Things to be Grateful For 4/12 – 4/18

Last week, I added a section to a blog post I made where I listed a few things I should be grateful for in the previous week. It seemed like a pretty good exercise, given the situation. I think it’s something I’m going to try to continue on a regular basis with once a week lists. Even after this pandemic is over, I think I could benefit from reminding myself of all of the good things that happen over the course of a week and meditating on them for a bit.

  • I reread The Red Badge of Courage and it made a lot more sense to me now as an adult and an Army veteran.
  • I’m continually grateful that the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library have such a large catalog of audiobooks and eBooks that I can borrow through my phone.
  • I discovered free online courses from Harvard. The certificates aren’t free, but it still seems like a pretty good deal to me.
  • The cat we rescued, Mama Cat, is finally starting to improve. She is suffering from some kind of skin condition that we’ve been treating with antibacterial/antifungal wipes. We gave her a bath and she’s finally getting fluffy enough to pick up and pet. She’s super grateful for the affection.
A 9" round cake pan half filled with fresh baked brownie.
Fresh baked fudge brownie in a 9″ round cake pan.
  • I baked some kick-ass brownies.
  • I found a really cool horror anthology on Amazon Prime Video called Hitokowa: The Killing Hour that is kind of cheesy, but in a great way.
  • Honda Financial Services allowed us to defer our car payments for two months, so we’re relieved of that burden until June.
  • My wife and I are both healthy and we’re eating well, which is more than many can say right now.
  • We have lots of toilet paper.
  • Our cat, Dapper, is super happy that we’re around all the time.
One of our cats, Dapper, trying to get attention.
  • I’ve been reading more by Stoic authors and the stuff makes sense. Here’s a quote by Epictetus that is still very relevant:

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.

Epictetus

There’s an element of this in Buddhism as well, where you’re encouraged to live in the present moment. Or maybe I’m mixing that up with Western mindfulness? I’ll have to do some more reading.

Book Review: Soul of the Fire, by Terry Goodkind

Soul of the Fire, by Terry Goodkind
Soul of the Fire, by Terry Goodkind

I enjoyed the exercise in world building that this book seems to represent. The author laid out the history of Anderith and then used that foundation to give us a story about political intrigue and domination.

I also enjoyed how things played out at the end, though I’m not sure it made much sense. The common people would be the ones to suffer the most, while the elites who manipulated them in the first place would likely escape retribution, like Dalton. So, could that really satisfy Richard’s desire for vengeance? It does make his actions seem more juvenile. What he’s doing at the end of the story is pretty juvenile too. “They don’t like me so I’m going home!” Isn’t this guy supposed to be Lord Rahl? Wouldn’t his past experiences have hardened him up and made a man out of him by this point? Are his actions believable?

I feel like Goodkind spends a lot of time building new characters up and developing them in really creative ways, only to have them meet their ends in extremely anti-climactic situations that felt rushed and left me wondering what the point of learning about them was in the first place.

That rushed feeling permeates the last 60 pages or so of the book. One moment everything is fine, and then suddenly the enemy is there and everything quickly wraps up in catastrophe. It doesn’t feel measured. It doesn’t feel like good storytelling. It feels like the author put too much time into the build-up and then realized he only had 50 pages to find some sort of conclusion. The ending was choppy and unsatisfying. Goodkind also puts too much weight on weak storylines. The prime example is using Franka’s situation at the end of the book to explain Dalton’s change of heart, but for that to be believable Dalton’s relationship with Franka should have been more deeply examined.

The story could have been better if Goodkind had spent less time detailing characters and a culture that were disposable and had spent more time developing the main characters instead. Throughout the story, all of the main characters fail to work together. The actions they take aren’t believable given their situations. Kahlan doubting Richard and the mud people elder about the chicken is the most glaring example. Why would they lie about it, and if it had turned out to be untrue, so what? They’d have checked and maybe killed a few chickens and then they could have settled things. Instead, she gets portrayed as a doubting, whining bitch that slows down story progression, which isn’t fair to her considering who she is supposed to be. Richard has his turn to be an idiot when he doesn’t trust Kahlan’s opinion later on in the story.

The story just feels like a wasted opportunity, or like filler material.

Trick Jumps in Grand Theft Auto V

The Fleeca Job: Complete - After-heist party screenshot

I meant to spend most of my break between semesters catching up on reading like I did last year, but we’re about a week out from the first day of class and I’ve only read through some volumes of the comic book series Grimm Fairy Tales. It’s not bad, but it’s also not the intellectually stimulating experience I want from a book. I picked them up as digital comics a few years ago and never got around to reading them. Maybe they were part of a Humble Bundle, I don’t know. It’s hard to resist the book Humble Bundles.

I’m reading through some more interesting stuff, like Karen Armstrong’s book on Paul the Apostle, St. Paul: The Apostle We Love to HateThe End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov, and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. I’m also playing Grand Theft Auto V pretty heavily. I picked it up on Steam’s winter sale a few weeks ago. I really enjoyed Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, so I wanted to give this one a shot.

The story mode is good, but I enjoy the online play more, even though it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of load times. I also wish it had more of the story mode content, like items you can find and collect. One thing that did carry over is the trick jumps. Some of them are a headache to get right, mostly because you have to use the right vehicle and avoid killing yourself while pulling off the jumps, or you have to land in just the right spot to get credit for the jump. It’s fun, though. One of the more interesting ones to do are the jumps at the airport traffic circle off the billboards. I made the video below of the jumps, but I feel like I could probably pull off two backflips on the motorcycle before landing. I’m going to give it a shot.

GTA V - Airport Billboard Stunt Jumps - Pegassi Vortex

The ABCs of Children’s Books Exhibit at the New York Public Library – 42nd Street/5th Ave

Why I Love My Kindle, And Why I Don’t

A Kindle 3 in the box.

Last year in October, I was given a Kindle 3 by my aunt in return for doing what turned out to be a LOT of yard work.  Well, a lot more than I expected anyway.  It’d been quite a few years since I’d lived anywhere that required yard work, so I wasn’t able to judge it properly.

Since then, I’ve used my Kindle fairly regularly.  Whenever I commute here in the city, I keep it with me so I can spend my time doing something constructive, instead of staring blankly at the wall like so many of my fellow commuters.  I’ve come to rely on it for entertainment, something I was reminded of today when I realized I left the house with a dead battery.  My commute is about an hour both ways, so … ya, I was bored.  There’s no cell phone signal in the subways here, so that meant I really had nothing to do but stare at the walls.

The Kindle 3 is light, very easy on the eyes, and makes reading fun again, especially since there’s so much available for free, but some recent events have caused me to see a few shortcomings.

The first problem is that there are still plenty of books being published that don’t have Kindle versions.  Even worse, some books are published and the price of the Kindle version is higher than the price of the physical book.  I understand that there are some costs that can’t be negated by simply producing a book as an e-text, but there should never be a time when an eBook costs anything near what the physical book does, since you’re cutting out the cost of the paper, printing and distribution.  It’s obscene.  An insult even.

The kicker that made me write this post, though, was a visit to Barnes & Noble at Union Square.  I’ve been going there frequently looking for particular versions of books I need for classes I’m taking at CCNY.  I don’t know what it is about physical books, but every time I go in there I find myself wanting to hold and touch them, and maybe just ‘adopt’ them all and bring them home.  The cover art is something that can’t be reproduced well on a Kindle, or any eReader.  You can’t touch it.  You just can’t appreciate it the same way.  I’m reminded of something my art history teacher said in class yesterday.  He was talking about how people go to an art museum and instead of stopping to appreciate the art, they take a picture and move on quickly.  He said that if that’s what you’re going to do, you might as well have just looked the images up on Google.  It’s not the same experience.  It’s also not the same experience as holding the book in your hands, or putting it on your shelf when you’re done with it.  I suppose that desire to collect books is something that not everyone has, but I like to see my books sitting on a shelf, so I can be reminded of how good they are and maybe pick them up and leaf through them to my favorite parts again.  Speaking of that, it’s really hard to scan through books on a Kindle, going back to re-examine material you read the a few days ago.

My conclusion is that a Kindle is still an awesome device that will encourage more people to read more often, myself included, but it has drawbacks.  I think my Kindle is best suited for ‘light’ reading.  You know, those books that you read purely for entertainment, the ones that you’re not worried about looking at again, because when you’re done with a Kindle book it gets lost in the list of available books on the device.  For those books that I consider my favorites, or anything heavier that might require thought and retrospection, the books that I would want to flip back and forth through to better understand the ideas being expressed, a physical book can’t be beat.