Thursday, June 29, 2017

Book: E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops"

While I waited for my next book to become available at my library I downloaded a novella (or is it novelette?) that I'd heard about.

E. M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" is a short (48 pages) but prescient work of fiction.  The book describes a world where everyone is isolated in their own room where the Machine provides them with all their needs.  People cannot go to the surface without respirators due to the poisonous air but why would they want to when their every need is provided by the Machine.  Travel between rooms is possible but is not desirable.  Why visit someone when you can instantly communication with them?

People spend their days communicating with other people via tablets, exchanging ideas and lectures. There is no work.  The only thing of value are ideas.

Over time the Machine is practically worshipped and the instruction manual ('the book') is treated like a holy text.  Everything is great until things start to break down.

What makes this short novella so interesting is how prescient Forster was.  This book was published in 1909.  I almost forgot this fact since most of the concepts on the story fit so well with our modern society.  The isolation created by our technology. People preferring texting over face to face talking.  The only thing that pulled me out of the story was the archaic language Forster uses at times.  Nothing surprising for something written over a hundred years ago.

I gave this book four stars on Goodreads.  I actually downloaded it for free from goodreads.  It's a short read full of many thought provoking ideas.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Photograph: "Hanging Coleus"

During my first visit to the Omaha Summer Arts Festival back in 2008 I purchased an upside down pot.  The pot has openings in the top and bottom.  Plants are planted in the bottom and, after a week or so of rooting, the planter it turned side up and hung.

I have always planted Coleuses since the leaves look awesome as they grow up the side of the pot.  I haven't always been successful with a few plants dying but this year's seems happy.

Hanging Coleus
"Hanging Coleus"
by Bruce H.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

My First College World Series Game

Last night I joined the Wife, Brother-in-Law, and Niece (Happy Birthday!) at TD Ameritrade park for my first college baseball world series game.  Omaha has hosted the college world series since 1950 and is a great way to showcase our small but awesome city.

The game was between the LSU Tigers and Florida Gators.  We naturally rooted for the Tigers (Geaux Tigers!!!  Boo Gators!!!).

CWS Game
Geaux Tigers!!!
I can't say I'm a baseball fan but I did enjoy the excitement of the mostly LSU supporting crowd.  Too bad the Tigers came up short this game.

The pulled pork sandwich and dippin' dots were pretty good too.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Photograph: "Beetle On Hibiscus Leaf"

A beetle on our hibiscus bush. It rained this morning so he's a little wet.

Beetle on Hibiscus Leaf
"Beetle on hibiscus leaf"
by Bruce H.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Book: Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale"

After reading the depressing "Dark Money" I decided to switch to fiction for my next book and maybe lighten up the mood a bit.  That's why my next book was Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale".

I jest of course.  "The Handmaid's Tale" is a dystopian novel set in a world when a patriarchal theocratic authoritarian regime is in control of the United States after a coup.  The world they live in is devastated by environmental pollution.  Chemical and radiological contamination along with new diseases have resulted in large scale infertility and birth defects.

Women who have been married more than once (against the law in the theocracy) and have had children are forced into becoming surrogates (handmaids) for the powerful patriarchs who pulled off the original coup.

The misogynistic world created by Atwood is dark and empty of hope.  It also has elements of the society we live in today.  It is scary how prescient the author was when she wrote this book in the 1980s.

The story is written in a rather low key style letting the dystopia speak for itself.  This just makes the story even more poignant.

I gave this book four stars on Goodreads.  It is a cautionary tale we all should heed as we go about our lives in the ... odd ... times we live in.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Photograph: "Hens & Chicks"

This is a close up photograph of one of the Hens & Chicks planted in my old Camino boots.

Hens & Chicks
"Hens & Chicks"
by Bruce H.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Hello Summer

Another season gone.  Another summer has arrived.  Fugit inreparabile tempus*.

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Iago's favorite snack.


* It escapes, irretrievable time

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Funky Post-Storm Clouds

Some big storms went through the Omaha area last night.  I took the following pictures of some of the funky clouds that blew through after the storm.

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Post-Storm Clouds.

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Clouds over our roof line.

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Post-Storm cloud panorama.
The real things looked cooler than these pictures but I bet you get the idea.  The plains: where weather never disappoints.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Book: Jane Mayer's "Dark Money"

After reading a light, hopeful book ("Exoplanets") I decided to descend to the depths of despair by reading Jane Mayer's "Dark Money"

"Dark Money" chronicles the rise of dark money raised by billionaire power players and the rise of the alt-right.  The book follows the evolution of billionaire corporate leaders over the decades as they try to alter politics to help maximize their profits.  Over decades their efforts exacerbate, if not actually create, the political polarization that exists today.

I think I knew about most of what was in the book but I have to admit that I never realized just how interconnected the different efforts were and how this interconnectedness mostly stems from the Koch brother's donor network.  From getting taxes cut to deregulation, from gerrymandering districts to voter suppression, from climate denialism to disseminating alternative facts, the Koch network - a bunch of oligarchs - meddles in it.

The book is a depressing read.  The length of time that this has been going on - decades - to the shear amount of political power that has been accumulated, you have to realize that this will take generations to fix ... If it is ever fixed.  Also maddening is the number of people in high government positions, including administration secretaries, that have been bought and payed for by the American oligarchs.  After finishing this book I truly doubt we actually live in a democracy today ... It is all just an illusion.

Everyone should read this book.  The tRump supporters should have it read to them.  I gave this book four stars on Goodreads.  I would have given it five stars but some of the writing was repetitive at times.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

"Warm Breeze" - A Poem

2017-06-13_In the Wind




Under the gaze of the first star bright,
A warm early-summer breeze caresses my skin,
Content memories of my youth - reborn.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sand In The City

It was a busy weekend in Omaha.  The summer arts festival (I talked about that last post), the Santa Lucia festival, Junkstock, and Sand in the City.  I'm sure there were even more events going on this hot weekend.  Along with the summer arts festival I decided to stop by Sand in the City.

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Haulin' sand.
Sand in the City is a charity event where corporate and civic group teams build sand sculptures to raise money.  There were thirteen teams that came up with some pretty good designs.  Along with the competition, pro sand sculptors did some live demonstrations.  This was pretty impressive with not only the heat but the fairly stiff breeze that was blowing.

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First Place sand sculpture.
For the kiddos, and this event was aimed at the kiddos, was a giant sand box and a big wheel race track.

2017-06-10_Sand in the City_032-WMThere were supposed to be concessions too but the only thing there was a shaved ice truck.  I think there was just too much competition this weekend.  I was hoping for a cold drink or some ice cream to battle the heat we experienced this weekend. I think the planner of this and other events should get together and spread the events out a bit.

I didn't spend that much time here.  It was a bit too hot to linger and once you saw all the sculptures there wasn't much reason to hang around.  It was nice to get out of the house again though.

For more pictures check out my Sand in the City 2017 Flickr album.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Out In The Fresh Air At The Omaha Summer Arts Festival

This afternoon I spent some time out in the fresh air.  I have to admit, since I got home from the Appalachian Trail (AT), I've been holed up in the house venturing out only rarely.  I haven't gone for a walk/hike since I left Blue Mountain shelter, hiked to Unicoi Gap, and left the AT.  That may change soon.

My excuse to walk out in the sun was the Omaha Summer Arts Festival.  I've gone to the festival a couple time in the last nine years.  Three blocks of downtown are shut down and art vendors from all over the country set up shop along Farnam street.  Along with art there is food and music.  There was even a man riding a twelve foot tall unicycle.

I spent most of the time perusing the expensive art -  glass, metal, paint, photography, jewelry, sculpture, leather, clothes, and more.  Every booth had something different with several making me stop to take a closer look.   I was impressed by the variety of art and food available.  Omaha puts on a good event.  I didn't buy anything but food and dippin' dots.  I don't think I could afford anything else.

Geese
Geese floating in the Gene Leahy Mall pool.

After perusing the vendor booths twice, eating lunch, watching the unicycle performer, and listening to some live Jazz, I walked along the water in the Gene Leahy Mall.  I sat down briefly to photograph a family of geese.   The heat started rising so I headed back home.

Feeling the sun on my face and just walking along the water has rekindled my desire to go walking/hiking again.  I may just have to get my walking on again.  When I do, you will be the first to know.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Photograph: "Camino Boots"

Six years ago on my first Camino, when I was resting after a long day hiking to LogroƱo, I noticed a pair of boots with flowers planted in them.  When I got home I decided I would do the same with my shoes.

I've talked about how at first I tried unsuccessfully to grow poppies.  I wanted poppies because they were so common along the Camino and often brightened my days along the way.  I finally gave up and the wife planted 'hens and chicks' in them.  They seemed to be very happy in my old shoes.

Camino Boots
"Camino Boots"
by Bruce H.

For a few years I would bring the boots inside during the winter but they have been left out exposed to all weather for awhile now.  The leather is shrinking, pulling away from the soles, and are a bit green around the edges.  They have aged as I have - a little weathered, worse for wear, but they still have plenty of character.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

A Brief Visit To Britishfest

This weekend the Britishfest convention is in town.  The convention centers on all things British media such as Harry Potter, 007, the Beatles, and, occupying at least 50% of the convention, Doctor Who.  The convention is three days long from Friday to today.  I decided to stop by on Saturday.

I've been to similar conventions before.  During a work trip to Pearl Harbor I had the chance to go to a Star Trek convention in Waikiki.  On other occasions similar fan conventions were held in hotels I was staying at.  In every occasion, including Britishfest, you always were exposed to some very interesting people.

I stopped by the hotel where the convention was held and checked in.  It took me only about fifteen minutes of wandering around to know I'd seen enough.  Most of those fifteen minutes were perusing the vendor tables to see if there was anything I couldn't live without.  The rest of the time was looking at people in full Cosplay regalia without looking like I was looking.  It was the Cosplay that was the most interesting frankly.  I looked through the schedule of the events and panels and decided that the only thing I was interested in was the Cosplay contest later in that evening.  I thought about getting an autograph from one of the several Doctor Who stars but all the autographs were fairly expensive (in my opinion) with the cheapest being $20.  The one actor I was interested in - He played Davros in Doctor Who - charged $40.  No thank you.  I went home and curled up with an interesting book instead.

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Peter Pan and his Shadow.
I went back later that evening to watch the Cosplay contest.  There were about a dozen or so contestants and several more in the audience who, for some reason, did not participate in the contest.  There were some interesting costumes.  My favorite, which came in third place, was also the most original.  Two girls, one dressed as Peter Pan and the other, all in black, played Peter Pan's shadow.  I think some of the costumes in the audience and wandering around other venues were as good as, if not better than, the contest participants.

I haven't decided if I'm a fan centric convention person.  Britishfest was a bit basic.  The Star Trek convention that I went to and the other more established ones like San Diego Comic-Con are much larger affairs and there is a better chance of seeing something that would be of interest.

Also I feel strange around hard core fans.  Many of the fans are just normal people that you wouldn't give a second glance if you passed them on the street.  Others come to the convention in costumes.  They are definitely more hard core than I would ever be.  A third type leave their parent's basement only a few times a year, have every line of dialog memorized, and, during Q & A sessions, ask the most obscure question about some trivial factoid that no casual fan would even notice.  These are the scary ones.  They too may wear costumes but they often stand out even when they are not wearing one - they are that unusual and odd.

I was once close to being a member of that third type.  My poison was Star Trek and, while I never dressed up, I knew way too much about the show.  Fortunately in the 90s I backed away from it.  Maybe that's why I felt so strange when I went yesterday - "There but for the grace of God, go I."

A few more pictures of the Cosplay contest can be seen in my Britishfest 2017-06 Flickr album.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Book: Michael Summers And James Trefil's "Exoplanets"

My fourth book of 2017 is on a subject that always has interested me.  I've mentioned it before how I have always been interested in space exploration.  Since I left college, though, I haven't kept up as much as I'd like.  I've tried to rectify this and have followed the exploits of probes to Ceres and Pluto but I have fallen a little behind on the search for planets outside our solar system.

Michael Summers and James Trefil's "Exoplanets" is a nice overview of what work has been done, what planets have been discovered, and what the chances are of finding life (intelligent or otherwise) on other planets.  I was concerned it may be a little too simple.  These types of books are usually dumbed down for the non-science crowd.  The book is a bit simplified but not too much.  It didn't make me feel dumb and it didn't talk down to me.

The lesson I learned from this book is the science of exoplanets has progressed a lot since the late 90s.  The examples of the types of planets that are being discovered really sparked my imagination.  Can't wait to see what will be discovered next.

I enjoyed this book.  My only complaint is it's a bit short.  I gave it four stars on Goodreads because I now feel a little bit smarter which is a good thing.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Photograph: "Goodbye May" ... Hello June

Time seems to be flying.  June has arrived.  Let's say goodbye to May with one more photograph.

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"Goodbye May"
by Bruce H.