Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

If you've ever put together a puzzle, you know how frustrating it can be, finding pieces that, because of the machines that cut them, were rough and didn't quite go together, or those that, for some odd reason, has a piece or two missing when you finish. Most literary books are like this... with pieces missing or roughly fitting together. And sometimes that's okay, because life often works that way. In reality, nothing ever really works the way it should, and pieces fitting together are often called miracles, not normal at all.

But I think if you were to step outside of people's lives, you would see that the pieces actually do fit together. That irony and counterpoint often do resolve themselves. And it is undeniably poignant when it does happen. Perhaps this is what I like most about Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, that, like a puzzle, the pieces fit together so well, smooth and complete.

To move away from the metaphor, Ford did an outstanding job in characterization in this, and well he should, having learned from a master, Orson Scott Card, in his writing boot camp. For a good story can be told whether it is science fiction or Romance, and such a story will resonate with men or women, even one such as me, who doesn't usually read something considered a love story.

To the story itself, Hotel is the life story of Henry Lee, a Chinese boy growing up in Seattle during World War II. From his love of jazz, to his father's anti-Japanese feelings, to his first love, each part of his growing up intertwines with each other. Throw in the questionable tactics of placing all Japanese citizens in relocation camps, and the story takes a similar feel to what the Muslims must have felt like post 9/11.

I can heartily recommend this book to anyone, from high school students (11th grade, in conjunction with WWII) to anyone looking for a really good read.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Livin' in a Freight Train: Architecture Inside the Box

Let's all go live in a freight train.... no, not the Hobo method, of jumping into trains and riding West. I mean the convergence of architecture, environmental studies, and the economic downturn, to make truly fascinating and sustainable houses. I remember seeing a television story about how, in Melville, Wherever, they have become victim of tons of abandoned train cars, and since the train company owns the cars and owns the train track, they can do that. But having a wall of train cars spread across town is quite an eyesore, especially when graffiti artists get through with it.

Enter in this article, which proposes that we use the train cars to build environmentally friendly and energy dependent homes for people. Now, I care very little about the environmental part, although since it will save money, and looks so incredibly cool, it works for me. I can let Al Gore gloat on this one. But the architecture is what is astounding, to make such marvels of building from train cars. Go see the article:

to see what I mean. Also, go check out the book The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton, (ISBN = 0375424431) who referenced French Architect Le Corbuiser, who proposed redoing much of Paris in the early 1900's with apartment buildings that remind me a lot of the university buildings in Amsterdam built out of train cars, each housing a French family, providing them with luxuries not usually afforded them.

He also was quoted as saying, when asked what his favorite chair was, he said, the cockpit of an airplane. To him, utilitarianism was paramount to the shape and function of any architecture. Beauty must have function as well as beauty. In the houses made of train cars, wide windows, letting in copious amounts of light, solar paneling providing energy, and the insulation of the cars itself make it a fantastic, functional building, with the potential of great beauty out of what was an ugly and abandoned train car.

See related blogs starting February 17th, 2008.

Canada's Bark Design Collective built the All Terrain Cabin (ATC) as a showcase for sustainable (and Canadian!) ingenuity. The small home is based on a standard shipping container, and is said to be suitable for a family of four, plus a pet, to live off the grid in comfort and style.

The cabin folds up to look like any old shipping container, and can be sent via rail, truck, ship, airplane, or even helicopter. When you're ready to rest your bones, the cabin quickly unfolds to 480 square feet of living space, with a range of creature comforts.
(From the Article listed above)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mini Blogs: Shrinking foods, Icy Roads, Legalizing Drugs.

Things that Bug me, deluxe edition.

From time to time, I get these thoughts in my head that, for whatever reason, have not grown big enough to make full blog posts. Like a trace of snow, that is wonderful and full of imagery and meaning, but not enough to go out and make a snowman. Life experiences or observations, things that bug me, things that I find interesting....that sort of thing. I shall call them "Mini-blogs..."

Shrinking Foods, Expanding Books.

Yes, we all know that if we go get a 16oz box of Bryers Ice Cream (why I don't know, it tastes like sawdust), you're actually getting 14.53oz (or something) for the same price. There are tons of examples like this.... take a look at the recent chocolate chip cookies from Chips Ahoy, or even, I suspect, the Jumbo eggs from the grocery stores.

But there's something else that I think is suffering from the same shrinkage. An opposite effect. In the book industry, I've seen books expand and expand, from the constant 188 page science fiction pulp books of the 1960's to Neal Stephenson's Anathem which is almost 1000 pages. But I don't think that bigger books means that the books themselves are actually bigger.

Take James Patterson's books, for example. The latest books are well over 300 pages and sell for $28.00 or so. But if you look closely at the book, you'll see that the margains are larger, and the space between lines, and even the spaces between letters, are farther apart than books 20 years ago. Why this is, I'm not sure. Is it that authors are encouraged to write smaller books in order to make more of them, or is it the need to make more money per book.... honestly, I don't know, but I've noticed these things much more since the recession started.

Icy Roads, Puny Cars, Timid Drivers

A week or so ago, it snowed around Atlanta, leaving the Interstates and the roads slippery with ice and snow. I remember in Oklahoma, my dad owned a CJ8 Jeep, and he'd go out with a pair of really strong ropes and pull cars out of the ditches. He'd take people to the grocery stores and was generally a neighborhood hero. He thrived on going to church those icy days, driving 10 miles an hour, and bragging to everyone that he was early to church. Not that he wanted to attend church any other time. Those were memories.

But now, in the days of large SUVs and 4X4s, Land Excursions and Hummers, with commercials showing them going up and down dunes, and mountain tops, cars should be able to handle the icy roads. But in actuality, you could easily see that Hummer crawling down the interstate at 10 miles an hour, timidly crossing the ice as if it were some sort of fawn. Why, then, do people, after seeing the commercials of 4X4s crossing off-road obstacles, do people buy them and then use them as Honda Accords would. It's silly. It tells me that the cars really haven't changed all that much, it's more the drivers. My dad would have loved to drive out in the middle of the snowstorms, but the people who cancel schools at the sign of flurries, are scared of it. Don't know why. Be it insurance costs, or timidity, or the fear of getting sued. I'm not sure. But people should not be afraid to go out and live their lives, even if the weather is lousy. They need Courage. They need to learn to drive better. I think one thing is that, in the days my father learned to drive, he had to learn in gravel and dirt roads, where driving on ice would be little different. But now, in the days of easy driving tests and constant paved roads, no one knows how anymore.

Legalizing Drugs...the old Libertarian Foe

A week or so ago, I flipped over Fox News Channel, where Bill O'riley was interviewing Glenn Beck. As Beck is a favorite commentator of mine, funny and insightful, and believes more of the Libertarian ideas that I do, I stopped and listened to it. Almost immediately, O'riley asked, "Are you a Libertarian?" To which Beck said, in a sense, "Yes." The next question was the typical one, one that I thought that O'riley was more educated than others to ask, but out it came, "So you believe in the legalization of drugs, like Marijuana?" I couldn't believe that he asked that question, because it's a question that everybody interviewing Libertarian politicians ask. Bob Barr probably had to answer that question in every interview he was given. It turns the Libertarian party, the synthesis of both Conservative and Liberal thought, into a circus side show.

People don't understand that when we talk about Libertarianism, it is more of a belief system than it is a political platform. The idea the the individual is able to ascertain right from wrong, and can self-regulate themselves, striving for the Greater Good, this is the core of what Libertarians believe. From this, comes the ideas that government should not interfere in the private lives of it's citizens, that certain things should be legalized because it was not the government's responsibility to regulate them in the first place, that Free Enterprise and the capitalistic spirit are the mechanisms that make this world work. Most Libertarians believe in a strong government that handles defense (such as border patrol, international affairs, crime prevention (law enforcement)), but not so much on social regulation. Let the people, who ideally, should know right from wrong, take care of that. We should all be able to self-regulate ourselves.

This, of course, goes against human nature, goes against the pyramid of power vs. population, but it's the ideal world we must strive for. It's why that a pure Libertarian government can never work, because there are some people (as has been easily shown recently) that cannot regulate themselves. They are too easily taken over by greed. Take Madoff, for instance, or any of the other financial people that have taken advantage of the Republican de-regulation of the banking and real estate industries. They definitely did not regulate themselves, and caused this major downfall of the global economy. That's why the government will regulate the banks and the real estate market more closely in the future. Now, whether that is the ideal state to be in, I don't know. But as long as people cannot be trusted to regulate themselves, it cannot work.

It's interesting to me how, in the Epicurian philosophy, how such ideas can be overlooked. If someone says they live the epicurian lifestyle, it is generally assumed that they drink, eat, and are merry, because this is all there is. They are assumed to be egotistical and care only for the pleasures in life. But this is not so. Epicurus believed in Aristotle's idea of the Greater Good. That is, that in order to achieve perfection, to go beyond this mortal shell and have eternal pleasure (which the Christians would say would be in heaven with God), you have to constantly evaluate whether the pleasure that you seek now is only a short term one, with nasty consequences later (aka drugs, real estate fraud, unprotected sex), or if moderation would satisfy a later, more sustainable pleasure, for you or for your children.

So the question of legalizing drugs is not a valid question at all, except for making the Libertarian movement small and something to be ridiculed. Which, by the way, is something that both parties do. That the Libertarian party is the greatest threat to the current Hegelian system, a two party system, is not lost on the people in power. If you looked at a lot of younger people's facebook pages, you'll see a growing number that show their political preference as being Libertarian. It is a growing movement, and people like O'riley would like nothing better than to belittle the Lib. party members by asking them these questions that make them look like freaks or radicals.

The answer to those questions is "no, not necessarily." Because being a Libertarian and an Epicurean person means that you have to self-regulate in all aspects of your life, and achieve your goals by looking out for yourself and for others, to produce the Greatest Good possible for as many people as possible, through self-reliance, self-regulation, and through hard work and setting goals to succeed at. Only then is the pleasure genuine and permanent. Drugs, finanical fraud...these things will only work short term, and will leave nothing but misery in its wake.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Video Game Review: Fable: The Lost Chapters

I once tried playing some of the Forgotten Realms games, thinking that they would be somewhat like this. I wanted a game with characters I could be emotionally involved with (feel empathy towards), with a tale that evolved much like those in Final Fantasy VII or Ocarina of Time (best two games ever made). But the games turned out to be too difficult, with emphasis put more on hack and slash (which I have ranted about on more than one occasion), rather than character or story development. So when I was finally able to play Fable with my PC, I was eagerly hoping that it would be one of those worlds I could get sucked into.

It was. And more. Purely amazing real-time play where people went to work, went to bed, went to the taverns and got drunk. And the enemies with AI that was acceptable (the best I've interacted with was on Wind Waker). The neat thing about the game was that you couldn't just go into a house and start breaking pots and stuff. That would be vandalism or stealing. I had to find a way to get the residents out of the houses before I ransacked them. Although I did take the good route on the game, there is room for a little balance, for not everyone is purely one way or the other. Chaotic good, as in the Forgotten Realms games.

The only complaint I have with the game was the experience gaining vs. storyline ratio. I had maxed out my experience levels 2/3rds of the way through, and with the shield spell only draining MP if you get hit, I could be basically invincible. So the game was, at the end, too easy. Course, I could say the same thing about FFVII, but as long as the game was addictive, it doesn't matter.

And now, on to Fable II.... oh, wait.... I can't, cause it's only on the Xbox 360... blast it all, and I don't gots one of those. And I don't see me getting one any time soon. This is the not the year to be buying extravagant toys, what with the economy and all. ...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Soundtrack of My Life (mirrored from Facebook)

Found this one interesting, although most of the post-25 threads have
been silly. I got to thinking about it as there were moments in my life
that have been scored by music, but not really albums, but one specific
song at one specific moment that clarified things. Made it memorable,
so that when I hear x or y song, I immediately recall that point. Ah...
the daffodils in peaceful retrospection... oh wait, that's Wordsworth.
Anyway... albums or songs that helped me through the rough and not so
rough times. Chronologically, with long-winded explanations. :)

Notice how, BTW, that quite a few of these songs tie myself with
sporting events. There's something to be said for the breathing and the
rhythm of a song when physically exerting yourself.

1. Monkees, "Door into Summer," from
Pisces, Aquarius...etc
I remember this song from the TV show (1986 reruns) that really helped
me on my bowling games back then... I even broke 100 once. :) I still
use an 8 pound ball.

2. Bush, "You've Got the Touch," from Transformers OST
while singing that song, I could run like lightning, at Edwards every
Monday running the length of the bus driveway... well, until my legs
gave out and cramped or something.

Simon & Garfunkel's Greatest Hits got me through tough times, during Middle School, when I wished I had my books and my poetry to protect me.

4. Peter Paul and Mary, Lifelines. I bought it at Turtle's Music on the night of my high school graduation after we ate at Shoney's. That, along with Such is Love carried
me through that summer which was depressing and life-changing, that
summer before going off to college. The later, especially "Wild Places" helped during my Freshman year, when I was hiding from myself.

5. Hanson Middle of Nowhere. 1997. Ah.. I walked up to
Walmart and purchased the cassette of it, and nearly wore it out on my
walkman. I hope the college didn't mind me singing (loudly) through my
earphones. I felt like I was a part of something, a part of a new and
wonderful sound. A return to pop melodies and positive messages. Away
from Nirvana and Pearl Jam and towards the pop end of the spectrum.
Unfortunately, Hanson wasn't popular in College circles, and I have a
feeling I wasn't the only one in the "Hanson closet" so to speak.

6. And during the days of my graduate school days, when I was coming
home from Macon in disbelief on how bad kids are these days, I put in
Billy Gilman's
One Voice and sang all the way home. There is need in this world for positive
messages, ones that very few grown people can actually make. We are too
cynical. There were a few bright spots in the days when I was so
depressed. Music helped.

7. Along that same time, I really got into the music of Engima, and the third album
Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi, the song "The Child in Us," as well as some others, was very powerful
to me. "You were the rain, you were the sun / But I needed both, cause
I needed you." Okay, it sounds cheesy, but I
love that song.

8. When I was teaching at Hell, I mean, Conyers Middle, and I couldn't
stand the ruckus of the children (or the other teachers or
administration), I'd put in James Taylor's
October Road. "Baby Buffalo" is a song you can just breathe with. That album is as good as any HBP medication to relax heart rate.

9. For Christmas, a few years back, I got Linda and Robin Williams,
The First Christmas Gift,
which the title track changed the way I felt about working in Retail
during the Holiday season. The best Christmas album ever, full of

10. I'm gonna cheat on this one... songs I can put on repeat for hours at a time: Billy Gilman's "I Am/Shades of Life" Heartsongs, Tepid's remix of the Fisherman's Wharf music from Final Fantasy VIII, the old version, at , Declan Galbraith's rendition of "The Living Years" from Ego You.

11. Okay, out of chronological order, cause renumbering them would be a pain, I remember at Band Camp, listening to Crosby, Stills, and Nash's Daylight Again and feeling completely at ease with myself. I hear that album, and I think of those times.

And I'm sure there are others, but those are the ones, if I had to make a Soundtrack for my life, that I would put on there.