Saturday, October 18, 2008


After 3 months with only a broken-down 10 year old computer (the pictured pc is a 1980's vintage PC-XT... which I recall paying around 3 grand for) we are finally back and up and running with new machines . Well sort of... I am still learning to deal with Vista, but that's a small price to pay. I have kept apace with reading and so I will be bringing updates, hopefully on a daily basis. I have lots to report and discuss (i.e. I've read lots of good books lately!). Not to mention that I've discovered a whole subculture of internet blogging about books and reading. Lots of ideas...

Monday, September 1, 2008

August Reading

A lot has happened in August. I've started a new job with a new school district. My kids have started school in a new district (different than mine). We're still in the process of unpacking and settling into our new house. I've agonized over the destruction of habitat down the street...still fighting depression on that. I've received the reading list for volunteer reader selector for the MASL Gateway Awards 2009-10... and read 8 of the books on the list so far. So, all in all a very busy month. AND I've read a total of 14 books bringing my yearly total to 70. My goal of 100 books in 2008 is well within reach (in fact, due to the fact that the MASL books are all YA and pretty quick reads, I've upped my goal to 110 and would like to get to 120).

This month's list includes:

1) Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer. Reviewed here... after some further reflection I've changed my original enthusiastically positive review. It all wrapped up just a little too "lived happily ever after" I think. It didn't help that it was panned by so many fans...
2) Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie Dobbs is still one of my favorite female characters. Set in post WW I England, the stories are both historically interesting and emotionally moving.
3) The Gunslinger by Stephen King. Having been a King fan for as long as he's been writing, I've somehow avoided this series. I'm not sure why... it just never really seemed to call me to read it. I enjoyed this first installment well enough to plan on picking up the second book in the series... just don't know when.
4) In Search of Mockingbird by Loretta Elsworth. The first Gateway nominee I picked up. I enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird well enough to reread it several years after I graduated from school. This is a cute little story using the love of Harper Lee's book to propel a teenager onto a journey of self discovery. I enjoyed it well enough...but found it lacking in several ways.
5) Peak by Roland Smith. The best Gateway nominee so far (out of 8 read in August). Tells the story of a troubled boy transported to Tibet by family events, and used as a political and publicity pawn in an effort to place the youngest climber on the summitt of Everest. Great ending.
6) The Off Season by Catherine Murdock. Sequel to Dairy Queen. Football and basketball playing farm girl deals with a family tragedy... learns about boys and economic class distinctions.
7) Blackbird, Farewell by Robert Greer. Received this as an ARC from Librarything. My complete review can be found here... suffice it to say that I didn't care for it.
8) Something Rotten by Alan Gratz.
9) Dorsai! by Gordon R. Dickson.
10) Boot Camp by Todd Strasser. See review above.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gateway List

Here's the list of potential nominees for the MASL Gateway award for 2009-10. Books I've read so far are in red.

Twisted by Anderson, Laurie Halse
Thirteen Reasons Why by Asher, Jay
Tasting the Sky: a Palestinian Childhood by Barakat, Ibtisam
Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Beah, Ishmael
Beauty Shop for Rent -- : Fully Equipped, Inquire Within by Bowers, Laura
Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature by Brande, Robin
Dragon's Keep by Carey, Janet Lee
Billie Standish Was Here by Crocker, Nancy
Deadline by Crutcher, Chris
Tallgrass by Dallas, Sandra
Gym Candy by Deuker, Carl
November Blues by Draper, Sharon
In Search of Mockingbird by Ellsworth, Loretta
Beastly by Flinn, Alex
Right Behind You by Giles, Gail
Something Rotten: a Horatio Wilkes Mystery by Gratz, Alan
Blood Brothers by Harazin, S.A.
Wicked Lovely by Marr, Melissa
The Off Season by Murdock, Catherine
Unwind by Shusterman, Neal
Peak by Smith, Roland
First Shot by Sorrells, Walter
Boot Camp by Strasser, Todd
Defect by Weaver, Will
Such a Pretty Girl by Wiess, Laura
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Zevin, Gabrielle

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


My wife says I am brooding.

I had no idea that the mere removal of trees would ever affect me this much.

So in an effort to distract myself, and inspired by this blog entry, I've decided to create my own Deserted Island Reading List.

In no particular order:
1) Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
2) The Structure of Evolutionary Thought by Stephen Jay Gould
3) The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook by James Green
4) Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian; if booklady gets to claim a 20+ series of books as one entry... why then so do I!
5) Traveller's Library compiled by W. Somerset Maugam
6) Battle Cry of Freedom by James MacPherson
7) Chess For Zebras by Jonathon Rowson
8) The Complete Walker IV by Colin Fletcher
9) The Hugo Winners (Vol. I & II) edited by Isaac Asimov
10) Robert Heinlein: A Readers Companion by James Gifford along with The Best of Robert Heinlein by RAH himself.

A nice mix of history, literature, fiction, science (I am after all a physics and biology teacher), and general knowledge books.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Clearcutting update

After speaking with people "in the know", the plan for the creek and ~5 acres of woods is "to leave as many trees as possible while straightening the channel".

Hmph. So far four logging trucks have pulled out loaded with, what looks like to my inexpert eye, "prime timber". Wonder who's getting the cash for that timber. My bet is the city.

So much for the two owls I've seen, and the fox that I spotted that was hunting the other evening as I was walking. Oh sure, they'll be fine ... for a while. That's the way destroying habitat works. No big difference immediately, and what some people view as a messy area is cleaned up. But 5 years from now, there probably won't be any foxes or owls. People who sit inside and watch TV will never know. People like me ... who know and desperately care, will get reputations as cranks opposed to "what's best for the community".


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sick to my stomach


It turns out that we didn't move to paradise after all. We bought a house across the street from the ~100 acre school campus. We were very excited about the open space and the potential for wildlife and birds.

However, the school proposed and the community voted to build a new auditorium/arena, which you would think would be a good thing. Unfortunately, some city engineer pointed out that water drainage would be an issue. Since it does rain a lot here in the winter and spring... what that means is that about 5 acres of timber/creek are basicly being clearcut one block away from where we bought our house.

I drove by this morning and watched machinery drag 100 year old oak trees with trunks 5-6 ft across out of the creek.

It made me sick to my stomach. I HATE progress. Sure, a new auditorium/arena will be good for the community and the schools. But that building will be long gone before we have trees like those again.

There HAS to be a way that we can have both. Unfortunately, I live in an area that has long embraced the clearcutting of forests for community (and business) profit. And since this is essentially a done deal... paradise, for me, was short-lived. :-(

Friday, August 8, 2008

Gateway Awards

The Gateway Award is annually awarded to a book voted upon and selected by secondary (grades 9-12) student readers. Initiated by the Missouri Association of School Librarians (MASL), the program currently gives awards to books written at four different reading levels. Go here for more information on the awards etc.

My wife, a certified high school librarian, and I, volunteered for and were chosen as reader selectors for next years (2009-10) Gateway Award. What this means is that we get to read and rate 26 or so, copyright 2007, YA fiction books between now and December 1st. The pool of actual nominees will be selected from all the ratings submitted by reader selectors, and then will be voted on by secondary school students during the 2009-10 school year.

2007-08 Winner was Stephanie Meyer's Twilight; nominees for 2008-09 include Copper Sun by Sharon Draper and Terrier: Beka Cooper by Tamora Pierce (my vote goes to Pierce but she probably won't win).

I've already read two of the books in the pool.... Peak by Roland Smith and In Search of Mockingbird by Loretta Ellsworth.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Breaking Dawn [SPOILERS FOLLOW!]

Wow! Just finished reading Breaking Dawn after reading for 8 straight hours. I actually picked up my sister-in-laws copy last night from B&N, started early this morning (fending off her repeated inquiries about the whereabouts of her book) and just now finished it.What can I say about this book?

I guess first of all the reader needs some perspective… I’m a 49-year-old male high school science teacher. I read the first book on a recommendation from my librarian wife, along with recommendations from several of my students. I thought the first book was ok, liked the second book far more, and was satisfied with the ending of the third book as a wrap-up to the series. Especially since I felt that Ms. Meyer had painted herself into a rather difficult plot corner to get out of.

When I heard that there was to be a fourth book in the “trilogy” I wasn’t sure that it was a great idea since I feared that Ms. Meyer would have to use some very contrived solutions in order for everybody to “live happily ever after”.

I was sorely mistaken. Her solutions to the problems of Bella becoming a vampire, and the love triangle between Bella, Edward, and Jacob Black were nothing short of brilliant. And the showdown scene between the Volturi coven and the Cullen family (and allies) was riveting, with a very satisfying (bloodless) outcome.

I have to say that the ending of this story was far more satisfying than the ending of the Harry Potter saga. Ms. Meyer has even left us with a few tantalizing possibilities for future installments…

Things that I really liked:

The half-vampire, half human child, Renesmee. I felt that she was an amazing addition to the story, and a very neat solution to the problem of Bella’s desire to become a vampire. I spent the first three books hoping that Bella would NOT have to lose her humanity in order ‘consummate’ her love affair with Edward, all while knowing that she eventually would. I’m still not totally happy with it, but it’s better than letting her die which she surely would have.

The introduction and inclusion of other vampires around the world. This opens up many possibilities for future interactions and stories. I especially liked the nomads and the South American vampires.

Things that I didn’t like:

The idea that being a vampire is so easy. If it was so easy and so great, why did Edward argue so long and so hard (in the first three books) for Bella NOT to become one? I understand that Bella broke many of the rules for the transformation… still once she made it through… what’s not to love about having super powers and super sex for the rest of eternity?

The way that Charlie and Renee are kind of left out of the whole loop. My daughter gets married and then nearly dies from some mysterious aliment contracted on her honeymoon… I would be making a much bigger deal out of it. Renee never even shows up after the wedding. Charlie is finally brought in on things… sort of.

All in all, I really liked the book. It was a satisfying end to an interesting story. As a guy, I probably complained over much about the mushy stuff and the wedding scenes… but by about p.100 I was completely hooked into the book. Pretty good Ms. Meyer!! Thank you!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Arturo Pérez-Reverte

One of the countries that I would love to visit and spend time in is Spain (another is Italy). Spain's history is long, varied, not always nice, and extremely interesting. I did actually visit Spain once.... a military plane that I was on landed on Palma de Mallorca (a resort island on the southeast side of Spain) to refuel. I spent an hour wandering the airport and looking out the windows.

A Spanish author that I've recently discovered is Arturo Pérez-Reverte (and here). He is probably most well known for his book The Dumas Club (which I haven't read) and his Captain Alatriste series. I've just finished Captain Alatriste which is set in the early 1600's in Madrid. Written in a lighthearted humorous style, Pérez-Reverte succeeds in describing life (and death) in Spain at the height of her power and influence. I greatly enjoyed this story and look forward to further adventures of Captain Alatriste.

I read The Flanders Panel (also by Pérez-Reverte) a month or so ago and, again, appreciated the story set in modern Spain. A mystery set around a chess game in a painting... what's not to love? Well... the ending was a bit contrived and I must say a bit disappointing. If I were into giving stars, I'd want to give it 5 stars but would probably go 3 1/2 or 4 because of the ending.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ok we're moved!

Story over. We're settled. The books are all unpacked (not shelved yet... but hey whaddya want?). School starts in three weeks. The kids have made new friends.

This picture was taken on a cloudy day and the grass and shrubs need trimmed. Otherwise that's pretty much our new house. There is a small creek that runs behind and around the side that is full of trees and birds (and snakes, much to my wife's dismay). I'm sure when it comes time to rake leaves we'll be cussing the trees, but right now, it's nice to be able to sit comfortably on the back deck in full shade when it's 90+ degrees.

One of the aspects of moving is the change in baseball allegiences. This part of the state is solidly St. Louis Cardinal territory. I may never see another Royals game on TV (except when they play the Cards). I'm ok with that. It'll be nice to have a team to root for that actually competes for the division championship instead of trying not to finish last. I'll still follow the Royals of course...but not as closely.

School starts in three weeks. More on that later.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Eating Cactus...

Don't do it! No matter how thirsty you are. This is the point behind the title of Dan White's book The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind and Almost Found Myself on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Dan's blog

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Marriage and Moving

I think Dave Barry had it right. A marriage that survives a move... is pretty strong.

I mean OMG!!!!

All of our stuff won't fit on the truck. We have a deadline of around 4-5 p.m. today. Time to call the trash pickup guy. Time to make some hard decisions.

Time to decide if we take the kids and the dogs. And bicycles. And chairs we've meant to have refinished for the last 15 years. I say trash em. Trash it all (well, not the kids and dogs I guess). I've found stuff that we haven't touched since the last move. WE DON'T NEED IT.

Slept on an air mattress last night. With a leak, so by morning we were sleeping on the floor. We've still got a good 10 hours of hard labor ahead of us, plus a four-hour drive. THEN we get to unload.

Ok time to buck up and stop complaining, I know.

Sigh... back to the salt mines.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

And the big move is on, finally!

Picking up the truck today, loading, signing one contract tomorrow at 1:00 p.m., and leaving town for good tomorrow afternoon.

Am I sad? A little. I was born in St. Joseph, lived near here while growing up, and lived and taught here for the last 5 years. But I won't miss the town much. I'm too familiar with her faults and shortcomings. It's past time for a change, both for me, and for the town.

So... for the next 3-4 days, I'm prepared to work like a slave (and of course it's supposed to be 'summer' weather for the first timethis month, heh). Hopefully by this time next week, we'll be unpacking boxes and settling into a new house, a new town, and making new friends.

Wish me luck.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Honors Conservation Camp

This is a week long camp jointly sponsored by the University of Missouri's School of Natural Resources and the Missouri Department of Conservation. During the week, 32 competitively selected high school students (only students between their junior and senior year are eligible) visit two prairies, the woods, a lake and go on an overnight campout and half day float trip on the Meramac River. They listen to and participate in lessons on prairie management, forest management, lake and stream fish management, climate and atmospheric studies, small mammal trapping, electro-shocking fish, putting a camera on a deer, shooting a rifle, a shotgun, and a bow, and for the first time this year, a lecture on Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's explorations of southern Missouri; all while keeping extensive notes, reading selections from the conservation bible: The Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, and writing reflective journal entries on what they have observed, read, and how it all ties in to their own life experiences. As groups they put together and perform a 25 minute presentation on their experience on the last day of the camp.

If this sounds like a lot to do.... it is! The students typically will work until 10-11 at night, and get up at 6 in the morning for the next days activities. As you might expect from any group of 32 teenagers, there is grumbling. Occassionally a student will be selected that may not... exactly meet the high standards (students are selected based on ACT scores, their written essay, and school GPA). That's where the facilitators come in, teachers that come along and act as chaperones and cheerleaders. Sometimes these students just need some encouragement.

My job this year was as curriculum co-coordinator of the program. My particular specialty is the journaling aspect. I teach about, guide, and grade the student's journals. I get to select the best overall journal and give out the plaque. I cannot say that I've ever had a more challenging and enjoyable job. As I told the program director, I will do this as long as they will let me... and I didn't say it, but it's true, I'd do it for free.

Pictured above is a shot of Meramac Springs just below the bridge in Maramac Springs Park. The name is not mispelled here... there are two parks, one is Meramac and the other is Maramac. I'm sure there's a story there...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Joanna Brady...My Hero!

Seriously! This lady, imagined in the fertile mind of author J.A. Jance, has been through hell..literally.


First, Joanna's husband (a deputy sheriff in Cochise County, Arizona) is shot (gutshot no less) and is later finished off in the hospital by the same drug cartel assassin. Joanna tracks down the killer and his contacts within the sheriffs department and kills him after a shootout in which the current county sheriff is also killed. END OF BOOK ONE.

Joanna, at the urging of family and friends, runs for county sheriff and wins. This occurs a mere month or so after her husband was murdered. As she is settling into her new job, she stumbles across another double homicide, and ultimately ends up witnessing (causing?) the death of two more people. END OF BOOK TWO.

A month or so later, trying to get some much needed experience and training, Joanna sets off for Phoenix to go to police school. While doing so she runs afoul of a serial killer who just happens to have a connection with the training facility in which the school is held. Again, she witnesses (causes?) the death of the killer, is involved in the death of her head instructor, and the near-death of a new friend, as well as nearly losing her daughter to the serial killer. END OF BOOK THREE.

Don't get me wrong... I love these stories. Joanna is a great character, the setting is great, and the cast is varied, interesting and often humorous. I look forward to the rest of the series and will also try Jance's other series featuring a much better known sleuth, P.D. Beaumont.

But.... I gotta say, I think Joanna needs a vacation, and some therapy. I mean, after all, her husband was murdered, she has personally killed at least two men, has witnessed the gruesome death of at least 4 other people, and has nearly lost her own daughter to a psychopathic serial killer. All within about a two month span. On the plus side, she's made lots of new friends, discovered a long lost brother, and apparently found the ability within herself to shrug off horrific experiences that would leave most of us sitting in a quiet room staring off into space.

Friday, June 6, 2008

May Reading List

Lots going on right now, trying to move, finishing up school and summer school. I'm also preparing for Missouri Honors Conservation Camp this coming week. Both kids playing ball tournaments every weekend...whew!

And I finished 14 books in May, maybe a record month for me. That brings my total for the year up to 44 which easily puts me on track for my goal of 100 books. I've been using Bookmooch quite a bit, finding new authors and series to read. I've recently started J.A. Jance's Joanna Brady and Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series, and have books from Nevada Barr, James Carlos Blake, William Kent Krueger, Steve Hamilton, and David Meadows. As well as continuing with Bernard Cornwell and Patrick O'Brian.

Anyway here's the list for May with, as always, comments and short reviews.

Sibley's Birding Basics by David Allen Sibley; a nice introductory birdwatching book. If you've been following my posts, you'll notice that I spent quite a bit of time watching birds this month. Due in large part to finishing this book.
Murder With Peacocks by Donna Andrews; only slightly spoiled by my having read a later book in the series.
The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva
Mississippi Jack by L.A. Meyer; the best story yet in this series. Jacky Faber is one of my favorite characters.. resourceful, intelligent, talented, and humble.
The Last Coyote by Michael Connelly
The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula LeGuin; it took me a while to finish this short book. LeGuin has never been a favorite author, despite her reputation and despite the status of this trilogy as a classic.
The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich; interesting perspective on living below the poverty level
The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Electronic Echoes of the Mind by Wade Kimberlin; I obtained this book as a review copy from the authors wife. She and I conversed over on SFFChronicles and she asked if I would review the book. I read it...and enjoyed it! I wasn't sure about the dialogue in the beginning, but the story line and plot were built up satisfactorily and the conclusion was dramatic and left me hoping for more. I'll look for the sequel...
The Real History of the American Revolution by Alan Axelrod
The Opal Deception by Eion Colfer
Eagle Blue by Michael D'Orso
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Friday, May 30, 2008

On Moving...

Making the decision to move your family 460 miles to a different town is a lot easier than the actual act of doing so. And while we agonized over making that decision (seriously the wife and I were popping zantac like M&M's there for a bit), selling and buying a house, packing our stuff (my God how much STUFF do we have anyway?), and getting the timing right for closings on houses and moving trucks etc...

Well anyway, we won't be doing this again for awhile. I swear.

The good news is that we've got an offer for our house. It's not a great offer, but we're taking it. The real estate market news is worse by the day and we've already committed to buying another house. We'll swallow the dollar loss and find a way to make it up.

The last week of June will be hectic and crazy. Hopefully we'll be able to enjoy July.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Warblers Warblers everywhere

Wow! I went out with a group of 12 or so, led by Backyard Bird's Mark McKeller early Sunday morning. We went to Weston Bend State Park, which is a beautiful spot located in the bluffs along the Missouri River. I was hopeful to see a few new birds, warblers mainly since I lack any kind of expertise in identifying these beautiful birds.

I was also accompanied by my 78 year old father, which was actually quite special for me, since he has moved to Texas and I don't get to see him as often as I would like.

We had a great morning of birding, spotting a dozen or so varieties of warblers and vireos, along with some understory birds. I picked up 11 new birds for my list, which was quite bit more than I had hoped for. The highlights (for me at least) may have been the great looks I got of Blackburnian and Chestnut-sided Warblers (pictured above).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pewees and Catbirds

When I was a child (say 8-15 or so), I knew that my parents liked birds and birdwatching. I would look through the bird guides left lying on the coffee table and admire birds like the Indigo Bunting and the Orchard Oriole. Then I would go outside and play and ride my bike and never ever see a bunting or an oriole. I thought they were rare birds, only seen in the wild by expert bird watchers.

I've since biked, hiked and camped in numerous parks and wilderness areas around the country. Never saw a bunting or an oriole. Wasn't really looking very hard, but still, you'd think I would have noticed them if they were there.

Until this spring. I've been out birdwatching 4-5 times in the month of May. I've seen Indigo Buntings every time... even though I didn't recognize the bird the first time. I've seen Orchard Orioles several times. Yesterday I went to Lewis and Clark State Park near Atchison Kansas. I thought the orioles must have been following me, but I finally concluded that there were just a lot of them.

I did see 3 new birds. Pictured above is the Yellow Warbler. I saw several of these pretty birds. I also got a good look at a Grey Catbird (pictured below), a somewhat reclusive bird. And finally, I saw a pair of Eastern Phoebes (or maybe Eastern Wood Pewees).

These three bring my life list total up to 83 birds. Am hoping for 100 by the end of the summer. It's getting harder to find new birds ... but I am missing a lot of water birds, and am going out to a marsh Sunday. I should pick up several there.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Two For One

I've just finished reading The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. What a marvelous introduction to a series of books! Set in Botswana, an African Republic which, I confess I know little about, a wonderful African lady sets up her own detective agency and... investigates. These stories are charming and illuminating. Mma Precious Ramotswe, our heroine, has incredible insight and cleverness into human nature. I look forward to future installments of this series.

Also another cover comparison. I own the US bookclub version, pictured on the right. But I admire the UK version on the left.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Last Coyote

Michael Connelly (and here) is a powerful writer. His Harry Bosch series has been nominated for and won several writers awards. I didn't pick him up until last year, and as I slowly work through the 14 books in the series... I'm both regretful for waiting so long and thankful that I have so much to look forward to.

I've just finished the 4th in the series, The Last Coyote. Previous books have Harry finding his father, and I felt that the description of that meeting may have been several of the saddest pages I've ever read. In this book, Harry starts digging into the death of his mother. Again quite sad. Future installments are almost certain to include more (The Black Echo already did to a degree) episodes from Harry's Vietnam days.

I can't wait.

Furthermore, he has another character, Mickey Haller, who he introduced in The Lincoln Lawyer, a book that won the Macavity and Shamus awards and was nominated for the Anthony and Edgar awards. I've not read that book, but did listen to it (see blog entry here). Connelly is still adding to both series with both characters. His latest books are The Overlook and The Brass Verdict. Hopefully someone will pick up the movie rights.

Pictured above is the Mark Twain Hotel, Bosch's residence after events in The Last Coyote.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Foreign Exchange Students

Every so often, in my teaching career, I've been fortunate and blessed to have a student from a foreign country in my classes. I had a young man from Germany a few years ago in my senior physics class who knew, at the age of 17, far more than I did about physics. We had a great year wherein I probably learned more than he did... but he was an excellent teacher and a good kid. He (and this is common for these kids) maintained contact with me for several years after he went back to Germany. I haven't heard from him in a while, but I'm sure he's doing very well.

I remember a girl from Russia.. who also entered my physics class with a reputation for surliness and disrespect. Turned out that she was bored nearly to tears by her classes, and once we got past her initial reserve, she too managed to teach me more than I taught her.

Another girl from Brazil had one of the most attractive and magnetic personalities I've ever encountered. She, in one year spent in the US, managed to be elected student body president and homecoming queen during her senior year, and, as I recall, received a perfect score in my physics class.

This year I'm saying goodbye to a young man from the Ukraine. He speaks six languages, is unfailingly conscientious and accurate with his work, and again, has managed to teach me more than I've taught him. He is headed back to Europe on Wednesday. I wish him well and am completely confident that he will succeed at whatever he tries. I hope that he looks on his time here at Central High School favorably. I hope that I had some impact on his career and outlook.

Goodbye Roman. I enjoyed having you in class and getting to know you. Take great care of yourself and the best of luck to you.

Oh yeah and keep in touch!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pretty Birds

Same bird you say?? Not so. The one on the left is a Blue Grosbeak. The right bird is an Indigo Bunting. I actually saw both of these birds through my binos at the same time. Amazing. The Grosbeak is bigger and heavier looking and has the brown wing bars (although I didn't really see his wings, it was obvious they weren't the same bird and the Grosbeak is the only other all blue bird).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

More Covers

One of my favorite all time authors is Robert Heinlein. But I've never much liked the US covers. Compare these two. The one on the right is the UK version.

Great Gadgets

My wife and I tend to be gadget collectors. We're always looking for new kitchen toys...things that make cooking and cleaning up easier or more fun. Here's one that looks great!

I am wondering about the cleanup though. Don't hot dogs drip when cooked?

Cover Art (second try)

Messing about with resizing pictures so as to post them side by if this entry seems a bit disorganized it's because I'm experimenting.

OK. Got it to work...

So, cover art is a favorite part of many books for me. Often I'll pick up a book to look at it because the cover catches my eye. That, of course, is what cover art is supposed to do... and sometimes a bad book will have great art (and vice versa).

The disparity between US and UK cover art is sometimes startling. The UK publishers generally have far better art than the US equivalents, at least in my opinion. It's not always the case and sometimes both are good. Pictured above are the US and UK covers for The Lies of Locke Lamora. This is a case of equal but different IMO.

But how about this one picture below (UK on the left and US on the right)?

I far prefer the UK version here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

And a Few More..

April and May are great months for bird-watching. I didn't get out much last month, mainly because of the cold, but am finally getting out to try and catch the last wave of the spring migration. I've seen birds that I knew existed...but never knew to look for before. Added 5 more new birds to my list today, 3 of them at Bluff Woods Conservation Area and 2 while waiting for my son to finish up baseball practice.

1) Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher; small bird, as you might expect, blue and gray with white outer tail feathers. 99% sure.
2) Black and White Warbler; amazing bird! Looks like a flying zebra. 100% sure.
3) Indigo Bunting; another beautiful bird! I got a pretty good look at it, dark blue shading to black with light wings...except for the yellow patch at the throat, may have been the same bird from yesterday. Was singing up a storm, and I think I matched the song when I compared it to WhatBird's songs (click on the listen to voice link). 95% sure.

Those are the three I saw at the conservation area. I was pretty thrilled. But then, while I was waiting in my truck in the elementary school parking lot, I got to watching the back yard of a house with some flowering trees. I heard a chipping sparrow, saw some robins and grackels, and then I spotted something different up in the flowering tree...

4) Orchard Oriole; I've never seen one of these birds before. Orioles are gorgeous birds...this was no exception. As I watched him... I caught a flash of orange and OH MY GOD there's a...
5) Baltimore Oriole; in my opinion, THE most beautiful bird, period. He was hidden inside the leavs of the tree, but once I knew he was there, I got several great looks at him. My son came over after practice, and he got a good look too and was very impressed.

A great haul! Up to 76 birds now and am excited about the rest of the month.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Four I didn't have...

Summer Tanager; 100% sure (only two birds to confuse with...Cardinal and Scarlet Tanager, Scarlet has black wings, this one didn't)
White-breasted Nuthatch; 100% sure, I have seen this bird before and kept looking for it on the woodpecker pages of my bird guide... frustrated cause I never found the woodpecker with the black head and white face, finally figured it out today duh!
Yellow-Rumped Warbler; 95% sure, I think I saw two of them. Blue-grayish back and wings, yellow patch on side, yellow crown, white wing bars... ok I didn't see the yellow rump, which is why I put only 95% sure.
Yellow-throated Blue Warbler: ok I invented this species, because that's what I think I saw. Dark blue wings and back, very dark blue head shading into black face with yellow patch at throat. Hmmm... doesn't match anything. I called it a Yellow-throated warbler for my list, but am only about 25% sure. I'm thinking of going back to the spot later to see if I can find it again.

Life list is up to 71.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Swallowing Razor Blades...

is how strep throat has been described by some. And I've got it. Two days ago I noticed that I had considerable drainage and was developing a cough. Now I tend to bounce viral stuff off pretty well, colds don't usually hit me very hard... but when I came home from the evening ballgames on Tuesday running a slight fever and having trouble swallowing, I had my suspicions. Yep I woke up at 1:00 am coughing and hurting so bad I had to get up. Went to the doctor yesterday and he didn't even do the strep test... he just said "you look miserable, here's two scrips, the antibiotic and one for pain so you can sleep". So I slept a little better last night, I was still pretty feverish, and am recovering nicely today. My throat is still a little sore... but thank god nothing like it was.

Heh I looked for a picture to post... but they were all too gross. So no pic, just my whinyness.

A Good Month of Reading

I completed thirteen books in April, and am back on track for 100 for the year. I've already blogged about Stephen King's Cell and Lance Armstrong's biography. The last book of the month, finished late last night is Beka Cooper: Terrier by Tamora Pierce. I enjoyed it immensely. As young adult fantasy goes, it is easily one of the better stories I've read in quite a while. Not surprising then to find that it is a Missouri Gateway Award nominee for 2008-09. My wife, the librarian, tries to read all of the upcoming years nominees (and has done this for the last several years), and I pick through the stack to find the good ones. This was a good one.

Here's my April list:
1) The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters; the next book in the Amelia Peabody series. My wife read one of these books a while back and I guess she just doesn't appreciate the dry humor as much as I do. I find Amelia Peabody to be hilarious. Mix that with the strong archaeology background (after all, Peters has a Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago) of the stories...what's not to like? I'm just glad that there's 19 books in the series, and thus will keep me snickering for years to come.

2) The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio by Alexander Kent; another young adult book, written by an author who's pretty well known. This is the first of his I've read however. The story was ok... I probably won't go out of my way to find and read more books by this author. I did like the cover art of this book. Cover art is a whole 'nother topic for another time...

3) It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong
4) Cell by Stephen King
5) Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer

6) Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian; again a series that I really enjoy, and one that will keep me reading for a good long while. This episode was nothing spectacular, although I did very much enjoy looking up Desolation Island on wikipedia.

7) Ranger's Apprentice 4: The Battle for Skandia by John Flanagan; go here to this fun website to read more aobut this Australian authors excellent fantasy world. My son and I can hardly wait for each new installment.

8) Stone Cold by David Baldacci; the finale in the Camel Club trilogy. Baldacci really has a low opinion of Washington politicians. But as they say, finding something to criticize about politicians is like shooting fish in a barrel. Stone Cold wraps up the series in a satisfying (yet unsatisfying.. but isn't that the goal?) way. I liked it.

9) The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich; I should do a whole post on this one book...and I might. Set in Wyoming, where I spent three summers working and playing, how could I not love this book? More later...

10) Grave Peril by Jim Butcher; why am I always exhausted whenever I finish one of these stories? Maybe it's because Harry Dresden gets beat up, burned, mentally and physically tortured, slashed, etc more than any other 'tough' guy I know. Every book is the same, the only thing to change is the monsters doing the damage. This time it's vampires and a rogue sorcerer's ghost demon. Not a series to read straight through for sure.

11) A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray; another fairly new author to appear on the young adult scene aiming at girls. Set in a victorian England girls finishing school.. I was suspicious of the language, did a little research and found that Bray grew up in Texas. Hmmph. Not a bad story, it's been nominated for some awards and I'll read the other two books in the trilogy, but... if I can spot the flaws...

12) Sharpe's Rifles by Bernard Cornwell; here's another book deserving of it's own post. Bernard Cornwell's first Sharpe book written in 1988. He essentially wrote two different series concerning Richard Sharpe. If I had it to do over, I would have read this book (and series) first instead of starting with chronological first book set in India (which Cornwell wrote much later).

13) Beka Cooper: Terrier by Tamora Pierce; I'm beginning to think that I've got a thing for female protagonists... um no, Harry Dresden, Oliver Stone, Will the Ranger's Apprentice, I've got plenty of male characters in there too. I just wonder if the girls are more noticeable now because they were neglected for so long. For whatever reason, it's a good thing and I look forward to the next book set in the world of Tortall.

Well that wraps up a good month of reading and reviews. Welcome May and warmer temperatures!!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Credit Cards

I teach science, but every now and then I do a short lesson on credit and credit cards. I may have mentioned that I'm a bit of an Excel geek, I like to mess around with spreadsheets and what I do is set up a simple spreadsheet for my kids showing them what happens when they obtain and use a credit card.

I usually start with $1000 purchased and then show them what happens with 18.9% interest and minimum payments. When I do this it becomes glaringly apparent why so many people have credit issues (myself included). If you compound 18.9% interest monthly on a $1000 purchase, your monthly interest is roughly $15.75. So the credit card company charges you a minimum payment of, say, $16. In a year of $16/month payments you pay $192 to pay off a whole $3 of principle. At that rate it will take you 333 years to pay off the original $1000. Worse, you will have paid $64000 for that TV.

Ridiculous you say. Yes it is. But the bottom line is that young people don't think in the long term. They see a $1000 color TV for $15/month FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIFE as a good deal.
And the credit card companies make money at usurious interest rates. It's a racket, and one that the government doesn't seem interested in doing anything about.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Birding in Kansas

Well not really. I had an hour or so to kill while my daughter was at softball practice, so I walked around Atchison High School's football field.... and found LOTS of birds. I added 3 to my list, one I'm pretty sure of; an Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus), pictured here, a Swamp Sparrow (60%-40% sure of the ID) and a Common Yellowthroat, a common enough wood warbler, but still I'm only abuot 25% sure of the ID. I also spotted bluebirds, tree sparrows, chipping sparrows, and of course robins, starlings, and grackels.

My life list approaches 75 birds. I hope to reach 100 and higher this summer... but I've got most of the easy ones. From here on out, it will take some real knowledge and perserverance. And being in places where birds hang out. Around high school football fields I guess.

The Royals & the Chiefs

After a bad stretch, 7 losses in a row to two struggling teams (Oakland and Cleveland), the boys in blue rebounded over the weekend and took two out of three from Toronto. Pitching isn't the problem so much as timely hitting and smart 'heads-up' baseball. A couple of mental mistakes cost them a shot at a sweep on Sunday... Guillen swinging at a first-pitch ball after the pitcher had just walked two in a row, Guillen throwing through to second allowing a runner to score from first on a single, Pena and Guillen leting a popup drop. Wow, I seem to be calling Guillen's name a lot. He's suffering from the 12 million dollar price tag. For 12 mil, you gotta perform every day to appear worth it... and nobody can do that in the game of professional baseball. See Barry Zito.

That's why no player is worth 12 million. Especially in a small market like Kansas City. The expectations are too great.

On to the 2008 NFL draft. The Chiefs, through bad management (4-12 record in 2007) and questionable trades (Jared Allen to the Vikings), ended up with 2 first round picks, a second round, and 3 third round picks. Die-hard fans were about evenly split amongst two opinions.

1) Carl Peterson, a notorious draft botcher, would find a way to botch even this bountiful draft

and 2) Not even Carl Peterson, a notorious draft botcher, could completely botch this bountiful draft.

I lean towards 2) and feel somewhat optimistic after the Chiefs took two pretty much can't miss players in the first round. Glenn Dorsey and Branden Albert are, by nearly all accounts, two pro-bowl franchise anchor type players. Of course injury and poor handling (something else Peterson has a rep for) can always occur...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Quandary

I belong to I will download and listen to maybe a book a month depending on how much long-distance driving I do.

The quandary is whether or not I get to count these books as books I've read. I'm polling the readers in my classes... and so far the answer seems to be a resounding NO.

I've found that sometimes I will lose the thread when listening rather than reading. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in particular. I couldn't keep track at all... maybe it was all the footnotes. And I've also noticed that the reader can actually 'improve' a book. An example would be the Bartimaeous Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud read by Simon Jones. Jones turned an otherwise somewhat ho-hum juvenile fantasy series into a series that my family and I could hardly wait to get the next installment. We listened on long drives, and believe me, it helped with boredom, kids fighting etc.

Books I've listened to (but not read...and thus NOT counted):

- The Amulet of Samarkand and The Golem's Eye by Jonathon Stroud
- The Traveller by John Twelve Hawks; I plan to actually reread (read) this excellent first novel. Twelve Hawks (and here) claims to live "off the grid" and has combined fantasy and conspiracy theory into a believable Matrix-like world. I'm halfway through listening to the sequel, Dark River and will post more when I finish.
- Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber
- Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
- Twelve Sharp and Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich; another example of how a reader can really make the experience more enjoyable. Lorelei King's characterizations are nothing short of hilarious.
- The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson
- The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bits and Pieces

First of all, I found this article by Michael Shermer about doping in sports, specifically in cycling. After reading this, it seems nearly certain that Lance Armstrong was using some sort of performance enhancing drugs during his incredible Tour de France run. The bigger question is... Do I care?

After some soul searching, I'm not sure I do. My antipathy towards Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire seem to stem more from general dislike of their character than any stigma associated with drug use. If Armstrong had beaten the field seven times running using EPO while the others were clean... it would be different. That's not the case. More on this later as my thoughts progress.

On to baseball. The Royals seem to be coming back to earth. A 2-5 west coast road trip exposed several weaknesses. I predicted the starting pitching to falter first... but it was the hitting. Butler, Gordon, Teahen, all have tremendous potential... but hitting singles all the time isn't going to get it done. The Royals are last in the league in run production. Perhaps Jose Guillen will give them the spark they need as he has shown some signs of life on this trip.

Yes it's Earth Day 2008. What does this mean? Well, I remember celebrating Earth Day back in the 70's while in college (University of Missouri-Coumbia). It mostly meant a lot of drinking while sitting around in Peace Park listening to different activists rant and rave about the damage we were doing to the Earth. hmph. Now I seem to be one of those activists. As an Environmental Science teacher I try very hard not to dwell constantly on the negative in my classes. Yet I find that, invariably, topics discussed always tend towards the negative. Humans are inherantly wasteful, dirty and seemingly careless about the environment. None more so than teenagers... and yet, occasionally there is a ray of light. A student who does care, who does volunteer, who "listens" to The Lorax. As I am so quickly passing through middle age, it is all too easy to be pessimistic about these things...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Words guaranteed to cause multiple millons of people to lose sleep and start sweating profusely. Not me. Due to having children, and being careful with deductions, we hardly ever have to pay much, and more often get a refund. Thanks to GW, this year we're getting a super refund... $1200 or $1600, I'm not sure, but ... my wife knows. Heh.

Anyway, we're big fans of Dave Ramsey and his method of budgeting and getting out of debt. We'll be sitting down over the next day or two and planning how to best spend this windfall.

I'm a bit geeky when it comes to playing around with spreadsheets and making elaborate budgets and plans, but I'm always reminded of the old military proverb "no plan survives contact with the enemy". The enemy of course being the desire to buy something that comes with having an extra $100 in your pocket. Ramsey uses an envelope system... put cash in the envelope and when it's gone, it's gone, no more Starbucks this month.

It works. But it takes effort and discipline, something that we consumers aren't very good at.

Books in April

Starting to catch up a bit on my reading. I grabbed Cell by Stephen King from the library Saturday, and managed to finish it Sunday afternoon.

My initial impression is that it is simply a bad rewrite of The Stand. Something bad happens, lots of people die gruesomely, the survivors gather into two camps, good and evil. Most of the story centers on a journey. Good finds a way to blow up evil, some of your favorite characters die, but the rest live happily ever after.

I won't recommend this book. I much prefer Duma Key which I blogged about earlier. And that's kind of the way it goes with me and King. I'll really like one book and really not like another.

Changing tracks... finally got around to reading the dramatic conclusion of the Twilight series (Eclipse) in which Bella discovers that she actually does love two monsters. Well duh! Saw that coming quite a few pages back. Meyers does a nice job of wrapping the series up. I was really wondering about how she could possibly turn it into a happy ending... but I don't want to spoil it for anyone chancing to read this. The movie (due out Dec 08) will make a lot of money, I may even go see it.

However, upon further research it appears that this may NOT be the last book in the series after all. Sigh. Since I'm in this far, I will have to see what else is in store for our ill-fated ménage à trois, and continue reading.

What else? Nearly finished with the next installment of O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin saga; Desolation Island. What a great title for a naval story! Also working through The Tombs of Atuan by LeGuin, and am simultaneously reading Dale Carnegie's wonderful books on worry and influencing people. More on them later.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Just finished It's Not About the Bike; My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong.

I just want to say that I've long been a Lance Armstrong fan. His story; surviving cancer to come back and win the Tour De France, not once but seven times? Legend.

Thanks to steroids, Barry Bonds/Mark McGuire/Sammy Sosa, and Floyd Landis, I've been hesitant to embrace Armstrong as a true American sports hero. I didn't want to be disappointed...again. I barely paid attention to the 2007 Tour, the first time in years that I didn't watch a single stage.

After reading this autobiography, published in 2000, the year after Armstrong won his first Tour, I've decided to get off the fence. Lance Armstrong may have used some sort of performance enhancing drugs to win those races, but I would find it hard to believe. The guy survived cancer. Why would he chance injecting drugs into his body merely to win a race? Armstrong makes it pretty clear that the fear of cancer reoccuring was actually one of the most difficult stages of his recovery.
I doubt that he will ever be able to completely convince everyone of his innocence. I'm sure there will always be a lingering doubt. But I'm going with the guy. Here's a link to his Livestrong Foundation, a foundation set up for cancer patients and survivors. He's considered politics. I'd vote for him.

And I'll watch the Tour de France this summer. We can't go on forever assuming that all of our heros are cheaters.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Congratulations to the Kansas Jayhawks and the Tennessee Lady Vols, 2008 NCAA Basketball National Champions.

KU demolished North Carolina in the semi, something I never thought I would see, and gutted out a win in the championship over Memphis, a team very much like Kansas in style and talent. Tennessee was simply dominant, as so often before, overpowering a good Stanford team with sheer talent and determination.

So there we wrapped up for another year and now on to baseball and softball.

As I write, the Royals are 5-2, coming off a win over the Yankees in their home opener. So far, we like what we see out of the Royals, good starting pitching, solid defense, timely hitting, and a lights-out bullpen. Which of these parts falters first, or what combination, is what all loyal fans are anticipating. My prediction is the starting pitching. Meche has always been somewhat a middle of the pack pitcher, until last year when he became the ace for the Royals; Bannister and Greinke are young and talented, and due for arm problems... and after that the cupboard gets thin.

Eternally optimistic, I'll enjoy it while it lasts, and continue to root and follow when it starts to come apart. Other clubs (Colorado, Arizona, Oakland) can manage decent teams and playoff runs with similar payrolls... I see no reason Kansas City can't do the same.

What else? Books and reading is kind of slow right now. I've finished up a couple of easy read mysteries, working on Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer (the conclusion to the love-triangle trilogy...human-vampire-werewolf) and the second book in The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula LeGuin. I'll have more to say later on these...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Women play basketball?

Doh! Of course they do, and often I enjoy watching them play more than the guys. It's a 'purer' game, depending more on shooting, rebounding and defense than on size, or raw athleticism.

At any rate, the women's game has come a long way in the last 15 years or so. I went to a few Big 12 (8) games at Missouri in the early 90's. Maybe 500 people in attendance. Now they get 5,000 or more routinely and even sell out on many campuses (Tennesee, UConn, Texas). The NCAA tournament gets quite a bit of attention, and the baseketball can be phenomenal.

The one drawback I see is that it's almost always the same teams vying for the championship. Tennessee and UConn have dominated the sport, with occasional runs by North Carolina, Stanford, and a very few others. An underdog once in a while would be nice, a Davidson or SIU even making it to the elite 8 would attract more interest. It will come, I'm sure...

My pick this year is for Pat Summitt to win her 8th National Championship at Tennessee. What a great coach and role model she is and has been. So GO VOLS!!!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Rites of Spring 3-31-2008

What could be better? An opening day win on the road in extra innings against the vaunted Tigers. Ah sweet bliss. Now, they can't, as they say, lose them all.

Pictured is my favorite new Royal, Tony Pena Jr. getting the winning hit in the top of the 11th.... a bloop single into center which scored John Buck from second. Son of a childhood favorite player, 4-time Gold-Glover & 5-time All-Star Tony Pena, who caught for the Pirates & Cardinals (and who managed the Royals for one brilliant shining season and several dismal ones), TPJ is a scrappy shortstop who, if he hits .280 will be a solid 8-9 hitter and an often-times spectacular defensive player. He was one of the earliest moves made by new GM Dayton Moore who, being a part of the Atlanta Braves organization, spotted Pena in the Braves system, and also recognizing the failure of sticking with Angel Berroa (rookie of the year in 2003 but absolutely nothing after), brought him over, gave him the job.... and let us, the long suffering Royals fans, enjoy.

Young talent along with the best pitching the Royals have started with in years breed a new optimism for Royal fans. Unfortunately, they play in arguably the toughest division in baseball... so a .500 record would be an outstanding achievement.

For now, however, the boys in blue are UNDEFEATED!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Madness, cold weather, books, and a birthday

So ... My tournament bracket was trashed after day one. I lost two final four teams the first weekend... but I still have the probable National Champion (along with 75% of everyone else) as North Carolina. After watching the 'Heels demolish Washington State last night, I believe that this team might be able to make the NBA playoffs.

Baseball played in the cold has long been part of March for me. After coaching high school baseball for many years, I took the test and have been umpiring for the last 3 years. It's not any warmer, in fact, sometimes it can be a lot colder, especially when the score is 21-1 and the wind chill is 25 degrees.

Watching the weather last night on the news, it turns out that we had 20 days in February with below average temperatures, and are on our way to 20 days in March with below average temperatures, making this the coldest winter in many years in this area. However, to the global warming naysayers, the average temperature this winter is still ABOVE average for this area... so go figure.

Books this month include:
- Legend, Duma Key, and The Postman, which I have already blogged about.
- The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brian. Another excellent story in this series about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Centered on a minor campaign in the Indian Ocean, Aubrey has risen to the rank of Commander, and seems well on his way to an Admiralty. I look forward to future installments.
- The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly. Fast becoming my favorite hard-boiled detective, Harry Bosch is still trying to get past the whole Dollmaker incident... which is certainly dying a very hard death. Excellent stuff.
- Revenge of the Wrought Iron Flamingos by Donna Andrews. What can I say? A bit of fluffy, humourous mystery is always welcome. In the same vein as Joanna Flukes, Janet Evanovich (although far less raunchy that Evanovich), and Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody; Meg Lanslow seems to attract trouble and somehow with the aid of multiple friends and family members, manages to solve the crime/mystery. I'll be reading through this series and post updates.
- finishing up The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters, The Solace of Empty Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich, and Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke.

Oh yeah. I'm 49 today. Woohoo. Inching ever closer to the big Five-Oh. I guess I'm in pretty good shape for a guy my age.... but man, getting old really does stink. Heh!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I Love March!

It follows February.
And of course, we have


A tradition that has developed within my own lifetime, the month of March is set aside for college basketball fans. Conference tourneys, Selection Sunday, and of course the Big Dance itself, basketball lovers LOVE this time of year.

This year (as in the last couple of years) my favorite team, The University of Missouri Tigers, will not be dancing. But a highly successful football season, and optimism in baseball sort of make up for it. Not having a favorite makes it much easier to watch and enjoy the whole process.

Final Four predictions: North Carolina (led by Missouri product Tyler Hansbrough), Texas, Georgetown (in over Kansas, the local favorite, but as an MU fan I would rather lose an eye than see the Jayhawks in the Final 4), and Duke (tough call over UCLA, but Duke has something to prove this year and UCLA is wildly inconsistent).

#14 Georgia over #3 Xavier; Georgia is hot, blitzing through the SEC conference tourney (yes the SEC IS weak this year, but still...), and I don't like Xavier's schedule.
#11 St. Joseph's over #6 Oklahoma; Oklahoma hasn't impressed me this year, and St, Joseph's is playing well. I have St. Joseph's all the way to the elite 8.
#12 Temple over #5 Michigan State; Playing Temple is like playingthe game in sticky molasses. Defense and rebounding win most games. Temple and Georgetown have long standing traditions of being very tough teams to beat because of defense and rebounding.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Passing of a Giant

In dedication to one of the greatest science fiction authors of all time, a giant in the field of speculative fiction

Arthur C. Clarke
(16 Dec 1917-19 Mar 2008)

here's my top 10 fiction books of all time. In no particular order at all

1) The Caine Mutiny by Hermann Wouk. Published in 1951, this was a Pulitzer Prize winning World War II novel that featured one of the most dislikeable anti-heros of all time, the notorious Captain Queeg (played to a T by Humphrey Bogart in the movie made from the book). The great thing about Queeg (at least for me) is not only do we find his dislikeable traits in others, we find them in ourselves, and thus Wouk has created the perfect character. I've probably read this entire novel 20 times, and parts of it (the trial scene is spectacular) another 20 times.

2) Starship Troopers by Robert H. Heinlein. This isn't considered to be Heinlein's best by many, Stranger in a Strange Land perhaps being the frontrunner for this giant author in the science fiction genre. But for me ST was it and remains it. The Puppet Masters comes close...

3) Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Classic and timeless. This story ought to be required reading for everyone.

4) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Charles Wallace and Meg. Tesseracts, witches and whiches, IT, this book has so much symbolism... and a fantastic story to boot.

5) The Legion of Space by Jack Williamson. Pulp fiction at it's finest. Williamson uses the theme from the Three Musketeers combined with Shakespeare's Falstaff... my favorite character is Giles Habibula, the hard drinking, always complaining, man of many talents and always a strength when the chips are down. Written in 1934, this novel easily stands the test of time... my 9 year old recently read it and loved it. Nuff said I think.

6) The Stand by Stephen King. Pretty much set the standard by which modern post-apocalyptic fiction is measured. Published in 1977, King had some strong precursors to his magnum opus.... Alas Babylon, On the Beach, Earth Abides; King carried the genre to a new level with a classic story of good vs. evil set in a believable post-apocalyptic world.

7) Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Another of my sons favorites. He keeps asking about the sequels and I keep telling him he's welcome to read them, but don't expect the same type of story that is so appealing to juvenile readers.

8) Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I'm not sure that I need to say much about this classic. Hobbits, dwarves, elves, wizards...

9) A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute. On the Beach is regarded by most as his best work, but I like this World War II war story set in southeast Asia and Australia.

And of course I will have to list my favorite from the dedication author. Arthur Clarke has written so many classic books and stories, it will be difficult to pick just one favorite, especially since I haven't read his work for many years (something I intend to remedy over the next year). So here it is:

10) The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke. A rewrite of of one of his first novels, Against the Fall of Night, I probably read this when I was 14 or 15 years old. It stuck with me as an example of serious (ands eriously good) science fiction, science fiction against which I measured everything else that I read later.