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.)