Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin

Good, but overly long, with parts sort of dragging and the plots not moving forward in proportion to the length of the book.

A Dance with Dragons Review

(spoilers if you haven't read the first four)

I finally caught up with A Dance with Dragons the fifth book in the George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series while I was out sick for this past long weekend, spending most of the time reading and drinking cup after cup of hot herbal tea.  I was entranced by the book, and yet, by the end a little disappointed.

It had been six or seven years since I read the first four books of A Song of Ice and Fire and I debated for almost three years rereading them before starting this one or not, but ended up not spending the time on it.  With too many spoilers on social media from people watching HBO’s Game of Thrones I figured I’d better read it now before the TV series gets up to this part of the story. Fortunately there’s a good wiki online that I could reference for where the characters were and what they’d done in the first four books.

For the most part he goes between points of views of a small number of characters a lot, so once into this book’s stories for them, there isn’t too much going back to remember from years ago.  That mostly comes when switching to a new point of view, or for references to other characters.

Daenerys, Tyrion and Jon Snow make up most of the book, with a few chapters here and there from others, led by Theon Greyjoy and Bran Stark.

Daenerys’s chapters are kind of dull and repetitive till near the end.  Maybe Martin planned that, as it showed her dilemma, she loves her “children” the freed slaves, so much she’s stuck in complete inaction for most of the book.  She can’t leave them, and she can’t lead them, either, out of fear of hurting them.  One major downside of scenes in Meereen is that Martin built up an incredibly richly detailed world in Westeros, but much of the Slaver’s Bay part of Essos feels too cartoonish, not clear, with people having unfamiliar names that hold no meaning to most of us readers.

Jon Snow’s chapters also have a lot of nothing much happening up north at the Wall, and as a reader, I spent a lot of time waiting for some action.  They mostly laid the groundwork for upcoming conflicts, without doing much or going anywhere.

Tyrion’s chapters started slow, with him mostly struggling with father issues he just escaped in Westeros, but then moved things ahead, and had lots of unpredictability from one to the next.  He’s one of the most amusing characters in the series, and by far one of the brightest, so things from his point of view can be fun.  Even when he’s having a bad time he’s busy thinking of how to manipulate everyone around me.

With Theon Greyjoy, who we learned to hate for his earlier betrayal of the Starks, Martin sticks him in situations where we actually begin to feel sympathy for him.  In this book he’s actually not the worst guy in the group he’s with, as hard as it can be to believe…

With a few chapters of Bran Stark we explore magic farther.  He learns more about being a warg and dreaming.

In this book Martin seems to have copy pasted a little bit.  Not the single characters repeating phrases, “words are wind” or “wherever whores go” things, but actual narration and action, a few times.  Two of the young women characters make love to their men the exact same way, with the exact same thoughts while it’s happening, yet there’s no chance they’re friends who’ve exchanged talked or exchanged letters to think alike, and I don’t see that we, as readers, are supposed to see them as parallels for each other.  I think Martin got lazy and copied it.

Similarly, several times that high born characters have to pass for smallfolk, they make the same mistake saying “my lord” and are corrected by another high born character who tells them to slur the words into “m’lord” and “say it like your mouth is full of mud”.  The same wording in unrelated characters and incidents.

And how many times did he write that “they ate bread fried in bacon grease, while the lords and knights above the salt at the bacon”?

The end of the book had a few surprises and cliffhangers, for sure.  Now I’m eagerly awaiting the next one, “The Winds of Winter,” whenever that comes out.

Overall, it was hard to put down, individual chapters felt fast paced and fun.  But honestly, it could’ve been better.  At the end, “word are wind,” and it was a very long book, but the overall stories didn’t feel like they progressed in proportion to the length of the book.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

LeoDude's Passing

Just over a month ago I wrote a somewhat humorous rant to a college buddy, Leo Winters.  And now he's passed away.

He replied to my rant with his recent experiences becoming a middle-aged man, too, getting fat, and then cleaning up his diet to lose 50 pounds.  He said he mainly just started eating healthier, cutting out junk food, soda, chips and processed meats in favor of lighter stuff with more natural ingredients.

He offered me some advice on dietary supplements, lemon balm and red clover.  He said the lemon balm helped him sleep better and get closer to the required 7 hours a night.

Then a few weeks ago he went into the hospital himself with liver and kidney problems.  The first word was that he wasn't going to leave, then he started getting better, sending more emails, complaining about the medication and about the new PlayStation 4 games he'd gotten to keep from being bored there.

Then two weeks back he died in the hospital...

I guess it hits pretty hard because while a few of my old friends have passed away, not many, just a few, none of them were as close a friend to me as LeoDude was...

Sure, life had taken us different directions since we were going to Oregon Tech together, and sometimes we only emailed sporadically.  But the time at OIT we were such close friends that this is kind of hard.

And the last email exchange I'd initiated to complain about my own bad health, and he's the one who passes away.  

I mean, I don't feel guilt, it's not anything I did (except maybe encouraging a lot of unhealthy drinking back in our younger days), but I feel awfully bad about it.

Since then I've only been listening to music that he got me into, Skinny Puppy, A Split Second, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult and so forth.  And thinking of old conversations we had, some of which I wish I could clarify, but now it's too late.

Below is what I wrote on his Facebook wall after hearing the news that he passed away...
-- -- --

Aw shit, dude… 
I know I started us writing emails back and forth last month complaining about becoming middle-aged men, but I didn’t mean to skip it altogether! 
I guess now you’ve done exactly what you said that one night when we recorded you talking in your sleep, “I’m going to de-energize…. totally…” And now we’ll have no more opportunities to eat breakfast and listen to recordings of what you talk about when you dream. 
Anyway, those sure were fun times back at Oregon Tech… I felt a bit like a fish out of water for the first half of the year, until someone introduced us and I started to hang out with you. That was when I finally felt like I belonged there. 
I suppose now you never will answer that question I ask every few years about what song that was you used to play on a tape when driving your Plexipod car our freshman year at college… I keep buying CDs from the group I thought it was, but nothing sounds like it did when we were teenagers. 
This must now be the ultimate swim in the Shark Zone, huh… 
“Ch… Ch….” … … (after 25 years of this game, I guess this round goes unfinished.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

NYC Commuting 90 Minutes Later

After a trip to the emergency room two weeks ago, I followed some of the doctor’s advice about caffeine and “sleep hygiene,”  and now I’m going to work an hour and a half later every day than I had been for the last few years.

New York City is very, very different at 7:30am to 8:30am than it was at 6am to 7am…  So much busier.  So much noisier.  So much more chaos.

At 6am there was only one grocery store on my route with big trucks unloading, at 7:30am there’s business with deliveries all up and down the street between our apartment and the subway.

By 7:30am there are construction crews out blocking the roads and moving big equipment around, so no more just walking across the street once there’s a big enough break in traffic.  Not that there is a big enough break in traffic at 7:30am without a light or construction flagger to stop it, the cars are simply non-stop on the avenues.

Whereas I used to always get a seat on the subway, every time, often the only person on a bench, now I usually have to squeeze in to a crowded train and wait till a mass of people get off at Times Square to quickly grab a seat, feeling guilty because there’s still plenty of people standing up, and worried that I might be taking a seat someone who really needs it more than me could use.

On the 4 train in Brooklyn I used to sit with young 20-something school teachers who work at some schools near my office, a crowd that often grades papers or talks in nice, quiet conversational tones and has manners when we’re all heading to the same exits at the same time.  Now after 8am in Crown Heights, the trains are mostly full of rowdy school kids.

Fortunately, with the doctor-recommended change in sleeping habits, I don’t feel the desperate need to sleep on the train like I used to, so I can close my eyes to relax, but the noise and chaos isn't affecting me as much.

Middle Age Motherfucker!

While getting my life on track following some health issues last month, it dawned on me that I'm totally a middle-aged man now.  On Facebook I saw a post by a college buddy's wife and we swapped some messages and we're both in the same boat now.  So, I banged out a ranty email about this to another college buddy...

Middle Age Motherfucker!

It sure hit me last month, like a BB to the nuts(1).

I ended up in the emergency room two weeks ago because my blood pressure was through the fucking roof.  I had a headache like never before, and decided to go to the urgent care clinic up the street.  The doctor there checked my blood pressure and said the risk of a stroke was severe and sent me straight to the ER, no walking, either ambulance or taxi for the two blocks (we chose taxi).

He gave me a pill for it, and some notes to take to the ER...

The pill worked, so the ER doctors didn't "do" anything except monitor me for five hours, then prescribe some blood pressure medicine to take daily, pretty much for life (or until I make lifestyle changes that'll make me healthy enough I won't require it.)  The doctor there also gave me advice including following up with a primary care physician, especially since I'm now 45 and entering middle age and can expect upcoming age-related health issues.

Two days later, when the headache receded enough that I could look at the computer and phone screens without cringing in pain I began what I'd put off for twenty years, finding a primary care doctor.  You know small town life, well, Waldport only had one doctor (whose son was one of my classmates) and once I finished college and started working the big city, Portland, the choices were too overwhelming that I never got a doctor or went for visits.  Now in NYC, the choices are even more so. In our insurance company's listings there were hundreds of primary care doctors within 10 blocks of our apartment...  The hospital had a referral service so she started listing them and I stopped her after the second clinic, then called that clinic who had one doctor available that afternoon, and now she's "my doctor".

Actually, luckily, after the first visit we really like her.  Leena really, really liked her.  We told her about how I got to the ER and what was done since and she talked a bit about diet, said I was definitely overweight and needed to lose some pounds, and took some blood samples, and EKG and measured my blood pressure several times and we talked quite a bit...  Since the problem and medication were still new to me she didn't want to change much, except for me to avoid obviously bad foods...

Last week she called with results of the blood tests and said my cholesterol is very high and put me on the famous Lipitor (another nail in the end of youth coffin for me...)

We have a two week follow-up with her later this week and she gave me a preview on the phone, that she wants to talk a lot more about food...

I saw a Facebook post from Craig's wife, and he's going through the same shit.  Overweight, high blood pressure and all that.  And similar problems, he felt fat, but whenever he talked to people about eating better and shedding weight, they just said "what? you're not fat..."

I get that all the time, even now after the doctor's appointments my coworkers are telling me I'm not fat, I'm not overweight, the doctor is stupid.  Never mind that I knew I was fat ten years ago, when I bent down to put my socks on and couldn't breath because I suddenly had a gut in the way...  I was getting out of breath walking up steps and everyone's all "you're not overweight..."

So, yeah, I'm on three prescription medications now, my blood pressure is high and my cholesterol is very high.  I'm a middle-aged man.  What the fuck happened?

How about us all sucking down a bottle of Oregon Springs(2) and walking down to the Market Casket(3) to buy some junk food...

Anyway, Leena's sprung into action.  She has a mission now, get me back to health.  She was learning to cook in January, but with lots of oil and salt, so now she's researching online and learning to cook healthier foods to help lower my blood pressure and cholesterol.  She found out how to get to the nearest fish market to bake salmon for me instead of frying beef, and she's learned to cook some vegetables so they actually taste good (hint, lots of garlic).

The fresh salads are also a reminder of lost youth...  As a kid I always used massive amounts of French salad dressing to choke down a salad and the grown-ups used olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  This week I found myself looking at a salad and trying oil and vinegar so it wouldn't be plain old, boring vegetables....  And I kind of liked it...  Until I thought about that thing with the kids and grown-ups.

In two weeks I'm noticeably less chubby, my watch is loose on my wrist and my feet are slipping out of my sandals.  So, it's a start...

(1) the first day of our sophomore year he was showing his new BB gun, pointing it at me.  I said "hey, don't point it at me" and he said "it's not loaded" then preceded to pull the trigger, with a bunch of BBs shooting and bouncing off the door, just below my crotch (good thing he lowered it...)

(2) we drank a shit-ton of Oregon Springs vodka back then...  it was the cheapest liquor we know of at either of the Klamath Falls liquor stores.

(3) just a funny nickname for the grocery store near our college campus, the Market Basket.

Monday, July 7, 2014

N Train Performance

Well, that was impressive on the N train...  Going over the Manhattan Bridge a young teenage boy got on and loudly announced, "It's Showtime!" and "Last show of the day!" before turning on his boom box to some obnoxious music.

No, he wasn't that good, just clumsily repeating a few moves over and over, dancing and whirling his hat from his knee to his head, head to his toes, under his knee, and an occasional twirl around some of the bars in the train...  I've seen much better performers...

What was impressive is after he finished, he sat down on the bench, not far from where I was standing (I always stand on the train going home, so I don't sleep (yeah, sometimes I do, I doze and my knees buckle and I catch myself halfway down...), otherwise I risk missing my stop, and I'll get even less sleep at night), took the batteries out of his boom box, slid it under his seat, got out his headphones...

And then started counting his cash...

It was a lot of cash.  Several hundred dollars.  Mostly it was $1 bills, but no shortage of $5 bills scattered in there.  He'd reach into his backpack with his right hand, pull out a handful, straighten them out with the ones already in his left hand.  Over and over.  By the end he had a gigantic stack of bills in his left hand that he couldn't actually fold over lengthwise.  Then he curled it into a large, very wide cylinder and wrapped a band around it and stuck it back in his bag.

And the kid wasn't even that good, and the trains weren't even that busy...

Of course, I don't know how much of that he gets to keep, or if he has to pass on a chunk of it to someone else.  When he started his routine, dancing from one end of the car to the other, he stopped and fist-bumped a scruffy looking guy standing at one end, who didn't seem surprised, and in mid-town left his standing spot to sit on the bench one seat away from the kid.  That might well have been his supervisor or someone...

...Hmmm...  Maybe it's time I practice, make some extra cash while I'm already commuting and on the weekends...  :)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Microsoft Screws Up Scroll Bars

I finally figured out why despite years of using Windows (i.e. since version 1.0 in the mid-80's, and mouse-oriented apps going back earlier to my Apple //e) I'm having so much trouble using the scroll bars on my relatively new, fancy Windows 8.1 desktop machine at work. I click in the scroll bar and unexpected scrolling happens, or sometimes nothing at all happens.

In this photo with two windows, one is scrolled to the bottom, the other is scrolled to the top.

The problem is the Windows 8.1 default style is for the "thumb" of the scroll bar to be a dark grey, with the empty part to be a light grey, almost white. But one idiotic software vendor decided to override that with their own distinctive style, the "thumb" being white and the empty part of the scroll bar a dark grey.

No, wait...  They're both the same software vendor...  F*ckin' Microsoft!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sexual Inadequacy: Out of shape and overweight...

I’m feeling totally inadequate right this morning…  Last night, around 1am, we got woken up by a woman in a nearby apartment screaming in total ecstasy for about forty-five minutes…  It was almost constant “Oh yes!  Fuck Yes!  Oh Fuck, Oh Fuck, Yes, Yes!  Fuck Me Hard, Hard, Fuck Me! Fuck Me!” with a minute or two of wordless moaning here and there before building up into pleasurable screams again. There was the occasional grunting of a guy’s voice, a bit more towards the end as he was probably climaxing, then the two of them mumbling together for a bit…

Leena hates hearing it, saying that women having sex is a turn-off for her.  I’m sort of the opposite, I like it, like hearing a “live performance” and get totally turned on by it.  Granted, this woman isn’t as good as a former neighbor who lived across the hall, who didn’t last as long, but just sounded a bit “sweeter” and sexier...

Leena was nearly asleep a while after that, but I was totally awake, thinking solely about sex, of course.  I’d wanted us to make out earlier in the morning, but she wasn’t feeling too well, bad acid reflux, so we didn’t go beyond cuddling till she wanted to get up (despite her clear invitation for morning action the night before, before she could’ve anticipated that she’d not be feeling well in the morning…).

Not able to sleep, I joined her in her part of the bed and things went okay while I went down on her.  But then when it was time for the condom, I lost it…  Then after that, once my own member was lubricated from unrolling the condom on it as I was losing it, her messaging me made me lose control and come before I could get another rubber out…  A disappointing, though not unpleasurable end, but nowhere near as good as it could’ve been.

This sort of thing happens regularly and Leena is usually comforting and reassuring that I’m ok, but after hearing quite a performance from nearby, it just left me feeling pretty bad in the sexual department (especially after managing a condom twice last weekend and hoping for a repeat…).

Now it’s later in the morning and that neighbor has had two more sessions of the same thing, although each seems to be about ten minutes shorter than the last.  But still, I’m just thinking about how great in bed her guy must be.  And at this point in life, it’s unlikely I’ll ever be such a stud…

Rarely have I felt more like what I am turning into, an overweight, out-of-shape, middle-aged guy with erectile trouble.