. The details are a little hazy, but I recall that the van ride took over an hour, and so my brother and I spent upwards of 3 hours getting to and from school every day, for the sake of a better educational opportunity. At the Erie Day School I was surrounded by the children of the wealthier strata of the Erie area, such as they were: the children of bank presidents and nursing home owners. Compared to the wealthy Hedges was surrounded with, these children’s families’ net worth was probably tiny, but I recognize the pathological entitlement and bullying mindset that he describes in this excerpt from the book:

…I watched how the elites and the children of the elites treated those “beneath” them. I saw my classmates—boys of eleven or twelve—order around adults who were their servants, cooks and chauffeurs. It was appalling. The rich lack empathy for those who are not also rich. Their selfishness makes friendship, even among themselves, almost impossible. Friendship for them is defined as “what’s in it for me.” They are conditioned from a young age to kneel before the cult of the self. I do not trust the rich. To them everyone is part of their elite club or, essentially, the help. It does not matter how liberal or progressive they claim to be. I would go back to Maine and it would break my heart. I knew what my classmates thought of people like my relatives. I also knew where I came from. I knew whose side I was on. And I have never forgotten. My family was a great gift. They kept me grounded.

After 3 years at the Erie Day School, I was pushed back into the public school system for grades 8 through 12. For a few years I felt like my developing mind was being smothered in mediocrity—which it was. Eventually I was able to get some good things out of my high school, when I could take classes in Chemistry, Physics, and some advanced classes in English. But the transition stunted my education, at least to some extent, especially in math.

I didn’t learn to what extent my education was “stunted” until years later, when I started college. I was fortunate to attend the College of Wooster, and to get enough financial support to attend, but my experience there was somewhat as Hedges describes his experience as a “scholarship kid:”

I was given a scholarship to attend a boarding school, or pre-prep school, in Deerfield, Massachusetts, called Eaglebrook when I was 10. I went to Loomis-Chaffee, an exclusive boarding school—the Rockefellers went there—after Eaglebrook. The year I graduated from Loomis-Chaffee, John D. Rockefeller III was our commencement speaker.

Boarding school made me acutely aware of class. There were about 180 boys at Eaglebrook, but only about ten percent were on scholarship. Eaglebrook was a school for the sons of the uber-rich. I was keenly aware of my “lower” status as a scholarship student. I saw how obscene wealth and privilege fostered a repugnant elitism, a lack of empathy for others and a sense of entitlement.

C. Wright Mills understood how elites replicate themselves. The children of the elites are, as Mills pointed out in The Power Elite, shaped not so much by the curriculum of exclusive schools but by intimate relationships with teachers, who often went to the same schools and prep schools, and by each other. This acculturation takes place through sports teams, school songs and rituals, shared experiences, brands and religious observances, usually Episcopalian. These experiences are often the same experiences of the boys’ fathers and grandfathers. It molds the rich into a vast extended fraternity that, because of these unique experiences, are able to communicate to each other in a subtle code. No one outside this caste knows how to speak in this code. This is what Gatsby finds out. He can never belong.

I don’t agree with all of Hedges’ priorities; for example, I’m not a vegan, although I experimented with it, and I don’t expect to become a vegan again. He seems to share the widespread fear of dietary fat. And I find his writing about Antifa to be a challenge to my beliefs about the importance of not tolerating intolerance. I haven’t quite figured out how to reconcile those priorities yet.

In my view, some of the best parts of this book are the parts where Hedges recounts his history as a war correspondent for the New York Times. His righteous anger towards the Times and its institutional support of America’s imperialist wars practically shines off the page. I highly recommend this book as an introduction to Hedges, and I also highly recommend watching a couple of his talks: first, his commencement address, with the full text available here, and second, his speech at Moravian College, with the full text available here.

These talks are both sobering reminders that if no one is trying to shout you down, you’re probably not actually reaching anyone, and probably not saying anything worth saying.

Story Time

I hoped to read the kids another chapter, or at least half a chapter, of The Fellowship of the Ring, but I could not convince the kids to get their after-dinner cleanup chores done and get ready for bed. So instead I read Grace chapter 4 of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.

Tuesday

I slept a little bit better last night, although not well. Our baby girl Elanor has been sleeping unevenly and has developed a habit of becoming very active right about the time Grace and I are finally ready to go to sleep, and throwing a tantrum when we turn out the lights.

This morning I read the first chapter of Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower. This is May’s book selection of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Socialist Reading Group. I probably won’t finish the book in time for the discussion meeting, or even manage to make it to any of the get-togethers, but since this book has been on my “to-read” pile for a long time anyway, it seems like a good month to at least start reading it.

I was able to get a little time last night to try configuring a Chromebook, one of the devices loaned to us by our online charter school. I tried creating a Google account for my daughter Veronica. My reading had suggested that it was possible to create a “custodial” account. But even though I put in her birthdate, the configuration wizard seemed to be creating an ordinary Google account. When I got to the point where I had to agree to their terms of service, I realized that I just couldn’t do it—I couldn’t agree to give Google permission to store and exploit every keystroke and click my children generate while using these Chromebooks.

We’re going to return them with an explanation.

DreamHost webmail is unreliable today, for the third time in a week.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Last night instead of spending 40 minutes trying to push the kids to get ready for bed so I could read them a story, I read Grace chapter 5 of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. She was a much more appreciative audience. We’re now halfway through this short novel and I’m deeply impressed by Jackson’s writing, especially her terrific dialogue. In these chapters, Mary Katherine reveals more of her strange habits of mind: her magical thinking, her sense of unreality and depersonalization. She refers to cousin Charles as a “ghost,” and deliberately smashes a glass:

“Cousin Charles is still asleep,” she said, and the day fell apart around me. I saw Jonas in the doorway and Constance by the stove but they had no color. I could not breathe, I was tied around tight, everything was cold.

“He was a ghost,” I said.

Constance laughed, and it was a sound very far away. “Then a ghost is sleeping in Father’s bed,” she said. “And ate a very hearty dinner last night. While you were gone,” she said.

“I dreamed that he came. I fell asleep on the ground and dreamed that he came, but then I dreamed him away.” I was held tight; when Constance believed me I could breathe again.

“We talked for a long time last night.”

“Go and look,” I said, not breathing, “go and look; he isn’t there.” “Silly Merricat,” she said.

I could not run; I had to help Constance. I took my glass and smashed it on the floor. “Now he’ll go away, I said.

Later in chapter 5, she recalls several times that “today was to be a day of sparkles and light.”

There were sparkles at the sink where a drop of water was swelling to fall. Perhaps if I held my breath until the drop fell Charles would go away, but I knew that was not true; holding my breath was too easy.

And then later:

There were sparkles in the mirrors and inside our mother’s jewel box the diamonds and the pearls were shining in the darkness. Constance made shadows up and down the hall when she went to the window to look down on Uncle Julian and outside the new leaves moved quickly in the sunlight. Charles had only gotten in because the magic was broken; if I could re-seal the protection around Constance and shut Charles out he would have to leave the house. Every touch he made on the house must be erased.

“Charles is a ghost,” I said, and Constance sighed.

Merricat’s sense of depersonalization and disconnection gets stronger, until she seems to be deliberately confusing her sense about up and down:

I polished the doorknob to our father’s room with my dustcloth, and at least one of Charles’ touches was gone. When we had neatened the upstairs rooms we came downstairs together, carrying our dustcloths and the broom and dustpan and mop like a pair of witches walking home. In the drawing room we dusted the golden-legged chairs and the harp, and everything sparkled at us, even the blue dress in the portrait of our mother. I dusted the wedding cake trim with a cloth on the end of a broom, staggering, and looking up and pretending that the ceiling was the floor and I was sweeping, hovering busily in space looking down at my broom, weightless and flying until the room swung dizzily and I was again on the floor looking up.

If she can confuse up and down, it seems like she could easily talk herself into confusing right and wrong. And she makes ominous plans:

I thought of books, which are always strongly protective, but my father’s book had fallen from the tree and let Charles in; books, then, were perhaps powerless against Charles. I lay back against the tree trunk and thought of magic; if Charles had not gone away before three days I would smash the mirror in the hall.

Her small, deadpan lecture about the toxic effects of the amanita phalloides mushroom (aka the “death cap”), is chilling! I really love the way that Jackson gradually raises the stakes here, and allows the characters to reveal themselves through their thoughts and dialogue. We should have no trouble at all staying awake for the second half of this novel.

Tonight

After work I’m running out to Costco with a short list: instant hash browns, chicken legs, a pot pie, and coconut milk. If they still have them, I might pick up a pair of cargo shorts. Yeah, I’m that guy: a middle-aged man who buys his oh-so-fashionable clothing at Costco. How did this happen?

Wednesday

I called Grace from Costco last night to see if she felt that the kids deserved a movie: in other words, had they done their chores, stayed on their task lists, done their schooling, and avoided fighting?

She told me that yes, they had done a good job and yes, they would love a movie. And more, because they had helped with getting loads of dishes run through the dishwasher and kitchen clean-up, dinner was almost done.

So at Costco I bought: one of their giant chicken pot pies; a package of organic boneless chicken thighs; a six-pack of boxes of coconut milk; a six pack of dehydrated shredded potatoes for hash browns; and a package of corned beef. I also bought a couple of bags of popcorn to watch during a movie.

I got the cargo shorts. I haven’t tried them on yet.

Then I went to Best Buy. I kind of despise Best Buy, and avoid it, but they had a few movies I wanted. So I actually bought four movies. The one for last night was Ant-Man. I’ll reveal the others as we watch them. Two of the movies I bought are Blu-Ray discs in Best Buy’s “steelbook” cases. I picked these up not so much because of the cases, but because they were marked down, and so either cheaper, or the same price, as the regular packages. I’m wondering if they will stand up to child abuse better than the standard cases. (In this case of course I don’t mean abuse of children, I mean abuse by children). I suppose I’ll find out!

Dinner was the boneless beef rib meat, roasted broccoli, and potatoes. Grace cooked the ribs in the instant pot and then roasted them in the oven with a homemade barbecue sauce. The result was really good!

Ant-Man

This is one of the better-reviewed of the recent Marvel movies and so I had at least modest hopes for it. I was not disappointed. From reviews and the trailer, I expected this movie to lean more towards comedy, and it did.

Michael Douglas plays Hank Pym, and serves as a sort of back-stop to the film and gives it a little emotional weight when it is in danger of tilting too far towards the romantic comedy side of things. Evangeline Lilly is great in this movie as Pym’s daughter Hope. Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang (Ant-Man). The story line is clearly hooked into the larger Marvel movie world in a number of ways, but fortunately you don’t really have to pick up all the dropped names in order to understand the plot. I was scratching my head a bit when Pym refers to the Avengers, but in the film’s world, the Avengers are real. Which means, I suppose, that these movies don’t exist. (Hmmm…)

The three main characters work well together and the script is quite tight. There are many scenes where you start the scene believing you are watching one particular tired trope play out: for example, a prison fight. But then the perspective changes and the scene takes a left turn and you realize the script is toying with the tired old tropes to make them fresh.

There are a number of supporting characters but I want to mention Michael Peña in particular—he’s very funny in this movie, with the grin that seems to stay on his face no matter what happens.

The movie has a number of really great deadpan sight gags. I won’t give the best ones away, but they are among the funniest sight gags I’ve ever seen in a movie. I especially liked the way a number of them involve the soundtrack, either in the form of the film’s sound effects, or diegetic music (music that actually has an on-screen source). What’s particularly funny about them is the way they make fun of the entire concept of the huge, dramatic fight scene in these superhero films; viewed from a larger perspective, the dizzying action and whirlwind of sounds are revealed to be tempests in teapots (or perhaps lightning storms in “farms” of animation-rendering servers).

The movie script seems to make particular reference to the famous novel by Richard Matheson, The Shrinking Man, published in 1956. I thought that was a nice touch. In that story, at the end, Scott Carey is continuing to shrink, and appears to show no signs of stopping. We are left hopeful that as he continues to shrink, he will continue to exist, in some inconceivably alien world. In Ant-Man, the writers throw in the concept of a terrifying “quantum realm,” indicating that if the Pym Particle technology is pushed too far, the user will shrink into the quantum realm and continue shrinking forever in a world that is inconceivable to our minds, where “all concepts of time and space become irrelevant.” Of course, this is not actually what quantum mechanics tells us about the realm of the very small; in fact, it sort of suggests the opposite, that there is in fact a “minimum size.” And also it suggests that as Ant-Man shrank, the relative velocity and location of the particles that make up his body would become less and less determinable, which has got to play hell with one’s digestion, among other things.

As far as the shrinking technology goes: well, it’s best not to think about it too hard. If you really start to wonder how the suit can shrink Ant-Man down to the size of an ant, you quickly run into a lot of questions. How does he breathe? Where does his inertia go? (Side note: physicists would like you to think we’ve got the universe pretty well wrapped up, but we really don’t understand inertia all that well). In Ant-Man, Scott’s mass and inertia simply do whatever the screenplay needs them to do, with no real attempts made to keep these things consistent between scenes.

In general, I find that my mind wanders to this kind of nitpicking when the movie isn’t that engaging and my mind is wandering. Ant-Man does a pretty good job of keeping my attention on the screen, so I didn’t find myself with enough processing time leftover to write a snarky blog post in my head. I was generally able to maintain my suspension of disbelief. I remind myself that this movie is not, and not supposed to be, hard science fiction. Despite this, a couple of things did jump out at me: for one, the way that full-sized actions still seem to happen fast from Ant-Man’s perspective. That didn’t make a lot of sense. And also, the way that his voice could still be heard and understood by people existing at a normal scale, and the way that, similarly, he could hear sounds from the full-scale world around him. The speed at which ants could get across a city also seems ridiculously inflated—again, the ants do what the script requires of them. If you’d like to enjoy some nitpicking about the physics of Ant-Man, you can find a fun interview with physicist James Kakalios here.

There are a few minor downsides to the movie. It feels just a touch too long, even though it comes in just shy of the two-hour mark. And there are a few plot elements that just feel a bit too much like the screenwriters are ticking off boxes: now let’s explain this character’s back-story, and now let’s explain that other character’s back story. This feels a little awkward. The romantic element, likewise; it feels inevitable. But this attention to detail in the screenplay pays off, because everything that happens later in the movie seems to have a setup, even if it is a subtle one. And so it definitely feels like the screenplay received a lot of attention and careful revision.

I wondered, buying the movie, if it really would be suitable for the kids. Ant-Man is rated PG-13, like most of these Marvel films. But PG-13 covers a lot of ground; I had to censor some opening scenes in Doctor Strange because of a graphic beheading, and there was some shocking violence in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Anyway, I can recommend Ant-Man as a really fun superhero movie. I regret that I didn’t get to see it in the theater, because I think the sight gags would have been even more effective on a big screen. But it was still fun on a small screen. There’s a sequel coming out, Ant-Man and the Wasp. This movie has set up plenty of hints about what we might see in the sequel. The trailer for the new movie, in which (surprise) people and things get big as well as small, suggests that it is going to stretch both physics and my credulity well past their breaking points. So I’m already scaling down my expectations.

Thursday

Last night was a little difficult. The kids were not very cooperative when it came time to do some basic chores, such as setting the table for dinner. So we ate dried-out chicken, late. They did finally get their poop together in time for a bedtime story, though. So I read them part of The Fellowship of the Ring: the rest of chapter 7, “In the House of Tom Bombadil,” and all of chapter 8, “Fog on the Barrow-downs.”

The action is gradually ramping up, although we still have to sit through several more hobbit meals. These are strangely under-described. We just learn that our characters ate yet another meal, but not what they ate. It’s like being invited to dinner and then having to wait while everyone else eats the meal behind a screen, where you can’t see it.

There are a few interesting things in these pages. We learn that Tom Bombadil is not affected by the Ring: he can put it on his finger, and doesn’t vanish. And when Frodo slips on the ring and vanishes, Bombadil can see him. Again, this reinforces the idea that Bombadil does not fit neatly into the framework of what we know about Middle-Earth: its history, and its taxonomy of powers.

Frodo has another dream, or maybe a vision, and this one is quite evocative:

That night they heard no noises. But either in his dreams or out of them, he could not tell which, Frodo heard a sweet singing running in his mind: a song that seemed to come like a pale light behind a grey rain-curtain, and growing stronger to turn the veil all to glass and silver, until at last it was rolled back, and a far green country opened before him under a swift sunrise.

This is a passage that is reiterated at the end of The Lord of the Rings, and quoted almost verbatim in the movie; it represents Frodo’s eventual passage into the blessed realm, the “Straight Way” way that was closed to most when Eru changed the world and drowned Númenor.

The hobbits have a sort of “starter” adventure when they are lost in the fog and captured by a Barrow-wight. As an adventure, it’s not that strong. It’s like the experience with Old Man Willow. The hobbits get into trouble; they yell for help; Bombadil shows up immediately. Either he was following just behind them, or he can fly. It’s a bit silly. These adventures both resolve too quickly with too much of a deus ex machina to be really dramatic, but they do set some things up. To me, the adventure on the Downs are interesting because of the way Tolkien brings the past right into the present, suggesting that the past is never gone, and also that events in Middle-Earth currently—the rise of Sauron—are stirring it up, literally raising the dead. In this case the dead are the ancient victims of the Witch King of Angmar, and it may be because the Nine are back in Sauron’s service that they are restive.

Tom dispels the wight, singing:

Get out, you old Wight! Vanish in the sunlight!
Shrivel like the cold mist, like the winds go wailing,
Out into the barren lands far beyond the mountains!
Come never here again! Leave your barrow empty!
Lost and forgotten be, darker than the darkness,
Where gates stand for ever shut, till the world is mended.

This is evocative of the banishing of Morgoth (Melkor):

Morgoth was utterly defeated and stood at bay, but was yet unvaliant. He fled into the deepest of his mines and sued for peace and pardon, but his feet were hewn from under him, and he was cast upon his face. He was bound with the chain Angainor, his Iron Crown was beaten into a collar for his neck, and he was thrust through the Door of Night into the Timeless Void.

There’s a bit where Merry seems to “channel” one of the early inhabitants of the Downs, reliving his death:

‘What in the name of wonder?’ began Merry, feeling the golden circlet that had slipped over one eye. Then he stopped, and a shadow came over his face, and he closed his eyes. ‘Of course, I remember!’ he said. ‘The men of Carn Dûm came on us at night, and we were worsted. Ah! the spear in my heart!’ He clutched at his breast. ‘No! No!’ he said, opening his eyes. ‘What am I saying? I have been dreaming. Where did you get to, Frodo?’

This is significant because Merry will eventually help Eowyn defeat the Witch King of Angmar, with

There are some more interesting visions out of the past, after their rescue, as Bombadil speaks to them:

‘Old knives are long enough as swords for hobbit-people,’he said. ’Sharp blades are good to have, if Shire-folk go walking, east, south, or far away into dark and danger.’ Then he told them that these blades were forged many long years ago by Men of Westernesse: they were foes of the Dark Lord, but they were overcome by the evil king of Carn Dûm in the Land of Angmar.

‘Few now remember them,’ Tom murmured, ‘yet still some go wandering, sons of forgotten kings walking in loneliness, guarding from evil things folk that are heedless.’

The hobbits did not understand his words, but as he spoke they had a vision as it were of a great expanse of years behind them, like a vast shadowy plain over which there strode shapes of Men, tall and grim with bright swords, and last came one with a star on his brow. Then the vision faded, and they were back in the sunlit world.

The man with the star on his brow might be a vision of Aragorn, later known as King Elessar, who wore the Star of Elendil; it is also suggestive of Isildur and Elendil and Aragorn’s other ancestors who also wore the first or second star. The Barrows were once the home of the Dúnedain. And so the “knife” that Merry takes as a sword is a blade of Westernesse, its blade preserved from the long years by spells. It was enchanted specifically to harm the Witch-king of Angmar, and so this scene sets up Merry’s confrontation with the Witch-king much later in the story.

Tom Bombadil specifically chooses these weapons for the hobbits, suggesting that his role in the books really is that of a deus ex machina. Just as Bilbo was “meant” to find the Ring, and Frodo was “meant” to run into Gildor, Tom was “meant” to help the hobbits in this way. Tom’s been around for a long time; he seems to not only know what happened on the Downs, but to remember the people buried there:

He chose for himself from the pile a brooch set with blue stones, many-shaded like flax-flowers or the wings of blue butterflies. He looked long at it, as if stirred by some memory, shaking his head, and saying at last:

‘Here is a pretty toy for Tom and for his lady! Fair was she who long ago wore this on her shoulder. Goldberry shall wear it now, and we will not forget her!’

And it’s suggested that he can see the eventual outcomes of his actions there, as well. And so one theory, as plausible as any, is that in addition to representing a sort of genius loci, Bombadil here also represents Tolkien himself, clearly meddling in the unfolding of the story. It’s sort of the opposite of Joyce’s approach to authorship, in which

“The artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.”

All this setup is quite clever. But there is silliness in this chapter as well. Why do the hobbits run about naked, like toddlers? Why won’t the hobbits find their clothes again, as Tom tells them? What happened to their clothes? Did the banished wight somehow take a bunch of sweaty hobbit clothes with him?

With the end of chapter 8, we’ve gotten through some of the slower parts of Fellowship. We’ve eaten lots of leisurely meals and taken lots of naps. But things are going to pick up considerably, until they really get moving in the rush to reach Rivendell. Events in the book will also start to match up again pretty closely with events portrayed in the movies, which my kids know well. That should help keep them awake!

Parenting

This morning I dragged myself out of bed at about 8:10 after staying up too late reading to the kids. I got in the tub to soak for a few minutes and wake up. Joshua came in to ask if I wanted coffee or tea. I told him that I didn’t want either yet. Shortly after that, the smoke alarm went off. He was boiling water and also heating up the cast-iron griddle, because he was making hash browns.

He had everything too hot, and didn’t put any oil on the griddle, and it was smoking like crazy. He did get the fan on, but it takes a while to reduce the smokiness enough for the smoke detector to go off. No one asked (or particularly wanted) Joshua to be making breakfast unsupervised in the 8:00 hour, especially our housemates; one of them works second shift, and had only gotten to sleep a few hours earlier.

Nevertheless a number of us came to the table and sat down to try to eat. He had also scrambled some eggs, but they were nearly inedible. And apparently Benjamin made some toast.

I was planning to leave, but Joshua was really hoping I would eat his breakfast. I tried. The hash browns were quite burnt-tasting. And so I ate a little bit of the less-burnt parts, and a little bit of egg, and sipped some tea. I was going to butter a piece of toast and eat it to try to get the taste out of my mouth. But I turned over the toast and it was burnt completely black on the bottom. I put it back down, put my fork down, and said that I had to go to work.

Joshua’s face just crumpled with disappointment and he sat there, sobbing to himself. Instead of feeling like the hero of Thursday morning, he felt like a failure.

(Come to think of it, that’s pretty much how I feel every morning… welcome to adulthood, son?)

Now late for work, I had him come and sit on my knee, rubbed his back, and tried to explain that I really appreciated him taking the initiative to make breakfast, but that we didn’t really want him to do that. I told him he needed more practice cooking, with supervision, to get better at it. And also, that we have a planned menu, to try to make best use of our food budget—and not to waste food. The bread that Benjamin ruined was our housemate’s bread.

I’ll try to follow up with him tonight: to reinforce the parts about this that we love: his initiative, his enthusiasm, but remind him that no one likes surprises like this, especially not surprises where we have to jump in and take over, and find that food has been wasted.

It’s hard sometimes. In the morning, I really, mostly, want nothing more than a few minutes of peace, to read a chapter or two of whatever book I’m reading, bathe, and slip out quietly, in time to get to work on time, without having to engage in a lot of conversation, since I’m really not ready to interact with people when I first wake up, and it tends to go wrong. Little things can send me into an emotional tailspin. I don’t have any emotional resilience, first thing in the morning. And Josh is clearly my son.

I want Joshua to never lose his ambition to punch above his weight, to try things that are above his skill level. But we also don’t want the kids burning down the kitchen before the rest of us are even fully awake. And I personally I really, really don’t want them to waste food.

I’m probably also going to have to spend a chunk of this evening scrubbing the griddle, and scrubbing burnt hash-browns off the stove, and maybe scrubbing out the oven. It’s hard to be enthusiastic about that. I can ask the kids to do it, and they will try, but I will at a minimum have to go back over their work. It’s hard to get that burnt stuff off, but it is the difference between the smoke alarm going off every time we fire up the stove and oven, or not.

It’s hard to convey all that. I really long for more time to spend with my kids. Especially time to do things, not just argue with them about their chores, or about getting ready for bed. But most nights, that’s where we are. It will, mostly, probably continue to be that way, until they can help us get the basic daily routine down.

I wish I had some wisdom to offer, other than “I really want a vacation.” But that’s about it.

House News

We still don’t have an appraisal. Apparently when the plumber left last time, after repairing some leaks, he left the main water valve in the basement shut off. And so the appraiser couldn’t verify that the plumbing worked.

I offered to take half a work day and go up and turn it on, but Grace arranged to get the plumber back out to turn on the water for the appraiser. He didn’t want to leave it on with no one currently living in the house to catch problems. I think that’s probably wise, although it is delaying things.

Grace continues to try to work on the insurance claims and arrange repairs.

Friday

Last night I wound up staying at work quite late, trying to refresh my memories of how to program in LabVIEW. I took LabVIEW training, but it was about three years ago, and I have forgotten some of the details. It’s coming back to me. I’m remembering what I like about LabVIEW and what I don’t like.

Among the things I don’t like: there’s still no easy way to zoom in to a block diagram. Screens have gotten higher-resolution since the early versions of LabVIEW, and my eyes have gotten lower-resolution. So the objects on a LabVIEW block diagram are painfully hard for me to distinguish. But there’s no zoom. The basic mechanics of labeling VIs (“virtual instruments”) still relies on 1980s-era icons and icon editing. It feels kind of like writing your code using Bill Budge’s Pinball Construction Set, combined with doing cross-stitch.

It’s possible to make a mediocre but functional user interface very quickly and easily; in fact, it mostly happens automatically. That’s kind of cool. But when it comes to trying to refine your user interface—to precisely adjust the layout of your text boxes, for example—it’s horrible. So I’ve got a VI with 18 text boxes on it, and I’d like to be able to specify their position in pixels. There’s no way to do that. The GUI looks OK on a Windows 7 PC downstairs, but on my Windows 7 PC upstairs, the text box labels are in a different font and they aren’t the right size. I can’t figure out why there is a difference. When I start tweaking the text boxes, I can’t get them to look consistent, especially their borders, which seem to create random drop shadows. The environment just really fights me. A GUI designer program like Qt Creator gives me much more attractive results with finer-grained control and far less effort.

It just really seems like just about any aesthetic or usability concerns are far down National Instruments’ list of priorities, and have been for a long, long time.

The installers for the device support took hours to run. Literally hours. I’ve never seen an installer take so long, unless it was installing Windows itself from scratch.

On the plus side, it works. And it does provide pretty reliable instrument support. Personally I’d rather be writing this in a scripting-oriented programming language like Python, with some device support libraries (although I am not actually a huge fan of Python). I just haven’t been completely won over to the virtues of a proprietary, graphical, data-flow language. It has a lot of nice features, but also a lot of awkward features. And I generally find it far better and much more “future-proof” to avoid proprietary tools. Having been programming for over 40 years, I have some perspective on how languages come and go and why “niche” and proprietary languages are often, long-term, a bad choice.

But it is still some sort of industry standard, and it works pretty well for this application. So here we are. I have to become an expert in LabVIEW.

When I got home, the kids were watching a movie, and they seemed far more interested in watching a movie they’ve already seen several times than in listening to a story they haven’t heard. That was discouraging, but it meant that I read Grace another chapter of We Have Always Lived in the Castle. In this chapter, Merricat asks cousin Charles to leave, and he says no. She’s getting increasingly disturbed, and saying disturbing things about him. Constance seems to be obedient to Charles. Charles asks to see her father’s papers, shows a suspicious interest in the family’s money and jewelry, and does some of the shopping that Merricat normally does. Merricat is growing increasingly disturbed. Uncle Julian seems to be getting increasingly weak and ill. There’s a neat bit of foreshadowing when Charles’ pipe leaves a small burn on a chair.

This morning, my left rear tire was pretty flat. I drove it (slowly) up to the Discount Tire shop on Carpenter Road and checked in. And then, I waited. They told me it would be about an hour and a half, but in fact it was almost a three-hour wait. So I didn’t get out of there until after noon. Then I had to go to Meijer on Jackson Road and pick up my prescription. I got some lunch and some Mother’s Day cards while I was there. The upshot of the whole morning was that I didn’t get to work until about 1:00 p.m. Fortunately, I stayed late several nights this week so I can still get my full work week in without having to use any of my paid time off.

It’s quite cold today – it was in the low 40s this morning. Naturally I dressed for yesterday’s weather. So I’ve been near to shivering all morning. This evening we will go to a potluck dinner for Joshua’s youth choir, in Dexter. So I’ won’t be going to Costco tonight. We ought to have enough food for the weekend anyway.

Saturday

I’m writing this on Sunday, just after noon. We had a pretty big day yesterday. We were invited to the wedding of a family friend in Davison, Michigan, a suburb of Flint. The wedding was held at a golf course and it was a beautiful occasion. The family is of the Bahá‘í faith. I’ve never been to a Bahá’í wedding before. The Flint area must have absorbed a lot of rain over the last two days, so at one point water started rising up through the building drains and flooding the floor of the building. But fortunately it stopped before the flood spread too far.

After the wedding, on the way home we stopped at the Barnes and Noble store in the Brighton area. I let the kids each pick out a book. Five of them did, but Benjamin was fixated on getting a Lego kit, and so brought home nothing.

Grace and I are nearly finished reading We Have Always Lived in the Catle, and I wanted to find a copy of The Haunting of Hill House to add to our library. But the only work by Shirley Jackson on hand at the Barnes and Noble was one copy of the same edition of We Have Always Lived in the Castle that we are already reading.

This Barnes and Noble, the one in Green Oak township, seems to have a huge fiction and literature section, and a generous science fiction and fantasy section, and even a large current affairs section. But yet I could find nothing at all to interest me, because the selection is a mile wide and an inch deep. In the science fiction and fantasy section, which is quite large, George R. R. Martin takes up an obscene amount of shelf space, but there was not a single book by Gene Wolfe. The current affairs section has lots of books by Fox News pundits, but there was not a single book by Chris Hedges. The fiction and literature section was bloated with romance and contemporary historical romance, but contained next to nothing of the classics. It’s ironic that this Barnes and Noble features a big mural over the cafe area, a fantasy cafe showing Woolf, Joyce, Hemmingway, and other famous authors, but the store holds almost no works by these authors. So I left the story empty-handed.

It’s not surprising that I find little value in browsing at chain bookstores. I still come across interesting surprises at Nicola’s in Ann Arbor, but mostly I browse online now. I order some books from Nicola’s, and some from Alibris. I should try browsing at some of the bookstores that still do business in downtown Ann Arbor—there are a few. But since I no longer live near downtown, I always find it an unpleasant challenge to try to get downtown during business hours.

I did consider bringing home a copy of Open Veins of Latin America, but I’m actually backed up with unread non-fiction at the moment, and I have a copy of Mistaken Identity on order.

We didn’t manage to schedule an interview for the podcast this week. About all I’ve got to talk about is my notes on recent reading and viewing. So maybe we’ll talk about Ant-Man.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Unspeakable by Chris Hedges with David Talbot (finished)
  • The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (just started)
  • Ant-Man (2015 film)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, May 12th, 2018

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, May 5th, 2018

Sunday

I’ve no got reading or video entertainment to report on. I slept pretty well, although Grace and I got to bed very late. Last night we went out for a few groceries and I bought a bunch of Siggi’s yogurt. It’s very good and I like the fact that it is low sugar, and that they have 2%, 4%, and 9% milkfat versions. It seemed to settle my stomach. I’ve also been taking ranitidine 150 mg. tablets from Costco.

This morning we made biscuits and gravy for breakfast, because that was on our pre-written menu. I made the biscuits. It’s been quite some time since I made biscuits. Despite thinking I might, I did not make some kind of rookie mistake like substituting baking soda for baking powder or measuring the salt in tablespoons instead of teaspoons, and I didn’t over-mix the dough. They came out fine, and all got eaten.

Today is my son Daniel Peregrine’s seventh birthday. Grace is making a special cake and dinner of his choice. Pippin requested lemon pound cake with lemon curd filling and strawberry icing (he’s calling it a “strawberry lemonade cake.”) For his dinner, he requested burritos with ground turkey and a side of steamed broccoli. We don’t really get gifts for the kids on their birthdays, but they get a dinner and cake of their choosing.

Grace and I are trying to come up with a topic for a podcast today, and struggling a bit. I think I’m going to wind up talking about Doctor Who but I’m not really sure what else we might cover.

Sunday Night

Grace and I got the podcast finished and we had a small birthday celebration for Pippin.

I also uploaded a YouTube video containing my reading of Moby-Dick chapters 28 through 31. But it was then removed from YouTube and I was given a “community guidelines” strike.

I have no idea why. I have appealed, requesting an explanation. I hope it wasn’t just because some script flagged the word “dick” in the title.

Monday

Tom Bombadil

Last night, I finished reading chapter 6 of The Fellowship of the Ring to the kids. This part introduces Tom Bombadil and sees the hobbits rescued from Old Man Willow. I was hoping for more reaction, but to be fair it was very late and everyone was tired. We’ll see how chapter 7 is received.

In the past when I’ve read Tom Bombadil’s songs I’ve made them deliberately silly. As an experiment, I tried to imagine what it would be like to try to do Bombadil straight up, as written, in a movie or television adaptation, without over-playing or under-playing him. What I came away with was the realization that like a lot of the other verses dropped in to the text, a lot of Bombadil’s rhymes don’t scan very well.

Let’s say we hired a well-known actor—oh, I don’t know, say Sir Anthony Hopkins—to play Bombadil. He’s described as follows:

There was another burst of song, and then suddenly, hopping and dancing along the path, there appeared above the reeds an old battered hat with a tall crown and a long blue feather stuck in the band. With another hop and a bound there came into view a man, or so it seemed. At any rate he was too large and heavy for a hobbit, if not quite tall enough for one of the Big People, though he made noise enough for one, stumping along with great yellow boots on his thick legs, and charging through grass and rushes like a cow going down to drink. He had a blue coat and a long brown beard; his eyes were blue and bright, and his face was red as a ripe apple, but creased into a hundred wrinkles of laughter. In his hands he carried on a large leaf as on a tray a small pile of white water-lilies.

Right off the bat you’ve got a problem with his costume. In Peter Jackson’s trilogy the designers made a serious effort to take Tolkien’s descriptions of character clothing seriously. They used materials that were appropriate to the time and technology. They made them look lived-in. In particular, I think Aragorn’s costume is just amazing.

Bombadil’s look pre-dated the detailed construction of Middle_earth and in his rhymes, he describes his clothing: “bright blue his jacket is, and his boots are yellow.”

Bright blue. So—in a pre-industrial society, is a “bright blue” dye even available? Would yellow leather even have been available? We’re talking Northern Europe about the year 1,000, and not the Renaissance. Some notes I’ve found about leather in the Medieval period says:

“Leather. Extremely common and used for over tunics. The tanning process meant that dying leather was rolled in with curing the leather and brightly dyed leather was definitely more expensive and very, very rare. Colors were limited to green, red, blue, black and brown. With stiffer leather but it was often painted, or”washed over" with a color, sometimes to represent a shield of a house. White leather and bright yellow leather were uncommon in the early period."

You could get fairly bright yellow fabric, but yellow boots would have been uncommon or nonexistent. Blue dye was widely available and so you might see a blue jacket (and in fact in the films, blue fabric shows up now and then). But I’m not sure you’d call it “bright.” To a modern eye it would probably look like it came from a palette of “earth tones.” Brighter blue colors would mostly have been developed later. So right off the bat, you’ve got a little problem: if you keep those lines intact, Bombadil seems like he’s not accurately describing what he’s actually wearing. If you make his costume match what he’s saying, his clothing will be anachronistic. So the production team has to start making hard choices.

And then you have to consider what kind of line reading you would actually choose, when your lines are:

Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!  
Ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow!  
Tom Bom, jolly Tom, Tom Bombadillo!

There are moments in the films where Jackson’s team, in my view, got it just right—showing how the culture of the hobbits was filled with music: instrumental music, like the Plan 9 piece called “Flaming Red Hair,” the hobbits singing in a pub, and especially Bilbo singing softly to himself as he walks away from Bag End, never to return. But if you look carefully you see that Jackson’s team adjusted and tweaked and re-contextualized bits of Tolkien’s verse, to make it scan, and to put it into scenes where it would fit.

With Bombadil’s singing, even if a production team did some very clever and respectful editing and eliding of verses, I still have a hard time believing that the result would be convincing; we want the movie-going audience laughing, or at least smiling, with the character, and not smirking at the character. And I’m just not sure that’s possible.

To put it another way—I’m pretty sure it is possible: in an animated version of Fellowship that was tweaked and crafted specifically for a younger audience—a show that would look more like the Rankin-Bass version of The Hobbit (a show which, by the way, I consider a nearly perfect adaptation). But in a live action show? Let’s just say I’d have to be convinced.

Tuesday

It’s May Day.

Yesterday afternoon and evening my stomach was just roiling with acid. I’m not sure what’s going on. I think somehow my general stress level has become so high that my belly is just very touchy. Is this still partly because of the fallout from the norovirus infection the weekend before last? I don’t really know. I haven’t vomited or had diarrhea since then, but everything’s just burning constantly, and I’m belching constantly. I was taking one ranitidine tablet a day but I stopped because it seemed like it was making things worse. And it seems to leave a terrible metallic taste in my mouth all the time. That happened the last time I tried to take it a few years ago, but I had forgotten.

I went to Costco after work and picked up a few things for the week including some bags of kale salad and a tub of sauerkraut. Grace roasted some chicken, but all I wanted to eat for dinner was a big plate of salad with a couple of cups of sauerkraut on top. That actually made my belly feel considerably better.

But then after dinner we got into the struggle to get the kids doing their after-dinner chores. The younger kids were, it seemed, all melting down at once.

I got out my laptop and Grace and I tried to plan out our budget for the next few weeks. We’ve had to pay for a number of repairs on the old house in Saginaw. We have two separate claims in to our insurance company for damage. But for each claim we have a thousand-dollar deductible. So we’ll spend $2,000 out of pocket on the damages, and may need to spend more for some of the repairs (and hope that we will eventually get reimbursed).

And we have some medical bills we were hoping insurance would cover, but they won’t, so we’re writing checks for those. The provider agreed to let us wait while we tried to get it covered. But it sounds like the verdict is no, we have to pay it. So I can’t wait any longer on that bill.

I’m trying to plot out the trajectory of our bank account for May, June, and July. If I miscalculate and spend too much now, then we could be in deep trouble in, say, ten weeks.

The truck needs work on the transfer case and I was hoping to get that done. It’s got some kind of an oil leak as well. I was hoping to get it looked at this week but the money that might have gone into the truck has gone into the old house.

On top of that, we’re trying to figure out how we might possibly travel for a family member’s funeral. There’s no money for such a trip. We’d basically have to put the whole trip on a second credit card. That’s sort of what I have that card for—emergencies and contingencies such as this.

But I’m already planning to borrow $25,000 in a few days, assuming the appraisal goes through, in order to settle up at closing. Because we’re about to borrow such a large sum, I really don’t want to do anything that might affect my credit situation, like increasing my debt.

There are a number of other issues we’re dealing with, some of which I don’t feel I can share.

Basically, everything is happening at once. We feel like we might be only a few weeks away from selling the old house, and if we can do that, and have no other emergencies or big changes, then we might be only a few months away from getting ourselves into a more secure financial situation. It’s possible that by the end of 2018 we could have a decent emergency fund built up. Probably not three months of expenses, but maybe half that. But if anything goes wrong just now, it could go really wrong.

“Escaping Poverty Requires Almost 20 Years With Nearly Nothing Going Wrong.”

With all this churning in my head, perhaps it’s no wonder that my belly started burning again.

So: no story last night. And not much restful sleep either. It seems like I need to go off coffee entirely. Even the cold brew seems to rile up my stomach. But to be honest, I’m not sure I can do my job, or be a decent husband and parent, without the juice of the blessed bean.

Wednesday

I don’t have a lot to report today. Last night was a little better. My heartburn seems like it is easing up a little bit. Last night I had a salad and chocolate pudding for dinner and slept without much heartburn. For breakfast I had more pudding and some granola. For lunch, yogurt and a slice of bread.

At work today I found and fixed a couple of significant bugs. It’s a quarter to eight and I’m still at work. I’ll leave in a few minutes. The number of code changes I’m trying to manage is, well, becoming a little unmanageable. I’m planning a major build in June and that build will get as much regression testing and inspection as I can give it.

Thursday

No story last night. I was at work quite late, and got home late, and basically didn’t do anything useful until it was bedtime.

My stomach is gradually feeling better. I think it is a couple of factors. I’ve been eating sauerkraut and yogurt every day, and also trying to eat only a very small dinner.

Besides the ongoing stress, which has eased up a little in the last couple of days, I think our habit of eating dinner very late is not doing my belly any favors. If I could set everything up the way I want it, I’d get up at 7, eat a large breakast about 8:30. I’d have a moderate lunch about 2 p.m. Then I’d have a small dinner about 7. Dinner would be a salad of some kind, or a smoothie, and a small serving of a protein. I think that would be a big improvement. But we often are eating dinner around 9:30 p.m. and then trying to go to bed an hour later, after 30 minutes spent fighting with the kids over cleanup and chores and bedtime preparation. That doesn’t do my digestion any favors.

Yesterday and today our Webmail interface (via DreamHost) was down most of the day. Grace couldn’t get into her e-mail at all for most of the day. I got into a support chat with DreamHost. Later in the afternoon it was mostly accessible again. But today it’s down again.

I’ve been using DreamHost for our family’s e-mail (and web hosting) since 2002. Grace bought me the domain “thepotthouse.org” back then and I’ve maintained it.

I use IMAP from my Mac Pro at home, and my iPad, to access my e-mail. But from my work computer I use the Webmail interface. And Grace has gone through a series of computers as the kids damage and break them, so it’s been just about all I can do, by way of technical support, to keep her set up with a working system at all and a working web browser. Although when I can get a little more cash together, I’ll try getting her a better new-old stock ThinkPad.

I tried setting up her current (very beat-up) ThinkPad with Linux, but I haven’t been able to get the WiFi to work on that model. (And again, the time I can put into technical support is limited, and I want it to remain limited; I work on computers all work day, every day, and I write and record and produce podcast episodes on computers in the spare time I have; I don’t actually want to spend even more time trying to repair them).

So for the immediate future her mail client is a web browser. And therefore it’s very frustrating when she can’t get into her e-mail. She’s trying to manage all the business of our insurance claims and repairs on the old house. It’s all in her e-mail.

I’m not sure exactly what is going wrong, but the symptoms are that we can’t sign in; the webmail interface tries for a few minutes, and then tells me my username or password is invalid. (It isn’t; it’s a spurious error; in fact, I think the webmail server has timed out trying to communicate with some back-end mail server). Or, sometimes I’ll get an error message with a long hexadecimal error code.

The problem seems to have something to do with traffic to DreamHost. Possibly due in part to a denial-of-service attack? I really don’t know.

There are some solutions… I might buy a wireless keyboard and mouse set and configure an account for her on the Linux box in our bedroom, which I’m using as a Squid proxy server. I could set up a mail client like Thunderbird for her. But I don’t seem to have the Squid proxy server configured the way I want it on that box, because it seems to filter connections I’m trying to make from the box.

In other words, I have clients that communicate with the Squid server using a specified port, to get access to the filtered web. But a browser running on the box itself using the normal ports for HTTP and HTTPS should not be filtered. For some reason, it is.

More tech support.

And I still have four ChromeBooks to deal with; I think we may just return them.

Last night and this morning I read more of Unspeakable by Chris Hedges and again, it’s energizing, insipring, and grim as hell. I’ll finally finish this short book soon.

Friday

My stomach continues to improve, slowly, although it still seems far too prone to leaking acid into my esophagus. Again last night I was quite tired, and again didn’t do all that much after I got home. Lunch was sausage and sauerkraut. Dinner was sausage and sauerkraut and salad.

Is The Ill-Made Knight Missing Illustrations?

Last night I was reading a bit of T. H. White’s The Ill-Made Knight, one of the books that makes up the larger omnibus volume The Once and Future King. I noticed something odd (well, more odd than usual; there are already plenty of strange references to nudity, sadistic violence, and men’s buttocks). In the scene where Lancelot meets Arthur (in chapter 4), there is something missing in the text:

The black knight, however, did not do the usual thing. He was evidently a more cheerful kind of person than the colour of his armour would suggest, for he sat up and blew through the split of his helm, making a note of surprise and admiration. Then he took off the helm and mopped his brow. The shield, whose cover the horse’s hoof had torn, bore, or, a dragon rampant gules.

I wondered if there were some words missing in my edition, so I got out my old brittle paperback, which I probably bought around 1979, and noticed that the text in that edition is exactly the same.

I think White must have had a drawing in the text at this point, which showed the “blazon,” the heraldric image on Arthur’s shield. There are some small drawings elsewhere in the books. For example, when Merlyn magically summons a series of hats, in the text White included a series of small drawings of hats. I’m guessing there must have been a smilar “inline” drawing, showing a “dragon rampant gules,” right after the word bore.

I think this is what a “dragon rampant gules” looks like, more or less.

There’s another spot:

The big knight lifted the prisoner’s shield, which was hanging behind him, and showed or, a chevron gules, between three thistles vert.

I suspect there was another “inline” drawing right after the word showed.

I wasn’t able to find an image of “chevron gules between three thistles vert” but I think this coat of arms may show the chevron and thistles. Imagine the lions missing and the thistles where the lions are. (Or something like that; I know nothing at all about heraldry).

For what it’s worth, if you look up “Potts coat of arms” you can find a variety of images, and I honestly have no idea whether or not they might represent anything accurate about my family’s history.

First editions of the book go for a lot of money, so I don’t think I’ll be able to confirm whether drawings exist in these spots in the original first edition anytime soon. Are there modern editions that are facsimiles? I don’t know. But maybe I can confirm this some day. I wonder if the manuscript survives in a library collection?

It really seems like the editors of one of these contemporary re-set editions might have corrected this, or at least indicated in a footnote that the original drawings have been lost.

Tonight I’ll head to Costco and pick up our usual Friday salmon, and a few other things.

Costco Run

For posterity, I got: salmon (packaged up in a aluminum pan in a ready-to bake “salmon milano,” with scoops of pesto butter and sprigs of dill on top—this is our usual Friday fish), a large cheese pizza (we often get two packages of salmon but we had to buy a big box of diapers this week so I am trying to save a little money). Some fruit: two packages of blackberries, two packages of blueberries, two packages of strawberries. We don’t usually get bananas, but Grace requested bananas, so twelve pounds of bananas. A two-loaf package of “Dave’s Killer Bread.” Three packages of Kerrygold butter. A package of boneless beef ribs. Two bags of kale salad mix with topping. A double loaf of Costco’s multi-grain bread. Three boxes of granola. A package of frosted shortbread cookies from the Costco bakery, for desert. A giant box of size 3 diapers. A bottle of allergy pills (365 tablets of store brand loratadine 10mg) for $10.99. Grace is going to try to buy local eggs and maybe a few more items. I will probably go back to Costco for a few more things on Monday. This run cost about $250.00.

Earlier in the afternoon I went out to Meijer on Jackson Road, close to my office, and got a refill of my albuterol inhaler prescription. My co-pay was $20.00. Last time I went, I got two, but had to pay for one of them out of pocket, which I think was about $60.00 more. This time they didn’t fill the prescription for two even though I was willing to pay out of pocket for the other one. They were willing to fill it but I didn’t want to wait another half-hour in line. I’ll have to go pick it up next Friday. The idea behind getting two is that I can go to the pharmacy less often. But I guess I’ll have to go back.

While waiting for the first inhaler I bought some more Siggi yogurt to keep in the refrigerator at work, and some pop-tarts to keep in the cabinet, and a brown rice susi roll for my lunch. I got some candy as well. So I was not hungry when I showed up at Costco. I always try not to go to Costco hungry, but sometimes I miscalculate, and then I’m prone to buying too much. Today I had a list from Grace but actually didn’t even finish the list.

Our grocery expenses are creeping up and it kind of makes sense when I consider that we’re feeding 3 adults and 9 children now, plus supplying some groceries for our friend. But the extra expenses, while we’re still in the middle of the house sale process and repairs, are adding to my stress level. I really, really hope this sale goes through, and we suddenly have more disposable income, so I can get our emergency fund balances up. But that’s not going to be quick even if everything goes as smoothly as possible. Which it won’t. I think the entire trip to Connecticut will have to go on a credit card. And maybe some car repairs to get ready for the trip.

On the way to Costco I tried recording a monologue, but as often happens when I do that, I missed my exit and had to loop around and go back, which was not quick during rush hour traffic. Still, traffic could have been worse, and I’m glad to be out and around on a spring day. Even if it’s just at Costco. I have felt the need to do even more writing and recording. The monologues are sometimes a sort of self-care for me.

I really need a vacation!

Saturday

We had a great bedtime story session last night. I read a section of Fellowship, roughly the first half of chapter 7, “In the House of Tom Bombadil.” We talked a bit about the history of the character, how he doesn’t really fit into Middle-Earth, and what it would be like to try to adapt him into film or television.

Dinner last night was salmon and cheese pizza. Dinner tonight was nachos: Grace made two big pans of nachos. It turned out to be too much. The leftovers are in a big zip-lock bag in the refrigerator. I have this idea that I want to try to reheat them for breakfast and add a fried egg. I also had some blueberry smoothie Grace made, with coconut milk yogurt.

I’ve been tired today and the fighting kids are wearing me down. My heartburn situation seems to be gradually improving. The nachos weren’t great for my digestion, but the smoothie seemed to help a bit. It’s 9 p.m. and I just took a couple of chewable Tums and we’ll see how it goes.

We are trying to schedule podcast guests. We’ve heard from a number of interested people, but weren’t able to schedule anyone tonight. I was hoping we could record tonight, so I’ve got to look at my notes and consider whether we want to try to do a show without a guest tonight. Or maybe I’ll just do what I feel like doing instead, which is to go to bed early. If we don’t record tonight though, I think tomorrow we may be too busy.

Kano

I heard back from the Kano folks about their software and the proxy server setting that I couldn’t get working correctly. They don’t have a patch for me yet, but they did confirm the problem. They suggested that I might try installing Firefox or another browser which might allow me to set the proxy server address without using the system configuration.

I haven’t tried that, mostly because it seems like the setting could be easily bypassed. But then again given the default Kano security settings, it seems like the system proxy server setting could be easily bypassed as well. May have to accept that it is always going to have to be at least partially on the honor system.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Unspeakable by Chris Hedges with David Talbot
  • The Ill-Made Knight by T. H. White

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, May 5th, 2018