Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019

This post was originally dated March 5th. I’ve gotten sidetracked several times! I’ve got to update everything, and I’ve got to get this done. I get a sort of mental “itch” when I haven’t written anything in a long time. It feels like I’m carrying too many incompletely-formed thoughts around, and need to get them into written form, and then they’ll be “formed.” Maybe I also fear that I’ll forget things if I don’t write them down.

A lot has been going on. We still have only one working car. A few weeks ago Grace noticed that at the end of a drive home, it smelled a little bit like burning oil. So I opened up the hood, and saw what I thought were some small oil drips. I got it to the dealer, and they replaced some leaking seals. I also had them replace some sway bar links. The car has taken a real beating on Michigan potholes. Living on a dirt road doesn’t help matters. It still needs more work, but I had to make the call as to which thing seemed critical to keeping it running, and what I could afford.

Our housemate had her dental surgery. She never could get an appointment with the clinic that would accept Medicaid. That’s a long and frustrating story, but at least she’s now free of those teeth and the painful and dangerous infections that came along with them.

Elanor climbed up onto our kitchen counter, lay flat on her chest to extend her reach, and pulled over a press pot which was sitting at the back of the counter. Grace had just filled it with boiling water and was still nearby. She managed to get Elanor into the sink immediately and run cool water over her body, but Elanor still had burns all over her chest and forearms. Her diaper caught some of the hot water and probably resulted in a worse burn on her lower abdomen, but served to keep her from getting burns on her genitals (I shudder at the thought).

Grace wound up with some nasty burns on her knee, too, where the near-boiling water ran over the edge of the counter. After cooling her down in the sink, Grace then brought her to me in the bathtub and we got her diaper off and into the tub with me to cool her down some more. We judged that she needed to go the St. Joe’s emergency room, but not in an ambulance. So we wrapped her in a loose t-shirt and drove her ourselves. She was definitely not a happy baby, and was screaming the whole way, but we did not have any pain medication on hand that was suitable for a two-year-old.

That led to a whole day spent in two ERs. Because the burned area was large, St. Joe’s gave her some pain medication, wrapped her loosely in gauze, and had us take her to the University of Michigan, which has a specialty burn clinic. We had to wait a number of hours there before they actually treated her and sent us home. I took this as a good sign, actually, because it meant that while her injuries were painful, but not really that severe.

Her burns looked pretty horrible, and covered about thirteen percent of her body. There were some patches that were superficial (previously called “first degree,”) and patches that were partial-thickness (damaging the dermis to different degrees of severity). None of the burned patches were full-thickness (previously called “third degree”). Over the course of the afternoon, the burns “developed” like instant camera film. Some reddened areas faded after just a short while. Large blistered areas started to form and patches started oozing. The treatment of her burns, when they treated them, was (according to my later reading) well in keeping with modern recommendations for conservative burn treatment. They did not do a lot of scrubbing or debridement. They washed everything very gently with an antibacterial soap, applied a layer of antimicrobial ointment, and wrapped her up with patches of silver-bearing foam, gauze, and gauze mesh. They sent us home with a big bag containing more of all the supplies, and I picked up ibuprofen and acetaminophen so we could alternate them. She slept in our bed with us. She got extra fluids and extra protein shakes and extra cuddles, and a couple of follow-up appointments.

She healed remarkably fast. I may be mis-remembering the dates, but I think at about the two-week mark, she was cleared to have all the dressings taken off. We were told we could bathe her, and they suggested we rub her down three or four times a day with an appropriate lotion (we used shea butter scented). This helped keep everything moist and control the itching. She gradually stopped needing her pain medication. The jar of shea butter is just about empty. You can still see slight discoloration of the skin in some areas on her chest, and her forearm where the burns were deepest is still a bit rough and red, but the improvement is amazing. The doctor told us there was a good chance that there wouldn’t even be any visible scarring at all, long-term, and it seems like he is right, although we were also told it might take as long as a year for the skin to look completely normal again.

The burns on Grace’s knee will probably leave permanent scarring.

Of course Grace has beat herself up over this. We habitually take the precautions that parents are supposed to take, to prevent burns: we keep pots on the back burner, with the handles out of reach. Grace put the press pot on the back of the counter. I remind her that this actually made the burns less severe: most of the hot coffee flowed across the granite counter, which sucked away some of its heat before it reached Elanor’s body. And Grace was able to immediately get her under cool water, which certainly helped. But one can’t help feeling guilty.

I’m grateful for Elanor’s extraordinary healing ability, and I’m grateful for good health insurance. But I still have a bunch of medical bill co-pays that add up to several hundred dollars. They sometimes show up months after the actual services they are for. Tracking the individual bills can be extremely complicated. Some are probably “balance billing,” and then I have to decide if I am just going to pay them, write letters disputing them, or ignore them. And I hope that none go into collection.

We got our 2018 tax refund. It was quite generous. But, unfortunately, most of it went immediately to pay off some of the aforementioned car repairs, medical bills, and our DTE Energy budget plan annual “settle-up” statement.

We had another strange situation unfold with the old house in Saginaw. We were contacted by a family who was interested in renting the house. They had experienced a house fire, and their insurance company was willing to pay for them to live in a rental house for six months or so, while repairs on their house were completed. They are a large family, and there aren’t a lot of larger homes for rent in the area — hence, they got our name by word-of-mouth.

We were making arrangements for this to happen. Grace and I had a couple of trips up to Saginaw. We did some cleanup, and took inventory of some minor problems, and had some remaining plumbing issues fixed. We thought it was going to happen. But then we abruptly heard that it wasn’t going to happen.

That money would have been a big help.

We still have a guy expressing interest in buying the house, but it isn’t clear if he’s going to get his financing together anytime soon. So we might try again with another realtor. Maybe the third realtor’s the charm. (I think three is my limit; if we can’t sell it with a third realtor, somehow, I think we have to consider more drastic options).

I forgot to mention that we had a viral illness run through our household. It was quite nasty. I wound up missing three days of work. And there’s been more chaos, some of which isn’t mine to write about. But I’m grateful to be healthy again.

Nerd Stuff

I was looking into what it would take to use GNU make to help automate my blogging using pandoc. I want to have one directory tree for source, and put build products in a a parallel directory. I’m reminded of how much I dislike make. It’s surprisingly hard to figure out how to get make to track dependencies across directories like this. The standard use case for C programming is to provide a separate Makefile in each directory in a source tree and let make handle these subdirectories itself. But that seems like a severe over-complication for this use case. I just want my Makefile to apply pandoc to all the Markdown files in the source tree, and create a build tree with a parallel structure.

Ideally this would be portable, so that I could build it on MacOS X, Windows, or GNU Linux. I’ve been trying to make it work with PowerShell. There are some portability problems. The mkdir command doesn’t support the -p switch on Windows, for example. There are workarounds. But this is just one example of the problems. I know this kind of thing can be done, because a lot of open-source projects build into a separate build directory. But their Makefiles tend to be monstrously complicated, and generated by autoconf. That seems like an enormous amount of overkill. I may wind up writing Makefiles that just specify each source and destination file. This will result in a long Makefile that has to be hand-edited each time I add a file, and that seems stupid, but I keep reminding myself that the purpose of this automation is to save time, not go down endless rabbit holes. Again, I find it so frustrating to realize that the industry-standard tools are so inflexible and user-hostile. This is one of the reasons I started using BBEdit workbooks for everything to do with the podcast: they create a “semi-automated” system, where you can watch each command as it is processed, and see right away what has gone wrong.

We have four Chromebooks that we borrowed from an online charter school that four of the kids were attending. It went out of business over a year ago and we still have them. I decided to try to do something useful with them, so I followed some online tutorials which described how to wipe them of the Chrome operating system and install Linux. This is not for the faint of heart and not without a fair number of problems and bugs. To completely erase the internal memory, you have to open up the laptop and get access to the backside of the motherboard to remove a screw that acts as a jumper. This is not for the faint of heart. I have opened up quite a few laptops over the years so I was comfortable with it, although parts get smaller and smaller and devices are made less and less “repairable.” After removing a lot of screws, you have to use a “spudger” to pry the case open, and it is hard to do this without marring it a bit, and feeling like you are going to crack it. There are a lot of internal ribbon cables and screws to remove as well. It isn’t always obvious how to remove them. Some of the connectors aren’t really made to plug and unplug and plug repeatedly. Tiny plastic tabs can be brittle. Tiny brass threaded inserts set in plastic can strip out if you apply a little bit too much force. I managed to get all four Chromebooks apart and back together with only one minor crack in a case, and one stripped insert, one stripped plastic screw hole, and one broken tab on a battery connector. Not too bad, given that I mistakenly took out the wrong screws on two of them and had to open them up a second time. The whole process was very time-consuming, though: including research and trial and error, I think it took me twelve hours of work to get all four of them completely wiped and booting up the Gallium Linux distribution, with the software all up-to-date and user accounts configured the way I wanted them to be.

There are still lots of gotchas. On one of them, the mouse pointer keeps freezing up. This is apparently a known bug. The initial version of Gallium had a problem where on two of them, the keyboard wouldn’t work. This led me to realize I needed to install the full firmware replacement, which required removing the write protect screws. I had planned to use Firefox, because there is a nice plug-in for Firefox called FoxFilter, which I planned to use for setting them up with unprivileged accounts for the kids, and a password-protected whitelist for accessing web sites. I set up the unprivileged accounts. But Firefox crashes constantly on these boxes, so I had to switch to Chromium. Chromium doesn’t support Fox Filter, and in fact has no plug-in support at all. So I’m still scratching my head wondering just how I’m going to do web filtering. I was experimenting with a separate box configured as a proxy server. That was working, but it seems like overkill, and then I have to change the guest network password and try to keep the password away from the kids as well. This is such a pain.

But, for the moment, the kids have 4 more-or-less working laptops they can use to access Khan Academy, and I’ve been able to assign them lessons and follow their progress with my parent account. Chromium still crashes with annoying frequency. I can’t disable tapping on the trackpads (this worked on two of the four Chromebooks using an older version of Gallium, but that version had the keyboard problem). They keep coming up with Bluetooth turned on. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The hardware was free, and that’s really nice, but it’s 2019 and Linux is still only free as in beer if you are fortunate enough to have a really well-supported hardware configuration. And configuring everything is still a maze of twisty little passages, although I’m impressed that people have gotten these locked-down machines liberated as well as they have.


I picked up Steven Brust’s The Book of Teckla again, having previously read the first two novels in the volume. Teckla, the third, is a more engaging novel than I initially thought. It starts with a literal laundry list — a list of stains to remove and cuts to mend in Vlad’s laundry. The laundry list is actually a sort of summary of the events of the novel. Each chapter features a phrase from the laundry list, and the events that cause the stain or cut happens in that chapter. But that’s just a minor amusement. The real meat of this novel is the way it digs into the character of Vlad and his relationship with his wife, Cawti. Cawti has joined a group of revolutionaries and before the end of the novel they will be setting up barricades in the streets. Vlad starts out by looking upon their idealism and willing to die for their beliefs with a very jaundiced eye. But gradually, as the plot unfolds and the couple’s fight drags on, Vlad seems to do some self-examination, and consider the moral dimension of his career as an assassin and crime boss.

I didn’t really like the previous book, Yendi, all that much. It had its clever moments but I didn’t feel that I could really connect with the elaborate plot involving rival bosses and the complicated back-story. But this story pulled me in, because I can identify with a fight between a couple, and I can identify with the schism that can open up when the members of a couple pursue divergent paths. This novel also gets extra credit for introducing a little more of Vlad’s family’s back-story, as well as some of the religious beliefs of Dragaera.

I might even go so far as to suggest that if you’re reading the Vlad Taltos novels for the first time, you might want to read the first one (Jhereg), then skip the second one (Yendi), then read Teckla. It’s also worth noting that the novels don’t follow events in in-universe chronological order. I really can’t say if it is better to try to read the series in publication order or chronological order. For now I’ll stick with publication order. I’ll probably order a copy of the second omnibus volume, The Book of Taltos, which contains the novels Taltos and Phoenix, and see how I do with those.

A Borrowed Man

While I was rummaging through books in the basement, I realized that I never actually read Gene Wolfe’s novel A Borrowed Man, published in 2015. There are rumors of a sequel, but Wolfe is 87 years old, and I suspect that this will be his last published novel.

When reading Wolfe, I always expect to find something off the beaten path, something that is more than it seems at first, even something deceptive and disturbing. This novel is no exception. On the surface, it presents itself as a relatively short and straightforward dystopian science-fiction novel, in which humans can be brought back to life as “reclones” and become library resources; they literally live on giant library shelves in small apartments and can be interviewed or checked out by patrons. They don’t have rights. If no one borrows them, they’ll eventually be burned. The narrator is such a reclone: he has the memories of a deceased mystery writer. And so of course he becomes embroiled in a detective story featuring a beautiful young lady.

There’s a MacGuffin: a single copy of the mystery writer’s novel Murder on Mars. Our narrator was apparently cloned from the writer after he wrote this novel, and has no memory of it. In fact, it seems like no one knows anything about this novel. And so the conversation turns to how secrets can be hidden in books.

As I was reading this book, I came across some typographical errors that seemed significant (misused homonyms). The recloned writer, who is the in-universe author of this book, it seemed to me, would hardly make such silly mistakes. And so by the middle of the novel I had developed a theory: that our borrowed man himself, playing detective, is a “defective” copy, and the secret he is trying to discover in Murder on Mars really lies in his own altered memories.

It turns out that Wolfe doesn’t actually take that direction with the novel. Sometimes typos are just typos. In many ways, this novel really does follow the detective novel template, despite incorporating some pretty wild science-fictional elements. This novel is not as much of a puzzle box or kaleidoscope as Wolfe’s more complex work; this one is more about mood and tone and dialogue and the unfolding of clues. But that makes it easier to read, and I think it definitely deserves a re-read in the future, too. And it’s a good reminder that there are some more Wolfe books I own but haven’t read yet, including The Sorceror’s House and The Land Across.

More Books in Progress

I’m reading several other books now. Too many, in fact. Things have been chaotic and I keep picking up books when I have a little bit of quiet time. I started reading the stories from Haruki Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. I dove into Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, translated by Michael Hofmann. I’ve been reading that on the treadmill. It’s slow going, but pretty fascinating.

I also started reading a non-fiction book called The Science of Interstellar by the physicist Kip Thorne. I got this for the kids, because we watched Interstellar and they were fascinated with the physics, as was I. But of course I’m reading it in more detail than they are. Interstellar is a pretty fascinating movie. One could quibble about the degree to which the plot hangs on things that go well past extrapolations from our current understanding of physics, but I think that these are forgivable, for the sake of storytelling. And after all, it’s about the boundaries of our understanding. I think it’s a reasonable artistic choice to moderate the degree to which the universe beyond our own planet is inhospitable to humans (see Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora for a work that touches heavily on similar themes). Interstellar also contains many homages to 2001: A Space Odyssey. But how could the director of such a science fiction film not acknowledge his debt to Kubrick?

I’ve been fascinated by astrophysics and particle physics for as long as I can remember; I read about them as a child. Reading Kip Thorne’s book has taught me that apparently there have been a lot of developments in the theory of black holes since then. Apparently there are now known to be several kinds of singularity; in the book, Thorne refers to “infalling” and “outflying” singularities, as well as the more well-established “BKL” singularity. I was aware of time dilation in gravity wells, but this fictional black hole known as “Gargantua” has particularly interesting properties. This led me down a rabbit hole, reading about “ergospheres,” caused by frame dragging, and other amazing ideas. And it seems that some black holes in our own galaxy, such as GRS 1915+105, may be rotating near the theoretical upper limit — that is, the speed of light, which is pretty mind-boggling.

I think it’s premature to claim that the movie, or Thorne’s book, can convincingly describe the conditions inside an event horizon. What goes on inside them may always remain closed to us, even if we go there in fiction. But the relativistic physics are very well-validated, and really fascinating. So I get to talk with the kids about all kinds of neat things like gravitational lensing and the Einstein Crosses — another one was just discovered recently!

After hearing part of an interview with Iain McGilchrist on an NPR Show called The Hidden Brain, I ordered a copy of McGilchrist’s book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. I’m still in chapter two, but it appears so far that it may become one of my favorite books, winding up on a list that includes Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, and The Society of Mind. McGilchrist’s book is a pretty massive tome, though, and slow-going, and I’m only in chapter two. I’ve been reading bits of this book to Grace in bed, late, after the kids finally quiet down. It usually puts her to sleep, but that’s because reading her just about anything puts her to sleep. But that said, I do think the book is considerably wordier than it needs to be to get its intriguing points across. I suspect that I will not be able to fully agree with the author’s broader conclusions about how the divided architecture of the human mind has shaped our art, politics, philosophy, and science — initially, this seems like overreach — but I guess I’ll find out if and when I get there.

I’ve started reading at one more book, the short story collection The Wall by Jean-Paul Sartre. I’ve got no real comments about it yet, although the first story is pretty vivid and fascinating.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Shows Mentioned

  • Teckla by Stephen Brust (in the paperback omnibus edition The Book of Teckla) (completed)
  • A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe (completed)
  • Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (short story collection) by Haruki Murakami (in progress)
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Alfred Döblin, translated by Michael Hofmann (New York Review Books Classics edition)
  • The Science of Interstellar by Kip Thorne
  • The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist
  • The Wall by Jean-Paul Sartre (translated by Lloyd Alexander) (New Directions paperback 3rd edition)
  • Interstellar (2014 film)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
Monday, March 4th, 2019

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

The scheduled installation date kept changing, due to dangerous weather, but we did in fact have our treadmill delivered and assembled. I’m pretty happy with. So far I’m glad that I bit the bullet and bought a higher-end model, rather than a much cheaper model from Costco. This one seems to be able to handle my running gait without feeling like it is going to come apart. It shakes a bit, but it seems like the shock-absorbing system is doing its job, and it feels pretty solid. Perhaps not quite as solid as the models I used to use at Liberty Athletic Club, back in the nineties, but those probably cost ten grand.

I’ve only got a couple of gripes about the treadmill. The first is that the heart rate sensor function doesn’t work very well. When it locks on and actually calculates a heart rate, it seems to be pretty accurate. But it sometimes takes thirty seconds or more, showing very inaccurate low rates, before it jumps up and shows some accurate numbers. Sometimes it takes much longer and I have to give up and try again in a minute or two. What’s strange about this is that there’s a little heart icon that flashes to indicate the heartbeats it is detecting, and that little icon will be flashing at about 120 (house house speed) or 130 (trance music speed) or 140 (dubstep music speed). Having been a DJ and spent time practicing beat-mixing these kinds of music, I have a feel for counting these beats per minute. But the calculated heart rate will spend tens of seconds showing numbers in the eighties or nineties (chill-out or old-school hip-hop speed). That ain’t right! And having written code that samples data, such as GPS position data and optical brightness data, to present a smooth running average, I know that it really ought to work better than this.

My other gripe is that it wants to be on the WiFi, and I don’t want it on the WiFi. It constantly flashes a little WiFi icon. Apparently the WiFi is configured using an application, or web site, which must mean that out of the box the treadmill’s WiFi is on and listening. I’m not happy about that. I’d like to find a way to disable it, but I’m not sure there is one, at least not a way that doesn’t involve a soldering iron.

It also seems like there may not be a way to update the firmware without setting up an account on the manufacturer’s web site, or via an app, and I’m not happy about that either. I really don’t trust Internet of Things devices, and I don’t want to deliver my personal data to some untrusted company’s servers (and recent events should teach us that they all ought to be considered untrustworthy).

Kafka on the Shore

I finished Kafka on the Shore. The ending is largely a good ending, tying up pretty much every plot line, but also melancholy, and leaves me feeling a bit unsatisfied. This remains one of Murkami’s stranger books. I enjoyed it more the second time. Murakami himself said that the key to understanding the novel was to read it multiple times. The second time, I feel like I have a better sense for the structure, and all the things Murakami set up, and how they interlocked with each other. Would a third reading make it suddenly seem much better? I don’t know, and I’m not sure I feel up to the experiment.

The Black Corridor

This is an odd novel by Moorcock. It partakes of some of the psychedelic nonsense that was commonplace in New Wave science fiction of the era, such as repeating phrases that permute as they go down the page, and typographical layout where words intersect as in crossword puzzles. I find most of this unimpressive and masturbatory in 2019, but the story itself is pretty fascinating, a psychological novel that develops an increasing sense of xenophobia and dread, as the narrator reveals more and more about his history and the failings and crimes he is not yet fully willing to acknowledge.

It’s about, in part, the collapse of civilization, and about people who wind up increasingly isolated and afraid of others. It seems especially relevant given the political realities today, as Trump demands that we build a wall to keep out immigrants. A wealthy businessman takes a small group of friends and family off the Earth to colonize a distant planet, as Earth is falling into barbarism and nuclear war, just in time. He stays awake to manage the ship on the five-year journey down the “black corridor” — that five years alone in interstellar space. We see him write in the official log, and also write in his personal journal. And we see him fall into madness and hallucinations and reveal just what he had to do in order to make the journey happen.

It’s a short novel but it has quite a build-up to its conclusion. The conclusion, though, left me a bit puzzled as to what happened — what was real, and what wasn’t, and whether the protagonist might still be hiding a yet more awful truth from himself. Moorcock has said that the ending was “deliberately ambiguous.” That was kind of par for the course in some of the more “experimental” science fiction of the New Wave, but in this case I thought it worked pretty well. I might have to read this one again. But not immediately.

Interestingly, Moorcock’s wife at the time, Hilary Bailey, contributed scenes from a work in progress. Her work in progress was a dystopian novel set on Earth, and Moorcock adapted scenes from it to intercut with scenes set in the “the black corridor.” Either story might have been grim and interesting, but the intercutting, and juxtapositions that the intercutting produces, is what makes The Black Corridor stick in my mind. Bailey is not credited as a co-author. Moorcock, in the Multiverse web site, says that she didn’t want the book to be presented as a collaboration, but that he “worked in acknowledgements in the dedication.” I didn’t find any mention of Bailey in the edition that I read. However her name happened to vanish, she should be remembered — erasure of women’s contributions to science fiction and fantasy of that era was unfortunately common.

Last night I rearranged some books on my bedroom shelves, carrying an armload of books downstairs to file away in boxes, and moving a bunch of science fiction story collections to a separate shelf for Sam to read. He’s been raiding my shelves a lot recently. I love to see him choosing new things to read, and I don’t have any books on my shelf he’s not allowed to read. But we still have some issues, because he doesn’t always take care of them well, and he sometimes leaves books where his younger siblings can find them and damage them. So I am trying to get serious about some rules, like “you can take any book from this shelf, but at the end of the day, it has to go back on the shelf,” and “leaving these books, some of which are old and fragile and were expensive or hard to find, sprawled on the floor in random parts of the house is not OK with me.”

I’m not quite sure what I’m going to read next. I need to spend some time organizing books downstairs, and looking through the catalog of books in boxes, and maybe the next thing that wants to be read will jump out at me.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Shows Mentioned

  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (finished in late January)
  • The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock (finished yesterday) (in the 2014 Gollancz omnibus paperback Traveling to Utopia)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
Thursday, January 17th and Sunday, January 20th, 2019

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

It’s been strange, not writing about each day for a while. I sort of miss it, although towards the end of the year I was feeling less inspired and more burdened.

Since the end of 2018, there have been only a few developments.

Grace has been taking her heavy-duty blood pressure medication. This leaves her very tired and not able to safely drive, at least not until later in the day when some of the sedating effect has worn off. Fortunately our friend Joy has been able to come and stay with us a number of days recently. She’s been driving Grace and our housemate to appointments, and helping a lot with meals.

We really need Grace to be mobile and active again, alongside Joy, but that isn’t happening yet.

Our housemate will be having another baby by C-section shortly, in just under a week. We just heard that her boyfriend’s car was repossessed. So — I’m really not sure what is going to happen on those days. Who will transport her, who will be her support person or support people in the hospital, who will get her home, and meet her immediate needs after surgery? We’ll just have to do our best.

Our housemate has been much more engaged recently in putting meals together, and eating with us. So it’s been good to have her helping as well, and it’s been more pleasant in the evenings. Although it is also very chaotic, with up to ten kids and up to four adults at meals. It’s perhaps no wonder that I need to be on some medications.

Work is starting to pick up again, with some more opportunities to interact with co-workers, and even start the development cycle for a new product that will involve software development, so that seems encouraging. I was somewhat surprised to find myself actually in a good mood one afternoon at work, actually feeling happy. Buried under stressors and worries, I haven’t felt that way in some time.

I went ahead and ordered a treadmill. The installers are supposed to come and install it our basement next Wednesday. I need to check out the wiring — it should be alone or nearly alone on a 15-amp breaker, ideally on a 20-amp breaker. So I have to investigate the wiring and try to figure out what goes where. If it looks like that outlet is wired to a breaker with too many other things on it, I’ll ask my co-worker Patrick if he can come out and help rewire it.

The government shutdown has been going on now for almost 27 days. Commentators in the media are starting to say, truthfully, that the effects of this kind of shutdown don’t grow linearly over time, but exponentially. I don’t think that’s perfectly accurate, but it is definitely true that people who aren’t getting paid face some hard deadlines, and the consequences of not getting paid increase dramatically as those deadlines blow past. I keep asking myself “is this when the wheels really come off?” Not because of the Mueller investigation, not because of impeachment, not because of indictment due to Emoluments violations, or 25th Amendment concerns, but because of a partisan impasse over funding? Maybe, although the idea that exhausted, sick, broke Americans will take to the streets, and engage in a general strike or Gilets Jaunes-style protests on a wide scale, seems hard to believe.

I had a follow-up appointment with my doctor. The news was mostly good. My weight was actually down a couple of pounds, which surprised me. He is very happy with my cholesterol numbers. My blood pressure on the single 25mg daily dose of clorthalidone seems very well-controlled. I’m also happy with the effects of tamsulosin. He had me do some quick screenings for anxiety and depression. My anxiety score has gone down noticeably, on Celexa. My depression score was a bit higher. That wasn’t really a surprise to me given the time of year. He noted that I’ve had a couple of blood sugar readings that are higher than they should be, and wanted to put me on a medication for that. I asked him to let me try using the treadmill regularly for a few months and see if that improves it. He agreed to that. I also want to get back to the bulletproof coffee and, if possible, a weekly 24-hour fast. So we’ll follow up at my next appointment.

I also got a shingles vaccine. They warned me that this one might give me a few days of muscle aches and flu-like symptoms, and it did. I think it peaked yesterday. I had a mild fever and felt nauseated and exhausted, with aches and pains all over. I didn’t feel like eating dinner and went to bed when I got home, although given the number of kids in the house it was quite a while before I could actually get to sleep, and of course I was woken up a few times during the night by baby Chi.

Speaking of baby Chi, he’s doing very well — plumping up, drinking all the breast milk he can possibly slurp down, and impressing everyone with his extremely loud baby farts and belches. (Grace is going to lay off the brassicas for a while and see if that makes him a little less gassy.)

Today, I’m feeling a little better. I took an Aleve to bring down my fever, but I’m still not at 100%. I can feel myself becoming a bit feverish again as the day goes on.

Pippin, age eight, has started reading my copy of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which is an interesting development, and he’s been asking me to read it as a bedtime story. His developing brain seems to have hit some kind of milestone. We haven’t gotten a lot of quiet time for bedtime story reading recently, but I read the kids part of one of the dialoges, called “Little Harmonic Labyrinth.”

There’s a lot going on but I don’t want to start going down rabbit holes, so I’ll just mention what I’ve been reading and viewing.

“The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos”

The last regular episode in series 11, this was one of the better of the series 11 Doctor Who episodes. Finally, we get to see a villain again, even if it is only “Tim Shaw” from the beginning of the series. There are a lot of nice moments. Graham has to wrestle with the morality of killing, in a way that feels pretty convincing. The telekinetic aliens seem interesting. But this episode also seems to borrow a lot from “The Stolen Earth,” and not in a good way, and also from the Tom Baker serial “The Pirate Planet.” And it doesn’t really wrap up the season arc — for example, what became of the reference to The Doctor as the “timeless child,” when The Remnants spoke to her in “The Ghost Monument?” That seemed like a bit of setup that would be developed over the arc of this season — but nothing came of that setup.


In the New Year’s Special, we finally got an episode that lives up to some of the best episodes of the rebooted series. “Resolution” is a real banger. In fact, I’ve really got no criticisms of this episode at all. It does go go emotionally over the top quite a few times and require some pretty hard suspension of disbelief, but the rebooted Doctor Who has very often leaned towards the sentimental and fantastic. This episode features a classic enemy, several great scenes, some real watch-it-from-behind-the-couch moments, and some arty cinematography that fits the scenes perfectly.

In fact, the quality of this special makes me mad — if Chibnall’s team could do this, why couldn’t they have done better jobs on more of the Series 11 episodes? It makes me feel cheated out of better episodes that could have been.

Now we just have to wait until Series 12 to see if it lives up to “Resolution.” Series 12 is supposed to start… checks notes… in 2020. Sigh.

Maybe copies of some of the 97 missing “classic” episodes will be uncovered in 2019. That would be good news! But I’m not holding my breath.

Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I took the three older kids — Veronica, Sam, and Joshua — to see this movie in the theater and they enjoyed it a lot. We all enjoyed it. I think it moved a little too quickly for Joshua, who is ten years old, to unpack all the plot elements that are hinted at or suggested in flashback scenes, so he was left unclear on a few plot points. But everyone else figured it out. The animation in this movie is absolutely amazing, and I expect it to sweep all the awards that it is eligible for. Really, I was quite impressed.

Kafka on the Shore

Going through my books, for some reason I felt that I wanted to re-read some Murakami, and in particular his novel Kafka on the Shore. I read this years ago, and I enjoyed it, although it always seemed to me like a lesser work than The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I think is Murakami’s masterpiece. So I wanted to give it another chance. So I’m back in Murakami’s spooky parallel words. I think I’m enjoying this one a little more than I did the first time.

The Labyrinth Index

A few days ago I stopped into Nicola’s Books for the first time this year, and happened to come across the newest Laundry Files novel. I had not even been aware that it was out. So of course I had to take it home, and I couldn’t do much else in my spare time until I had finished it. I have enjoyed all of the books in this series quite a bit, some a little more than others, and I have eagerly looked forward to each new volume.

This one is told from the perspective of Mhari, a PHANG — a human infected with V-parasites. The mechanism of this vampirism is a little bit complicated, but it means that a person whose blood is drunk by a PHANG inevitably dies. And as Mhari works for a government agency, the agency has to supply the victims, which means that the United Kingdom hs brought back the death penalty. So Mhari and the other PHANGs face a constant moral dilemma — others must die so that they can simply continue to live.

We met Mhari a few books ago, and she’s changed. She’s still full of self-doubt, “impostor syndrome” to go along with her moral doubts, but it’s clear that she’s now actually a supremely competent administrator as well as a terrifyingly dangerous field operative, capable of making optimal and brilliant decisions under extreme stress. There’s an especially grueling moment when one of the Auditors invokes “supervisor mode” to discover what drives Mhari, and learns that she actually gave up all hope some time ago. This is troubling but also feels very convincing in these dark times.

There is a lot going on in this book. The climactic scenes are complex, with many pieces on the chessboard. And so there’s a lot of setup required, and a lot to keep track of. To make this work, Mhari’s chronicle of events jumps around in time an awful lot, jumping between multiple teams and locations. This sounds complex, and it is, but Stross manages to make it work, and I never found myself confused, lost, or disengaged. Stross makes the story so engaging that watching him put all the pieces in place and teach the audience about each one never feels like a chore. Stross really has developed considerable expertise in telling complex stories and writing convincing, morally conflicted characters.

I’m not going to discuss the main driver of the plot of this book, except to say that it’s both superficially funny and also darkly satirical and timely. Stross is really good at these jokes that make you laugh, and then make you think, and then, hours or days later, think a lot more.

We see Mhari’s organization pull out all the stops, and pull off an incredibly daring rescue using a secretly maintained and operated Concorde aircraft. Stross clearly did a lot of research to write these scenes, and I found myself digging into Wikipedia articles to learn more about this incredible plane. From the very first Laundry Files novel, The Atrocity Archive, I’ve always loved the way Stross blends the cosmic horror elements along with extremely realistic portrayal of the experience of working within a bureaucracy, and he makes the impersonal horrors personal; it’s one kind of dread to feel the cold indifference of the Elder Gods scheming to consume our souls from the realms beyond all light, and another to face a zombie actually chewing on your jugular. Stross gives us both!

If there’s one element in these stories that is a little bit too fantastic to find convincing, it’s the way that, to Mhari’s surprise, the people above her in the organization actually pulled off their plan, and the things she thought of as her failures turned out to be pretty much the best possible choices under the circumstances. She’s given reason to hope again. It’s a nice fantasy — that competence might be rewarded, and adults might be in charge, and have a workable plan to get us out of the mess we’re in. Isn’t it pretty to think so?

I highly recommend this whole series and I’m eagerly looking forward to reading Stross’s next installment.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Shows Mentioned

  • “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” (Doctor Who Series 11)
  • “Resolution” (Doctor Who 2019 New Year’s Day Special)
  • Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (in progress)
  • The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross (A Laundry Files novel) (finished)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
Thursday, January 17th and Sunday, January 20th, 2019

Monday, February 4, 2019

2018: The Annual Summary

I finished reading (or re-reading) the following books in 2018:

  1. I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
  2. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  3. Existence by David Brin
  4. The Compleat Enchanter: The Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea by L. Sprague deCamp and Fletcher Pratt
  5. The Queen of Air and Darkness (the second book of The Once and Future King) by T. H. White
  6. The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President by Bandy X. Lee et al.
  7. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (read out loud to Grace)
  8. Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin
  9. The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher
  10. The Wonderful O by James Thurber
  11. The 13 Clocks by James Thurber
  12. City of Glass by Paul Auster
  13. Unspeakable by Chris Hedges with David Talbot
  14. Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds
  15. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  16. Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson
  17. Daughter of Dreams by Michael Moorcock
  18. Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock
  19. Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock
  20. Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress by Michael Moorcock
  21. Elric: The Revenge of the Rose by Michael Moorcock
  22. Elric: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock
  23. Elric: Stormbringer!
  24. Jhereg by Stephen Brust
  25. Yendi by Stephen Brust
  26. Butcher Bird by Richard Kadrey
  27. Moderan by David R. Bunch (New York Review Books Classics 2018 edition)
  28. The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts
  29. Daughter of Dreams by Michael Moorcock (the first of three novels in the 2014 Gollancz omnibus edition Elric: The Moonbeam Roads)
  30. The Wrecks of Time by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014)
  31. The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014)
  32. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  33. George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl (Joshua read it to us as a bedtime story)
  34. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

That’s 34 books. I actually did a little better, in terms of the number of books completed, than I did in 2017. In 2017 I only finished 26 books, although I also read a whole year of New Yorker magazines.

A few of the books in the list above jump out at me for being particularly memorable. These are:

  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (read out loud to Grace)
  • Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin
  • The Wonderful O by James Thurber
  • Unspeakable by Chris Hedges with David Talbot
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Moderan by David R. Bunch (New York Review Books Classics 2018 edition)
  • The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
  • The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock

I’m not going to re-hash my detailed criticism of Moorcock’s Elric stories here, except to say that I wouldn’t recommend reading all those Elric volumes; see my numerous long comments on the Elric stories in blog posts from 2018.

Another thing that jumps out is that I didn’t finish a whole lot of non-fiction books this year, although I started reading many more, or dipped into certain chapters, often to discuss them on the podcast. That’s some information for me, although I’m honestly not sure if it tells me more about myself, or about the books I chose to read.

The best movie I saw in 2018 were:

  • Sylvio (2017 film)
  • Paddington 2 (2017 film)
  • Iron Man (2008 film)

And… that’s about it, unfortunately. I didn’t see a lot of movies in 2018, so there wasn’t a large field to choose from. Of these, I have to give the nod to Sylvio, for its wonderful surreal silliness presented on a shoestring budget.

As for television shows, well — I’m not going to try to rate a big pile of both old and new Doctor Who shows, especially when I have a number of fan edits mixed in there. I’ll just mention my frustrating with Doctor Who Series 11, and point out that the best episode of Series 11 was actually the not broadcast in 2018, and strictly speaking wasn’t part of the regular series. It was the New Year’s Day special, “Resolution.”

Speaking of resolutions, I have a few. I want to get into an exercise regimen on the treadmill. I want to finish more non-fiction. I want to get engaged in a new writing project, and get the podcast rebooted, at least in some form, for a new season.

Ypsilanti, Michigan
January 20th, 2019

2018: The Third Quarter Summary

It wasn’t too bad a quarter, at least not as measured by the number of books completed. I was helped along by the fact that many of them contained Elric stories, and I developed a certain momentum to finish them.

Books Completed

  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Daughter of Dreams by Michael Moorcock
  • Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock
  • Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock
  • Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress by Michael Moorcock
  • Elric: The Revenge of the Rose by Michael Moorcock
  • Elric: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock
  • Elric: Stormbringer!
  • Jhereg by Stephen Brust
  • Yendi by Stephen Brust
  • Butcher Bird by Richard Kadrey

I’ve written extensively about the Elric books in the blog. Several of these really did not seem to be worth my time, especially Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl and Elric: The Revenge of the Rose. Also, as I have discussed, it did not seem to improve the Elric stories to read them in their in-universe chronological order, the way the Gollancz Michael Moorcock Collections volumes present them.

Butcher Bird was unimpressive and is on the giveaway pile. The Stephen Brust novels were not bad, but not really great, either. These are the first two books in a series. Maybe I should jump ahead and try one of the much later books in the series, in the hopes that his chops have improved.

Icehenge was a surprise standout — a better book than I expected, and I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson’s work. And Down and Out in Paris and London is a fascinating classic; it troubles a contemporary reader with some racial and ethnic and misogynist bits and pieces, but it remains an interesting study of the subculture of the underclass, and the author’s insights into poverty and its effects are still very much worth reading.

Books Started or Continued

  • The Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction: Arthur Machen by Arthur Machen
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (bedtime reading; re-reading for me)
  • Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump by Asad Haider
  • The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
  • Tekla by Steven Brust
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (bedtime reading; re-reading for me)
  • Dragons at Crumbling Castle and Other Tales by Terry Pratchett
  • The Chapo Guide to Revolution: A Manifesto Against Logic, Facts, and Reason by Chapo Trap House
  • Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook by Mark Bray
  • The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin
  • The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Ypsilanti, Michigan
January 2nd, 2019 (yes, very late — I started this summary months ago, but completely forgot to finish it.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018: The Fourth Quarter Summary

Well, as I expected, my showing in the fourth quarter was pretty weak. And apparently I never got around to finishing a quarter 3 summary. So I’ll write this one, and go back and fill in quarter 3.

I did manage to complete eight books, although some of them were quite short and one was actually a children’s book that my son Joshua read to me.

Books Completed

  • Moderan by David R. Bunch (New York Review Books Classics 2018 edition)
  • The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts
  • Daughter of Dreams by Michael Moorcock (the first of three novels in the 2014 Gollancz omnibus edition Elric: The Moonbeam Roads)
  • The Wrecks of Time by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014) (finished)
  • The Ice Schooner by Michael Moorcock (in the omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia, Gollancz 2014) (in progress)
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl (Joshua read it to us as a bedtime story)
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Of the Moorcock novels, none was really a standout, although The Ice Schooner was the most engaging of this lot. I enjoyed The Freeze-Frame Revolution quite a bit. The Bloody Chamber is the real standout here, although the sexual politics it embodies are not simple, contemporary, or necessarily comfortable. This book of stories could easily be the major text for a seminar class.

I read these additional short stories by Peter Watts:

  • “The Island” by Peter Watts (2009 Novelette)
  • “Giants” by Peter Watts (short story)
  • “Hotshot” by Peter Watts (short story)

All are available on the author’s web site.

I didn’t manage to watch very many full-length movies this quarter. I recall only three:

  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016 film)
  • Iron Man (2008 film)
  • Millions (2004 film)

The first Fantastic Beasts movie I can recommend, although not all that highly. Iron Man is a very good take on the superhero movie, better than most of the recent Marvel adaptations. Millions is an impressive and magical film, and quite fun, although the ending is a big weak.

I watched all of Series 11 of Doctor Who, with the exception of the final episode, “”The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos," which we just haven’t gotten to yet. There’s also the New Year’s special, which will be broadcast today, called “Resolution.” That will be available via the iTunes store tomorrow, and we’ll watch it when time allows.

The episodes we watched are:

  • “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”
  • “The Ghost Monument”
  • “Rosa”
  • “Arachnids in the UK”
  • “The Tsuranga Conundrum”
  • “Demons of the Punjab”
  • “Kerblam!”
  • “The Witchfinders”
  • “It Takes You Away”

I just polled the family, and we’re having a hard time deciding on a favorite. Several people voted for “Arachnids in the UK,” which had wonderful special effects. It also completely failed to have a coherent ending. Several people mentioned “The Tsuranga Conundrum,” mostly because of the wonderful little spaceship-eating monster. Grace mentioned “Demons of the Punjab” and I agree with her — it told the best human-centered story. But our main feeling towards most of these episodes is disappointment. Many of them have great premises, or great scenes, but overall just fail to really fire on all cylinders.

I’m not going to list the Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu episodes; I just don’t have much to say about them, although the kids loved them.

I want to mention one album in particular that I listened to heavily in the fourth quarter, and that is Akhnaten by Philip Glass. I got my copies in the form of discs 14 and 15 of The Complete Sony Recordings. This composition rewards study, and the recording richly rewards repeat listening — it’s just remarkable. As I mentioned in the blog, I would love to see this performed live.

Finally, there are a number of books that I started, or read part of; some of these I will eventually finish; some I won’t. Some will remain on my shelves to dip into in the future. Some might wind up on the give-away pile. I will definitely finish reading Grace The Haunting of Hill House. I’ll definitely finish reading the kids The Fellowship of the Ring.

Books Started or Continued

  • The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock
  • Mistress of Mistresses by E. R. Eddison
  • Luke (Revised New American Bible, 1986-1990 edition)
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (bedtime story reading; re-reading for me)
  • The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin
  • Cluttering: Current Views on its Nature, Diagnosis, and Treatment by Yvonne van Zaalen and Isabella K. Reichel
  • The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert Paxton (in progress)
  • The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin (bedtime story reading)
  • A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

Ypsilanti, Michigan
January 1st, 2019

Sunday, December 30th and Monday, December 31st, 2018


I’m continuing right on from my notes on Saturday. I got to bed pretty late last night, and I kept forgetting to take my night-time medications, so I wound up taking them well after midnight, instead of at 9 p.m. when I was supposed to take them. This meant that I was groggy this morning. I intended to get up and make progress in the kitchen, and make breakfast for everyone, but I wound up spending extra time soaking in the tub before I felt up to facing the kitchen. While I was in the tub, the kids made a big pan of scrambled eggs — with way too much salt. So they wound up wasting quite a few eggs. When I got into the kitchen, I had to restart the dishwasher again — once again, something had gone wrong, and the soap was undissolved in the bottom of the dishwasher. I really hope this dishwasher isn’t dying. We’ve used it hard, but for under two years. But I don’t really know how old it is. Maybe it’s ready to give out.

The bathtub drain was running very slowly last night, leading me to look for drain cleaner, realize we didn’t have any more, and add it to a shopping list.

I made a pot of the Café du Monde coffee and turned it into bulletproof coffee. We didn’t have any grass-fed butter, as we were out of the Kerrygold butter, but we had some Challenge butter, purchased for Christmas baking and never used, and more coconut oil, and some chocolate chips. So that gave me and Grace a small energy boost.

Grace and I talked for a while. She revealed that she was craving tacos. Then our housemate came down to talk to Grace, and it turned out that our housemate was craving tacos, too. The kitchen was in no condition to make tacos and we were missing most of the ingredients. I was willing to go get ingredients, but didn’t want to have to spend three hours cleaning up the kitchen before it was ready to make lunch, so I pushed for getting takeout tacos. We dithered around for some time before deciding on a plan. I would take our housemate to Kroger to get drain cleaner and rainbow glitter glue — another shopping list item for an art project that was planned for today. She’d get some baby formula and a few other items covered by WIC. Then we’d go out to La Marqueza Taqueria on East Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti. None of us had ever been there.

So I loaded up some returnable bottles and got our housemate to Kroger. As usual, she had some strange trouble with WIC at the checkout. They were able to ring everything up, and all the items were marked on the shelf as covered by WIC, and she supposedly had enough money left on her card to cover the items, but the system just wouldn’t process her card for some reason. They sent her to the customer service desk, but she was fed up, and I don’t blame her, because it seems like that entire system is designed to humiliate WIC shoppers in front of everyone else in the store. And so she left her groceries and stood at the front of the store waiting for me. I was a few places behind her in line and bought my items, and had them ring up her items as well, because I really just wanted to get us out of there, so we could go get our tacos!

La Marqueza is a very unassuming place. We ordered six beef and six pork tacos, an order of nachos, and a quesadilla. While we were waiting I drank a glass of horchata. We didn’t have long to wait, and soon brought home all the tacos that Grace and our housemate could possibly handle. Everything was really good! So we hope to go back there soon.

After cleaning up the food, the kids decided that they wanted to build the Velociraptor Chase Lego set after all. So they worked on that. Grace, still exhausted, went back into the bedroom to nurse the baby and I wound up alone in the kitchen again, cleaning the stovetop and cast-iron pans and baking trays and emptying one dishwasher load and starting another, while periodically running back into the bathroom to put two rounds of drain cleaner down the bathtub drain. There’s still more to do in the kitchen but it’s now a quarter to ten, and I’ve been catching up on the journal for an hour and forty-five minutes, and I have to work tomorrow, so I’m not sure how much more I will do tonight. I took my medications, so they will be kicking in and making me sleepy shortly. I expect tomorrow to be a very slow day at work.

Our friend Alice apparently passed her virus off to Elanor, who has been coughing horribly. Veronica’s been feeding her broth and tea and she’s now getting a bath. We are trying to keep her away from Chi, because we really don’t want Chi, who is only sixteen days old today, to wind up with a virus. We’re just not sure his immune system is up to the challenge. This also means we are trying to keep Elanor away from her mom, which is also a challenge.

I expect tomorrow to be a quiet day in the office.


It’s the last day of 2018.

After putting away my laptop last night, I did a little more work on the kitchen. I didn’t get it completely cleaned, but I did get it to the point where the sink was mostly empty, the counters were mostly clear, and it was ready for me to make bulletproof coffee in the morning without having to make room or clean anything.

We didn’t really have dinner last night, since most of us were still pretty well filled up from our taco feast. The kids who refused to eat any of it went to bed hungry. The exception was Elanor — she had a hacky cough last night, and a lot of snot. We fed her broth, and hibiscus tea with honey, and elderberry extract. She seems to have been whacked with a virus, which might be the one that our friend Alice brought. So we are trying to keep her away from baby Chi. It might be a hopeless quest, to keep a virus from spreading around a crowded household full of kids, but we are trying.

I slept later than I intended to. It was gray and rainy again this morning, and had frozen up in patches, including our dirt road, and my office parking lot. I drove to Joe and Rosie’s and had a toasted bagel with peanut butter and a small coffee before work, and read a few pages of The Black Corridor, the third novel of three in the Traveling to Utopia omnibus of novels by Michael Moorcock; I read the other two, The Wrecks of Time and The Ice Schooner this year. I won’t finish The Black Corridor this year, but it’s not very long, so I should be able to finish it early in 2019.

It turned out I had left half my horchata from La Marqueza Taqueria in the car. It was actually frozen, but after sitting on my desk for an hour or two, it was a nice treat.

At work, only three of us were in, and only to catch up on some paperwork and e-mail messages. Human Resources decreed that on New Year’s Eve, they would count four hours as a full day. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

I ordered a baby carrier, for myself, to replace the New Native carrier that I used to have. Grace sent my old carrier to Syria a few years ago, thinking we probably weren’t going to have more babies. They’ve gone up in price — a lot. It cost $87.50 for what is essentially a single piece of cloth sewn into a sling. I don’t remember exactly what they cost fourteen years ago, but it wasn’t $87.50. I could grumble about that, but I also know I’m not going to make a damned carrier, so I just bit my tongue and bought it.

I’m hoping that I will be able to use it to carry baby Chi on some walks while he’s still too small for the backpack-style baby carrier. Maybe I can use it while walking on the treadmill. I always liked the New Native design more than other baby carriers I’ve tried. It’s a very simple design, just a folded piece of cloth stitched together. It’s much simpler than the more elaborate designs Grace sometimes wears. You put it around your body over one shoulder, diagonally, like you are just won the Miss Universe pageant. Then you open up the fold and stuff the baby in there. It’s pretty foolproof. Veronica used to love to ride around with me that way. I remember taking her to Trader Joe’s with me when she was just a few days old.

I will head to Meijer for a few groceries. Grace wants to make greens, black-eyed peas, and corn bread on New Year’s Day. We also need toilet paper and paper towels, and sparkling water and orange juice for mimosas (well, faux-mosas).

We’ll start the year with our annual Lord of the Rings movie marathon. The extended editions are cool, but I think this year we might watch the shorter theatrical versions. I think I’ve got a set of those versions in the basement. At least, I hope I do.

I’ll probably work tomorrow on writing summary of what I read and watched in the fourth quarter, and get that posted. It’s been a terrible quarter for getting reading done. My totals will be way down. But I think I still have some tomorrows ahead of me.

In fact, it’s been a terrible year in many ways — full of stress and anxiety and ugly politics and awful news. We’re still here. May 2019 be better for you, and for all of us.

The Last Hours

It’s the first, and we have just started our Lord of the Rings marathon, watching the theatrical editions instead of the extended editions. I came back to fill in the details of the last few hours of 2018.

I left the office about 3:15, and ran out to Costco. It was rainy and foggy, and I needed to run the car’s air conditioner to clear the fog from the windows. On the way to Costco, I heard on the radio, or thought I heard, that Airport Boulevard was closed at State Street due to flooding, so I decided to get off at Ann Arbor-Saline Road and take Lohr to Ellsworth to the other part of Airport Boulevard to get into Costco, then go back up Lohr to Ann Arbor-Saline Road to get on I-94. In retrospect, though, I think they were probably talking about Airport Drive, not Airport Boulevard. They connect, but Airport Drive is a little further south (and services the actual municipal airport).

At Costco I bought orange juice, La Croix water in the tall cans, celery, apples, bagged salads, eggs, butter, bagels, two bags of Shishito peppers, and industrial-size packages of paper towels and toilet paper. My plan for New Year’s Day breakfast was scrambled eggs, blistered Shishito peppers, and toasted bagels, with our faux-mosas.

Costco was hopping. I had to wait quite some time to check out. Then I went to GFS on Carpenter Road, and bought Jiffy Mix for cornbread and ham hocks. Then it was on to Meijer. I knew it was a bad idea to go to Meijer on New Year’s Eve, but Grace wanted black-eyed peas, and they are the only local store where I’ve been able to find them. Meijer was crowded. I found that the space on the shelf where they stock black-eyed peas was completely empty. So I went to ask someone at the customer service desk. That required about twenty minutes in line. They confirmed that they had no more black-eyed pease. So I went back and picked up a couple of bags of red beans, a couple of bags of split peas, and a couple of bags of pinto beans, in case Grace and our housemate wanted to do something different — a red beans and dirty rice thing, a split pea soup thing, or maybe even a refried beans thing. Then it took me another twenty or thirty minutes to check out.

When I got back in the car, Grace had been sending me text messages. I had left my phone in the car, apparently under the ridiculously optimistic assumption that I’d be able to get in and out of Meijer quickly. Our housemate was making chili, and we were out of diced tomatoes. So I told Grace that I would get gas and try one more place — the little Mexican grocery near Textile off of Carpenter.

That little grocery has hundreds of bags of beans of different types, occupying yards and yards of shelf space. But there were only five cans of diced tomatoes in the whole store, and they were quite hard to find. I’m still confused as to how they could stock so many beans and so few tomatoes. Aren’t tomatoes pretty much a staple of Mexican cooking? Anyway, I finally found the tomatoes, but they did not have black-eyed peas. So then, home. It had taken me three hours to run a few errands. I was pretty sick of the whole thing by the time I got home.

Our housemate was finishing up a pot of chili, made with ground bison, and a pot of packaged Velveeta macaroni and cheese, and assembled one of the Costco Caesar salads. I got the groceries put away, leaving the orange juice and La Croix water in my car to stay cold, since there wasn’t room for it in the refrigerator, and I didn’t want the kids to get into them until New Year’s Day.

I think we’re just going to have to order a case of some nice heirloom black-eyed peas.

The three older kids had an invitation to a New Year’s Eve party — their piano teacher invited them. I really didn’t want to go out again, but Grace was feeling well enough to drive them, so after dinner and after the kids did some cleanup, she ran them up to their piano teacher’s house.


We watched a movie on our housemate’s computer, plugged into our TV. It’s one of Grace’s favorite movies: Millions from 2004. I actually have a DVD of this movie on order and we should be getting it in the mail in a few days. Having read the description, it sounded like a pretty conventional children’s morality tale.

Millions turned out to be something quite different. It’s actually a much odder movie that partakes heavily of magical realism, a real genre-bender. It’s sort of a blend of Home Alone, Stand By Me, and Household Saints; it also reminds me of the old TV show Joan of Arcadia, but with more visual pyrotechnics. It’s really fun, and I enjoyed it more than I expected. The screenplay contains many clever little bits of setup that pay off later in the form of jokes playing out in the backgrounds, or in minor subplots. The movie’s only real flaws center around its ending. It has a couple of endings, and they both feel a little gratuitous and unconvincing: one is a bit too maudlin, and one is a bit to joyful. The whole storyline stretches credulity a little bit, but the meetings with saints are funny and moving, and the back-story about the crime that sets the plot in motion is funny and brilliant.

We’ll have a DVD shortly, and we’ll no doubt watch this one again.

Last Words

I will write a summary of quarter 4. I might write some kind of epilogue, or afterword to the whole year-long journal; I’m not sure yet. But it will be a 2019 project, for the “director’s cut,” or book form of the blog, rather than something completed in 2018. After today’s post, I’m going to put this weekly format on hiatus, at least for a while. I will write differently in 2019. I’m not yet sure just what I’ll write.

Even without the quarter 4 summary, I’ve exceeded 450,000 words. If I turn the text into an OpenOffice document with pandoc, it’s over 780 pages long. I have started a project to go back and edit the posts, but haven’t even completed editing the posts from the first quarter yet. It’s long!

I had hopes that I’d end this year-long writing project with some sort of a bang — a long autobiographical essay, or a number of book or film reviews — basically, something to close it out well. Instead it feels like we are just barely managing to get the basics accomplished, and my free time is being squeezed down to nothing. The medications are helping my anxiety level, but also making me tired. Maybe I need to feel that tiredness for a while, and get some extra sleep.

That’s a whimper to end the year on, not a bang. But maybe a whimper is just more realistic. The holidays have always been a hard time for me, and we have additional challenges this year. I remain hopeful that things will improve in 2019 — that we’ll finally sell the house, that we’ll find more help in practical matters, that our financial situation will stabilize, etc. I’m optimistic because I have to be. How does the saying go? “Hope is a discipline.” I follow @prisonculture on Twitter and I think I might have first read this in her tweet:

Before i [sic] log off. One thing. Many years ago, I heard a nun who was giving a speech say “hope is a discipline.” It stuck with me and became a sort of mantra for me. I understood her to be saying that hope is a practice.

I hope to keep practicing hope, and remember how richly we have been blessed.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Shows Mentioned This Week

  • The Black Corridor by Michael Moorcock (in the Gollancz omnibus volume Traveling to Utopia)
  • Millions (2004 film)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
Sunday, December 30th and Monday, December 31st, 2018