December 4, 2012

Sitzbook: Four Quick Reviews

Hi Everyone! Today I'm continuing my reviews for Sitzbook. My thoughts on the four books I'll review today weren't terribly comment-heavy, so I decided to do them in a quick, compressed format. Here we go:

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
The Good: This book is about Professor Randy Pausch, a man who was terminally sick and gave his famous "last lecture" to highlight how to really achieve one's dreams. You can read more here. It's a great way to think about what's truly important in your life.
The Not-So-Good: The book gets very personal at times, and Pausch occasionally comes off as having all the answers. I know that certainly wasn't his intention, though, and it's not like that sensation is overbearing or anything.
Should You Read It? Yes, possibly, but as I read the book, it occurred to me that this is the type of book everyone should write, since it's a great way to leave behind a record of our values, memories, and love. So read it if you want, and then write your own "last lecture."

Coming to theaters: Sitzbook: The Movie, starting Jason Statham.
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
The Good: I read this because I had the impression that it wasn't really about statistics and baseball, but in reality it was. I guess it's good in the sense that it makes statistics and baseball sort of interesting. The writing is also good, and one can identify with some of the people mentioned in the book.
The Not-So-Good: At the end of the day, it's still about statistics and baseball.
Should You Read It? No, just watch the major motion picture starring Brad Pitt, although that's not that much more interesting, seeing as it's also about statistics and baseball.

The Big Short by Michael Lewis
The Good: Like Moneyball, it was a free book from Amazon's Kindle Lending Library.
The Not-So-Good: It's about the roots of the recent financial crisis and it's really boring as a result.
Should You Read It? No. C'mon, I just said it was boring.

Earth (The Book) by The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
The Good: It's pretty funny in a few parts, and you can find the hardcover "textbook" version for a couple of dollars at a Barnes and Noble near you. Nice pictures, too.
The Not-So-Good: America (The Book) was quite a bit funnier in most parts.
Should You Read It? Yeah, sure, but maybe not from cover-to-cover, but rather just leave it in the john to read a page or two every now and then.

You'd think that reading two pages with so many pictures would be a breeze, but it took me quite a bit longer to read this book, per page, than one that's purely text.
So, that's it for today! I'll be back with more reviews throughout the week, and hopefully I'll get caught up. Thanks for reading!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

December 3, 2012

Sitzbook: "Casino Royale" by Ian Fleming

OK, so this will be a bit different. I just read this book last week and I wanted to review it for Sitzbook. However, a few friends and I just started a blog about movies and stuff like that, so I wrote a review there comparing the book and the movie. I'll reprint that in this post, but you can also check out the review here. The blog is called Cinematic Attic, and it's pretty fun! If you're interested in movies, books, and music (but especially movies, at least thus far), then check it out!

So, here's my review from Cinematic Attic:

(She's not really purple, though. This isn't Star Wars.)

I'll try to write a short, fast review for this, but that's what I say every time.

OK, I just recently read Casino Royale by Ian Fleming for Sitzbook. It was OK; not that great, but also somehow addicting. It was published in 1953, and the (2nd) movie version came out in 2006, so there are obviously going to be some differences, especially in things like technology. But the movie was very different.

The main characters are the same, at least in name. You've got James Bond, Vesper Lynd, Le Chiffre, M, and Mathis. And there is a high stakes card game at a casino where Bond is trying to defeat Le Chiffre. That part of the movie starts about 1 hour into the movie, but what comes before that is absolutely different from the book. In fact, it's not in the book at all. Bond fights a guy on a skyscraper in Madagascar. Bond goes to the Bahamas to seduce some lady to get closer to her terrorist husband. Bond foils a terrorist plot to blow up a prototype airliner in Miami. 

All that is the first hour of the movie, and it's completely unnecessary. It's supposedly a set-up to help us understand the background of Le Chiffre and the type of people he runs with, but still, Fleming was able to establish all that in about two paragraphs. That's not to say it's not fun, since it is, but then after all that you still have a 1.5 hour movie to get through. The people who made the movie should have just stuck with the Casino Royale story, which is followed fairly closely after that point. There are some differences like location (book is France, movie is Montenegro), and the ending is completely different, but I also understand they needed to make it look cool and sexy, and it's a lot easier to watch an action scene than to read one.

Eva Green (center) and Daniel Craig (right) with a dog (front). I don't remember the dog in the movie, but he could have been the guy helping out the croupier.
So, which is better, the book or the movie? I'd say the movie, but only if you start at about 55 minutes in. They should have just used those 55 minutes and added them to the next Bond movie, because the rest of the story is well done. Daniel Craig is a great James Bond, although I must admit I've only seen a few Bond movies and don't really care that much about the Bond character. So, I'll correct that: Daniel Craig is a cool actor and I like how he plays Bond. I also like how Eva Green plays Vesper. Much stronger and confident, much less stupid and useless than in the book (again, it was written in 1953, so I realize times have changed).

I'd give the book 10 stars out of 17. I'd give the first 55 minutes of the movie 7 stars out of 17, and the second part 12 stars out of 17. 

Yeah, yeah, I know I should see the 1960s movie version, too, if I really want to compare these. But one thing at a time, guys. 

Have a good week, everyone!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

December 2, 2012

Sitzbook: "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon

Hi again! I'm back with another review, although this one will be mostly quotes. My brother gave me The Yiddish Policemen's Union for Christmas and it was, in a word, excellent. The story takes place in an alternate reality in which Sitka, Alaska, has taken in millions of Jewish refugees during the Second World War, thereby basically avoiding the bulk of the Holocaust. (In reality, this was actually a plan that was briefly proposed in the US Congress but ultimately came to nothing.) Anyhow, the story picks up in more modern times, when the city is about to revert to American/Alaskan control, since it had been an autonomous region before, basically controlled by the Yiddish-speaking Jewish community.

Still following? OK, the main thing though is that there are crimes, intrigue, mysteries and a strong "human" element in the form of the relationship between the (anti-)hero Meyer Landsmann and his ex-wife Bina. I don't want to give away anything, since I knew basically nothing going into this book, and that's the best way to approach this one. Just pick it up and let the story take you away. But I do assure you that the book is one of the best ones I've read this year, and even in the last two years, of Sitzbook. And I don't know exactly what I expected when I first saw the cover, but I somehow know that the book was completely different than what I might have thought it'd be about.

I'll give you a few quotes to show you what the writing is like.

From p. 262, Landsmann is hearing some people speak Hebrew; the content of the quote isn't that amazing, but it does illustrate how great of a writer Chabon is, and how he's able to paint vivid images in the reader's mind:

“In the dreamy seconds that precede his loss of consciousness, the guttural language that Landsman heard Roboy speaking plays like a recording in his ear, and he makes a dazzling leap into impossible understanding, like the sudded consciousness in a dream of one’s having invented a great theory or written a fine poem that in the morning turns out to be gobbledygook. They are talking, those Jews on the other side of the door, about roses and frankincense. They are standing in a desert wind under the date palms, and Landsman is there, in flowing robes that keep out the biblical sun, speaking Hebrew, and they are all friends and brothers together, and the mountains skip like rams, and the hills like little lambs.”

This is from p. 362, when Landsmann's being held by American police officers:

“Landsman pisses away the next twenty-four hours in the hum of a chalk-white room with a milk-white carpet on the seventh floor of the Harold Ickes Federal Building on Seward Street. 
In teams of two, six men with the variegated surnames of doomed crewmen in a submarine movie rotate in and out of the room in four-hour shifts. One is a black man and one a Latino, and the others are fluid pink giants with haircuts that occupy the neat interval between astronaut and pedophile scoutmaster. Gum chewers, overgrown boys with good manners and Bible-school smiles. In each of them at moments Landsman sniffs out the diesel heart of a policeman, but he is baffled by the fairings of their southern and gentile glamour. Despite the smoke screen of back talk that Landsman puts up, they make him feel rattletrap, a two-stroke old beater.”

And finally, I just liked this quote from p. 64:

“Brennan studied German in college and learned his Yiddish from some pompous old German at the Institute, and he talks, somebody once remarked, ‘like a sausage recipe with footnotes.’”

This is half of the inside cover. To be completely honest with you, it's beautiful.
I obviously thought this was a great book, and above all else its most intriguing accomplishment is the ability to make the reader really ponder "What if?" The whole bulk of the story is also excellently done, but that underlying idea that there could have been a way to prevent so many people from dying, well, that's what made me think a lot more than the actual plot of the book.

If you've read anything else by Chabon and enjoyed it (like Wonder Boys or The Mysteries of Pittsburgh), you'll surely like this one, too. And if you've not read him, then get going!

Thanks for reading this, by the way! Have a great week!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

December 1, 2012

Sitzbook: "Lamb" By Christopher Moore

This is a dazed bird that crashed into the Formerly Crappy Casita.
It's got nothing to do with this post, but I didn't have any other pictures to illustrate this book.
Hello! It's been a while since I wrote a book review for Sitzbook, so I really need to catch up. As a quick re-cap, I've been reading a book a week for the last two years. At this moment, I still have 7 more to go before the end of the year, so December will be a busy month for reading. It will also have quite a few reviews, since another goal for my project this year was to write at least a short review for each book. I know that no one really cares that much about my opinions regarding any given book, but I do, and I like to look back on old blog posts to remember what I thought about things, including books, of course.

Anyhow, today I'll start to bring us up to speed by reviewing a book I finished a few months ago. To do that I'll stick with the format I stole and adapted from AnnaLisa, which will feature the categories of "The Good," "The Not-So-Good," and "Should You Read It?" But this time I'll also add a few quotes.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

The Good: Brad recommended this book to me and thus far, his recommendations have all been hits. It tells the story --no, it makes up the story-- of Jesus as a child and young man, as seen through the eyes of his childhood buddy Biff. It's a bit satirical, of course, but not in a disrespectful way. However, I realize that religion is a perennially touchy subject so if you don't like the idea of a Jesus who is different from the scripture you've read, then just steer clear of the book to avoid controversy. I thought it was quite funny, though.

The Not-So-Good: Actually I thought it was all well-written, and it made me want to check out more by Moore. Although like I said, if books that look at religion in a joking way bother you, don't read this one.

Should You Read It? If books that look at religion in a joking way don't bother you, then yes.

A Few Quotes:

"That's the difference between irony and sarcasm. Irony can be spontaneous, while sarcasm requires volition. You have to create sarcasm."

(Biff is talking about the gospels, which he has discovered in a hotel Bible while being kidnapped by an angel and forced to write his own gospel):
"Mark begins with the baptism, at thirty! Where did these guys get their stories? 'I once met a guy in a bar who knew a guy whose sister's best friend was at the baptism of Joshua bar Joseph of Nazareth, and here's the story as best as he could remember it.'"

"A wall is the defense of a country that values inaction. But a wall imprisons the people of a country as much as it protects them."

And to finish, this quote is actually by the author, in the acknowledgements section at the end of the book:
"Finally, this story was set in a dire time, a deadly serious time, and the world of the first-century Jew under the rule of the Romans would not have been one that easily inspired mirth. It's more than a small anachronism that I portray Joshua having and making fun, yet somehow, I like to think that while he carried out his sacred mission, Jesus of Nazareth might have enjoyed a sense of irony and the company of a wisecracking buddy. This story is not and never was meant to challenge anyone's faith; however, if one's faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do."

So! One more down, a lot more to go. Tell me if you've read this, or have any thoughts or comments. Thanks for reading, and have a good one!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

November 29, 2012

October 2012 Pictures of the Day

Well, it's almost the end of November, so I guess that means I should finally post my October Pictures of the Day. It was another busy month for traveling, and you can see the Leftovers here. I hope there's something in the set that you like:

Thanks for reading and looking, and enjoy the rest of your week!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

November 26, 2012

Veterinary Election Fun

I know you may have already voted once at the beginning of this month, but democracy is calling yet again, dear readers.

Heska (a company that works with veterinary drugs, among other things) is currently holding a contest for different animal-related programs and projects. The grand prize of $25,000 will go to the winning project. As you may know, my dad is a veterinarian, and one of the projects he works with is in the contest. He specializes in animal dentistry, so he often teams up with the Peter Emily International Veterinary Dentistry Foundation (PEIVDF) to help provide dental care to animals, especially wildlife rescue and zoo animals. I'll include a few pictures my dad sent throughout this post. It's a good cause, and you can help, too.

Tigers get cavities, too.

If you go to the Heska contest site you can read about all the projects and vote for the one you think is the best. You can vote once per day until December 10th. You do need to register, but it's a very fast process and it's just to make sure that you don't vote more than once per day.

I think the PEIVDF project is very worthwhile, of course, but all of the projects seem pretty cool and worth checking out. And if you do decide to vote, whether for PEIVDF or any other project, thanks for your time and for participating!

Lions, Tigers, and Bears --oh my!-- They're totally useless when it comes to flossing.
Let's give them a paw and help them get good dental care.

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

November 24, 2012

Oh, Son Of A...

After my anti-Black Friday rant yesterday, I felt a bit better. I'd said what I felt, and didn't have to think about it again until next year. Little did I know, though, that on my website, there was something strange and almost hypocritical-seeming at work:

My friend Brad sent me this screen shot, saying "I just thought this was ironic." Indeed, a Black Friday Deals ad in the middle of a rant against Black Friday. But I guess that's just how AdSense rolls, since it seems to find the content in blogs and tailors ads accordingly. Oh well. I guess it is ironic, and kind of funny even. One might even say it proves my point. 

Or maybe not. Either way, have a good weekend!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

November 23, 2012

A Brief Note To Black Friday: You Are Crap

By "you," I of course don't mean you, Dear Reader! I mean the very concept of Black Friday, which is so vulgarly capitalistic and basically just about crass commercialism. If it were any other day, I'd say discounts would be welcome, but not the deceptive kinds that many people are now associating with the day after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving--a holiday that is all about giving thanks and spending time with friends and family! Isn't that great? Well, it's not great for commerce, since you're not buying enough cards, decorations, or other crap.

I remember 10 years or so ago, the concept of Black Friday didn't even exist. They just called it "the day after Thanksgiving," and yes, everyone knew it was the busiest shopping day of the year. But that was out of necessity, since so many people have jobs that require them to work 5 days a week, so a Friday where the kids got off school and the folks didn't have to work did indeed provide a chance to go shopping. 

But it was shitty. Every mall and every store was packed with every other idiot that decided to go shopping. That's why they started calling it Black Friday, since it was "black" as in "all the light has gone out of my life, since I'm here trying to find bargains at Sears when I could have stayed home, relaxed, and digested turkey on my day off."

But it seems like it's been just in the last few years that Black Friday became a big thing. A big, shitty thing, and I'm here to say I don't like it. The worst part is, it's even come to Costa Rica. But here they don't celebrate Thanksgiving, so the whole idea of it doesn't make any sense whatsoever. And the discounts here are something small, like 10 or 15%. So they have "viernes negro," but no one knows why it's called black, nor why everyone's going to overpriced stores on this one day. It's all filler and no taste, which is even worse than Black Friday in the US.

I realize that it's too late to do anything about it this year, but next year I think I'll participate in Buy Nothing Day. I can't say I did this year, though, since I paid for a Chinese class and then went to the supermarket to buy some noodles and ice cream. Dammit, I'm still in consumerism's claws!

Anyhow, Happy Black Friday! (See how bad that sounds?)

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

November 22, 2012

It's The Great Turkey, Charlie Sitzman!

Well, it's Thanksgiving again, and I'm out of the country yet again. That's a bummer because Thanksgiving is great. But at least we'll be celebrating a bit in my class this evening --I even made some pies and everything!

My students and I have been doing a bit of research and a few lessons related to Thanksgiving, and so of course I came across "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving." I used to watch these Peanuts holiday specials almost constantly as a kid, or at least I think I did (and my mom seemed to confirm it). I had showed my class "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!" to less-than rave reviews, so I'll not be showing this video tonight (I will, however, show a Simpsons Thanksgiving episode). But if you've not checked out the Peanuts' take on the holiday, you really owe it to yourself to see how weird these specials actually are. Here's the Thanksgiving one:

Now, if you actually made it through that, good for you. However, if you didn't, rest assured: it is fairly bizarre in parts. You can definitely see that the kids of the day must have really loved Snoopy, since in both this video and the Great Pumpkin he's got a few scenes of a couple minutes each where he just does things that don't really move the plot forward at all. You'd have a hard time finding that in today's cartoons (especially if you consider Great Pumpkin, which has got a 1- or 2-minute scene with Snoopy where he's apparently hallucinating that he's a World War I flying ace...yay Halloween!).

The Thanksgiving one does have a great scene with toast around 8:20, though. Gotta give it that. Toast is possibly my favorite food. It's just so versatile.

Plus, having actual kids do the voices gives both videos an eerie touch, and the dialogue is also very high-level stuff that even I need to listen to closely to understand. So in that sense, it's not even aimed at kids, necessarily, but then who is it aimed at? The thing that I think is weirdest about this one, though, is Snoopy and Woodstock's dinner at the end. Dude, Woodstock the bird is eating turkey. Isn't that nearly cannibalism? 

Anyhow, don't get me wrong: I love Thanksgiving (like I said here a few years ago), and I think it's great. But as we enjoy our dinners and time with our families, let's not forget the hardships our forebears had to suffer in the 1970s and 80s, when there were so few high-quality Thanksgiving-themed TV specials to choose from. And me? I'm just thankful for my patient mom, who had to put up with us watching Peanuts-themed holiday specials for the last three months of every year!

Happy Thanksgiving!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

November 18, 2012

More Trip Pictures

I've finally finished uploading pictures from our October trip to Europe and New York City. The slideshow below has my favorites (hence its name), but there are quite a few more from each section of the trip, if you're interested. You can check them out by going right to flickr, or through the links after the slideshow.

Here are the links to more pictures from the individual parts of our trip:

I hope some of them are interesting--if not, you can't say I didn't try. Thanks for looking and reading, and have a great week!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

November 16, 2012

What To Do When You Get An Election

Something tells me that's not his real name. Or the real date.
Well, more than a week has passed since the election in the US. Whether you liked the result or not, it's over. Thank God. I know everyone wants to put all the campaigning, the onslaught of media coverage, and the relentless commercials out of their mind for as long as possible (4 years, ideally), but I had some thoughts to share. My ideas here aren't about the results, but the process. If you don't feel like reading them, that's fine, but let me live in my fantasy world for at least a few more paragraphs.

The main reason I'm even writing this is because I've observed other electoral systems in other countries. I've lived in Germany and Costa Rica for various elections and noticed some differences in how they Take Care of Business. No system is perfect, and of course ours in the US isn't perfect, either. But I think that we could still take a few ideas from other systems to make ours better (and vice-versa, frankly). So, in no particular order, here are my thoughts about...


1. Make it easier to vote. In general, really. In Costa Rica --and keep in mind this is considered by some to be a "third world" country-- people don't even need to register to vote. They have a list of people, and on election day you simply go to the closest polling station and they cross your name off. That seems much easier than the registration process I have to go through in Colorado. And actually, if you think about it, why do we even have to register? If it's really a democracy, shouldn't the assumption be that everyone should get a chance to let their voice be heard, if they want it heard? 

On the other hand, if someone doesn't want to vote, I'd say that's his or her business (or loss, if you want to see it that way), and I wouldn't support laws like in Australia that fine non-voters. To me forcing someone to vote is just like trying to eat soup with a fork. I honestly have no idea how this particular metaphor works, but that's just the image that came to mind when I thought of electoral officials trying to force apathetic people to care about an election. If they're not inclined to vote, let them be lazy, I'd say.

2. A Tuesday in November? Really? In many countries (again, including Costa Rica), elections are held on Sundays and/or Saturdays, and the election day is basically treated like a holiday. No one who wants to vote should be prevented from doing so because he or she couldn't get time off work, because they had to take care of the kids, or because of inclement weather.

3. Keep promoting mail-in and internet voting. This election I voted by mail, and the previous one I voted by overseas absentee ballot (it was sent to me here in Costa Rica, a small miracle knowing the Costa Rican mail system). I think both of these are great steps in making the election more inclusive and accessible, but they could help kick it up a notch with online voting. If I had voted as an overseas voter this time, I could have actually voted by email, but I would have had to sign a statement that I accepted my ballot wouldn't be secret or private. I didn't care as much for that, plus I spent a lot of time in Colorado this year, so I just voted by mail. But still, why can't anyone vote by internet, and securely, too? I recognize that would require a verification regime, so that could indeed make things more complicated. But if Estonia can do it, why can't we?

An additional benefit of both online and mail-in voting is of course that you don't need to wait in long election lines. In all the elections I've voted in, I never had to wait in line terribly long, but one time in Colorado I did have to wait about an hour and a half. It's not tragic, but for some people a wait time like that could prove a deal-breaker, especially if they had to go to work, pick up kids, or wait in crappy weather.

My most-recent mail-in ballot.

4. Limit the money. This idea seems to enjoy support from most sides. The money being spent on all types of campaigns, from President down to Dogcatcher, has become astronomical. And it doesn't even seem to make that much of a difference in the end. The only thing I did notice is that every 4 out of 5 commercials I saw in Colorado in October were about the election. At least if we limited the amount of campaign funding, the campaigns wouldn't be able to afford to annoy me as much.

5. Get rid of the electoral college. Seriously, it's confusing as hell and not even most Americans know what it's all about. And have you ever tried to explain it to a class of English students in a foreign country? Don't.

The point is, it's a weird system that most people say isn't very fair. If you're promoting a democracy, "unfair" and "confusing" are two adjectives you'd probably prefer not be attached to your system. I actually do understand (somewhat well) how it works, but I still think it's stupid. For a national election, why not just let the popular vote rule? You may know the "fun fact" that four former presidents have been elected through the electoral college, but lost the popular vote. That just doesn't make sense.

6. Introduce proportional representation. Either that, or some kind of threshold a party needs to reach to govern, like 65% or something. Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, one thing's for certain: almost half the country disagrees with you. Plus, there's the old adage that voting for a third party is throwing your vote away. I do agree that you should vote your conscience, not your fears, and all those other sayings, but seriously, do you really think that just two (2) political parties can represents the wishes, needs, and beliefs of an entire country?

If we had a system that implemented proportional representation, we wouldn't have to deal with the downsides of a winner-take-all system. The main downside of course is that if a party can win a presidential election with 50.1% of the votes (and yes, even less than that, as we all know), then there's still a huge swath of the country that will feel their voice isn't being heard. 

Imagine, for example, that in order to govern a country, a party had to get 65% of a vote, or to form a coalition with another party to reach that percentage. Or it could be 60%. Or 70%. In any case, it would encourage political parties to work together to make decisions and to get things done, while also enabling a larger percentage of the population's voice to be heard.

So, those are my ideas. I know that some of them --actually, most likely all of them-- will never be implemented in the US in my lifetime, but a guy can dream, can't he? Of course, I'm not a political scientist, and I've never studied these topics seriously. I therefore realize that some of these ideas may come off as impractical or even stupid, but this is just a sort of brainstorming device for me. But if an armchair political hack like me can sit back and come up with these six ideas in a few minutes, surely our greatest political minds can come up with more, even better ideas. After all, if the founders of the country talked about forming a more perfect union, it seems like we should at least be able to get rid of some of the most obvious imperfections. 

What's your take? Do you think any of these ideas would work? Do you have other ideas? I'd love to hear your thoughts or other input in the comment section.

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend, and don't forget: Vote (well, at least in 2016)!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

November 14, 2012

For Your Consideration

My brother Paul recently worked on this music video by the group Train:

He's a filmmaker, and he usually works with sound and general production. He said that for this video, he was a "Unit Production Manager." I asked him what that was, since I wasn't sure, and he said that he was in charge of securing crew, equipment, food, and permissions on a short notice. In any case, that sounds a bit more interesting than teaching the use of present perfect modal verbs yet again, so I'm a bit jealous that he's gotten on a career path that sounds a bit more fun than mine, at least at the moment.

Also, Train is a fairly big name group. I know they did the "Soul Sister" song a few years ago, and I think they did something like "Drops of Jupiter," but that may have came out right when I moved countries and didn't listen to as much music. Still, the point is that I've heard of them, and that they're big enough to film and play at Red Rocks, so that's pretty cool. The original link Paul gave me was through the Country Music Television channel, but since that link didn't work for me in Costa Rica, I embedded the one above. I also thought it was interesting that they're apparently "country" enough now to be on that station. Then again, the definition of country may be changing, but I still know this: Toby Keith sucks.

So, good work, brother, and may we see many more videos and movies that you were involved with!  

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

November 13, 2012

Pee Es

Your pee is a goal just waiting to be scored!
(I took this picture in the Schweiz back in 2006)
Last week I wrote about why I pee on my lawn, and how you can, too! I tried to explain urine's fertilizing abilities, although I obviously possess absolutely no knowledge about chemistry, physics, or astrology (nor do I know which of these fields of study could explain why pee makes grass grow).

Nevertheless, it appears that urine is even more powerful and valuable than I imagined. You can check out this article on Gizmodo if you don't believe me; basically, a few teenage girls from Nigeria have created a generator that runs on urine. You can check out the link or their references yourself, but I think the take-home message here is abundantly clear: 

Keep those empty pop bottles handy, since it's time to start hoarding your urine! 

Thanks for reading, and have a good one!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

November 10, 2012

September 2012 Pictures of the Day

September? Yes, September. We were traveling a lot (mostly in China during September) so I've been slow at uploading pictures and posting to the blog. But here they are, finally:

I'm also currently uploading pictures from October and I'll put them here when they're ready. In the meantime, you can always check out my latest pictures on Flickr. (And you can see some of the newest ones in the widget to the left.)

Thanks for reading, and have a great new week!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

November 8, 2012

Gee Whiz

Sure, if you need to do a Number Two, there's nothing like a bathroom. But if Number One is on your mind, your grass could use a favor.
One's no longer the loneliest number, after all.

I recently came across this article on The Atlantic Cities site. It talks about a new system/product that will allow people to urinate outside in urban areas, and then harness that urine to fertilize plants. You should really check out the article for a better explanation, as well as to see a picture of the system.

Personally, I think this is brilliant. I recently learned the power of one's urine in our own yard. Especially when our water used to get cut off, I'd quickly hop outside at night when I needed to take a leak. I was surprised to notice that in the areas that I peed, the grass seemed to grow stronger, which was in direct contrast to what I thought I knew about peeing on lawns. But maybe that was just dog pee I was thinking of.

In any case, our front yard was a dying wreck about a year ago, so I decided that there was really nothing to lose by peeing on it and seeing if it worked. And let me tell you, it worked like gangbusters. The only complication was that it was right next to the road, so I'd normally have to wait till darkness before going out, checking to see that no one was going to pass by, and then letting loose. Plus, there were many critters to contend with, such as bats that would do fly-bys and nearly attack my head, mosquitoes, insane stray dogs, and weird hicks. And once I even had to chase an armadillo out of our yard, but that was just weird. But the main idea is that it worked, and for a long time, that was by far the greenest part of our yard.

So if you have a yard and you drink liquid forms of nourishment, consider combining the synergy of the two and seeing what happens.

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November 6, 2012

Wow, 800 Posts!

This is just a stock picture of me blowing a candle out on a cake. It's not even recent; I think it's from 2007 or something. But the point is this: Cake, and Monumental Occasion.
As I was logging in to Blogger to write a new post, I just realized that my last post on Sitzblog was my 800th post! That's pretty amazing, especially considering that when I started this blog in 2006 or whenever, I didn't technically know what a blog was, nor did I have any idea what I'd end up doing with this one.

And I guess I technically still don't know, but I would like to thank anyone who's read this blog along the way, whether you've done so consistently or coincidentally. I appreciate your support, and it's readers like you that make this whole thing more than just a glorified digital journal.

In any case, here's to at least 800 more posts--thanks again for reading!

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November 1, 2012

Ladies And Gentlemen, Start Your Beards!

I don't do "Movember" (It just doesn't work to combine those two words, in my opinion), but I do get into Novembeard! This is what I came up with a few years ago, so we'll see if I can beat my own record this year!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

October 7, 2012

Please, Please, Please Don't Let This Happen

People who know me --my students in particular-- know that I'm no friend of cell phones. I don't really care if you have or use one, as long as it doesn't impede on what I'm doing or annoy anyone else. Unfortunately, about 99% of cell phone use seems to annoy me. But there had been one area that was mercifully free of cell phones: airplanes. However, that may be changing.

I was reading this article on Gizmodo about how cell phone use may be allowed on flights as early as next year. They have worked on planes forever, of course, but until now they've been prohibited, thank God. But apparently the newer plane models and technology won't be affected by cell phone signals.

If people are texting on planes, that's fine with me, as long as they don't try to text me (plus I've blocked them on my phone, so it's a moot point anyhow). But anyone who tries to actually make a non-emergency phone call on a plane should be beaten with sticks or the stick-like sandwiches that pass for meals on domestic flights these days. 

I've put my Sitzblog scientists on the task, and they've traveled through time and come up with an actual transcript from a cell phone conversation by some damn moron flying on a plane in the future:

"Hello? Hello? Hi, it's... yeah, hello? HELLO? Yeah, it's John. JOHN. Hi, honey, how ar... yeah, JOHN. How are you? I'm on the plane, I can't... Can you hear me? Yeah, I said I'm on... no, a plane. On a plane. Listen, I just thou... yeah, I just wanted to say hi. Can... can you hear me? Yeah, no... it's JOHN!"

I say we need to implement a zero-tolerance policy for this, lest the conversation above become a reality.

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September 30, 2012

China Trip Pictures

I'm still planning on writing more about our trip to China, but things are busy now that we're back, and it's going to take some time to reflect (and to actually write about it) before I do that. But in the meantime, I've gone through hundreds of pictures and chosen my favorites from our trip. You can check them out here or in this slideshow:

You can see information for any of these pictures by clicking on "Show info" on the upper right while watching the slideshow, or you can just go to flickr and look at them there.

If for some reason that's not enough and you want more, then you can go here. There are folders for each city we visited, as well as a "Complete" set of all the pictures I uploaded from our trip.

Thanks for reading and checking out the pictures--I appreciate it! Have a great week!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

September 26, 2012

August 2012 Pictures of the Day

I realize that it's now almost the end of September, but we were in China for three weeks and I got behind on some things in the meantime. Anyhow, I finally got August's Pictures of the Day lined up and ready to go. Have a look if you'd like, and check back in a few days for pictures from China, as well as a "trip report." 


 Thanks for reading!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

September 24, 2012

A Real Meat Loaf / Meatloaf Monday!

It's Monday so of course like every Monday, it's also Meat Loaf Monday, where we on Sitzblog celebrate the music of Meat Loaf (even if we're not consistent enough to write a Meat Loaf Monday post every single Monday). However, we coincidentally got invited to dinner by our friends Dustin and Sam, and guess what they were serving: damn right! Meatloaf!

So, to commemorate the event, I thought I'd share this classically weird Meat Loaf video for "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)," even though it's a cool, early fall night here. It takes about a minute before the song even starts, but that's part of the beauty of Meat Loaf. Enjoy!

Thanks also to Dustin and Sam for the invite and the tasty Meatloaf!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

September 11, 2012

Sitzbook: "The Dirty Parts of the Bible" By Sam Torode

This will be a short review. I actually only got this book because it turned out to be free on the Kindle. I have Amazon Prime, so I can borrow one book from their "Lending Library" for free every month. This book had good reviews so I decided to check it out; as it turned out, it was free free, and it didn't even count towards my monthly book rental. So that was cool.

The story itself is also cool. I guess it follows a Biblical story (I seem to have a lot of these religious-sounding books this year, for some reason), but it takes place in the 1930s. It was pretty entertaining and well-written, and it was generally entertaining. It didn't especially light a fire under my ass, though, especially when the story got taken to Texas. But that's just how stories go sometimes.

Oh, and it's not actually dirty. It's very arguable that this blog is dirtier in almost any given aspect of dirtiness. Just as a disclaimer.

In any case, I liked it, especially at $0.00. It's very difficult to criticize any book at that price. If you're interested, you can check out the preview in the video above. I hadn't actually known that they were making trailers/previews for books these days until I saw one for The Visible Man, the great Chuck Klosterman book I read last year. Here's that trailer, in case you're interested (I'd also definitely recommend the book):

So, that's it for now. Thanks for reading!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

August 31, 2012

Cool Map

I recently came across this interactive map of Google autocomplete results on an interesting site called "no upside":

It's pretty interesting and funny (a lot of our stereotypes about different states are on display). I'm somewhat proud to be from Colorado, but I still can't really explain why it's so cold, healthy, awesome, and/or skinny.

Thanks for reading!

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August 21, 2012


Don't worry, this picture is only tangentially related to my brother Paul. It's a promotional photo for a movie he'll be working on.

My brother Paul is a filmmaker. Also, he's a great guy. But we're not here to kiss Paul's ass. We're here to talk shop. He's going to be involved in a project called Emancipation, which will begin shooting in October. It sounds very interesting to me, and I thought I'd mention it here. If you'd like to learn more, here's the film's website. They're trying to secure more funding there, too, so if it does strike your fancy, you can donate on that page (it's similar to a Kickstarter campaign, but for Indie projects). Anyhow, have a look if you'd like!

Thanks for reading, and have a good one!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

August 18, 2012

Found It!

I found it! (Although this should by no means be considered an endorsement):

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August 17, 2012

Dirty Nostalgia

A few nights ago Angela and I watched Dirty Dancing. I had seen it before, but it had been a while. It was pretty good, but the weirdest thing for me was actually the music. Well, the music, combined with a sort of anachronistic double nostalgia, if that even makes sense. To get you warmed up, put your eyes on this (but beware, especially if you don't like to dance: any woman with two functioning legs who is within 50 yards of this video will feel the urge to dance about 30 seconds after you click "play"):

So the movie takes place in the summer of 1963, I believe (I'm not 100% about the year, but Baby the narrator mentions that Kennedy hadn't been killed yet). However, it was filmed in the 1980s, and half of the songs are quite rooted in the 80s. "Yes," "She's Like The Wind," or "Hungry Eyes," anyone?  Those aren't 60s. The movie's style is also definitely 80s, not 60s; I'm pretty sure the movie's original working title was Footloose 2: Rich Person Summer Camp. So that's all weird, but since the movie itself is supposed to be a kind of throwback to earlier years, does that mean that people who fondly remember Dirty Dancing today are actually nostalgic for nostalgia?

I guess it's like Grease (another movie I saw a while ago and don't remember too well) moved itself forward by a decade all around, since that movie was filmed in the 70s but was nostalgic for the 50s. There are obviously many other examples of nostalgic movies, but I'm wondering what happens when we become nostalgic for those movies themselves. Even my favorite movie, Back to the Future, is basically a look at how people in the 80s remembered life in the 50s.

Speaking of nostalgia and music, this also brings back childhood memories, from a time when my mom had the Dirty Dancing soundtrack in her car (I swear, my mom must have had a grand total of 5 cassettes from 1983-1994, and they were the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, an awful 1950s-themed 3-tape set called Senior Prom, and a Kenny Rogers Greatest Hits tape... the last was my favorite, if I had to choose). So just how meta-nostalgic can we get? Well, I have fond memories of watching Family Guy's Star Wars parody/tribute, Blue Harvest:

This video shows a small clip from the movie, which basically remade the 1977 classic, but the song is "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," an obvious nostalgic tribute to Dirty Dancing. In the 76 seconds that that song plays, I've got about 5 levels of nostalgia to work with. Which I guess is kind of dirty.

Anyhow, we've been talking about the movie the last few days, so I'd been meaning to write about it (especially since I've been dogging it lately with this blog). To close, I'll leave you with this brilliant video called "If David Lynch Directed Dirty Dancing..." Enjoy!

Thanks for reading, and you obviously know what's coming next:

[I hope] (you've had) the time of [your] life!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

August 12, 2012

Some Photo Sets

I've not been blogging much here lately, but things have been busy. I have been taking pictures, though, and I wanted to share two sets. 

Here are some pictures from our recent trip to Colorado:

And here are the July Pictures of the Day:

As usual, you can check these out here, and you can click on any picture in the slideshow to see a larger version or get more information. You can also go directly to my flickr page if you want.

Thanks for checking them out!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

August 2, 2012

Save The Lyric Theater in Fort Collins, Colorado

I don't know if you live in Fort Collins, Colorado, or if you ever visit there, but there's a cool movie theater there called The Lyric that I really like. It's an independent theater so it's not connected to a huge national chain. That's good, in my opinion, but it means that they're short on cash to convert to digital projectors and new seats, which will be necessary for them to stay in business. 

They've started a Kickstarter campaign that you can check out if you're interested. They're trying to raise $150,000 and there are 4 days left. They're currently at $130,000. I myself pledged $40, but it's not like that money will just disappear into thin air. If they reach their goal, I'll get some goodies like some free pint glasses, a T-shirt, and some drinks and popcorn at the theater.

I'm writing about it here, so I obviously think it's a good place and a good project. If you agree and want to help out, check out the link here.

Thanks for reading!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

July 16, 2012

Sitzbook: "Breakfast At Tiffany's"

This was the first book I'd ever read by Truman Capote, but I think it won't be the last. Or at least I hope it won't be. He has a very nice writing style, and I breezed through this book (to be fair, though, it was pretty short).

Anyhow, I won't get much into the plot since that's not really what I do here. I wanted to mention the movie version of the book.

Now, I know that "the movie's never as good as the book," and in this case that was certainly true. In fact, in the first two or three minutes of the movie I came very close to just giving up and shutting it off. I think that a fair amount of my distaste for the movie was the acting, as I'm not generally a fan of "old movie acting." And this movie, generally speaking, was no exception. Especially Mickey Rooney playing a Japanese man in a pretty racist caricature that would not likely be tolerated by anyone today (although to be fair, Mickey Rooney himself seems to have his share of regrets for playing the role).

Actually, what's up with Rooneys? I always get Mickey Rooney, Andy Rooney, Wayne Rooney, and the band Rooney confused. I think just by making this complaint, I'm sounding more like Andy Rooney than any of the others.

Up Next: In Cold Blood, The Musical!

Back on track. I guess the movie is actually just a testament to how stunningly beautiful Audrey Hepburn was. The main guy is OK, too, I guess, but it's hard not to watch Audrey. Even when they take Capote's story and convert it from a fairly downcast and gloomy story into a romantic comedy romp complete with a Hollywood happy ending. Frankly, that's a huge cop-out, but I also realize that if they had simply made the movie the way Capote wrote the story, no one would have liked it.

The cat's better in the movie, though. Capote didn't really develop his part very well in the book.

And I guess that's about all I have to say about this whole thing. I liked the book, but I didn't care for the movie that much. And Tiffany's doesn't serve breakfast, dammit. 

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

July 11, 2012

June 2012 Pictures of the Day

Hi! I've been pretty busy, but of course I wasn't so busy that I couldn't fit some picture-taking in! Here are the Pictures of the Day from June. I hope you find something in there you like.

Thanks for reading, and have a good one!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

July 4, 2012

Sitzbook: Halftime Report

It's officially July now, of course, so I thought I'd do a quick update on my Sitzbook project since we're now halfway through 2012. 

As you possibly know, my goal with the project is to read an average of one book a week. On that front, I'm doing just fine. I've finished 26 books since January and am well into my 27th (a funny novel called Lamb by Christopher Moore, a "gospel according to Biff, Jesus's childhood friend"). I also wanted to do at least a short review of each book I read this year, since last year I read quite a few without even mentioning them. On that front I'm doing OK; I've had to do a few "group reviews" because not every book warrants a full-post review, and there are a few missing still (but I have plans to write longer reviews for The Yiddish Policemen's Union and Breakfast at Tiffany's).

Another thing that's different this year is that I seem to have gotten more into nonfiction, although that's mostly a coincidence. Still, just over half of the books (14 out of 26) on this year's list are nonfiction, whereas in all of last year only 10 out of 52 were nonfiction books.

But who cares?

So, what have been the "best" and "worst" books so far this year? I think I can honestly say there's not been a book I didn't enjoy, so that either means that I get good recommendations and gifts, and/or that I personally have great taste in books. I guess if I had to choose my least favorite one, I'd go for the second Harry Potter (although the third was better, so most was forgiven). And as for my favorite books, in nonfiction I might say The Omnivore's Dilemma, since it's still making me think months later. In fiction, I'd have to go with The Yiddish Policemen's Union since it was such an interesting and original work (as I said, I'll be writing a longer review of that one soon).

And what about you? What have you been reading? What do you recommend? I'd love to hear your comments.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

June 27, 2012

Sitzbook Catch-Up

I've been busy reading for my Sitzbook book-a-week project, but I've not been as busy writing my reviews. Since I made it a goal to write a review of each book I read for the project this year, I decided to do a condensed review for a few books, like I did earlier in the year

For each book today, I'll focus on The Good, The Not-So-Good, and Should You Read It? Also, I took all the pictures (see more here) for these reviews so if they're crappy or boring, sorry. But they're books, not fashion models, so there's really only so much you can do to make them interesting.

Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse
The Good: This is the story of a young man (Goldmund) who abandons the life of a monk to see the world. Narcissus is his mentor. It's a good example of friendship overcoming obvious boundaries and restrictions. Classic Hesse.
The Not-So-Good: It wasn't as good as I remembered from the first time I read it, about 12 or 13 years ago. But it was still good.
Should You Read It? If you like Hesse, you probably already have. If not, you should read this, but maybe don't read it closely after or before Siddhartha, since the two books have quite a few similarities and parallels. Or, do read them back to back and compare the two. I'm not your mamma, so I'm not going to tell you what to do.

Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer
The Good: Another book by a German-language author with an alliterative name, but this is nonfiction. It was given to me by my friend Brad when we visited him last year. I chose to read the book before our upcoming trip to China to find out anything and everything I could about the country, which has been in control of Tibet since the time this book was written. It also talks quite a lot about the Dalai Lama, since Harrer met him while in Tibet. That was interesting, since the Dalai Lama was a young man when the story takes place.
The Not-So-Good: Not much, although there wasn't really anything in the book about China per se except negative comments, which I guess could be expected, considering the author's viewpoint.
Should You Read It? Yep, you probably should.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
The Good: Another one of Bill Bryson's excellent books. My brother Paul gave me this for Christmas. Bryson recounts his attempt to walk the whole Appalachian Trail from one end to the other. Bryson's accompanied by his friend Katz and, as usual, by his own always-excellent dry humor.
The Not-So-Good: Only the parts where he mentions how overuse, over-development, and the Forest Service have all managed to screw up huge swaths of the Trail and the national parks, as well as the areas around them.
Should You Read It? Yes, and then read the rest of Bryson's books. Do it now!

How To Sharpen Pencils by David Rees
The Good: Although this book doesn't seem like it could possibly be serious at first glance, it actually is. If you read this, you'll learn how to sharpen number 2 pencils using numerous techniques. Having said that, though, there are many hilarious parts in this book. I've long been a fan of David Rees since his years as the writer for the comic Get Your War On, and this book displays some of that same humor, albeit in a less-vulgar, more-subdued way. The book is great, though.  
The Not-So-Good: That Rees has only written this book so far (not counting his collections of GYWO comics). I hope he keeps it up!
Should You Read It? Yes, especially if you're a "writer, artist, contractor, flange turner, anglesmith, or civil servant," as the cover describes its intended audience.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
The Good: Rowling got rid of the the stupid house elf Dobby, who so irritated me in the second book (this is book number three). You also get the sense while reading this book that she'd figured out in what direction she wanted to take the overall story line of the series, so there doesn't seem to be as much "filler" as book two. Also, I must mention here that this is obviously a book for kids, so any attempt on my part to analyze or over-analyze it may just seem stupid. It's not Shakespeare, of course, but for a kids' book, it's pretty dang good.
The Not-So-Good: OK, are we seriously going to have 30 or 40 pages at the start of each Harry Potter novel describing how he has to spend his summers with the Dursleys, his adoptive aunt, uncle, and cousin? We get it: they're really shitty people. Let's get going with the action already! Same goes with anyone with the last name Malfoy.
Should You Read It? If you're reading the series, yes, probably. If you're not, then just see the movie.


I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert
The Good: I've only seen a few episodes of Colbert's show on Comedy Central, but what I've seen has been pretty funny. The book's premise is that he's the same person as he is on his show: a pompous, egotistical, right-wing political pundit. And it's funny, although not as laugh-out-loud funny as the Daily Show's America (The Book) "textbook."
The Not-So-Good: The format on the Kindle really messed up the pictures and graphics, but that's hardly the book's fault.
Should You Read It? Sure, if you find it for sale or used. But that's pretty much my take on most any book.

So, that's it for now. Have you read any of these books? If so, any comments?

Thanks for reading, and have a great night!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook