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Archive for March, 2022

It’s getting late, and it is a work night, so I need to get to sleep, but I am going to sneak in a quick post and hope that I can stay on track because even though I am going to post about what I was planning to post about, there are other things running around in my head which are trying to take over the post (and are apparently encouraging me to try out a Marcel Proust imitation).

In the book Sourdough by Robin Sloan, the great, unsolvable problem at the robotics company which employs the heroine Lois is the “egg problem” — teaching a robotic arm to properly crack an egg into a bowl.

SOURDOUGH SPOILERS (sort of)

When Lois decides to scale up her bread making enterprise, she enlists the help of a robotic arm, and there is a wonderful chaotic scene in which the arm recreates her own initial breadmaking attempts with great accuracy. The flour sprays everywhere. Dough ends up on the counter, the floor, the cabinets as she tries to configure proper, effective stirring technique. Ultimately she tackles the egg problem, and, as so many great discoveries are, the solution is an example of less being more.

Today I learned that some fine folks in the field of robotics are teaching (read: programming) robots to make pizza dough!

To really get the whole picture, I think you need to read the book and the article, but the article is shorter, so maybe start there.

And I need to stop here. Otherwise I will be up much later writing much longer about robots and technology which will somehow segue into electricity and waste, and then I will make an abrupt leap into being inspired by an artist talking about process which led me to think that there were lessons in there about story building which could be used for Camp NaNoWriMo, which officially kicks off in about 25 minutes.

Posts could be interesting for the next few days. Or maybe just rambling. Time will tell.

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It’s difficult to say when I stopped paying attention to the annual awards handed out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. I know that I never forgave the Academy for not giving the best actor award to Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver, I remember Bruce Springsteen picking up his award for “Streets of Philadelphia.” Both of those were quite a while ago.

The only information I picked up this year was that Hans Zimmer was given the award for best score, and it is the second time he has won the award. The information came from my favorite classical radio station. I was more than a little surprised to learn that his first award was for the Disney movie The Lion King. Really?!? That fact was even more surprising than the fact that he had only won two.

There was a period of time when I listened to a lot of movie soundtracks and scores. Even so, I didn’t usually pick up on the composer until I saw the name in the credits. Hans Zimmer was one of the exceptions. His style is not only distinctive but uniquely rhythmic, giving each movie its pulse. It’s mesmerizing.

He scored one of my favorite films of all time, The Power of One.

Wow, that’s big. I will have to learn how to make YouTube links smaller.

My other favorite composition of his is The Last Samurai.

I adore The Last Samurai. I am not a big Tom Cruise fan because every movie just felt like I was watching Tom Cruise, Superstar! The Last Samurai didn’t feel that way. Cruise gets top billing because he is the box office draw, but his character’s story, while interesting and redemptive, is not the most important in the film. The scenery and cinematography are breathtaking, and the Japanese actors make you practically forget the superstar in their midst.

But I am supposed to be writing about Hans Zimmer. The other big film of his which came immediately to mind was Gladiator, another favorite. I knew there were more, but gadzooks, there are at least 150 more. That almost puts him in the realm of that other famous film composer who has been working more than twice as long. Okay, not really, but he has still composed a LOT of film scores. He has worked on everything from Sponge Bob to the Simpsons to James Bond to Kung Fu Panda. Thelma and Louise, Bird on a Wire, and Driving Miss Daisy are all his.

I dare you to go look at the IMDB list and not find some of your favorite films.

Meanwhile, I need to go make a decision about backing the Brandon Sanderson Kickstarter campaign.

Happy Wednesday!

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And yet it’s already Tuesday. It’s almost April, even.

I wouldn’t say that going back to work full time on short notice is like going from 0 to 60, especially since there is training, and I don’t have to be a subject matter expert right out of the gate, but it is definitely a big shift. Maybe more like going from 20 to 60.

I have been working on other projects and trying to cultivate good habits, which I knew would be a challenge to maintain, but I am already struggling. And I have plans for Camp NaNoWriMo in April which I am pretty determined to execute.

I know that people don’t do everything perfectly every day in terms of balancing work and exercise and personal projects and home life, but it is feeling like a serious challenge to even get close. Of course, it has only been two days, and I knew that the first week would be rough. It’s kind of nice to have a reason to get up and dressed and out the door first thing in the morning, and while I am tired, I am not feeling worn out or stressed. More like curious. How am I going to work, keep up my good practices, and continue my career development path? Where am I going to find the right hours in the right place in the right order?

I will admit that I am not at all sure, but for the first time in a long time, if not ever, I am fairly certain that it is indeed possible. Perhaps it is this “piece at a time”\”compound effect of incremental change” approach I have been taking to things that I want to do. Maybe that approach is what will make the pieces fit together.

The only way to find out is to try it.

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This post will likely be short because I had a busy day and I need to unwind, but I wanted to wave to the new subscribers and say thank you and prove to myself that I can keep up this practice while I resume working … and commuting.

I have been extremely fortunate to have always had a short commute (at least in terms of mileage — leaving at the wrong moment can make a short distance commute a long time commute), and while I worked from home for almost four years, I didn’t have to drive at all. Today I started a temporary position which will hopefully teach me some helpful skills and lead to more permanent and lucrative endeavors.

For the first time in about four years I actually had to be up, dressed, lunch packed and out the door by a certain time, and what does the weather do but snow. Snow! Okay, so spring snow is not uncommon, and it was only a little snow, but still. Snow! Complete with cold and wind. The wind was actually more of an issue than the snow.

I got to experience firsthand what the articles and statistics have been saying about driving during the pandemic — there may be less traffic congestion, but people’s driving habits have deteriorated further, so driving is actually more dangerous. On a highway with a speed limit of 65 miles per hour, drivers chose 60 or 80+. That much of a differential creates risk Someone pulled out right in front of me and was fortunate that my brakes work. Then there was some object flapping about on the highway which I couldn’t avoid completely without driving off the road, but I didn’t find any damage.

Nevertheless, the commute was not as stressful or as dangerous as I expected, probably because there wasn’t much congestion. The trip only took about five minutes more this morning than it did yesterday morning with very few people on the road.

I survived my commute and the first day on the job. I was up early enough to write Morning Pages, and I got home early enough to still go for a walk. There are a few other daily disciplines I need to check off before I turn in for the night, but I am putting today in the win column.

Happy Monday!

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I wasn’t sure what I might want to write about today. It wasn’t a very exciting day — a nice, quiet Sunday. I did cast off a pair of socks (my second pair for March), and I definitely need to do a sock post, but that means remembering to take pictures when there is decent lighting to be had. I haven’t committed to the next book I am going to read yet, but as I was looking into the Patricia Highsmith collection, I came across a couple of contenders, and one of them got me to thinking about one of my linguistic pet peeves.

One possibility is East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman, an author who was born in Pakistan and grew up in London. The tagline on the front cover is: “From small-time drug dealer to MI5’s reluctant secret weapon.” The cover art has a kind of vintage feel, and I tend to be drawn in by the look and feel of a book, so I gave it a try.

The book starts with a quote from Gandhi: “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Chapter one opens with the protagonist introducing himself, identifying as a Muslim, explaining what that means in his specific case, and describing his experience as a British-born Muslim. This is a perspective and experience quite different from my own, so I was intrigued. “Sign me up,” I thought.

In the third paragraph, the profanity started, and I was a little less inclined to keep reading. (I probably will because I am interested in this character and his journey.)

It wasn’t a lot of profanity, but it didn’t serve a purpose either. I know that lots of people are free and easy with the expletives these days. I don’t find it offensive so much as unnecessary, annoying, and distracting. A well-chosen expletive can be extremely satisfying and get a point across when more genteel language just won’t do.

These days, however, profanity is as common as punctuation … or the ubiquitous (and equally annoying in my world) “like.” I end up thinking that the person just needs a more expansive vocabulary.

Certain four-letter expletives are everywhere these days, and I wonder if they are losing some of their potency. There is usually an asterisk or two in the words, so they haven’t become completely acceptable.

I’m not out to censor profanity at all. If you want to use it, have at it. But is the word or expression you are using really the most appropriate or effective choice for the sentiment or idea you are trying to communicate?

It’s a minor irritation in the grand scheme of things, but it has made me think more about word choice, and not only when it comes to profanity. There are plenty of words which feel … lazy or generic to me. Saying something is stupid or good or bad. Really? Is that the best description I can use?

Even as I wrote this post, I struggled with some of my word choices. In a few instances, I don’t particularly like the choice I made, but I couldn’t think of a better choice. If I come up with words or phrases I prefer, I might come back and edit. In the meantime, I am going to go with the flow and send my linguistic musings out into the world.

P.S. Hello, new followers! ~waves~ Welcome to my little corner of the internet.

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(Random thought: Am I supposed to capitalize blog post headings like titles? I guess they are like articles, but they don’t feel that formal or official. I suppose I could look it up and at least find a best practice somewhere. Until then, I’ll improvise as the mood strikes me.)

(Also, this choice to just write and post and not worry really takes the pressure off and pretty much obliterates expectations. Cool!)

Note: This post might qualify as containing spoilers for The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley, so if you plan to read the book, proceed with caution. I’m sharing some thoughts I have about one of the characters and a connection I made as a result, but not revealing any major plot points or developments.

In The Paris Apartment, as Jess tries to figure out what is going on with her brother and what might have happened to keep him from being at the apartment when she arrives, she talks to the other people living in the apartment building. There are also chapters told from the point of view of those people, and they reveal their interactions with Ben.

As I was reading, I decided that Ben might not be as sincere or as good a guy as he seemed. Charming? Yes. Charismatic? Yes. But also sharp and observant and not above using his charm and charisma for, shall we say, less than altruistic purposes. I got the feeling that he might have been up to something. A bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, even. You think he’s a caring friend who is showing genuine interest and concern, but is he? Did he come to Paris with a purpose, plan, or agenda?

Eventually it clicked for me that there were hints of Tom Ripley in Ben. Nothing so sinister or violent as the talented Mr. Ripley, but a young man with charm and charisma who could talk his way into and out of situations as the need arose or an opportunity presented itself. Someone who was a bit of a chameleon as it suited his purposes. Ben’s adopted family provided him with a good life and education, but he didn’t have a lot of money. Even if he did always seem to catch a break and come out on top, he wasn’t able to live like Nick, the wealthy friend who got him into the apartment in Paris, and he may have resented it.

Being reminded of Tom Ripley got me to thinking about Patricia Highsmith and that I should read beyond Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. I knew that she was a prolific writer, and I wondered whether she kept letters or journals and whether they had been collected or published. A quick search turned up Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks 1941-1995 edited by Anna von Planta and published by W.W. Norton just a few months ago.

When Highsmith passed away, she left behind an extensive personal history in the form of 18 diaries and 38 notebooks. The volumes contain a total of about 8000 pages, documenting not only her life but also her evolution and growth as a writer.

From the editorial note at the beginning of the book: “Pat essentially maintained a double account of her life: whereas she used the diary to detail her intense, at times painful personal experiences, she used the notebook to process these experiences intellectually and muse on her writing. Pat’s notebooks were workbooks, and a playground for her imagination…. Her diaries help us better understand the notebooks…. While the two formats can be read independently of each other, when read in tandem they help to gain a holistic understanding — in Pat’s own words — of an author who concealed the personal sources of her material for her entire life, and whose novels are more likely to distract us from who she was, than lead us to her.” (The digital excerpt I am reading does not have page numbers or I would include them here.)

Two accounts. The raw, personal, intimate events in one and the reactions, ideas, and creativity they spawned in another. All I can think is, “Brilliant!! Absolutely brilliant!”

I often hesitate to read published letters or diaries because they are such private works. Sometimes I shy away from reading memoirs of people who interest me because I don’t necessarily want to know more than I do from experiencing their art or music. For example, I have a copy of Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen sitting on my bookshelf, and I still haven’t decided whether or not I want to read it. He’s an amazing storyteller. He’s thoughtful, insightful, observant, and well aware of his own flaws and imperfections. On the other hand, I have a very personal relationship with his music, and the music and the live performances may be all I need. I might not need or even want to know the stories behind it all because it might change my relationship with the music. It’s a tough call.

In contrast, I very much want to read Unrequited Infatuations: Odyssey of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Consigliere by Stevie Van Zant, one of the original, if not continuous, members of the E Street Band. Except for the solo years, he is always there on stage to Bruce’s left, and he has had many endeavors and adventures away from E Street, so I am fascinated to read what he has to say.

Returning to Highsmith, the introduction to the new book indicates that she clearly meant for her diaries and journals to be collected, preserved, and accessible in some form. The editor notes that certain people have been anonymized to protect them and their families, so while personal and intimate, it’s not an expose. I like and admire Highsmith’s writing style and respect her as an important literary figure of the 20th century, but I wouldn’t call myself a big fan. This “behind the scenes” look into her writing process as much as her life, however, sounds like it is right up my alley.

I shall investigate further and report back.

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I am not sure how else to describe it.

The structure reminds me a bit of Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Morena-Garcia in that an ordinary person — not a detective or private investigator or some private citizen with a penchant for sleuthing — finds herself looking into a disappearance. The atmosphere of The Paris Apartment is darker, but Velvet Was the Night is grittier (70s era Mexico).

Picking up from my previous post, Jess is on edge because she is trying to escape one life and start over with another. She doesn’t really think anyone is after her, but she’s not sure, and she has had enough hard knocks to make her a combination of reckless and cautious. She takes chances because she doesn’t really have anything to lose.

As the story progresses, and the characters and relationships get more complicated, or at least raised more questions — it is definitely a character-driven story — I wondered if it was going to be one of those mysteries which builds up a lot of suspense and secrets that eventually get revealed, but the actual motive and culprit are something else entirely, almost unrelated and conveniently veiled by other more tantalizing options. Or would there be a plot twist thrown in at the end to tie all of the threads together?

As the story progressed further, I became more interested in how things would turn out and less concerned that the rug would be pulled out from under me. There is this interesting juxtaposition of people who are, should be, or even want to be intimately connected but don’t quite manage it for a number of reasons. Siblings, for example. Well, half-siblings. Jess and Ben have always been there for each other. Sort of. They have shared trauma and grief which binds them, and yet they end up on different paths.

The lives of the apartment building residents are intertwined and yet divergent. I don’t know how to say more without giving too much away. There are some twists, but nothing too shocking if you are paying attention. There is a deft sleight of hand by the author as to what the most serious crime is.

One of the complimentary review blurbs is “Exceedingly clever.” I am not sure I would go as far as exceedingly, but clever is a fitting description.

I am not sure that justice is quite served, but all of the pieces do fit together, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It works.

If you want complete edge-of-your-seat suspense and grand, shocking reveals, this is not your book, but if you want a clever, well-crafted plot driven by varied and interesting characters, each with their own flaws and secrets, then add this book to your reading list.

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The news and headlines are just too much again today — and I don’t think that I even read anything about COVID or the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was all domestic nonsense. Well, not nonsense because all of it was quite serious, but it might be a little easier to absorb if it were nonsense, if there weren’t real consequences for a lot of real people.

Anyway, on this chilly, rainy, spring evening, I am disappearing into The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley. I am about fifty pages into it and trying to decide if it is a taughtly-written mystery or if it is going to take some horrific turn that gives me nightmares.

Jess is running away from her past and her present, and she runs to her half brother Ben in Paris. Even though he knows that she is coming, he is not waiting for her when she arrives late at night. She finds her way into his apartment and is observed by several other residents and the concierge of the building in the process.

The next day he still has not returned, and she notices things which indicate more than a casual absence. Jess doesn’t want to involve the police for her own reasons, but she starts to worry all the same.

The story is told from multiple points of view — I am up to five so far, including Jess — and I can’t decide whether any of the narrators are reliable. From the dust jacket: “Everyone’s a neighbor. Everyone’s a suspect. And everyone knows something they’re not telling.”

I am both nervous and curious. So far curiosity is winning. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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My knitting for at least the last year and a half has been almost exclusively socks and sweaters. I discovered what I call my magic formula for socks in terms of yarn weight, needle size, and stitch count, and I can just knit at will. The great thing about it is that the stitch count is 48, which is divisible by lots of numbers, so it works with lots of different stitch patterns. I have lots of choices. Knitting socks has been relaxing.

Knitting sweaters is generally relaxing as well, but they have a lot more stitches and take longer to knit, so my output isn’t as prolific. They do use up more yarn which is good when I am motivated to knit down the stash.

One exception has been a corner-to-corner blanket pattern. I would cast on a few stitches, increase until I had used up half of the yarn, and then decrease. It’s fun, meditative, and uses up a pile of yarn. The slight drawback, which isn’t really a drawback, is that they all turn out as squares, and for some reason my brain wasn’t realizing what I needed to do to make a rectangle.

Enter Purl Soho, specifically the Colorful Corner Blanket. The version I initially came across was made in worsted weight cotton. That link goes to a bulky version. That is the beauty of a pattern this simple. You can use any weight of yarn you want with a needle that gives you a fabric you like.

The increase and decrease sections use a slightly different technique than I used on my square blankets, but what I needed was the addition of the bias section in between the increase and decrease sections. It was obvious once I read the pattern. I have knit shawls and scarves on the bias. It is a delightfully simple technique. You just have to increase a stitch on one end of the row and decrease a stitch on the other end of the row.

Spending 10 or 15 minutes rummaging around in my yarn stash yielded three potential projects. I started with this pile of yarn:

Two shades of green, one mutli-colored yarn, and one shade of brown (not visible)

I am quite a bit further along than what is pictured, but I haven’t taken a more recent picture, and it is too dark right now to get a good one. There was a stitch count issue once I got to the bias section, so I had to pull out a bunch of rows and reknit them, but otherwise, it is going swimmingly.

The only problem is that I keep thinking about other color and yarn combinations in my stash, and I also keep thinking that I want to make one on a bigger needle and hold the yarn double so that the blanket is extra squishy and cozy. Yesterday, I finally gave in and started a second blanket.

Double-stranded yarn and a big needle make for quick work. I am completely hooked on this project. Since I am using up some odds and ends as well as different yarns with slightly different weights and yardages, I am figuring out the striping sequence and widths as I go along. I am also weighing each ball of yarn and keeping track of stitch counts at the end of each section so that I can figure out how much I need to reserve to work the decrease section at the end.

It is so much fun!! You can use leftovers or a bunch of single skeins or a combination. I keep eyeing the stash of fingering weight yarn, mentally trying out triple-strand combinations. That could put a serious dent in the stash.

The only dilemma is what to do with the blankets once they are finished. I will have to see if I can find some of them good homes. Who doesn’t need a nice, snuggly blanket, right?

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This book came up in the Fiction, Nonfiction, Truth, Fact post, and at the time I mentioned that it really deserves its own post. Well, today the book comes out in paperback, so now seems like a good time for the post. I will try not to get carried away and spoil anything.

Click on the image to read the first three chapters and the Machinehood Manifesto.

Machinehood is set in 2095. Technology and pharmaceuticals have infused almost every part of everyday life. There are drugs to prevent illness, promote healing, enhance physical strength and skill, and improve cocentration. People have high-tech implants for communication. They broadcast their lives via swarms of micro drones, earning tips from followers. There are machines and robots of varying levels of sophistication everywhere for most every purpose. Suborbital flight is a preferred means of travel. It is a future which is only a few steps ahead of our present for the most part.

Welga Ramirez, a former special forces soldier, is on the verge of a major career and life change. At 35, she is still fit enough for her bodyguard role, but she is being replaced by someone younger anyway. It’s okay, though. She has plans for a quieter life, until one of her last jobs goes horribly wrong.

Someone or something called the Machinehood publishes a manifesto demanding rights for machines with Artificial Intelligence and demanding that production of all of the pills people take be stopped. The group stages violent attacks, killing several pill funders (the people responsible for the production) and then escalate to the technological infrastructure on which everyone and everything is so dependent.

Because of her military background and the ill-fated mission which resulted in her leaving the military to become a bodyguard, Welga is more prepared — and determined — to fight this new threat than just about anyone else, even if it means breaking promises and revisiting a painful past.

The plot is interesting and moves along at a good clip. It’s complex without being overly complicated. The book tackles or at least touches on a host of social and political issues — workers’ rights, financial disparity between races, classes, and countries, political corruption\maneuvering, scientific ethics, religion, personal privacy, and what happens when the line between human and machine gets more difficult to define. But it is the characters and their relationships which really make the book work, and they are why you don’t have to be a fan of science fiction to read and enjoy this book.

Welga is a strong, fierce, smart, funny woman. She is deeply committed to her craft (which I think is a better word choice than career in her case), her colleagues, her family, and her country (though not so much the government). We meet her brother, her father, her sister-in-law, her partner, and become equally immersed in their lives and relationships. These are people living through a major global crisis — technological rather than viral in nature — and still dealing with the every day challenges of getting older, raising children, keeping a marriage\long-term partnership together, and trying to take care of themselves while helping others where they can.

There is a parallel (might not be the right word, but secondary didn’t work for me) storyline of another strong woman, a bioethicist who must make harrowing decisions when her son is diagnosed with a rare genetic condition. I’m not sure how to say more without giving too much away, but the point is that it is not only the main female character who exhibits strength in the face of adversity.

I don’t think I fully grasped it until I had finished the book, or was at least close to it, but the women are the strength and driving force in this story, and the men in their lives support them (and I don’t mean financially). That support doesn’t come without challenges or conflict, but at the end of the day, no matter what, the men not only don’t stand in the way of whatever the women want or need to do but do everything they can to help, and they are in no way diminished as a result. It feels so natural and real that it took a while for it to sink in just how impressive and important it is.

I finished reading the book more than a month ago, and I am still thinking about those characters and those relationships. They are going to stick with me for a long time.

Go read the book. You can start here with the first three chapters.

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