Goals 2017: April Update

This update takes place at least in the first week of April, so I’ll give myself a small pat on the back for that.

Goal 1: Health

March continues the theme of challenging on the health front.  I continue to fight wanting to stick 100% to the eating plan and, as a result, more carbs sneak in and before I know it, five pounds have climbed back on.  I’m hopeful that the return of better weather will provide me more opportunities to get out and walk and that will help because staying active has to be a part of this, so fingers crossed.

Grade: C (Little improvement month-over-month)

Goal 2: Tech Refresh
I’m going to cut myself a bit of a break here and acknowledge two small things:

1. I worked on a cool, little Arduino project which required some wiring and some programming of a NeoPixel LED strip.  I got it working and programmed a couple of patterns (starting, of course, with a sweeping, red Cylon eye pattern which you can watch here.

I hope to add more scenarios, make it controllable remotely (it’s a tiny microcontroller that actually has a web interface) and possibly wire in a light sensor and/or a motion sensor.
2. I also did some woodworking, electronics wiring and general Making.

Grade: B

Goal 3: Read some non-Fiction
I’m going to coast on being ahead of my goal and knowing that I’ve got a book on Mindfulness that I’m reading next called “Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace)

Grade: A

Goal 4: Document some Projects
I’ve got one on some lamps I’ve been working on for a while ready to go today or tomorrow.  On track for the goal.  (Still need to do some level of writeup on the leather working).

Grade: A

Goal 5: Volunteer
I was asked by a friend if I would mentor his Senior through his Senior Project because he wants to manage projects and do software.  I’ll have my final meeting with him this week to review the results, but that was a fun little side project that I enjoyed.

Extra Credit: A

The aggregate score gives me a 3.4 or a B/B+ with the extra credit.  I think I should have weighted the grades a bit as my primary goal’s reasonably low grade it being pulled up by the other goals.  Not sure I’m okay with that or not.  Oh, well, moving on.

Note
Image courtesy of https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Darts_in_a_dartboard.jpg and is a Public Domain photo.

Make: Lamps!

 

Some time ago, roughly four months ago, I was watching a show called The Librarians.  I enjoy it because it’s silly and escapist and it’s filmed in Portland.  In the past they have used many familiar landmarks including the sub at OMSI (and OMSI) and their secret lair is under the base of the St. Johns Bridge.  So, it’s always fun to watch and spot landmarks.  Give it a shot if you’re in the mood.

As I was watching one episode, I spotted a lamp which I thought was kind of cool.  I have noticed the show likes to fill the background with lots of stuff which is kind of Steampunk-ish or maybe Retro or Urban or something which I’m sure has a name that I don’t know.  In any case, the lamp caught my eye.  Enough so that I took a few screenshots of the television.

Here’s the best:

I liked the wood, I liked that I could identify that most of it was built from industrial pipe, I liked the bulbs, which I would later identify as Edison Bulbs.

Later, in another scene, I spotted a single bulb version which was similar, but had a glass shade.  

After that I went to Google and started searching for similar lamps and finally ran across this one off a link on Pinterest.  I won’t link to it since the Pinterest link dead ends and the domain is for sale, but here is the lamp which the ad copy says was “heavily featured on The Librarians”:

So, again, nice wood, rustic pipe, cool bulb.  I wasn’t as jazzed about the glass shade, but I liked the concept.

That sent me down a rabbit hole of Googling, but mostly around how to build DIY lamps using pipe, looking at fixtures, bulbs, lamp shades or cages.

I thought I could figure out how to do everything except I had no clue how to build the base.  I haven’t done any woodworking since woodshop in junior high (shout out to Mr. Janke who had lost a few fingers to things with blades, was a bad-ass with the industrial vacuum and taught us to taunt folks from Sweden with “Ten Thousand Swedes, running through the weeds, chased by one Norwegian!”).  

Fortunately, I know my own bad-ass woodworker and he has all his fingers and is a friend, so I was able to ask him some questions and he was very, very helpful in pointing me in the right direction and steering me away from a couple nasty potholes.  Thank you Larry!

The first problem I had was how was the base constructed?  To those with more knowledge than me, it is probably obvious, but I didn’t know.  Larry told me that this is done by gluing the right sequence of strips of wood together after you cut them on a table saw.  Easy Peasy!  Yeah, right.  

Well, I followed up with, what kind of crazy rare wood is that likely to be?  He again put me on the right path: “Those look like fairly common species that aren’t terribly rare and expensive.  I’d say mostly walnut, maple, and a couple of others.

In the end, after a trip to the wood store, examining the options and spending an hour talking with the very helpful wood salesmen, I settled on the pretty common White Oak for the light, Black Walnut for the dark and Cherry for the warm brown color.

I will not take you down the odyssey that that process became but I learned how to use my table saw (correctly), I learned how to plane (and how not to plane) wood.  I learned that it’s far better to do it correctly the first time than try and sand out the mistakes later.  I followed the woodworkers path of turning larger pieces of wood into smaller pieces of wood with the application of power tools and elbow grease and the production of copious amount of sawdust.  Like “fill up my wet/dry vac” volumes of sawdust.

Then came the lengthy process of gluing, which was terrifying only because it seemed like it would be hard to undo if I did it wrong.  Then there was routing to round over the edges for the smooth look in the image above.  Then came the sanding.  And more sanding.  And then there was some sanding in there somewhere.  

Eventually I had a base and it was time to drill the holes for the legs and the hole the electrical cord would go through.  I managed to scratch my wood (stupid mistake) which necessitated more sanding to fix my error.

We had some really awesome winter weather this year in Portland, so that killed nearly a month of time I might have worked in my shed, but I didn’t want to because it was really, really cold and breathing in a shed where you are producing sawdust without sufficient ventilation is really unpleasant.

Finally, about a month ago, the weather turned sufficiently and I put in the time to get the bases close to done.  Then it was time to turn them from a dry looking piece of wood into something nice and once again Larry steered me in the right direction: “For projects like that I prefer a rub on finish.  I finished one of my first woodworking projects with Watco Tung Oil.  Like boiled linseed oil but penetrates better and leaves a warmer tone.  Boiled linseed oil is ok, but not what I think of as a satisfying finish.”  It was his next piece of advice when we talked about how many layers to apply that cemented the realization that woodworkers are nuts: “Just wipe on, let sit for a half hour, wipe off – then wait a day.  They say a coat an hour for a day, a coat a day for a week, a coat a week for a month, and a coat a month for a year, and yearly thereafter.”  Yeah, nuts.  I gave up after a dozen coats.  They looked nice.  I was happy with them.

In parallel with this i acquired the pipe fittings.  I figured (correctly) that they were ½” pipe and fittings.  I did some quick figuring for parts and made a trip to my local big box hardware store and bought the basic pipe bits.  Unfortunately, they’re pipes.  From a hardware store.  So, they were greasy and kind of gross and I wouldn’t want them in my house, so I had to do some cleaning.

As I was putting together parts and looking at what I wanted to do, I started to notice that a lot of Steampunk uses brass or copper.  And some of the shades and lamps that I found were kind of cool looking with brass accents.  So, I decided that instead of strictly industrial, I was going to class mine up a bit and I would use brass bits (technically termed ‘nipples’) to connect the pipe parts.  And, I would paint my pipe black so I’d have the wood and black pipes and brass accents and old-timey bulbs.

I wanted to find some nice sockets but I didn’t want the standard pull cords or knobs to turn them on/off because I planned on using a switch on the cord.  That resulted in me exploring a very cool store my wife and I happened upon one weekend in Portland called Sunlan Lighting.  They source any number of cool bulbs, sockets, wiring, lights, lamps, hardware and various bits and bobs.  It’s a very cool and very Portland store and everyone in there was very nice and very helpful.

Here I found several difficult to find things:

  • Exactly the right lamp base I wanted – though it had a ⅛” threaded base
  • ⅛” threaded bit
  • ¼” threaded bit
  • ⅛” to ¼” coupler

This combination allowed me to thread the bulb base directly into the pipe fitting which ended with a ½” to ¼” reducer, which was a big deal and solved several problems!

Finally, after searching through options, I settled on these “Vintage Edison Bulbs 60W Squirrel Cage Filament Incandescent Antique Light Bulbs”:

And these covers, “Metal Lamp Guard, Industrial Wire Iron Bird Cage”, mostly because I liked the black and brass:

I found some cool cord, “Black Twisted Vintage Cotton Cloth Covered Cord”:

and some classic looking plugs:

And, finally, some inline rotary dimming switches.

After months since I’d started with “Hey, those are cool, I wonder if I could make something like that”, I was able to start assembling the results this last weekend to see how they would look.

Here are the results.

Now, they’re not 100% done.  I still need to paint the silver screws attaching the Black Iron Floor Flange Fitting to the lamp base.

I’m trying to decide if they’re too short relative to the base, but I think I’m good with that.  Additionally, I wonder if they need some aging to make them look less like something that was completed last weekend, but those are details.  Oh, and the caps that will sit on a table need something to protect whatever they will sit on or they will scrape the heck out of whatever surface that will be.  And, frankly, these are likely just going to end up in my office, anyway.  I won’t impose these on the rest of the house.

Looking back at the images that started me down this path roughly four months ago, my result definitely turned in to my own thing versus recreating an existing prop, but slavishly copying an existing thing wasn’t my goal (this time).

I learned a bucket load about woodworking and the bases certainly wouldn’t have turned out as nice as they did without the help of my friend Larry.  Having said that, I could point out half a dozen mistakes in the base that will likely only ever irritate me, but I also know that I would probably only have half as many of them if I ever do something like this again.

If I apply any reasonable value on my time, then these are ridiculously expensive, one-of-a-kind lamps, so I have once again failed to stumble on some money-making second career, but that was truly never my goal.  I simply wanted to make something cool based on something else cool that I saw one day while watching television.  I’m happy with the results, so I’ll call that a success!

Here are some links to pages I found that were helpful or gave me inspiration

How About Orange : How to Make an Industrial Floor Lamp http://howaboutorange.blogspot.com/2014/04/how-to-make-industrial-pipe-floor-lamp.html
Home Depot Blog: DIY Industribal Lamp: Cool Desk Lamp Made From Pipe

http://blog.homedepot.com/diy-industrial-lamp-cool-desk-lamp-made-from-pipe/
Steampunk Lamp: Dan is building cool things and blogging out what he did and how he’s doing it.  Excellent read and answered a question from me, which was appreciated. http://www.dplivingston.com/steampunk/steampunk-lamp-1

Goals 2017: March Update

I’m roughly a half month late in reviewing February, but it’s still fresh enough to allow me to rate my progress. It wasn’t a great month for progress on some personal fronts, but still, I need to hold myself accountable.

Goal 1: Health
February was tough. I reached my initial goal and celebrated by loosening the restraints a bit and SURPRISE (Not), the weight wants to come back! The takeaway for me is probably that the diet I was on works, but it’s awfully restrictive and my body is quick to return to it’s default state. Additionally, the weather around here has been uniformly ugly, so since most of my exercise is outside walking and that wasn’t happening, I shouldn’t be surprised I struggled.

Grade: C (It was, at best, an average performance)

Goal 2: Tech Refresh
I got side-tracked and have not been as focused as I’d like to be on this goal so I’m going to be hard on myself and say I didn’t really meet my expectations.

Grade: C

Goal 3: Read some non-Fiction
Read a book on questions to think about as you approach retirement. I won’t mention the specific book because I don’t think it was great and was really focused on a specific sub-section of potential retirees and much/most of the content didn’t really apply to me well, but I still take credit for the read.

Grade: A

Goal 4: Document some Projects
I’ve got one queued up (Leatherworking), but I need to sit down and write it. I can’t take much credit since all I’ve done is prep pictures, but I’m still on track for the goal for the year.

Grade: B

Goal 5: Volunteer
I volunteered at an work-sponsored event at the Children’s Book Bank which was great.
Additionally I gave blood this month.

Extra Credit: A

The aggregate score gives me a B-, but I’ll allow the Extra Credit Goal 5 to nudge myself up to a B. A generous B. Don’t let it happen again, me, okay?

Note
Image courtesy of https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Darts_in_a_dartboard.jpg and is a Public Domain photo.

Goals 2017: February Update

If you’re going to publicly post your goals, you ought to remain publicly accountable. At least that’s what I read. On the Interwebs. Somewhere.

So, how am I doing? I’ll use a classic US letter grading scheme and see how that goes.

Goal 1: Health
I had a very good January. I picked an eating plan (the DASH diet) and have stuck to it reasonably well and I got a really good jump towards my goal weight. I’m cautiously optimistic because the diet is not easy and is based on dramatically cutting back on carbs which I still love and crave and occasionally dream about. While I’m happy I was able to stick to it for the last three weeks, the real test is staying on it, hitting my goal and sticking with it.

I haven’t been as successful on the exercise component. In part due to some spectacularly bad weather where I live in January in to February, but that’s just an excuse if I were really committed.

Grade: A- (knocked down for the lack of exercise)

Goal 2: Tech Refresh
I’ve put off working through more directly applicable tech refreshing (eg Java) in favor of learning a reasonably complicated piece of 3D software called Blender. I love CG (Computer Graphics) animation and modeling and Blender can be used to create 3D models which I can then print on my 3D Printer, which has been a goal for some time. So, this is where I’m spending that time.

My results so far are roughly akin to a six year old with a box of crayons and more colors than they know what to do with, but I’m having fun.

Grade: B+

Goal 3: Read some non-Fiction
Read a DASH Diet book which sort of served multiple goals, but that’s totally okay.

Grade: A

Goal 4: Document some Projects
Did two in January (Vancouver Rocks and 3D Risers) and I’ve got at least one planned for February, so I’m on track for this goal.

Grade: A

Goal 5: Volunteer
I’ve signed up for a Volunteer opportunity at work and I’m donating blood, both in February, so I’m doing well on this.

Extra Credit: A

Using my advanced math skills, that’s an aggregate grade of 3.75, so a solid A-. I’ll take it!

Note
Image courtesy of https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Darts_in_a_dartboard.jpg and is a Public Domain photo.

Make: 3D Printed Stackable Height Risers for RPG Minis

One of my goals for the year is to document some of my projects. Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame is credited with saying “Remember kids, the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down”. Side note: according to Adam, it was actually Alex Jason, a ballistics expert working with them on one of the episodes. In any case, my head variation is “The only difference between actually doing something and fooling around is writing it down”. To that end, I’ll do some little after-project write-ups from some of my little side projects by way of differentiating between fooling around and whatever results I get, good or bad.

In this case, I was talking with the GM (Game Master) from our weekly Game Night and we were chatting about things including my 3D printing and I was lamenting that I hadn’t done much with it lately. He noted that if I was looking for a project, he would like small, stackable elements that he could use to differentiate players or non-players and the various elevations. This comes up because it’s easy to forget something was up in the air or how much versus a simple 2D position.

The conversation stuck and I started noodling and thinking about designs. So, step 1 was sketch and this is what I came up with:

As I started to think about how a 3D printer works (think of squeezing out a tube of toothpaste with a very narrow mouth, but instead with melted plastic and in 3 dimensions), it turns out it’s kind of tough to make something flat like the sketch standing on legs, because the printer prints in layers from the bottom up and going from legs to the platform will not work easily. I then realized I could flip it over and print the top surface first and the legs last and suddenly I had a plan.

The next step in prototyping is building a model. In this case the easiest and quickest solution was to build it using TinkerCAD. TinkerCAD is free, online CAD software that has enough functionality to do what I needed. So, after coming up to speed on the UI and how it worked, I started knocking out the design. In a CAD program, what you’re building is a series of shapes/solids and other shapes that act as holes which you use to cut, well, holes or shave pieces off the solids.

Here is what that looks like:

Or, rendered as a solid:

Now, with that, I can export that information in a file format that the 3D printer understands (typically a .STL or .OBJ). Next I import that file in to the software which communicates with the 3D Printer (in this case, Cura). Cura is used as a way to set up the print, describe options like quality and other obscure things like infill, whether to use support structures, etc. Once I was happy with those, I hit Print and wait 20 minutes for the results (and hope the 3D print doesn’t come loose and waste 20 minutes and the associated material).

Even with that, there’s a difference between what you picture in your head and what works in reality. In this case, what I determined after iterating on the design a few (like, six) times is that what I really wanted were legs that were narrower than the holes they fit in to to allow easy stacking that felt connected and wasn’t sloppy but you also didn’t have to force. So, yeah, only six or seven tries.

Before I offer the end result, I’ll show what I’ll call my Pile of Sadness. This is a combination of failed iterations and failed prints. This is what the middle bits between idea/inspiration and a working prototype look like:

The result, though, was pretty good. I was happy with it and will print up a number of them for our GM to use (or not) in our game. Because, in the end, it was really about making something that didn’t exist before as much as it was about solving the problem. But, solving the problem (satisfying my customer) also feels good.

And, as an additional bonus for lasting this long, here is a print I did just for fun of Baby Groot. (Design credit to Tom Davis and the model found on MyMiniFoundry)
Note: This will only be cool if you know the Guardians of the Galaxy movie and its sequel.

 

Thanks!

Goals: 2017

Rather than make resolutions, which tend to be a bit trite and are typically abandoned soon after making them, I thought this year I’d try to make some specific and concrete goals for 2017. I’ve also read that one way to make yourself more accountable for those goals is to share them since it add accountability, even if it’s imagined accountability.

In my experience, goals benefit from being SMART. Variations exist, but for my purposes: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Trackable. The last, T, could have been Time-based but since these goals are for 2017 and therefore time-based or time-bound isn’t relevant, but trackable is.

That means there should be some sort of regular check in for progress. I’m choosing monthly as a period because it’s enough to show progress but not so much that I lose focus.

Goal 1: Health
What: Get my weight down to my target goal and keep it there on my scale and maintain for at least three months.
How: Adjust diet, get more consistent exercise, maybe add in some resistance regimen.
When: By 7/1/16
Measurements: Weight (Withings Scale/App), Blood Pressure (Cuff/Manual Entry), Data from phone/app
Specifics:

  • Walk 10000 steps 3x weekly (Q1)
  • Walk 10000 steps 4x weekly (Q2)
  • Maintain (Q3/Q4)

Goal 2: Tech Refresh
What: Pick something to refresh and take a(n online) course.
How: Set aside a chunk of time weekly to work through this. Maybe a few nights a week or four hours a week on the weekend.
When: By 7/1/17
Tracking: Completion of the Courses

Goal 3: Read some non-Fiction
What: Read 6 non-Fiction books this year. Any subject, any (reasonable) length.
When: By 12/31/17
Tracking: Addition to Books:Reading Log

Goal 4: Document some Projects
What: Document some Projects that I work on. Painting minis, lamps, leather cases, whatever. Blog post is fine.
What: Document 4-6 Projects this year with pics and text.
When: By 12/31/2017

Goal 5: Volunteer
This is a stretch goal and I won’t hold it against me if I don’t do it, but it seems like a good thing to have as a goal for the year. This one will not be tracked monthly

That’s it! Let’s see how it goes.

Note
Image courtesy of https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Darts_in_a_dartboard.jpg and is a Public Domain photo.

Vancouver Rocks! And It’s Spreading…

Have you heard about Vancouver Rocks? Here’s a story from the local paper. Here’s the Facebook page which describes and shares some of the creations.

Basically folks have been painting, hiding and finding rocks up in Vancouver where I live. My wife told me about it after she became aware of it. One weekend morning a few weeks ago we wandered Orchards Community Park for my first time and looked for rocks. We each found a couple and had a really nice walk exploring a new park. Also met a couple of other rock hunters who were thoroughly friendly and enjoying the hunt.

We had so much fun with it we even painted a some rocks ourselves to hide when we get a chance. Christina already hid a few of them. Here are a few we have left and one of the rocks I found on my first adventure. (I painted the Princess Leia. It’s my favorite.)

This last week, as I was exiting my parking garage in downtown Portland, some color caught my eye and I spotted the rock up in the cover photo. And with such a simple message: Love.

I’ll probably hide this somewhere else downtown just to spread the fun.

I feel it’s this kind of act of creation coupled with the serendipitous and unexpected joy of discovery that can offset many of the realities of life that may get me down about current events and helps offset some of the fear I have of the future.

Here is something that is a purely positive event which takes place in the real world. You find a rock, you celebrate. You paint a rock and someone finds it. One person gets the joy in the act of creation, another the joy in discovery and maybe the pleasure that comes with re-hiding and hoping someone finds it as everyone moves forward putting that positive energy back out in the world. From one small act, many ripples can occur.

There’s no great reason for it, there’s no message or goal, it seems, other than to create moments out in the real world between people who will never meet but still find a way to communicate with each other.

How wonderful is that?

2016 – Well, that was a hell of a thing.

Let’s start off the new year with a picture of a pretty meadow as way to be mindful that as much as 2016 could be described as many things, not all good, we also have things to be thankful for.

My list revolves around family and my kids and my own relationship. We also made progress on some financial goals we wanted to get resolved in 2016, though it took much longer than expected. While there were certainly nights of shaking our heads, some insomnia around fear of the future and certainly frustrations, on balance I remain a fortunate man who is working to be mindful and appreciate my life.

I’ve been giving some thought to personal goals for 2017. I haven’t decided if I’ll write them down or make them public, but I’m leaning that way.

For no good reason, it appears I haven’t written anything worth posting for almost 18 months. Just the way it works out.

As it is the new year, I put a new coat of paint on the site and may tweak it a bit more. The top domain page hasn’t changed in far too long, so I should think about that.

Looking at the site, it does have me wondering whether it serves any purpose aside from self-gratification. Once upon a time, having your own site was akin to staking out your own corner of the new World Wide Web! It was virtual real estate. The reality today, though, is that aggregation to places like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have shifted things away from words but also away from personal sites more towards these controlled publishing venues.

I’ve made clear before that I really, really don’t like the Facebook model. It controls who sees my content, not even guaranteeing that people who I have explicitly indicated are Friends will see the content, but those same people will certainly see ads inserted inline every four or five stories. Similarly, Instagram is inserting ads in my streams. Frankly, I don’t get Snapchat, which officially makes me an “old”.

The best argument I’ve heard for continuing to publish on my site is that I own the content and presentation. That’s not exactly a compelling argument since I’m not writing for a wide audience, but it’s at least an argument for paying the $10/mo to have it as an option.

That’s it. I’ve got no great point other than to write something here and get 2017 kicked off. Here’s hoping you are able to make this year everything you want!

Note
Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/people/29069842@N02 and licensed via Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication. For more info, see http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en

Book Reviews

I recently finished a book which made me want to do a quick review. Then I wanted to contrast that with a different book. Then maybe toss in a third book, just for contrast. Finally, I thought I’d mention a book I’m looking forward to. I think I’m doing some book reviews!

 

The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir

TheMartian_Cover

When this book came out, I originally gave it a pass. For reasons I don’t recall, I somehow thought of this movie as Castaway on Mars. I had visions of a Space Wilson and Tom Hanks, all on Mars. Maybe some kind of Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

Tangent Alert Did you know that there was a movie in 1964 called Robinson Crusoe on Mars?! Apparently he is stranded on Mars with his monkey. There is an alien man Friday, slaver-aliens, air pills and explosions!

Back to our novel. Eventually I read a couple of reviews which, again, raved about The Martian and I started to think I needed to give it another look. About that time I heard that the book had been optioned to be made in to a movie (With Matt Damon, squee!!) There’s little I like less than having a good book spoiled by a bad movie so that added to the pressure to give it a read before I started to see images from the movie.

I absolutely loved this book! It’s probably one of the most fun and enjoyable books I’ve read in a very long time. I enjoyed the main character very much. He is a NASA astronaut (mission specialist), so he’s smart and he knows his science! He can think on his feet and he can think his way out of whatever sort of problem he’s faced with. Sure, he occasionally gets emotional, but he was always able to bounce back and come back positive.

One criticism I read said they were turned off by the cycle of “Disaster-Panic-Recovery, rinse, repeat”. I didn’t feel that at all. I and the story were propelled from one event to the next very fast and with what felt like real momentum. I cared about the guy. I wanted him to survive! It was, in the old parlance, a page turner despite the fact that I was reading it on my iPad.

One of the things I really liked about it was that it was pro-Science and pro-Math and pro- being smart. The main character was intelligent and he was resourceful and that was constantly fun to read about and feel a part of.

At the end of the day, that’s one of the things I liked best about it: I really enjoyed my time with that adventure and really sad to have it come to a close.

On a related note: I’ve seen the official trailer for the movie (YouTube Link) and it looks really, really good. Favorite line from the trailer: “In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m faced with only one option: I’m going to have to Science the shit out of this”. Not a line in the book, but very much in line with the character from the book. I’m looking forward to this movie, too.

Now, I’m going to move on to a book that I wanted to enjoy but did not.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves_Cover

Stephenson wrote a couple of books that I enjoyed a great deal: Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. Both of these were about Big Ideas and playing out the consequences of those big ideas. I enjoyed them both a great deal for those Big Ideas, for the characterizations and for the story that was told.

Some time after those came Cryptonomicon, which was the first of what was to be a “epoch making masterpiece” in the words of one reviewer. Personally, I found the book to be very, very long. And very self-involved and while I did make it through the book, I totally lost interest in anything that followed in that world or from Stephenson.

Recently, however, he released Seveneves which was reviewed well by some folks whose opinions I value. Additionally, it had what seemed to be a killer hook that asks the basic question: What would happen if the world were ending. Stephenson proposes a huge, cataclysmic disaster and them proposes to follow it through. Even better, the story was going to come back much later in the future to see how the world was impacted and how mankind recovered and was changed by the event.

It was enough to bring me back on board and give it a try.

Unfortunately, the book was simply not enjoyable to read. I did manage to suffer through, but I didn’t enjoy it. In the end, I finished it out of perversity and stubbornness as much as anything else.

The big disaster which drives things starts off very unemotionally. It just happens. Which is just fine. Sometimes things just happen and the interesting story is in watching how it affects the characters.

Unfortunately for me, the characters, with the exception of one, were largely uninteresting or unpalatable. The felt one-dimensional and I was unable to engage with them as people. In contrast to how I felt about the main character in the previous book, I just really didn’t care what happened to any of them.

On the upside, this may well be a book for someone interested in the science of a disaster like this. It might also be interesting to someone who follows the space program, enjoys physics (in the abstract) and is fascinated by astronauts as they are, really, the heroes of the story and that’s laudable.

Eventually, about two thirds of the way through the book, the first portion with all the characters we’ve been following winds down and there’s a giant flash-forward in time to see how the mankind fared in the interim and how, or if, the Earth recovered.
Again, I found the story cold, unengaging and, ultimately, uninteresting. I was, sad to say, bored.

It may simply be that Stephenson’s prose and story telling are not engaging to me and that’s okay. But at this point I suspect it would take a very large truck to pull me back in to trying another story from him.

Now, in fairness, I’m bashing a book that’s currently a bestseller from an author who has received multiple awards, all of which may simply indicate that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, but it remains my opinion.

From that, I wanted something to clear my palate, so I read a book in a series which I’ve been enjoying. It’s a book in the Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey

The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey

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I enjoy this series. It’s a mashup of a very noir L.A. coupled with a fantasy series involving monsters of various stripes, demons and angels as well as Lucifer and a God that’s got a bit of multiple personality disorder (literally!). And our main protagonist, Stark, known to many as Sandman Slim.

The world is, quite literally, going to hell and Stark, often reluctantly, is the one who stands between the forces trying to tear it all apart and the rest of us, obliviously living our lives.

I like how L.A. is where (at least on Earth) we spend most of our time in the books because the glitz and glitter of L.A. is reflected in a Hell that looks and feels much the same.

Stark is a hard-drinking, hard-living man who is always ready with a quip or a fight. As with the best of noir characters, on the face of things, he’s not all that likable, but he’s always fun to watch. And, really, at the end of the night, all he wants is a drink, good takeout and good movie to watch.

Our world sits on the edge of annihilation and all that stands between us and the end of all things is Sandman Slim.

This is the sixth book and in each, Kadrey has managed to ramp up the suspense and the stakes. I’m not sure how long he can keep doing that, but as long as they’re fun to read, and they are, I’ll likely come back every year or so for another.

Finally, I’ll mention a book I’m looking forward to.

The End of All Things by John Scalzi

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This is the last (for now!) book in the Old Man’s War series. It takes place in a universe where humans are out and about interacting with a variety of other space-faring intelligences, many of which are bigger, badder and more capable of killing than humans. We are not, by any stretch, the big kid on the block.

I find the Old Man’s War universe to be very enjoyable and a fun, easy read. Scalzi was answering the question recently on reddit whether his writing can be compared to eating popcorn. I suspect it was implied that somehow being compared to eating popcorn was a bad thing. On the contrary, if you’re in the mood, a snack is a wonderful thing. Sometimes it’s exactly what you’re looking for. In a fairly self-aware response, Scalzi notes that his goal is to write books that sell – he has a family to support, after all. And sell books, he does! And, I like popcorn.

I’m not buying the book (and, to be clear, I will be buying the book) because it’s necessarily the best piece of literature ever, I’m buying it because he writes books that I’ve enjoyed, tells stories that I want to read and I have a pretty high degree of confidence, based on his track record, that I’ll enjoy this book as well.

The End of All Things comes out August 11, 2015. Now, Mr. Scalzi, TAKE MY MONEY! And let me know when you write something else. There’s a pretty good chance I’ll buy that, too.

On The Practice of Practicing

Back in 2013 I set myself a goal of writing 1000 words weekly. There were actually several goals that I had in mind, but an additional goal was to see if doing something weekly would result in a habit. This has not been the case.

My thinking was, and this was certainly aided by common beliefs, that anything one does as a habit will come more easily than something that requires discipline. However, my experience doesn’t align with that. The practice of writing regularly (removing the requirement to do it weekly) remains just that: something I practice.

In 2013, because I set the goal and executed it, I produced 52 postings of 1000 words or more for a total of 87 thousand works.

In 2014, with no discipline in place and no publicly stated goal, I only produced 14 thousand words roughly monthly.

In 2015, here late in the month of April, I’m only writing my fourth posting and this word: frabjous is the 4286th word that I’ve written here this year.

What to take away from this?

Well, the most obvious is that a good, publicly stated goal is easier to accomplish than a private one. I do think holding myself accountable and saying it out loud (relatively speaking, in this space) resulted in more discipline than I would have had otherwise.

I think it’s bunk to say “If you do a thing N times, it’ll become a habit”. This is no more true for brushing your teeth than it is for exercising or writing regularly. I have a habit of drinking a chai tea I make at home on Monday and Thursday mornings. That’s a habit. I shave on twice a week unless there’s a special event. That’s a habit.
I suspect I have more bad habits than good habits. I have things that I want to do more that I wish were habits, but are not. Flossing, for example. I should floss daily. Many dental professionals have told me this and I refuse to make it a daily habit. I have, in the past, made the effort to floss daily, often a month or so before a dental exam in hopes of avoiding the finger wagging when they poke at my gums. But as soon as that’s past, I fall right back in to my irregular flossings.

It seems to me that very often things that we call habits are things that we should do or wish we did more regularly, but often we don’t.

Like writing or practicing a musical instrument, habits seem like things we wish we did more, if we would only put in the work. We wish we would make it a practice that takes priority over the other bright and shiny objects that fill our lives and serve to suck up our time.

I imagine the goal is to figure out how to balance between the things we want to do, the fun things, the things that give us that burst of pleasure in the moment and those things we should do, often because those things that we should do are not about gratification now, rather they are about deferred gratification.

If I floss, if I work out, if I practice an instrument, if I prep the garden, if I write regularly, if I do any of this or a huge list of other things I could and probably should do, I often get little immediate gratification from those actions. But, I’m doing it to keep my teeth longer, I’ll live longer, I’ll eventually be able play a song, I’ll eat food that I’ve grown, I’ll not cringe at my writing. Not today, necessarily, but eventually.

I think our monkey brains which are often and largely faced with operating in the short term and are not particularly well evolved to do things for later, lacking immediate gratification, deferring the gratification till another day. Maybe it’s a consequence of evolution and where our hunter/gatherer brains have evolved to focus on not starving today rather than planning for not starving in the winter, maybe it’s the thin veil of modernity that sits atop our animal brains. I don’t know, but I know I struggle with it.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to try and fight the fight. I’ll continue the Practice of Practicing when I can and when the long terms benefits portion of my brain can overpower the monkey brain or the lizard brain that sits below and demands what it wants NOW, screw the consequences, screw the future. It’s a good fight, but I imagine it’s not one you win. It’s a holding action. Sometimes my brain will be more disciplined and other times I’m going to sit on the couch and watch Daredevil. That’s life!

Note
Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/thart2009/ and licensed via Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication. For more info, see http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en