Book Report: Old Goriot

It's a French slice of life showing how petty greed and ambition amongst the middle classes can lead to zzz....

I only made it a few chapters into this book.

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Book Report: Garlic and Sapphires

I am basically over my cold, but the sore throat remains. Thus, I wanted soup. Citrus Club, a soup place on the Haight, was closed. I guess they wanted to enjoy their holidays or something. So I did something I haven't done in a while--I bought groceries and cooked dinner, a big soup. It was an evening of sitting around and thinking about food. It was a good evening to read Garlic and Sapphires, a memoir of restaurant criticism.

What is the nature of the self? And how can we shape the self to enhance the ability to experience some of the best and/or fanciest of New York's restaurants?

Ruth Reichl worked a stint as restaurant critic at the New York Times. The restauranteurs knew she was coming, were looking out for her. She quickly figured out that this would heisenbergly prevent her from being a good critic. Restaurant proprietors would trot out the best food, the best service for the Times Critic--better stuff than her audience could hope for.

So she donned disguises. She didn't just don disguises, she made up personalities and cloaked herself in them. She acted differently, moved differently, became a different person. But she seems to have snapped back to herself for a few seconds whenever an especially interesting taste hit her tongue.

If you've read one of her other memoirs, Close to the Bone or Comfort me with Apples, you will cringe when you hear the phrase "Ruth Reichl's mother." At one point, Ruth disguises herself as her mother. Then, posing as her mother, she treats the waitstaff badly.

It also talks wigs and chemotherapy. (This put me in mind of Twisty Faster, former restaurant critic and writer of I Blame the Patriarchy, currently undergoing chemo. Someone who didn't like Twisty dissed her criticism as controversial. Ruth Reichl says that a good critic is controversial. Therefore, Twisty Faster has gone about her life the correct way. Thus do I admire her even as I continue to oppress her in the framework of the patriarchy.) If you aren't a woman of a certain age and you enter a wig store, the propietor worries that you've got cancer. S/he doesn't normally think you just want a disguise. That's what's wrong with the world today: too many sick people, not enough superspies.

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Book Report: Metropolis

I am sick today. I lost my voice. So it's a bad day for conversation. But a good day for napping, blogging, and reading. Out of sympathy for my plight, I think you should read Metropolis.

Go read this novel by Elizabeth Gaffney right now.

It's a romance. It's a heist/caper. It's a gangland saga. It's a musical (without the music).

There's a museum of freaks, beasts, and oddities--on fire, including a tiger tiger burning bright. There's a secret tunnel in the sewers. There are canes decorated with silver monkey heads. There's an unwanted pregancy which was obviously tossed into the book as an ill-disguised excuse to show off the author's research into birth-control options in 1870s New York--and it's so interesting that you don't mind. There is a character with the last name "Undertoe".

Go. Get. Read. Now.

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Book Report: Swimming to Antarctica

Yesterday, I was walking to the library. A cold wind blew. A light rain started to fall. I considered fetching my rain jacket out of my backpack, but talked myself out of it. I thought What would Lynne Cox do? and then I smiled and walked faster, letting the heat of excersize chase the cold from my bones, flexing my fingers to keep the blood flowing.

It started raining harder. I grinned, and raindrops ran into my mouth. I walked faster, glad to be awake and alive and out of doors.

Then it started raining even harder. And I thought I'm not--I'm not Lynne Cox. She's way harder than me. And I ducked into a transit shelter and waited for a streetcar to take me downtown.

What inspired such folly? Well, I was returning Swimming to Antarctica to the library.

This book turned out to be much more interesting than I expected. It's Lynne Cox's autobiography. Lynne is a long-distance swimmer. She swam the English channel, the Cook strait, the strait of Magellan. So you might think that her autobiography is something like "So then I kept swimming." But there's a lot more to it than that.

Actually, when she talks about swimming, she makes it pretty compelling. She swims in the ocean, and there's a lot of variety in the ocean. No, really, there is. There are waves with different shapes, different feels. There is ice. There are dolphins; there are sharks. She encounters all of these, and describes them in a plain, yet compelling way.

But there's some stuff that's only tangentially related to swimming, and that's pretty interesting, too. I'll mention it here, since I don't think I can fool you into reading this excellent book by telling you "she describes the water really nicely".

She arranged to swim to Big Diomede Island, in the Soviet Union:

...the place I wanted to swim to, was a listening post--a military installation equipped with sophisticated devices that monitored our ships' and submarines' movements in the Bering strait and beyond, as well as a state-of-the-art tracking system for spying on our aircraft and missiles. It was unlikely that the Soviets would allow any American to land on their spy island.

So, the commies had a SOSUS-like system. That's interesting.

There are interesting anecdotes about doctors and their studies--they wanted to know how Ms Cox was able to tolerate long swims in cold water. So there's the story about the 40-foot long rectal thermometer. And the time the doctors had trouble getting readings from her after she swam off the coast of Alaska--because of interference from the gold dust that clung to her legs.

Just don't get so caught up in the book that you lose the sense to come in out of the rain.

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Book Report: Tuxedo Park

Jennet Conant's biography of Alfred Loomis is fascinating.

Loomis was an interesting character. He was a physicist, founding a Physics lab in the hoity-toity community of Tuxedo Park, NY. When WWII started, he was one of the driving forces behind the Rad lab, where they developed American RADAR. I had already read about the Tizard mission, in which British scientists who came to the USA with a box full of wonders, including the cavity magnetron. Where, exactly, did they bring it? They revealed the cavity magnetron to the USA in Loomis' sitting room.

Loomis' life (and thus this book) had something for everyone: physics, physicists, war, mystery stories, private laboratories, government laboratories, high finance, an America's Cup racing yacht, RADAR, the Manhattan project, and an unlivable house designed by an architect.

Loomis made a lot of money as an biz guy before he retired to do what he loved: work on tech stuff with a bunch of geeks. I'm hoping that many of my recently-rich co-workers take Loomis' advice to heart: just because you have enough money to stop tinkering and hanging out with geeks doesn't mean that you should. Hacking is still more fun than your other choices.

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Link: Sam and Max Game Announcement

Holy moly, it's an announcement of intent to produce a game starring beloved freelance police officers Sam & Max!

OK, I concede that the last few such announcements haven't led to any games that, uhm, actually got published. But I'm still excited.

I heard about it on Chuck Jordan's Spectre Collie blog, so it must be true.

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Book Report: A Secret Life

This book by Benjamin Weiser has interesting ethical choices, history, and spycraft.

A Polish navy officer became a traitor to Soviet-controlled Poland; which is to say that he arguably became a hero to the Poland-controlled Poland that lurked under the surface.

The Soviets made war plans. In these plans, huge numbers of Soviet troops marched from the USSR into Western Europe. Many of these troops would pass through Poland.

There were too many Soviet troops for the the West to stop them all. Unless the West used nukes. Where would the nukes fall? On Poland, of course--that's where the troops would be. Even if Poland wasn't invading anyone.

The Soviets tried to get the Poles to knuckle under to this plan. For the most part, that's what happened. One Pole, however, transmitted these plans to the West. He hoped to avert war; or if it was inevitable, that the nukes would fall earlier, when invading troops were not yet in Poland.

He talked with CIA folks. They did each other favors. They may have helped a little in gaining Poland its independence. That's a big favor to someone.

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Book Report: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the Edge of the World

This book has two parallel storylines; one is interesting and one is not. I almost stopped reading the book because I found one of the storylines so boring. But it turns out that the two storylines are loosely intertwined. And the boring one is supposed to be boring.

So I'm glad I didn't stop reading this book.

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Site: Uploaded Sailing Story

When everything goes right on a sailing trip, there's usually not much to tell. Maybe you've read some of my "very boring sailing travelog"s. They're not so interesting; not much happens.

Earlier this year, I went on a sailing trip in which, suddenly, nothing happened. That was a little bit more interesting than those trips in which very little happened.

It's called Kraken because I wasn't sure what else to call it.

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Book Report: Portuguese Irregular Verbs

I posted a new travelog on this site, but I don't think it turned out very well. So I'm not going to link to it from here. I won't take the time to point out stuff I've done that doesn't read well. Instead, I'll point out someone else's stuff that doesn't read well. That will be much more satisfying.

Wow, Portuguese Irregular Verbs stunk on ice.

I made it three chapters into this book before gave up. I think they were supposed to be funny? The premise: there are three professors who lack common sense. One of them is very self-important. They get into trouble.

Ah, I feel better now.

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