Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Photographs: 'April Showers' And 'Bejeweled'

A couple of rain soaked flowers for your consideration.

"April Showers"
by Bruce H.

"Bejeweled
by Bruce H.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Book: Cixin Liu's "The Three Body Problem"

My return to science fiction took me in a different direction.  Looking back at the books I've read, the vast majority have been written by American or European authors.  The only exceptions have been books I read in my Spanish classes in high school.  This book, Cixin Liu's "The Three-Body Problem" is my first book written by a Chinese author.

The book is about contact with alien races, conspiracies, and invasions seen from a Chinese perspective.  It is what is happening in the background - the cultural revolution, politics, and cultural differences - that made this book so interesting for me.  Having read books taking place within the western historical context, the Chinese context was different and refreshing.

If I were reviewing the first two thirds of this book I would have given it a good review.  Unfortunately the last third totally jumps the shark and spins out of scientific control.  I'm not sure if this is because of poor writing or if there is a real cultural difference with respect to scientific speculation.  The speculation just didn't make sense to me.  I try to keep tabs on what is happening in different scientific disciplines including physics.  What this book describes ... not sure where it came from but I see no grounding in reality.

I was surprised at the dour ending before I saw that this was number one of a series.  For a second there I thought that the author was just depressed but the downbeat cliffhanger ending does fit in a multi-book series.

In the end I gave this book three stars on Goodreads.  The last third just didn't work for me.  Not sure if I will read the sequels when they become available.

Friday, April 24, 2015

X From Outer SPAAAAACE ... And A Trivia Question Too!?!

Thew Wife went to a sale at her old school a while back and bought some treasures.  For me, she bought an old board game.  I'm not a fan of games but the subject matter is hilarious.  The game is called "X from Outer Space".  I love it!

The game isn't complete.  A couple of the playing pieces are missing and the dice are missing but that's okay because what is left is awesome.

The surviving player pieces.  Why X looks like a bird is a mystery.
The game is about an alien - a Bisnipian named 'X' naturally - who is visiting our solar system.  It is our mission to give X a guided tour ... in our "space mobile".  Meanwhile a "space agent" named Quatz (always with the Qs and Zs ... so typical) is chasing X for no known reason.  Along the way the players have to pick either Planet Zoomer or Black Hole cards which help you move ahead or backward respectively.  The cards are by far my favorite thing about the game since they are soooo cheesy.  Here are a few examples:

The awesome Planet Zoomer cards.

The awesome Black Hole cards.
My favorites are:
 "X finds a gizmo to fix the whatsit"
 "Agent Quatz' boomerang whomps you back," 
Who would have thought that Agent Quatz was Australian and I'm surprised it wasn't a space boomerang.

Now, a trivia question.  One of the cards shown above is a homage to Star Trek.  If you are 'game' leave a comment naming the card and explaining how it is connected with Star Trek.  No fair using a search engine.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book: Florian Illies' "1913: The Year Before The Storm"

I have read several books this year that weren't what I expected.  I read the summaries and, thinking I know what the books are about, I check them out of the library just to discover that they are not what I thought they were.  Florian Illies' "1913: The Year Before the Storm" was the third book this year that surprised me ... in a not so good way.

I was expecting a book that discussed the conditions in 1913 that led up to the start of World War I in the following year.  That was what the book was about ... sort of.  The book concentrates on the lives of socialites and artists - painters, authors, poets, composers - in the year leading up to the war.  Each chapter covers a month.  Each chapter is broken up into sections covering each artist's or socialite's life during the month.

While I will admit this is a new and somewhat original approach, I really wasn't interested in the neurotic and mentally twisted lives of German and French artists.  Getting through this book was a struggle at times.  I kept hoping that, as we got closer to 1914, things would get more interesting but that was not to be.  Perhaps the most interesting thing, mentioned sparingly throughout the book, was what Adolf Hitler was up to during this year ... namely selling mediocre watercolors.

In the end what I learned from this book was that artist are often strange people.  I also learned that, even as the Great War approached, people's lives just carried on like the outside world didn't exist.

I was generous and gave this book three stars on Goodreads.  It was not the book's fault that I had rushed to select this book without adequately researching it first.  I'll have to be more careful with my future reading selections.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I'm Having A MARVELous Time!

I recently finished watching Marvel's Daredevil on Netflix.  Loved it.  It's a wonderful time to be a comic book lover.  All of us kids at heart are reliving our comic book days - for me these were mostly my college days not being that much into comics in my tweens.

Now just look around.  Spider Man, X-Men, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Agents of Shield, and Daredevil!    Soon Avengers 2: Age of Ultron comes out.  Then Ant Man.  Several more shows on Netflix.  Marvel's plans go on and on for years.  I'm in comic nirvana.

The comic world is so simple.  There is good and evil.  They fight.  In the end good triumphs and evil slinks off to the shadows to lick their wounds.  Everything is so clean compared to the real world where the line between good and evil is not a line but a fuzzy, undulating, ever changing hazy world painted in shades of grey.  Maybe that's why the comic movie genre has taken off in the past few years - we are all in need of some pure shades of black vs white to return some sanity to our lives ... even if it isn't real.

I have to admit that I regress several years when I'm watching this stuff.  Some of that childish wonder resurfaces.  It never has gone away, it just gets buried and suppressed by the responsibilities of being an adult.  These brief exposures of boyhood (or college) feelings are always welcome and oh so refreshing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Camp #F (... Or #6 If You Prefer)

The sign directing me to my campsite.
Yesterday I went on my first camping trip of the year.  I decided to get one in early to make up for not having one last November.  I went to what appears to be my favorite place to camp since I've already camped there twice before: Hitchcock Nature Center.  The actual reason is that it's close by and convenient.

My first camp was at Hitchcock on the Westridge trail.  Last night's camp was at another campsite along the same trail.  The views are similar with unobstructed views to the west.  All of Hitchcock's campsites include a sand pad for pitching your tent and a metal fire pit/grill.  The only thing missing is a comfortable place to sit.  Both the sand pit and fire pit have logs surrounding them but they can be uncomfortably low to the ground.  I prefer Preparation Canyon's picnic tables.  I guess I'm spoiled.

The tent went up first.  It was a bit breezy but nothing I couldn't handle.  I did have to dig into the sand to find firm dirt to push my tent stakes into.  I had the same issue my first camp.

After the tent came a little wandering around to see what was nearby.  There is a game trail that takes you to a nice view point.   The sun was reflecting off of water standing in farm fields - pretty.   As the sun went down, despite the distance, you could hear the chirping of frogs in the water.  Turkeys and a lone woodpecker finished nature's symphony that night.

I made dinner - Spaghetti.  I'm still using my original gas canister in my camp stove.  This is my fifth meal (I skipped a hot meal on my fourth camp).  I hope to get at least six meals out of the canister.  Since I don't drink coffee and am planning to limit myself to one hot meal per day on multi-day camping trips, one canister should be enough for both Rocky Mountain National Park and the Appalachian Trail (where I will stop in town once every six days or so) ... though I will most likely carry an extra canister anyway.

The Sunset.
The sun started going down and I started collecting firewood and kindling.  There was a lot of wood around left there either by the Hitchcock folks or other campers.  I used one vaseline soaked cotton ball to get the fire started.  It was one of the easiest fires I've ever started.  I'll have to buy a flint and steal to see if I can get a fire started that way.  They say the vaseline soaked cotton ball is very good at catching a spark.  Maybe for my next camping trip.

My campsite in the setting sun.
I spent the rest of the evening tending the fire and reading.  The stars came out but there was a high altitude haze that kept them dull.  It started to chill so I got in my sleeping bag early and read a little in my tent before falling asleep.  It hit the low 40s overnight.  I started out too warm - I think I overdressed for the night with long john bottoms and a fleece jacket.  In the wee hours of the morning I was dressed just fine.  Snug like a bug in a rug.  (I did find a tick on me earlier before I went to bed but I left it out in the cold.)  I did discover that an over-inflated air pad will end up giving me an aching back.  I need to remember to let out a little air to soften it up a bit.

My next camp will be sometime in May.  I think it may be a return to Indian Cave.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Book: Elizabeth Kolbert's "The Sixth Extinction"

I've been reading a lot of non-fiction lately.  My latest read, Elizabeth Kilbert's "The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History" was an interesting read.

The book covers, briefly, the five mass extinctions that have occurred over the last 500 million years or so.  The title refers to the current uptick of extinctions that may be part of a sixth mass extinction, this one caused by human activities.

The book chapters each cover one species of animal currently living or long extinct and shows how human activity, such as inadvertently or purposefully moving species around the world, has contributed to the problem.  These transplanted species, such as the fungus that is killing off frogs or the one killing off bat populations, transported around the world hitchhiking on our global trade, cause havoc in a places where there is no natural immunity or predator.

Humanity has reached a point in its evolution where we are making global changes to our only home.  If we are not careful we could become one more victim of our own creation: the sixth mass extinction.

I gave this book four stars on Goodreads because of its thought provoking topic.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Halfway To The Benjamin


Eight years ago, when Homer's Travels was less than a year old, I started to allow advertising.  I mentioned it here and here.

Google Adsense advertisements pay out once a month when the total is at least $100.  As of this month I have reached $50!!!  Half way there baby!  Can't wait the pay out in 2023!

By some coincidence, my deferred government pension starts the same year.  Now, what should I do with my $100 bonus?

Monday, April 06, 2015

Book: Matt Richtel's "A Deadly Wandering"

My latest read was a bit disappointing.  Matt Richtel's "A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention" was not what I'd expected.  I thought it would be about how our technology was shortening, or at least affecting, our attention span.  It turns out, while about half of the book was about the neuroscience of attention, the other half of the book was about one texting while driving incident.

There are interesting things in the book but I couldn't help thinking that it felt like a bastardization of a padded magazine article and an episode of Dateline.  The author hashed, and rehashed, the accident details over and over again.  He went into the history and early childhood development of nearly everyone involved in the accident including the lawyers, victim's advocate, and their spouses.  By the end of it all I knew way too much about these people.  It left me feeling a bit 'Meh'.

I still gave this book three starts on Goodreads.  It wasn't bad, per se, but it was not a satisfying read either.


Sunday, April 05, 2015

Happy Easter!

Seen on a church sign.
Wishing everyone a wonderful Easter holiday!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Photograph: Water Drop

"Water Drop"
by Bruce H.
A large drop of water on a hydrophobic tulip leaf.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Out And About In The Real World ... On Two Wheels

Went for my first real world bike ride this afternoon.  It was a beautiful day - partly cloudy, temperatures in the 60s, and a light, 10 MPH breeze.  The real world is a bit tougher than the 'trainer in the basement' world.  The 23.5 miles (37.8 km) I managed to ride wore me out more than my longest trainer ride (48 miles - 77 km).  Never the less, it was a good first ride of the year.

The one thing I wasn't ready for was the batteries dying in my GPS.  The distance listed above was approximated using MapMyRide.  D'OH!

I may be sore in the morning.  Won't stop me going for a walk though.  Nothing a little vitamin I can't fix.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

A Proper Fitting

I went to my local outdoors store today to get my new backpack fitted.  I was a teensy bit nervous.

You buy backpacks based on the length of your torso and my 21" torso was at the upper extreme for my medium Osprey Aether 60.  I'd bought the medium because it came with a medium belt that was better suited for my narrow waist and nearly non-existent hips.  I'd bought size large packs for both my Caminos and, with both packs, I found I couldn't tighten the belt enough for a proper fit - especially after a few weeks on the trail and a few pounds lighter.  If the pack had been too small I would have had to exchange it - not a terrible thing but still a potential hassle.

It turns out that the pack fit me perfectly, contouring to the curve of my back.  They adjusted the straps slightly and explained how to properly tighten them.  They talked about the proper way to pack the backpack with heavier items close to the back and higher up.  They loaded the pack with a weighted sack and adjusted it a little more.  They explained how to properly adjust the load lifter straps for different types of terrain - loosening for down hills, tightening for up hills.  After the explanation and a few tweaks the packs felt like it was an extension of my body.  Perfect.

Next the belt came off the pack and put in the oven.  The purpose of this is to accelerate break in.  The belt is heated, then a small lumbar pad is added to the belt and then the belt is worn as tight as you can get it for about ten minutes.  They says this fifteen minute process is equivalent to wearing, and breaking in, the pack for fifteen days.

The fitting, along with some dry sacks to keep my gear dry, were all paid for with a gift card the Wife gave me for Christmas - Thank you Honey!!!  I am now ready to take the pack for a spin.  Hopefully that will be later this month.