Happy Paper Airplane Day!

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By the time I get this post up, it will be well after midnight, local, but it’s still Paper Airplane Day somewhere, right?

When I was a kid, once in a while my dad would fold a special paper airplane. It took me a while (probably several years worth of watching the occasional plane take shape since it didn’t happen very often) to learn to fold it myself. When my own kids were small, I tried to do it a little more often, but none of them were particularly into paper airplanes, so it gradually went away.

Today, I decided to see if I could remember how it worked. To entertain myself, I rested a video camera on a counter facing down to the table I worked on.

Here’s the final result:

And here are two versions of the video. First, at almost seven minutes long and with me talking far too much:

Second, shortened and sped up to just see the folding itself.

Not the best video work. Someday, and soon, I’ll be setting up a small studio to do audio and video. In the meantime, anything I do will be a little rough.

Be well, everyone.

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Sleep is not Overrated

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If I could only stop sleeping, I’d be so productive.

I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

Who has time to sleep?

Sleep is for the weak.

You lose so much time sleeping.

Our society seems to thrive on pushing its members hard. Work hard, play hard, party hard. Anything that takes time away from overindulging, overcompensating, or overdriving is somehow bad. Sleep is at the top of the list for a lot of these things.

But I’ve been going through a period where sleep is hard to come by, mostly due to my work schedule. A couple of days each week, I work a night shift. A couple more, I work a day shift. To get from one to the other, I work an afternoon shift. Rinse and repeat. Over-caffeinate to get through the night shifts and then not be able to fall asleep early enough for the day shifts so I have to over-caffeinate for those, too.

It sucks, and it’s hard, and it’s proven one key thing to me, if I hadn’t already figured it out: sleep is not overrated.

The day after I got 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep for the first time in about eight weeks, I was twice as productive at pretty much everything I turned my mind to. I wrote faster, moved faster, got more things done in less time, and had time left over to take care of things on the list that I’d been ignoring.

5-6 hours per night is enough to function, but it’s not enough to function well, not over the long term.

A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything. – Irish Proverb

Sleep is the best meditation. – Dalai Lama

We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep. – Shakespeare, The Tempest

Sweet dreams, and be well, everyone.

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Book Review: So Anyway

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I’ve been a Monty Python fan since grade 9, and I discovered I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again on public radio only a couple of years later. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Cleese’s film work as an adult and even took my teenagers to the theatrical broadcast of the O2 show several years back.

Until I received this as a Christmas present, I didn’t even know he’d written an autobiography. Based on where he leaves off, just at the beginning of the Monty Python period, I wonder if there’s going to be another volume. Or two.

And if you’re looking for a recounting of anecdotes and oddities from the Monty Python years, you’ll have to wait for that next volume. This book is about John Cleese, the early years, from boyhood and school, tracing the path that took him into acting, through stage, theatre, radio, and television. It’s all pre-Python, other than a few mentions here and there of things that eventually developed into Python sketches.

A few of those sketches get reproduced in whole or in part in the course of the narrative, and you can hear things in his voice as you read. (The audio version has the original recordings of some of these.)

This is John Cleese as a person, looking back over his early career, young friendships, first marriage, professional relationships. He spends a little more time on Graham Chapman than you’d expect, dismissing a lot of the controversy surrounding his shock at Graham coming out by just making it part of the natural course of things, and talks about hints of the alcoholism that he feels he really should have picked up at the time. You don’t get a lot about his relationships with the other Pythons, but he and Graham went back some years further. Maybe this will come in future books.

In this book, we get his school years and how he almost became a lawyer, a bit of background about his parents, the Cambridge Footlights, how he came to work for the BBC, his time on stage in America, ISIRTA, At Last the 1948 Show, The Frost Report, and other parts of his early career and life. And all of these things, seen in the cold light of history, seem to drag him inexorably forward into comedy and towards the formation of Monty Python.

If you’re looking for a long string of jokes and funny bits, you’re probably going to be disappointed, because that’s not what this memoir is or is supposed to be. Mr. Cleese is walking us along the path that took him from childhood to Python. If he occasionally tangents or is a bit critical of something or someone, this shouldn’t come as unexpected based on the public persona he’s shown over the decades.

Oh, there are jokes and funny bits, don’t worry, but they’re not the ones you might expect, and they often take you by surprise. The book lives in the interesting bits in between, the parts that show us more than just John Cleese on screen. It’s a wonderful read in the main.

Overall rating: 4 stars. This book is part of the story of John Cleese the human being. As such, it doesn’t focus on just John Cleese, the Python. In fact, it doesn’t really focus there at all. And that’s more than okay. It’s a lot of fun.

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Book Review: The Demon-Haunted World

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I don’t know if Tim Minchin has ever read Carl Sagan, but a quote springs to mind that brilliantly summarizes this book, even if it wasn’t intended to: “Throughout history, every mystery ever solved has turned out to be not magic.”

Carl Sagan may have been “darn close” to an atheist, not knowing with certainty there is no god, but stating regularly in interviews and articles that there wasn’t any compelling evidence for god’s existence. I would argue semantics at that point—for a non-interventionist god who merely set things rolling and sat back to watch, there is no evidence and so there is no way to know with absolute certainty.

I wondered, when I started this book, if I would have a better idea of how Sagan truly felt when I finished it, assuming I didn’t get lost in what I expected to be his normal brilliant writing, but he spent very little of the book on religion. This isn’t a book about religion, but about science and the scientific method, and how that method has shone a light on so many things (and continues to) to make the world a less fearful and far more beautiful and interesting place.

Through the various references and anecdotes he presents, Sagan gives the smackdown to UFOs, faith healing, witchcraft, demons and spirits, fortune telling, astrology, and alien abduction, among other things. He probably spends the most time on that last, but remember this book was written in the age of the X-Files, when the truth was out there and everybody knew somebody whose cousin’s former roommate had been abducted by aliens.

Really, the basic theme of the book comes down to a simple statement. While the quote I used from Tim Minchin above is more eloquent, Sagan’s basic premise is that knowledge is better than ignorance. Knowledge dispels fear, builds strength, and increases understanding of the world, the universe, and each other.

There are too many negative consequences to a scientifically illiterate population.

Overall rating: 4 stars. There are moments when his disappointment in our society shows through where he can’t understand why all of this stuff continues to be a problem, continues to hold us back. I can’t help but think he’d be even more disappointed today as the societal elements wanting to deny or roll back progress dig in their heels harder every day.

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Once Again, I Feel Old

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So she absolutely hates it when I post about her, or even mention her in passing on social media, so I’ll leave names out to protect the innocent and merely note that my oldest daughter turned sixteen today. Whether she wants to admit it or not, that’s a big deal.

I feel old, and I often get nostalgic on my kids’ birthdays, remembering when I held them first, brought them home from the hospital, watched for first steps, listened for first words, went to tea parties and school shows, picked them up when they fell down, held them when they were sick, and all of the other firsts and events and tragedies.

She doesn’t allow her picture to be taken these day, but I’ll go back a few years for a couple of memories and just say that I love her more than I can possibly express. And I won’t post this anywhere she can see it.

Be well, everyone.

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Star Trek Discovery is Coming – Really

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I want to be excited about Star Trek: Discovery.

You know, the new Star Trek TV show that was going to premier in January of 2017?

Yeah, that one.

Delayed multiple times, depending on which news you read. Writing and directorial issues, same. Harry Mudd, sigh. Sarek, again, sigh.

Now there are two variations of an actual trailer to give us a look at what we’re finally going to get in the fall.

I’m not going to do an exhaustive, frame by frame analysis. There are plenty of those already and the trailers only released the day before yesterday. I’m just going to throw out some impressions. Sparing no expense on the cinematography. Cool new ship, tech, toys, uniforms, aliens. Apparently inclusive crew. Retconning the Klingons… again.

I want it to work. There hasn’t been new Trek on TV for a long time. But in order for it to work, they’re going to have to tell new stories, relevant stories, important stories. They can’t just rehash the same ground or produce painfully derivative adventure tales like the reboot movies have done. CBS Paramount is going to have to give us Star Trek, and they’re going to have to do it right out of the gate, because the entertainment climate doesn’t allow for a lot of second chances anymore.

I want it to work, but I’m reserving judgement until there’s something more than a trailer to judge.

Be well, everyone.


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Book Review: Grooks

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I finally came up with a copy of the first Grooks collection this year (and now I’m on the hunt for the third).

A tiny bit of background: Piet Hein was a member of the Danish Resistance in World War II, as well as a mathematician and inventor. And a poet. Grooks started to appear in the newspaper shortly after the Nazi occupation of Denmark in 1940. They’re quick, witty, and frequently have more than one meaning if you look.

The collections, this one included, are short enough to be read in one sitting if you really want to, but more fun to draw out and savour over a few days, although that’s hard.

My favourite from this first volume:

Social Mechanism

When people always

Try to take

The very smallest

Piece of cake

How can it also

Always be

That that’s the one

That’s left for me?

Overall rating: 4 stars. Oddly, I like the next collection better (read it last year), but this has a lot of great work in it. Definitely worth anyone’s time.

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A Sad Day

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One of the saddest days of my life, actually.

No joke.

My son moved out today.

Oh, I’m excited for him, moving in with his friends and getting ready for school, getting ready to start his life. He’s got so many awesome things ahead of him in the next little while.

But he’s left home. He doesn’t live here anymore. The only time he’ll be home is to visit.

I thought I had until the end of August, but they rented a house and got the keys yesterday. Of course they want to move in.

I’m just going to miss him, is all.

I should post a picture of him as a little kid. That would be the normal thing to do to provoke some kind of emotional reaction from whoever might be reading this.

But I haven’t got one handy. Instead, here’s something goofy from the Christmas he was seventeen.

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Book Review: Raising Steam

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Terry Pratchett left us in early 2015. I’ve been saving the last two Discworld novels for a while, savouring the melancholy knowledge that there would never be any new ones. I was delighted to realize recently that I’ve somehow missed one. Saving that one for another day, I finally allowed myself to read the last Moist von Lipwig novel, in which a number of other favourite characters made brief appearances as well. It does take place partially in Anhk-Morpork, after all.

Let me state outright that I very much enjoyed the book. Most of that is to do with the book itself, with a little nostalgia mixed in along with the realization that I’ve never met a Discworld book I didn’t like. So if I offer up a couple of criticisms, which I’m about to, that should be remembered.

First, recognizing that it was necessary to the story, the development of the railroad was a little quick for me, going from the first experimental engine to a track running all the way to Uberwald in a year or so. Or was it less? With all of the other events in the novel, some of which went by very quickly, the building of the railroad itself is almost lost.

There’s an assumption of familiarity with the major characters that isn’t usually present. You don’t usually need a lot of time to establish personalities and objectives for the majors, but you mostly don’t get that time in Raising Steam and we plunge straight in after the establishing shot of “now it’s time for the age of steam”.

And not all of the important characters are as crisp and clean as I’m used to in the Discworld. In particular, Moist and the Patrician. Moist von Lipwig is almost too rushed, too frantic, and it shows even in his internal dialogue, flying though one thing too quickly to get to the next for much of the book. And Lord Vetinari is, well, a bit fuzzy. His wit and personality don’t quite have the edge I’m used to.

At the same time, the plot is a little on the light side, sometimes seeming like a group of barely-connected scenes held together by force of will as Sir Terry tried to get everything he wanted to say in this last mature-audiences Discworld book to be published. And there’s a lot here: technology, change, religion, terrorism, and maturing societies.

All of those are strong through the book. Mr. Pratchett lampoons terrorists throughout as misguided idiots at best and criminally self-serving at worst. In part, they’re the representation of the resistance of change, of all of the people in the modern world digging their heels in over technology, religion, social attitudes, or anything else that might make it better for someone else even if it has no effect on the luddite in question at all. In many ways, the conservative elements in Dwarfish society stand in very well for similar elements in current western societies, just with the added bonus of having a terrorist wing.

Raising Steam also spends quite a bit of time building on Sir Terry’s long running themes of equality and inclusion, which I very much appreciate. Over the course of the series, more and more different species have been integrated into the great melting pot of Ankh-Morpork with ripples spreading out from there. The latest inclusion is the goblins, perhaps the most downtrodden of the Discworld’s sentients. But there are strong emphases on gender equality as well, with a major revelation and shift in Dwarfish society, up to its highest levels. In a similar theme, the interactions between Moist and his wife Adora were some of the most entertaining bits of the book, and I wish we’d seen more of her in the narrative.

Overall rating: 4 stars, and that’s a touch of round up. Aside from the previously mentioned issues, one of the major crises in the plot was solved with a little handwavium and something that there wasn’t actually any ground work laid for. But this is Discworld, and it’s Discworld pushing its way into the modern age, showing us fun and humour and ourselves along the way.

And if the other major characters in the City Watch were present and accounted for, where was Captain Carrot?

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