Sunday, August 31, 2014

Summer 2014

Ah, Summer 2014: we hardly knew ye! You came in like a hurricane and stormed out like a mouse. Where did those hundred days go?

In retrospect, we here at Chez Hopper had a pretty decent three-month swing tilted closer to that great orb in the sky. The more I think about it, the more we did / accomplished / experienced. Mostly the girls, that is, and I’ve been labeling Summer 2014 as The Greatest Summer Ever whenever I talk about it with them. But I had some fun too.

May I share some highlights?

Little One and Patch had weeklong vacations at their grandparents in Pennsylvania and their other ones in Hilton Head. They both went to separate camps (Little One went to two, actually), did all sorts of field trips, and had blasts as we drove them all over the county.

I repainted the master bedroom, the largest room in our house, over the course of a week while the ladies were down south on vacation.

We had a new roof put on the house – hopefully that dining room leak will be plugged!

I began the summer with a relaxing weekend at my father-in-law’s, reading The Hobbit in a cozy armchair while he, his daughter, and granddaughters sweated it out on the beach. We followed it up a week later with a Yankee game, in which the said Yankees got a rare spanking from Minnesota.

Patch graduated from kindergarten. Onward and upward!

To my everlasting shame I cajoled my buddy to see Godzilla with me. Fortunately, we followed it up with the Planet of the Apes sequel, which personally saved movie-going for me.

For the Fourth of July we attended the next-town-over’s fireworks display on a large field behind their library and municipal buildings (the field holds three baseball diamonds and two soccer fields). A couple thousand people were there. A hundred-foot-long American flag dangled between the outstretched ladders of two fire engines. Live bands performed. We sat in lawn chairs and watched a pyrotechnic show literally fifty feet above our heads. Gunpowder got in my eye. Shreds of burnt paper rained down upon us.

Saturday afternoon matinees with my little ones continued: Watership Down, A Man Called Horse, The Creature Walks Among Us, Fantastic Voyage, a couple of Vincent Price flicks. And, yes, they held me down and forced me to watch Frozen one afternoon in early August. (Note: Patch, age five and a chronic nightmare-sufferer, was not present at any of these that may have even hinted at something scary.)

Locally, and tragically, a police officer in town was killed in the line of duty. I believe this was the first ever for my nice, little, peaceful, middle-class hamlet. Happened a block away from my house. Terrible and sad. There was a funeral procession in town, driving past the officer’s house, and ending at our church for the service. Chris Christie was in attendance. My wife was in the crowd and teared up. I was almost interviewed live on the news, but I had nothing to say.

More sadness: our church pastor of over ten years was reassigned. He was the man who visited me a few times when I had all my surgeries in the hospital five years ago. He baptized both our children. He suggested I become an EMHC at our church. He is a good man. We wish him well, and wrote him a heart-felt letter of encouragement.

However, his replacement seems like a worthy man himself. Can’t wait to learn more about him.

On the literary front, my favorite form of escapism, I have to admit I had a good summer. Starting off with Tolkien I immediately headed over to Richard Adams, re-reading Watership Down for the first time in decades. A couple of sea thrillers – Shipkiller and Clive Cussler’s Treasure were perfect summer reading. I also dipped my toes into the classical canon – The Iliad – and was floored. Seven hundred pages of a pair of Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor novels gave me my well-deserved vacation of the summer.

Plus, I finally found – after some diligent online searching – my beloved 1960s physics book from my youth! A local library had it so I picked it up and spent the entire evening absorbed in it. Now there’s just two others on my all-time list (a vampire book and a comic book) that I need to rediscover, and my reading history will be complete.

And all this was done while working full-time, forty-hour weeks plus overtime, with no days off the entire summer! Workhorse Hopper, providing for the family!

Which reminds me: I need a real vacation!

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Gonna do some errands then drive on down the shore to meet my family for dinner and amusement park rides. But while I’ve been getting ready, one thing has been tugging at my mind all morning:

Coordinate systems for interstellar travel

That’s right. How will we navigate when we fly among the stars and between the galaxies?

In the early days of sea-going man, at the dawn of history, you’d pilot your boat keeping land in sight. Later, you’d be able to know where you where by how far the stars were above the horizon. (That tells you your latitude on the globe; longitude is a whole nother thing.) Nowadays, we have satellites in geo-synchronous orbit – that means they never move from hovering above the same spot of terrestrial ground 22,000 miles or so up. By communicating and triangulating with these satellites and a receiver on earth, you can know your exact location to within a meter.

But how about in space, beyond the geosynchronous geostationary satellites?

I guess for Solar System travel you have the Earth and, even better, the Sun. The Earth rotates about the Sun as we all know, but for Solar System traveling, you can assume the Sun to be your anchor.

What if you travel beyond the Solar System?

Do you use the center of the Milky Way as a reference point?

What if you travel beyond the Milky Way galaxy?

Can there be some ultimate reference point? What does Captain Picard and Stellar Cartography aboard the Enterprise use to navigate known space in the 23rd century?


Something to ponder when I sit in Parkway traffic this afternoon.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Castles Made of Sand

Little One at the beach yesterday, indulging in sand castles.  And, yes, she has said on numerous occasions she wants to become an architect when she grows up.

... click on image to embiggen it ...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Philosophic Flags

Funny in an amusing sort of way:

(You can tell football is on my mind of late, as well as trying my hand at something as hieroglyphic-ic as Heidegger or Kant …)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hometown NFL Predictions


JETS  5-11

No playoffs for New York this year!

(Though if the Giants want to stomp through the league at 15-1, I’d love it.  Even if the Jets want to squeak into the post-season, I am there, though please – please – not with Vick helming the offense.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Wonders of Physics

© 1966

Text by Irving Adler

Illustrations by Cornelius DeWitt

My absolute, hands-down favorite book from my childhood.  For the whole nine yards, go here (or just scroll down to this morning’s entry).

Some of the pictures that enraptured me on hot summer nights circa 1977:

The Modern Physics Hall of Fame ...

My first Periodic Table ...

Look at those crazy soldiers representing molecules ... genius!

A personal favorite of mine - Rutherfords experiment ... 

The book went from why does my wet skin feel cool as the wind blows over it
 to the shell theory of atomic structure ...

Splitting the atom!

Special Relativity - dig the little details like the dudes hanky ... 

Roll up yer sleeves and get to work, 1960s physicists!

Your geek host enjoying the first of many hours 
down nerd memory lane ...

1960s Physics Book, the Remake

Almost five years ago, I wrote this blog post about a beloved childhood literary memory:

How I loved that book! I hope it is not lost to the ages, or more precisely, lost to me for the ages. May I describe it to you? All right, and if you can help out with a title or anything, any clue or hint, well, I’d be more than obliged. I’d be indebted.

It was a physics book, one aimed at kids, printed sometime in the middle 1960s. Hardcover, oversized. It had about a hundred pages, maybe a little more. On each and every page were colorful illustrations and diagrams. Little stick figure men danced around contemporary models of atoms. Pre-Apollo rocket ships illustrated relativity. Two whole pages devoted to the Periodic Table.

The text was aimed right at me at this age, I’d guess, a ten-year-old boy, and it didn’t talk down to me. Nothing was cutesy or overtly simplified to spare my self-esteem or tainted by political correctness. It had a utilitarian, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-to-work, pre-Hippies-1960s-America attitude about it. You know: Science can do everything and anything It set Its mind to, and didn’t have to declare war on Faith to do it. But perhaps my overfond memories are reading too much into it.*

My mother, working as a librarian, brought it home for me one late spring day, and I kept it within arm’s reach through the long, hot, air-conditioner-free summer. While the family watched one of the three or four stations on TV, I laid on the floor and thumbed through it. I must have read it a couple dozen times. Not sequentially, but subjectively, that is, by subject. But I read, studied, analyzed, and practically memorized every page in that book. I loved the texture of the pages, the age-faded colorful hues, the smell of the binding glue.** For all I know I slept with it.

Around this time I started reading science fiction. I got a five-book paperback set of Isaac Asimov for Christmas that year that I read through systematically.*** I began my methodical attack on the SF section in the local library. I would page through the two sets of encyclopediae we had at home and study every science-related article that had a chart or table or color plate. I think this lost physics book started that whole ball rolling.

Fifteen years later I would attend Seton Hall University as a physics major. I only lasted three semesters before dropping out for ultimately unimportant reasons, but I still had the physics bug (and still do). I loved the classes – the classrooms, the chalkboards, the lecture halls. I loved getting the textbooks the first day of classes; I often ignored assigned homework and read different chapters. I loved the theory behind the phenomena and the theory behind the equations. However, I had absolutely no hands-on ability, and no patience for solving problems-at-the-end-of-the-chapter. I just wondered at the ideas which encompass the subject of physics.

I’ve spent about three hours total online searching for it over the past couple of years. A few minutes here, twenty minutes there, that sort of thing. Whenever I remember. So far, no luck. I don’t even recall what the cover looked like, but if I saw it again I would recognize it instantly. Maybe I’ll go online later today when the little ones are napping and search again. Once I get a title, an author, a publisher, I would expect to be able to buy it from any one of those rare book sites, or even eBay. I’d skip lunches for a week and drop $50 on it if I could find it. Maybe even more.

Man, I loved that book.

* Though I don’t think so.

** I realize I may have mentioned my enjoyment of the smell of binding glue more than once on this blog, and I hope it doesn’t come back and haunt me when I go up for a trumped-up morals charge sometime in the next ten or twenty years. Just to be absolutely clear, this has nothing whatsoever to deal with altered states of consciousness. It refers much more to the fact that some scientific research suggests smells can contain the strongest triggers for our memories.

*** The Bicentennial Man, The Caves of Steel, The Gods Themselves, Nine Tomorrows, and Pebble In the Sky.


Now for the big announcement:



Monday, August 25, 2014

A Memory

It was an extraordinarily hot day.  My grandfather – who watched me and my brother during those grammar school summers – had warned us that we needed to bring something with us to keep busy.

He had to wait online at the local department of motor vehicles.

My brother brought some baseball cards to shuffle through and examine.  Me, I brought two science fiction paperbacks.

The one I remember was the novelization of a movie that just came out, a blockbuster already before the middle of summer: Star Wars.  Though the front cover said something to the effect of “a novel by George Lucas,” I learned much later that it was ghost-written by one of my favorite ghost writers of the movie novelizations of my youth: Alan Dean Foster.

We spent two, maybe three hours in that crowded, air-condition-free government building.  I perched on a windowsill, catlike, absorbed in a couple of chapters of Star Wars.  This was before I saw the movie in the theaters with my parents.  It was probably more vivid, more fantastic, more magical in my nine-year-old imagination, and the time whooshed by.

I should read that book again, for nostalgia’s sake.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Took Patch with me yesterday around noon and drove up to my parents’ house in PA to spend the night and return today with Little One.  The wife was in Chicago on business, so there really was nothing to do here in Hopperville once I paid some bills and ran some errands Saturday morning (dry cleaners, recycling center, library). 

Always enjoy the relaxing environment over in Pennsylvania.  It’s a day or two with no worries, just the three Rs: Rest, Relaxation, and Reading.  I finished Clive Cussler’s Treasure and left it for my stepfather to read; I’ll give it a short review later in the week.  Started a nonfiction book on, of all things, Ancient Egypt, and began my next spiritual book.  Got nine hours sleep (after having to discipline Patch for the very bad decision to act up right at bedtime) and nobody woke me at the crack of dawn (or an hour or two before that).

Little One had a great week at Grammy’s – she watched Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire half a dozen times and managed to wow us by reciting half the script in real time.  Plus she got a good chunk of her summer reading finished and is looking forward to a week-and-a-half of basketball and soccer practices.  Patch, too, starts soccer for the first time tomorrow, with a “clinic” Wednesday evening.

A short cut on the way home cut out sitting an hour in construction traffic, so I actually made it back with the girls by 3:30.  I stopped off at 7/11 and bought them Slurpees for being good on the two-hour ride home.  The wife was there, exhausted from a long week in the windy city selling product.  Her flight got in late and she finally got home to our house at 2:30 in the morning.  So the girls cuddled with her while I mowed and tidied the yard, then did some laundry. 

Now: back to the grind!  (After basketball practice, making dinner, getting the girls washed and in bed, etc, etc, etc).

Friday, August 22, 2014

You Learn Something New ...

Wait – they do this now?!? 

And to think all these years I’ve been buying them with the bone!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Game of Lord of the Rings

If George R. R. Martin had written The Lord of the Rings:

It would not be a thousand-page tale divided into three books; it would be seven or eight 1200-page books that may or may not end with the downfall of Sauron and the sailing over the sea by the ring-bearers from  the Grey Havens.

Galadriel would have her throat cut at some point … by her husband, Celeborn, now in league with Saruman.

Eowyn would be raped by orcs, escape, be recaptured, be tortured, and escape again, only to fall into the clutches of an Uruk-hai band.  (Those are “super-orcs”.)

There’d be six alternating chapters detailing in extreme minutiae the atrocities that befall a Rohan village after falling to Saruman’s orcs.

Pippin would be exiled to the fiery deserts of Harad by Old Took, immediately after the old man informs poor Pippin that the young hobbit is a bastard.

Aragorn, as Elessar, king of the (re)united Kingdom, will die in agony at his coronation ceremony, shot through the throat with a crossbow bolt fired by Wormtongue.

They’d never quite get around to dropping that ring in the Cracks of Doom, nor would the armies of the elves, men, and dwarves ever quite get to Mordor, due to ceaseless internal bickering and strife.

My point is, though I loved reading through the first four hefty books of Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (of which A Game of Thrones is the first book), man does he put his characters – and readers – through hell.  It’s a soap opera for sadists.  Also, he’s wise enough not to kill a cash cow if you catch my drift …

My Personal Library

Here is a glimpse at my personal library, where I spend most of my days …

… er, nights, when I’m sound asleep and dreaming.

But one thing I know!

One day I shall have one of these somewhere in whatever house I have big enough to hold it!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Review: Lord Valentine's Castle

© 1979 by Robert Silverberg

This is gonna sound a bit loopy, but … I think I just spent a year on another planet.

That planet is Majipoor, larger than earth, whose vast seas encircle a trio of just-as-vast continents.  Settled by man fourteen thousand years ago and now shared with a half-dozen alien species (not to mention the mysterious natives, the metamorphs), it has a rich history and a unique power structure.  Billions live, love, struggle and die beneath the just rule of the Coronal, the Pontifex, the Lady of the Isle and the King of Dreams.  Sea dragons frolic in the oceans, semi-intelligent hominids swing from branches in jungles with man-eating flora, wizards cast spells of varying power and a man with no memory finds himself a juggler at a festival on the other side of the world.

This is the best fiction I’ve read all year – and I didn’t want to read it.  Twenty-five or so years ago I bought and brought Lord Valentine’s Castle to my folks’ weekend house in upstate New York for a solo week of relaxing.  I remember being taken by it, reading Part I (of five), about a hundred pages, in two or three days.  I so enjoyed it I fished around in the garage and found some tennis balls and tried to teach myself juggling.  But when I got back home … I never finished it.  Not sure why.  I have no strong memories one way or the other.  Possibly life got in the way; back then I was working full-time, going to school at nights, playing in my band, and going on Round 3 with my first girlfriend.

Then I spotted Silverberg’s sequel, The Majipoor Chronicles, an anthology of tales taking place on that strange and vivid world, in a used book store sometime in the fall of 2011.  And it sat on my book shelf with fifty other paperbacks for three long years.  I was hesitant until I lifted it up on a whim and devoured it, instantaneously drawn into the mind of this great writer.  (Review of that work, here.)  As a result of my enjoyment of Chronicles, I drove to B&N, little ones in tow, and bought the first copy of Lord Valentine’s Castle I could find, this time determined to make it all the way to the very end.

I burned through it, often reading fifty, sixty pages at a clip.  And now, Silverberg’s other Majipoorean writings are on my Acquisitions List.  You know, just in case you wanted to pick something up for my birthday next month.

Why is Lord Valentine’s Castle so good?

Let me count the ways.

The first thing that seized me was, for lack of a better term, the “botanical” writing of the story.  Meaning the rich, vivid, sensuous descriptions of Majipoor – the woods, the seas, the deserts, the grass beneath ones feet, the encyclopedia of strange plants with strange names with strange and not-so-strange uses.  I recall reading literary criticism of Tolkien, how this was a major goal of his to bring Middle-earth to life: nature-writing, describing the landscape and the vegetation and the environment in such a pleasing and fascinating way that the reader cannot help but to see, feel, hear himself inside this world.  I believe more so than any other contemporary writer I’ve read (with the exception of, perhaps, George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels), Silverberg comes closest to Tolkien with this facet of his writing.

Then, the plot.  Is Valentine the juggler the Lord Valentine of the book’s title?  Coronal of Majipoor, a “prime minister” of twenty billion souls?  I think the reader knows the answer to that.  The question is, how does he remember his past, convince his new-found friends and old allies (he appears to be in a new, completely different body), and regain what was rightfully his, to rebalance the scales of cosmic justice?  How did it happen?  How can he set things to right?  How can he – penniless and powerless – grasp and accomplish all this in the span of 580 pages?

That’s for the reader to enjoy.

And in so doing, he is exposed to the majestic sweep of history and culture as Valentine makes his way to Majipoor’s center of power, Castle Mount.  We meet different alien species – Skandars, Ghayrogs, Vroons, Hjorts, Metamorphs.  We travel over two vast continents, and ocean, an archipelago and the circular tiered island of the Lady of Dreams.  We learn the power structure and struggle between the Coronal / Pontifex, the Lady of the Isle, and the King of Dreams.  Dreams are an important part of the tale, with the Lady sending nebulous blessings and the King sending specific nightmares to punish the wicked, however he defines “wicked.”  But most importantly we meet people, characters that come to life in the space of a page, who turn the story in unanticipated directions, who provide Valentine with the tools to accomplish his mission – even when he’s not sure how or why or even if he should.

Finally – or firstly, for a fantasy geek like me – there are maps.  Several pages, detailed with cities and towns and mountains and rivers.  I love maps and refer to them often when reading these fantasy stories (as well as all the war stuff I’ve been reading over the past two or three years).  They clarify and focus the action, help bring the setting to life, and are, uh, just damn cool.  All fantasy begins with a map.  I remember studying the maps of Middle-earth as a twelve-year-old boy for hours and hours, and this is not an exaggeration.  Maps enhance, maps enliven.  Long live maps!

All in all, a great two weeks of reading.  Robert Silverberg is truly a master of the pen and the imagination and that magical ellipsis where the two meet.  I have Nightwings, The New Springtime, and The Face of the Waters on the shelf behind me to read (the last two books will be re-reads).  Can’t wait … perhaps I’ll start one in September.

Lord Valentine’s Castle: Grade – A+

Uninteresting Numbers

Let’s hypothesize an uninteresting natural number.  It’s not a prime.  It isn’t a triangular, square, or whatever number.  Nothing distinguishes it.  It’s bland.  Boring.  Just a number.  It’s not zero or a negative.  Just a dull, uninteresting number.

Now let’s create two groups of numbers: interesting numbers and uninteresting numbers. 

In the uninteresting number group, or set, there will be a least (lowest) uninteresting number.

Because of this unique distinction, being the least (lowest) uninteresting number, the least (lowest) uninteresting number cannot quite remain “uninteresting”, can it?

The answer is no.

So remove that particular least (lowest) uninteresting number from the uninteresting number set because it is, in fact, interesting.

Now look what happens:

When you remove the least (lowest) uninteresting number from the uninteresting number set, there is now a NEW least (lowest) uninteresting number.  And we must do the same thing to it – remove it and place it in the “interesting” set, because of its uniqueness as the least (lowest) of its class.

Ad infinitum.

Which goes to prove that the uninteresting number set has ZERO members.  It’s a maniacal process of elimination.

And that goes to prove that – 


Tuesday, August 19, 2014


For the last couple of weeks (months?) I have felt nudges in three areas:

The first nudge is a lifestyle change.  This is a strong, Hurricane 5 wind scale nudge.

The second is a belief system change.  No, not a change, more a forceful, exponential increase in both knowledge and practice of my current belief system.  This is kinda like a real strong gale force wind.

The third is a push to a certain topic of learning.  A strong breeze on a crisp fall day.  One that starts small, noticeable only by the rustling of leaves at your feet, but growing in intensity as your attention is drawn to the wind-blown tree tops.

Now, if you stop by here with any degree of regularity, you know that the first nudge is to get my fat behind in shape.  Drop some weight, improve the cardiovascular functionality, make eating good food a habit.  Really nothing to dispute there.  Just gotta get up and do it.  And it’s shaping up to be the hardest thing I ever attempted.  Harder than quitting smoking.  Harder than writing a book.

The second involves my religion.  Small embryonic interest grew a bit meeting the future Mrs. Hopper; medium interest matured a lot after a twenty-day stay in the hospital.  Now I seem to drift about, unmoored, directionless, at the mercy of whatever I read, watch, or whoever I run into.  That needs to stop, if for no other reason than peace of mind – mine and those of my family.

The third is kinda silly.  I can’t really reveal it here, not yet.  What started as a gag has snowballed, and I really feel a surprising urge to delve into this subject.  And the silliest part is – now, mind you, I’ve been watching and reading an abnormal amount of “doomsday” shows and stories of late – the silliest part is that even though I can’t figure out how to make a dime practically applying this subject (to justify the time and effort spent), I feel a strong certitude that this is what will be needed if/when the doomsday scenario comes to pass.

Does any of that make sense?

Or should I just keep my nose in my science fiction paperbacks?

Oh well.  Spirit – lead me forward!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Secret Lair #1

Here’s a view from the secret window of my secret lair.  Yes, secret megalomaniac I am, I have the requisite amount of secret lairs.  One more, in fact, than necessary to maintain membership in the Brotherhood of Secretive Megalomaniacal Masterminds.  From this secret lair I ponder the cryptic enigmatical secrets of abstruse, ambiguous and arcane esoterica:

Can you guess where it is?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Clive Cussler

I started another Clive Cussler “Dirk Pitt” novel, my fourth so far over the years out of something like two dozen, and I’m already nearly a quarter done with it since beginning it last night.  What exciting page-turners his books are!  A neat combination of James Bond and Tom Clancy.  And this one ties in nicely with Ancient Egypt, a subject me and Little One have been exploring together recently. 

Probably spend all my free time today absorbed in Treasure.

Might be a fun habit to read a Cussler every summer. Makes for good vacation reading, even when it’s a working vacation ...

Friday, August 15, 2014


I’m not really afraid of heights, but every once in a while I think of myself in some situation as in this picture

and my body literally freaks out.  I shut down.  I can’t focus on it more than a few seconds (even if it’s just thinking about it in my mind instead of looking at a picture or watching a scene in a movie) before I literally shut off.  I get dizzy and my mind immediately switches to something else.

I think it boils down to a dream I had when I was eight or nine or ten.  I was doing something in it then – suddenly! – I found myself clinging to a slab of concrete outside the Empire State BuildingOutside! 

This may have had something to do with a Cub Scout field trip and a Cub Scout with an overactive imagination.

Note: This is a picture of two insane dudes repairing the antenna at the very tip top of the Empire State Building, something like 1,400 feet in the air.  What gets me most is that the picture was taken by a third insane dude standing outside on that antenna above them!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thug Central

No, it’s not really Thug Central where I work, but – in the past thirty days we’ve let go

- a dude who lifted up his shirt revealing a knife to a manager who just gave him a verbal warning for being late

- a dude who tested positive for marijuana use after slyly trying to dodge taking the mandatory test for two weeks

- a dude who said he lost his paycheck, was given another, and then deposited both of them into his bank account

- a dude who put a mirror on his shoe and looked up the dress of a female coworker (!!!) in front of his entire department

Yeah, uh, it’s not Thug Central.  More like the Palace of Idiots.  Though those four individuals represent only three percent of the entire workforce.  I guess three percent idiot is above average to the population at large, so perhaps I should be patting myself on the back …

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Not Much to Say

Things bouncing along okay over here …

Enjoying immensely Lord Valentine’s Castle

Back to eating and exercising with some sanity

Know my next two reads (Treasure, Soldier of Sidon)

Roof being redone in two weeks (yay! no more leaks!)

Revitalized my spirituality (perhaps a lengthy future post)

Work stuff getting organized, caught up, gettin’ done

Summer winding down re: girls’ crazy schedules

Patch to begin soccer practices end of August

My favorite time of year just round the bend!

Mebbe some inspiration tomorrow …

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams

To be honest, I was never a big fan of his.  I recall as a kid being more than a little uneasy with his sweaty, manic, stream-of-consciousness HBO special that aired in the mid-to-late-70s.  His ADD-based humor never gripped me as, say, the more restrained goofiness of a young Steve Martin or Bill Murray.  And his schmaltzy comedy a la Patch Adams was something I avoided like the plague.  I only saw, at best, half his movies.  The first movie I saw with the woman who became my wife was Good Will Hunting, which I watched hung-over the day after my brother’s bachelor party.  His best, I thought, were the ones made when he flirted with a darker tone to his characterizations – One Hour Video and  Insomnia.

Suffice it to say, though, that I am greatly saddened at his suicide from / by depression.  Though I can’t imagine the demons he faced, I have been there, in my own small way.  You question the meaning of your life, the meaning of any life, and come up empty.  You reject yourself.  You can’t stop that sinister voice inside your head, the voice that simultaneously is and is not you.  You find yourself unmoored on shifting sands as the pressures – financial, health, relationship, career, and a myriad of others – build and build and build and build.  You seek relief through escape, through over-indulgence.  You cannot see the way out.

There is a way, I think, and that is to focus outward.  I have heard it stated that depression is anger expressed inwardly, and I agree completely with that.  But what to focus on?  There is only one thing, and you know Who He is.  That’s the solution, and that’s what I work on, with varying degrees of success, every day, day after day, two steps forward, one step back.

Robin Williams seemingly had everything anyone could want: success, money, fans, fame.  But we all know the pitfalls they all bring, time and time again, all the horror stories that every generation of actors and comedians and writers and anyone with a creative bone in his body fall prey to.  Drugs, alcohol, infidelity, and hundreds of other temptations.  Throw depression into the mix and it is a wonder Mr. Williams lived as long as he did.

He is in my prayers.  Rest in peace.

Monday, August 11, 2014

$50,000 Per Minute

Is what you’d have to pay me to spend any amount of time in one of these things.  And I don’t think you’d pay me a penny more than $833.33 before I jumped back on the helicopter or whatever the heck puts you there in the first place.

N.B. Yes, this is what’s known as a Writer’s Block post.  Deadline’s looming and I don’t have the energy or inspiration to crank something out.  Also, a poor night’s sleep and a very busy day at work don’t get the creative juices flowing either.  Hopefully something interesting tomorrow …

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dr. Michael's Death Scream

For those who can make the connection …

One of the most soul-chilling moments of my childhood was listening to Dr. Michael’s panicky death scream, as he lay helpless and trapped in the disabled Proteus at the unthinking mercilessness of the white blood cell inside Benes’ brain.

Stayed with me for years and years and years.

Rewatching it yesterday with Little One, it didn’t bother her a tenth of what it still does to me.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Gut Check

So it’s been a week since my “rock bottom” post.  How have I done?

Well ……

Let’s focus on the postive, shall we?  (That in itself is a recent development.)  In the past seven days, I

- went from a “D” in diet and nutrition to a “B-minus”

- drank no beer or alcohol (save a glass of wine with dinner last Saturday)

- enjoyed no daily sugar desserts (but did have ice cream twice)

- walked one morning at the crack of dawn

- kicked the soccer ball around for an hour with the girls

- cleaned and organized over half my desk at work

- slept a peaceful minimum of seven hours six nights (only one instance of insomnia)

- got half the family’s finances caught up and accounted for

- ate an organic apple a day

- made myself a nutritious breakfasts every day (oatmeal based)

Hmmm.  Not great, A+ material, but a decent enough start, I suppose.  The goal is to drop weight.  That I didn’t accomplish; still at the status quo.  But I feel a little better than I did seven days ago, so that’s a worthwhile benefit, too.  Actually, that’s probably the long-term goal.  So, hopefully a little more consistent progress for my report next week.

Here’s to good eating!

Friday, August 8, 2014


scha-den-freu-de (shahd-n-froi-duh), noun, “satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.”

It was just announced in the local news that a company I worked for a few years ago – for a grand total of 83 days – has been accused in a multi-point civil complaint by the state attorney general’s office of using deceptive advertising and bait-n-switch tactics.  People with whom I’ve spoken about this have told me that this is Serious.  Capital-S serious.

I say, couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of fellas.

My short tenure there was one of the worst work experiences of my life.  No, scratch that – it was the worse.  I stuck it out at the runner-up for seven months before being laid off.  No, at this place I realized right around Day Seven that any tenure there would be an unpleasant, unrelenting suckfest.

And it was.

Now, while I didn’t witness any deliberate acts of malfeasance in those twelve weeks of hell, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that they did occur, regularly, daily, hourly.  And that it came from the top, the very top.  The place was corrupt, lawless, dog-eat-dog.  Crazily so.  Stupidly so.  Didn’t have to be, but it was.  And it all originated from the top.  As the Russian proverb goes, the fish stinks from the head down.

When I came in there was talk of reforming the place, with me spearheading a lot of the new changes.  But I quickly realized that the reforms were not implemented to make the company a better place.  They were not to transform it into a fruitful place to work, to grow a career, to make a difference.  No, it was to protect the owner’s behind, as well as those of his cadre of top managers.  All three of them, including the owner’s brother.

As a business, there are two philosophies you adopt in dealing with your customers.  One is to be gentle, be friendly, to cultivate relationships where you and they will do business together over the years, and they will keep coming back and back for a mutually satisfactory sales experience.  Or you can hammer him for as much money as you can wring from him on the spot and never see him again.  Guess which philosophy this company follows, without exception, right up to, I have no doubt, the very day the legal papers were served?

So I am happy that there is some form of cosmic justice in the world.  I will be happier if and when the doors close on that disgusting place.  Don’t know if that will ever happen, but I go out of my way to warn friends and acquaintances in the market for a certain product to never, ever, ever deal with them.  It’s been a productive negative word-of-mouth, from what I can tell.

I am the embodiment of Schadenfreude.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Greatest Battle

Note: This is not a review of the book, but of the experience of the book …

So I just finished listening to the audiobook The Greatest Battle by Andrew Nagorski. Man, do I feel dirty.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  The book was well-written, well-researched, and very, very gripping.  It’s just that, over the course of two weeks, I’ve come to finding the subject repugnant.  Literally, skin-crawlingly repugnant.  I began this sick adventure thinking I’d like to research the six-month German-Soviet conflict in more depth (Antony Beevor wrote extensively on the subject and, on a whim, I DVR’d Enemy at the Gates the other day).  Now I want nothing more than a deep, cleansing bath of fire.

Just one fact: towards the end of the book we learn that 26 million Russians died during World War II, 8 million of them soldiers.  A very large percentage of those died at the hands of Stalin – his neverending policy of terror, his incompetence as a military strategist, his overall failure as a human being.  The “man” disgusts me.

Anyway, after returning it at the library, I wondered how long I spent in this nightmare world.  The book was recorded on eleven CDs, 25 segments of 3 minutes each, for a grand total of 825 minutes, better known as 13 hours and 45 minutes.  See the need for a shower?

Just one personal note:  Had I been born in western Russia sometime, say, in 1920, I would not have survived the Greatest Battle, the 1941-42 battle for Moscow.  Most likely I’d have been shot by my own people for something I was not guilty of.  Most were back then.

So to cleanse the palate I borrowed Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.  For a moment I thought of the Nazis “borrowing” the great composer as they “borrowed” the philosopher Nietzsche, but cast it aside.  There’s something transcendent about great music that lifts it beyond the petty politics and sickening pathologies that “great men” thrust upon us mere mortals.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Saw this comment on one of the blogs I regularly read on a post about Left’s current attacks on the First Amendment (campus speech codes and the various attempts to silence opposition to “same sex” marriage, for example):

“ … burning books one word and idea at a time …”

What a perfect encapsulation of The Thing Called Political Correctness.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


We, aeronauts of the spirit! … it was our fate to be wrecked against infinity.”

- Nietzsche

Ah, one of the most vivid, exciting writers of philosophy, Friedrich Nietzsche.  Too bad the bottom line of his thought goes maddeningly against the grain of everything I hold innately and dearly.  But despite this, I am feeling the temptation to do a reading of his works, ten or so books of varying lengths – but what prose!  what images!  what refreshingly gusto, bravado and braggadocio!  So he went insane at a relatively young age.  The only work of his I read – Zarathustra – gripped my spirit immediately as Something I Had Never Read Before.  Thinking perhaps a January-to-sometime-in-early-spring reading experiment might be in order here.  And just what does that mean – “wrecked against infinity” …

Monday, August 4, 2014

My Instantaneous Thought

This is a picture of one of the Mendenhall ice caves located in Juneau, Alaska.  I saw it online the other day.  You know what my initial thought was, a nanosecond after seeing it for the first time?

This should be the background of the next Metropolitan Opera House production of Wagner’s DasRheingold.

Am I right or am I right?  Wouldn’t this be the perfect setting for the primordial river that runs through all Creation, where Gods and Giants and Dragons fight and frolick with super-men and -women?

I’m convinced.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Rules of Comedy

As I am teaching nine-year-old Little One (and soon will be teaching Patch when she reaches the appropriate age):

Rule 1 

It’s funny the first time.

It’s funny the second time.

It may be funny the third time.

It may or may not be funny the fourth time.

It is definitely not funny five or more times.

Rule 2 

Study very closely the teachings of Bill Murray.

That, it seems to me, is about it.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Rock Bottom

I got on the scale this morning and this is the heaviest I’ve ever been. 

I’m too embarrassed to throw out an actual number, but suffice it to say I’m 25 pounds more massive than I was in my twenties.  That’s like a pound a year.  Most of it’s in my belly, but I can see it in my face and neck, too.  The woman who owns the company I work for is into feng shui, so there are mirrors everywhere.  Believe me, I don’t like seeing Fat Hopper everywhere I turn.

Of late I’ve had no energy.  Zero.  My sleep is always disruptive.  I am always overtired.  I eat emotionally, as a form of stress relief, and I instantly reach for the sugar and the starch, the more the better.  The blood sugar roller coaster is burning me out.  I eat two fruits a week and maybe five servings of vegetables that same time frame.  I eat more slices of pizzas than servings of fruits and veggies every week.  Heck, in Fosters oil cans alone (my favorite form of stress relief) I consume 1400 calories a week.  That’s twenty pounds a year right there.

Being sedentary doesn’t help matters either.  I work nine hours a day at a desk in front of a computer.  I go home and write another hour at another desk in front of another computer.  My favorite activity is reading, which I do about ten or twelve hours a week, minimum.  Maybe I should read on a stationary bike.  I do go through phases where I work out, both aerobically and anaerobically, the latest being from St. Patty’s Day to Memorial Day, but there are longer stretches where I don’t do anything.  Except eat.

Tomorrow, August 2, is a special day for me.  It will be TEN YEARS SINCE MY LAST CIGARETTE!  See here for a write-up I did three years ago on this day.  So I decided tomorrow will be my first official day of a new lifestyle of eating.  It has to be.  I can’t go on living much longer like this.  If I want to live a long, healthy, productive life where I have the energy to conceive, pursue, and attain worthy goals and dreams, I have to change my self-destructive habits.  Start from scratch, start at the bottom.  Have to.  As the saying goes, you can’t run a Lamborghini on cheese and beer.  (Is that how it goes?) 

So today I’m eating lightly and healthily to prepare for tomorrow.  Went to the grocery store this morning and bought three organic apples and a tossed salad.  Yesterday I borrowed a half-dozen medical and dietary books from the library to study.  I’m using an index card every day to track what I eat, how many 8 ounces of filtered/bottled water I drink (aiming for 13 cups a day), how many times I stretch and do deep breathing exercises.  Tonight I warned the ladies that instead of my customary Fosters, I am going upstairs to meditate for 20 minutes. 

I know the headaches from sugar detox will come.  Probably by Monday morning, just in time for work.  I know I’ll be moody and grumpy and have to bite my tongue a hundred times.  But I also know, from past experiences, that things will get better in four or five days.  The longest I’ve stuck on such a diet is twelve days, and they say it takes at a minimum 21 days, and preferably 30, to establish a habit.  I have an intuition that it’s now or never, right now, so I’m going to do whatever it takes.

So, sparse posting in the next few days as I work through all this.

Update in one week’s time.