Saturday, March 31, 2012

Books read in March 2012

Only three YA books of seven this month?  Not bad, not bad.  Book of note:  even if you aren't interested in Biosphere 2, Dreaming the Biosphere is a great piece of nonfiction.  I hope to read more by Reider.

Catching Fire
Suzanne Collins
Matt and I read aloud.
More great manipulation coming from every direction.  It was nice read it over a period of weeks, rather than days.

Kristen Cashore
It took about 150 pages for me to really like it, but then WHAMMO! I was all in and various daily chores were put off.  There were a lot of similarities between the main character Katsa and a certain Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games, and a bit of research shows that both books were published within a month of each other in 2008.  The idea of Gracelings were quite interesting and Katsa's struggle for freedom was meaningful.

I rarely read Goodreads reviews of a book until after I've written my own, but this was an exception.  I was quite surprised at the number of people who disliked the book for its purported "message."  According to several reviewers, this book existed to warn women away from marriage, as the main character is quite adamant she will not marry, due to the fact that she does not want a man to control her.  Many women expressed they they don't feel oppressed by their marriage and they didn't like the author pushing the opposite of marriage upon them.  This was interesting to me, as I find people who apply their own feelings to characters in fantasy settings are kind of missing the point of fantasy novels, and, at the same time, from the view of marriage and owning women, they disregard most of human history.  They may be lucky enough to not feel oppressed in their marriages, but I'm not sure women even 40 years ago could say the same.

Galileo's Daughter
Dava Sobel
Read for Kenton Book Club.
This book had an interesting premise (letters written to Galileo from his illegitimate daughter who became a nun) and I thought the scientist-to-nun ratio was exactly opposite of what it should be.  I was much more interested in the life of a cloistered nun, but the author has a scientific bent and not a social historian's bent and thus, we disagreed as to what is most interesting. The politics of science and the Cathloc church were interesting and many people in book group liked this book, but I was not one of them.

Dreaming the Biosphere: The Theater of All Possiblities
Rebeccca Reider
Biosphere II loomed large in my young adulthood wonderings.  For some reason, I was fascinated by the idea of living in a completely closed space for two years with seven other people.  When the mission ended, I read that all of the participants had pledged to not share what went on while inside the Biosphere and I was disappointed I would never find out.

But "nevers" have a way of wandering off as time passes and I've since discovered that there are books about the Biosphere II mission written by the insiders.  This, however, is written by an outsider and tells the tale of the creation of the Biosphere, which is as fascinating a story as the Biosphere II story itself.  Recommended.

Haruki Murakami
I've not read Murakami before and this was a fabulous introduction.  I loved the writing and this was one of those books that I just kept reading until I was done, which was unfortunate as it is a very long book.  It came in handy for days spent in airports, though.  I loved every minute of the story.  Until I was done.  Upon finishing the 925th and final page, I felt a bit cheated.  "I just read almost one thousand pages for that story?" I wondered to myself.  Still, the great prose made this a good experience, even if the I felt sold short by the ending. Also, there's a lot of sex.  A lot.  I find this interesting as most novels just briefly describe the encounter or sort of brush by it in the style of movies from the 1950s.  Do all his novels have so much sex in them?  Either way, I'll read more by Murakami.  Who has recommendations for what to read next?

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter
Jennifer Reese
I have never referred to a cookbook as "hilarious" before, but this was that.  I think I found the book funny because Reese seems to have a very familiar style of cooking, that is, getting a bit overwhelmed in her projects.  So if you lean in that direction, you might enjoy this book just for reading.  There was also a great essay about her mother's dislike of cooking that pulled a few heartstrings. Also, aside from good reading, I loved the recipes.  The book came from the library and I started to mark recipes to copy before returning.  After about the first five I realized I should just buy the book.  So I did.  I've already made: bread, bagels(!) cream cheese, almond butter, yogurt and ginger ale.

Kristin Cashore
Officially called a "companion book" to Graceling this went in an entirely different direction much to my relief as the person who I thought was the main character tortured animals and that is one of the few things I cannot read about in books.  Happily, after an introductory paragraph he was not seen again until the end of the book.  Here we have another strong woman character, lots of battles, intrigue and perhaps a bit of romance?  Sounds good to me.  I will be interested to see if the next book ties the two companion books together.

Note:  I just checked out some reviews and again with the hating on Cashore's "anti-marriage, pro-casual-sex views."  Who ARE these people?  Not everyone's so into marriage and most people I know are pro-casual-sex.  Neither position means the other one is bad. Also, is it just being called casual sex because the characters are not married?  They are in exclusive relationships.  Is this book such a threat because it's written for teenage girls?  I'm beginning to wonder if this author popped up on some list: "Read this anti-marriage, pro-casual-sex author and say bad things about her."

Friday, March 30, 2012

Requiem: 3 shirts

A coworker at Bread and Circus gave this to me for my birthday one year.  At the time, I was wearing army pants with inserts of plaid down the side seams (it was the late 90s.) She thought this shirt would go nicely with those pants.  I disagreed (too much army in one place for an unenlisted person) but I wore the heck out of this shirt. It's pretty threadbare.  I also used to often wear it without a bra.  (See above about late 90s)
When I lived in Somerville, a thrift store opened and I found this shirt there.  I loved it because the 1984 games were the first Olympics I remembered.  I probably would have had memories of the 1980 games, but there was that pesky boycott.  I think the thrift store was supporting a charity that turned out not to be so charitable and that's why I can't find the thrift store in the quick internet search I did.  I used to exercise in this, pairing it with men's boxer briefs.  Again, it was the late 90s.
I believe this was my first eBay purchase.  At the time, I was really interested in bicycle touring and I bought this shirt for something like $4.00.  It was a great deal and a great biking shirt.  However, I haven't worn it in years.  So it's off to the Goodwill to make someone else happy.  Knowing the Goodwill's pricing structure, the happy recipient will most likely pay more than $4.00.

Three sentence movie reviews: Tom, Dick and Harry

A "zany comedy" recommended by the library's blog, this was a bit slow (as befitting a movie made 70 years ago) and I enjoyed Ginger Roger's slightly dingy main character.  Having only seen her with Fred Astaire, I was intrigued to see her on her own.  I wasn't happy with the ending, but a movie that is about three generations out of my own expereince isn't probably going to have the same idea of "happy ending" as I do.

p.s.  Warner Archive.  It's nice that you've re-released this and all, but could you at the very least fix the wild fluctuation in sound?  And maybe those of our hearing-impaired friends would like the movie. If only there was some closed captioning.  How much would that have cost, really?

Three sentence movie reviews: The Incredible Hulk

I liked Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, it worked for me though I know others were not so happy with his performance.  I can never decide if Liv Tyler is a good actress or if I just like her so much I'm happy to watch her no matter her acting ability.  Overall, not a bad way to spend an evening.

Nice poster.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Essay: When the USPS works faster than the internet or the phone.

On Saturday morning, I tried to stop my paper before I went on vacation.  An hour later, I was furiously typing the letter below.

Dear Oregonian Reader Services,

I am going away for a few days and would like to stop my paper. This used to be a matter of dialing the number in the paper, talking to a very nice person and telling them the dates I wished to stop my newspaper subscription. Then it became an automated voice, which was not as pleasant, but got the job done. Recently, I received information of how to set up my account online and I did so. I chose a password according to your incredibly labyrinthine—and unnecessary—specifications and then I emailed myself the password so I would not forget.

Today I remembered I needed to stop the paper. I dialed the phone number listed in the paper and found the line was busy. The automated lady nicely offered to keep dialing for only 75 cents, but I figured since the easiest avenue was closed to me, I would log on and use the online service I had already prepped for.
When I entered my email and password, I was told that they did not match. I chalked it up to my error—after all, I may have noted it incorrectly. I then used the “forgot password” link. The email that was sent DID NOT INCLUDE A PASSWORD. Instead, it prompted me to log on and then I could change my password. However, since there was no password forthcoming, I was unable to do that. I tried the phone number a few more times, but the line continued to be busy.

I then used the password again and this time the email contained a password. I copied and pasted it into the password field, only to find that your system, the one who just sent me the new password, told me that the username and password DID NOT MATCH. I enclose a copy of the emails for your perusal. I then searched the site for a way to email my request, but was stopped by the same email and password conundrum.

I feel I have made a good faith effort to put a vacation stop on my paper. Seeing as my paper will be delivered despite my efforts, I request 1) a refund for the papers delivered Sunday March 25 through Tuesday, March 27. 2)Some sort of confirmation that you will do this, contact information below. 3)Either an upgrade of your web service so it works, or an increase in the number of phone lines your company uses.
Patricia Collins
[email address was here] (note that there is no complex log on procedure necessary to contact me)
[phone number was here]

When I arrived home on Tuesday night, I found a paper was delivered on Sunday and another on Monday.  There was no paper on Tuesday and none arrived on Wednesday.  I called on Wednesday and was able to get through.  The nice man who helped me helpfully told me that a complaint had been lodged, but that there was no hold on my paper and he wasn't sure why it had not come for two days.  He promised to give me a credit (which, come to think of it, I don't think I've received) and he would get my paper started.  

I enjoy that I explicitly stated my needs in my letter (even handily numbered) and the company was not able to meet any of them.  This is where I would love to cancel my subscription, but I need the paper, so I must put up with their shenanigans.  But it's times like these that I wonder if this  is the type of efficient company "the government" is supposed to model itself after.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Three sentence movie reviews: The Prince and the Showgirl

I rented (meaning I got it from the library) this because the movie My Week with Marilyn is based on the experience of one of the crew of this production.  While I found My Week with Marilyn a bit trying, I greatly enjoyed this frippery of a tale.  Monroe's comedic talents were on display and I liked how smart the "dumb blonde" was.

Note that there is no red dress in the movie. She wears the same white one for the entire film.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mini Time Machine Museum

This museum in Tuscon was a great find. It's chock full of doll houses, shadow boxes and other miniatures that transport you to different times. (Hence the "time-machine" in the title)  I was delighted to wander through.

This man who built this house was killed in a carriage accident.  Supposedly, the devil riding the bicycle (you can see the enlargement of the figurine in the information to the left of the house) was placed there to commemorate the craftsman's untimely death.  The horseless carriage (lower right corner) was also put there for the same reasons.
An example of the "time machine" quality:
An 18th century German Kitchen
And a late 19th century German Kitchen.
The details on the houses were amazing.

I bought a calendar in the gift shop and it came with a tiny mini-calendar which causes most who see it to break out into various versions of "oh my goodness it's so cute!!!" Myself included.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Biosphere 2

Upon discovering that Biosphere 2 was in the same general area of Arizona where my dad lives, my interest was reawakened.  Biosphere 2, for those of you not similarly aware, was an experiment in the early 1990s where eight people sealed themselves in a habitat for two years to see if they could live in a closed system.  This means they "grew" their oxygen and food and recycled their wastes.  I found the project fascinating, though by the time it was over, it had fallen out of favor with the scientific community.  In preparation for my visit, I read the book Dreaming the Biosphere by Rebecca Reider which provided a great context for the project.

My first in-person view of Biosphere 2.
The geodesic dome was a big part of construction.  I believe this used to be the animal habitat.  The library is in the tower and the living quarters (human habitat) are in the second story of this building.
The door to the outside world.  This was sealed shut for two years during the initial mission.
Lemon tree in the orchard.
More of the orchard.  The pathways were installed after the first two missions so tourists could experience the Biosphere from inside.
First look at the ocean.
A view of the rain forest habitat.
After the missions were over, Columbia University took over the operation of Biosphere 2.  Their scientists did many experiments, but to better control their variables, they installed plastic curtains to separate the habitats.  The original Biospherians could look from the rain forest, over the ocean and all the way to the desert habitat.
How the rain forest is so lush.
Another view of the ocean habitat and I believe those are mangroves.
Peeking at the ocean habitat from the Savannah.  The "rocks" were all sculpted from concrete, which became the source of an unforeseen problem during the first mission.
Columbia University, after building ten million dollars worth of student dorms, abandoned Biosphere 2.  Today the University of Arizona runs it.  They say it's "where science lives" and we saw a lot of experiments, all of which, our tour guide informed us, can be read about on the web site.
More Savannah.
Some of the Arizona sun shining on the Biosphere.  The first mission experienced a below-average amount of sun due to El Nino.  This caused problems with the crops.
A frankincense tree.
More science.  This had to do with bugs and pools of water, I believe.
Peeking out through the windows, you can see the power station for Biosphere 2.
More science.
Looking back at what was the agricultural habitat during the missions and is now the Landscape Evolution Observatory.
Entering the desert habitat.
Overlooking the desert habitat.  This is a coastal desert, like those found in Baja, California.
After touring our way through the habitats, we climbed down stairs to the innards of Biosphere 2.  Here, giant blowers whooshed air around us as we all giggled.  Our tour guide remarked that every group she has delights in air moving over them.
What keeps the ocean habitat running.
After spending time in the habitats, all this machinery seemed strange.
My favorite part was visiting the west lung. Biosphere 2 has two "lungs" which served as places for the air to move to so the structure didn't either explode or implode as the air expanded in the heat and contracted at night.
Now, because Biosphere 2 isn't sealed, the lungs aren't a vital part of the structure. But they are sill fascinating.  Black rubber is attached to a heavy metal disk.  The disk would sink and push the air back into the Biosphere at night when things cooled off.  During the day it would rise as expanding air rushed into the lung.
Geodesic domes protect both lungs, as seen through this window.
Exiting the Biosphere.  More rushing air.
Looking at the desert habitat.
A front view of the former agricultural habitats.
Walking by the power station.
One of the fish in the ocean habitat.
The ocean was murky.  I read that cleaning the algae out of the system was a tedious job during the missions and  I think that the University of Arizona may have given up on that tedious job.
The kitchen in the human habitat.  It had all the modern conveniences.  Each of the crew had their own small apartment with a loft bed, a desk and a couch.  Also in the human habitat were laboratories for experimentation and a library for research.  The library was in the tower and had a 360 degree view.  I was most sorry we couldn't experience it.

I'm glad I got to see Biosphere 2 in person.  The science being done now is not as interesting to me as the original intent of the structure, but I'm happy someone is paying to maintain it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Band Concert!

On Sunday evening, we attended a community band concert.   The band was great, and I especially enjoyed "Bolero,"  Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait" and a medley of Glen Miller songs.  Also, they played the Stars and Stripes Forever for an encore and that was just delightful.

Titan Missile Museum

Our next stop was the Titan Missile Museum.  I was moderately interested upon entering and completely fascinated while there.  This is a great museum.

A poster that gave insight into why we "needed" to have enough weapons to completely destroy the USSR fifty times over.
Some good artifacts.
Hint to person from the past:  I don't know if that outfit would help very much.
Alas, not the proper orientation.  But here's what you need to do to launch the missile.
These safes were where the instructions were kept.  Each shift changed out the locks.
I found the deactivation part quite interesting, especially the part about leaving the silos exposed.
We saw a video of the missiles being launched before heading out to the site.  The launches were test launches and all 42 hit their mark.  I'm wondering if at twelve million 1960 dollars apiece, we couldn't have just called it good at say, ten missiles tested.
Our tour guide was Hans (on the left.)  Hans opened by telling us he did have an accent and it was a German accent.  He further informed us that he could give us a tour without an accent, but he would have to talk in German.  I greatly enjoyed Hans.
Pointing out various parts of the missile.
First look at the missile.
The hole was cut in the top as part of the treaty.  This is the only missile and silo remaining, so there needed to be a way to show it was  not operational.  When they cut the hole, they had to leave it above ground for a month so the Russian satellites could see it.
A different kind of "duck and cover." This duck and cover was to see the missile through the glass.
Silo door information.
To the right you can see the concrete blocks that keep the cover from opening completely.  This is part of the treaty.  A cover that does not open all the way is unable to launch the missile.
Hans and the concrete blocks.
Going into the silo.
Inside the silo. Notice the thick walls, ready to withstand bombardment.
In the control room.
Everything in the silo is suspended on springs to help it survive a missile bombardment.  The control room itself is a giant birdcage with massive springs suspending it.
The file cabinet with the codes along with launching equipment.
Clock showing Greenwich Mean Time.
This clock is your local time.
Walking through the hallways.
Looking at the Silo.
"No Lone Zone" meant that at least two people had to be in this area together.  This was standard throughout the silo.
The eyewash in this station expired in March of 1984
Another great example of the springs.
Should you need to decontaminate...
Some protective gear.
To enter the silo, you had to read a code to the current crew.  Upon entering, you had to burn the code and drop the ashes into this red can.
All the missile sites around Tuscon.
The "protection through power" motto was all over the missiles.  I find the "protection through power" motto quite amusing. And convenient, for defense contractors.
The museum's official title.
One of five radio towers.