Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Photograph: "Not Creepy At All"

 Saw IT hanging from a tree in Council Bluffs on my last walk.  Nothing creepy about this at all.

"Not Creepy at all"
by Bruce H.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Weekly Ephemera #12

  •  It was chilly, rainy, and windy most of the week.  It was dreary.  I ended up walking the two better days - Monday and Friday - and skipping my midweek walk.  I spent Wednesday hunkered down inside watching Disney movies and a documentary about pro-nuclear environmentalists.

    Friday the sun came back out and it was glorious.  It was still windy but the sun kept me warm on my longest walk of the week.   This week I ended up walking 22.6 miles (36.4 km).

Seen on my Monday walk:
I won't vote for Don Bacon but Don Taco ...

  • On Tuesday I went to Mom's to once again try to get her Social Security survivor's benefits.  After being on hold multiple times we finally got a hold of someone who was actually able to help us.  Unfortunately all we found out was (a) the paperwork my Mom mailed to the Social Security office (using the envelope they provided) never arrived and (b) the representative blamed tRump for budget cuts, staff reductions, and reduction of hours that is resulting in an overworked staff doing too much work constrained by too few hours to do the work in a timely fashion.

    I drove down to the county courthouse and got new copies of certified documents.  We are now waiting for the Social Security rep to return our call so we can get an appointment so we can hand deliver the documents.  It shouldn't be this hard.
  • I finally called someone about getting a tankless water heater installed.  Waiting on a person to stop by to provide an estimate.  That only took me ... fifty-five days.  So hard to dial a phone.
Next weekend is going to be a full one with two concerts and a family wedding so not sure if I will have a Weekly Ephemera post next Sunday.  I will try to catch up once things start settling down - that, by the way, is a good problem to have 😄

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Book: Anthony Doerr's "Cloud Cuckoo Land"

Back in March of 2015 I read "All the Light We Cannot See" and it was one of those books that I liked but I couldn't say why.  I liked it enough to give it a weak five stars on Goodreads.  When I saw that author Anthony Doerr had a new book out I added it to my reading list.

Doerr's "Cloud Cuckoo Land" is very different from his previous book.  It follows five characters through three periods of history (and future).  The order the story is told in is jumbled.  It jumps from one time period to another, from one character to another.  It jumps forward and backward for each of the characters.  The result is a difficult first half until you have have learned enough about the characters to help fit the narrative together in a coherent story.

The Characters are all tied together by a fictional piece of fiction by Greek author Diogenes.  The first pair of characters, tied together by the Ottoman siege on Constantinople, secure the damaged and out of order Diogenes manuscript.  The second pair, a Korean War vet and a disturbed young environmentalist, translate the work, places most of it in the correct order, filling in some gaps with speculation, and ensures its survival.  The last character is a girl in a spaceship who receives knowledge about the book from her father and, while researching it, discovers the truth about her world.

The jumble of the story runs parallel to the jumble of the Diogenes manuscript and the full story and the true meaning all come together in the end.  It is a case of the telling of the story matching the story being told.  Once you realize what the author is doing the latter half of the book moves quickly.  Unfortunately the pay off of the book, like the ending of the Diogenes manuscript, is unclear, subject to speculation, and thus a bit unsatisfying.

One side note.  It was a strange coincidence but I'd read about the Ottoman siege of Constantinople in one of the other books I read this year, "The Ottomans".  It was interesting reading place names that were familiar to me.  Also, we will be travelling to Turkey later this year so there was even more of a connection for me.

I gave his last book a weak five stars.  This book I gave a strong four stars out of five on Goodreads.  If the ending had been better developed it could have been a five but it didn't quite get there for me.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Weekly Ephemera #11

  • Happy Spring Equinox! Today at 10:33 AM CST (UTC-5:00) Spring arrived.  Temperatures are rising and the threat of snow is changing to the threat of rain.  Soon flowers will be blooming and lawns will have to be mowed once again.
  • The Wife has been under the weather most of the week.  The free COVID test was negative so she's probably just battling a bad cold.  I haven't caught it … yet.
  • I only walked once this week.  While I had an excuse for not walking Monday, there was no reason for not walking Friday.  I wanted to blame it on the rain but the rain was over before I would have started to walk anyway.  So I only walked 9.4 miles (15.2 km) well below my weekly goal.  So far this year I'm 73 miles (117.5 km) short of my goal.  Hopefully I'll make up for that when I finish the Appalachian Trail.
  • On Monday our new windows were finally finished when they replaced one of the new windows that had arrived with a cracked frame.  It took a year from when we signed on the dotted line to when the job was completed.  That's just insane.  I blame the pandemic and supply chain issues.  The next project, hopefully started soon, will be to have the exterior of our house painted.  All we need to do is settle on a color.
  • On Thursday I went over to mom's to help her with her Social Security.  It shouldn't be this hard to set up survivor's benefits … but it is.  We made progress but our job is not complete yet.
  • I am a Star Trek Fan and this week I watched the season finale of Star Trek: Discovery.  It was fun to see Stacey Abrams cast as the President of United Earth.  I can hear all the right-wing wack jobs' heads exploding all over the Federation.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Happy Pi Day

𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅𝝅

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Weekly Ephemera #10

  • Ralston shows solidarity with Ukraine.
    This week I walked twice.  I skipped walking Monday just because.   On wednesday I did 14 miles (22.5 km), the longest I've done since November of last year.  In total I met my weekly goal and walked 22.8 miles (36.7 km).  These walks may be the last cold walks as Spring temps seem to be finally settling in.
  • This week was a bit lossy too.  I lost my left glove during my Wednesday walk.  I lost the extra key fob to the Wife's car sometime probably on Tuesday.  The rest of the week I was waiting for the third shoe to drop but I managed to keep everything else found.  I will be checking a few lost and founds next week looking for the key fob.  If I don't find it it will be $200 to replace.
  • The Wife's school's basketball teams went to the championships this week.  For the past six days the Wife rode the bus down to Lincoln to watch the teams play.  The Men's team sadly came up short on Friday as did the Women's team on Saturday. 
  • Also on Friday the Wife's student won the Poetry Out Loud state competition.  Sadly the state and national events are being done online this year again (thanks COVID) so there will be no trip to Washington D.C. for the Wife's last year of Poetry Out Loud.
  • Verified and finished our taxes.  We are going to owe a small amount.  Easy Peasy.
  • Hope you remembered to spring forward today.  If not, you are going to be off an hour all day.  (Wish they would just get rid of all these clock shenanigans.)

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Music: Enter The Haggis At The Holland Center

Enter the Haggis.
Just five days after our last concert, the Wife and I went to another.  On Friday we went to the Holland Center, made our way through the symphony crowd who were heading to the main hall, and went to the smaller Scott Recital Hall to enjoy the music of Enter the Haggis.  We've seen them before back in 2010 and we really liked them.  Twelve years later they were just as good as we remembered.

Amplified bagpipes ...
Need I say more?

A newer addition.
Unlike in 2010 there was no warm up band so Enter the Haggis did two complete sets.  Like most bands the membership changes over time.  Since our first time when the band consisted of five guys, a female violinist/vocalist has been added and a female bass player was substituted in for the original who was taking a break from the tour. The substitute bass player was found on Facebook - her mother-in-law contacted the band.  She was pretty good on the bass and the vocals.

The music was just as good as we remembered.  They performed old songs which I was somewhat familiar with along with music from the newer album that was sadly issued in March 2020.  Most of their stuff was original material, the only exception was a cover of Crosby, Stills, and Nash's "Helplessly Hoping" with the two women and the lead guy doing the three part harmony.

My only critique is that this is the wrong venue for the band.  They need a younger audience and the Holland Center attracts older music lovers, the Wife and I included.  I would love to see them at the Slowdown or the Waiting room where the band could feed off the energy.  They would rock the place with an audience who would really appreciate them.

I got myself a t-shirt from their rather meager merch table.  A few photos can be found here.


Wednesday, March 09, 2022

Book: Annalee Newitz' "Autonomous: A Novel"

I followed the fact of "The Ottomans" with the fiction of Annalee Newitz' "Autonomous: A Novel". 

The book takes place in some nearby but indistinct future where Pharmaceutical companies, armed with patent law, control most of society.  They control everything from cures and treatments of disease, to entertainment narcotics, and workplace productivity enhancers.  The main characters in this rather bleak world is a phrma pirate, an indentured servant, a patent enforcement agent, and his semi-autonomous android.

The world and the characters were introduced in a jerky way that sometimes confused me.  I eventually got used to the writing style but I felt there was a lack of depth in the world where the action takes place.  The book would have benefitted from a slower more methodical building of the characters and their backgrounds.

The characters moved through the book in groups of two that didn't interact much even near the end when they were in the same room.  Their stories felt disjointed and disconnected.  It was as if two different stories were woven together without creating any useful pattern.  The agent and his robot companion went in odd directions that may have been interesting on their own but felt out of place in this book.

I gave this book three stars out of five on Goodreads.  I don't think I can recommend this one.  A little massaging and polishing would make it a worthy read but it wasn't quite there for me.

Monday, March 07, 2022

Music: Marshall Tucker Band At The Whiskey Roadhouse

On Sunday the Wife and I went to her first concert in a long time and my second concert of the year.  We saw the Marshall Tucker Band (MTB) at the Whiskey Roadhouse (in the Horseshoe Casino) in Council Bluffs, IA.

The Marshall Tucker Band.
This was the second concert we've been to at the Roadhouse, the last time being Joan Osborne in 2008.  The venue had changed a lot in the last twelve and a half years.  Back in 2008 the venue was filled with tables and chairs.  Then the venue owners discovered that they could fit more people in, and thus sell more tickets, if they got rid of the tables and chairs.  The idea of standing the entire time was not a good one.  The venue owners should have taken the audience into account as most people in the crowded room were in their 50s-60s.  Fortunately the Wife was there to do her thing.  She started talking up the venue employee who was guarding the dozen tables reserved for the sponsors and high rollers.  Just before the band came out we asked about a table and she pointed us to a table which a sponsor had not claimed so we were comfortable during the awesome performance.

Flute Solo.
There was no warm up and MTB, currently on their fiftieth anniversary tour, came up and, after a few mike feedback issues were cleared up, gave one hell of a performance.  I'm far from being an MTB expert.  I liked some of their songs but I only had a cursory idea of their music.  Having said that, as the Wife said, those guys can play!  With songs like "Can't You See", "Heard it in a Love Song", and "Fire on the Mountain" you couldn't help returning to the 70s and 80s and getting lost in the music.

Up close with the band.
We had a great time.  A few pictures can be found here.  Our next concert is just four days away with Enter the Haggis.


Sunday, March 06, 2022

Weekly Ephemera #9

"Looking Up"
by Tom Friedman
Hanafin Park (2015)

  • This week gave us a taste of spring like temperatures and the return of seasonal visitors.

    I saw my first Robin this week, a sure sign of the approaching season.  It was followed by the vanguard of the blackbird hoard that storms through our backyard every Spring gluttonously emptying out the bird feeders.  I guess it's fair since they are birds and those are bird feeders.
  • I managed to walk three times this week.  Two were around Omaha and Council Bluffs, the other was at Hitchcock Nature Center.  I met my weekly goal and hiked 24.3 miles (39.1 km).

    When I go to Hitchcock I carry a 25 pound (11.3 kg) pack.  To get that weight, and to insure the weight is distributed properly (high and close to the back), I use taped together concrete pavers resting on an empty bear canister and cushioned with old towels.  It rides in my car between hikes and I always wonder what people would think if they ever tried to steal the pack.  They would definitely be disappointed.
  • We had a contractor come by to give us an estimate for painting the exterior of our house.  More information to come later I expect.
  • Worked on our taxes.  Uploaded the numbers.  All I have to do is verify everything and file.  We appear to owe $75 (state and federal tax combined).  I prefer owing the government money than giving them an interest free loan, especially when it's such a small amount.
  • At the end of the week I went to see the Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts.  I was originally going to see the Live Action Shorts as well but a morning hike and one movie kind of wore me out.  I may go see the Live Action Shorts next week.

    The Animated Shorts were an odd mix of G-rated kid oriented shows and R-rated stuff aimed at adults.  A warning was put up on the screen before the adult oriented shorts warning of violence, disturbing scenes, and sexual activity and paused to let people leave the theater (the first time I've seen this).  I think the theater has received complaints in the past from irate parents thinking they were taking their kids to see 'cartoons'.

    One of my favorites, "Boxballet", was a Russian submission.  I had mixed feelings about that but we need to separate the Russian artists and their corrupt government.  The strangest was the Chilean submission, "Bestia".