I have finished all the TED

Six months ago, when I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, I quickly discovered I would be spending a lot of time in front of the television. There just isn’t much else you can do while you are recovering. But I couldn’t just sit there and watch “Talk TV”. I’m a strong Type-A personality. I had to do something productive. So I set my sights on my NetFlix queue.

First, I plowed through all the movies which had accumulated over the years that my wife had no interest in watching. That took a month or two. I then began watching documentaries, like Ken Burns’ series The Civil War and Baseball, and some others as well. You know, the documentaries you have on your queue that sound like you should watch them, but you know you’ll never have the time. Well, I had the time, and I watched.

Soon, however, the queue of movies began to dwindle, and, as I got back to working part-time, my ability to watch two hour shows diminished as well. Somewhere along the way, I teddiscovered that NetFlix had a huge collection of TEDTalks available on line. I began to watch those.

Now anyone who really knows me, knows that I can be a little obsessive-compulsive when it comes to completing things. Back before my kids were born, I played World Of Warcraft, and I became an epic leveler. I couldn’t leave quests incomplete, and I had to do them all. I leveled 9 characters up to level 60 (which was the top level at the time), and spent god-knows-how-many-hours doing it. That stopped when my wife was 7 months pregnant with the twins, and I really haven’t thought too much about it since. But I digress.

When I began watching the TED talks, it appeared as though it would take me a couple of weeks. No problem. I still had lots of time. But what I didn’t know was that NetFlix would continue to release more and more collections of TedTalks. I think I started with 15 collections on my Instant Watch queue at the beginning. As they added more to NetFlix, I added them to my queue. Today, there are 40 collections online, for a grand total of 540 talks. I have seen 539 of them. The only one that I knowingly missed, was one that was completely in Spanish (which I don’t speak), with no subtitles. I’ll go back and watch it if someone wants to be picky about it. Each talk is somewhere between 4 and 29 minutes long, though the majority are between 16 and 21 minutes in length. I have no idea how many total minutes of TED I have seen, but several days worth at least.

So those are the numbers. It’s a lot of watching. And I’m sure, at any moment, NetFlix will add more, and I will no longer be done. Them’s the breaks. But at this moment, I have finished. I don’t remember each one of them, and not every one of them was mind-blowing, but a huge proportion of them were amazing, and some of them were life-altering.

Life altering? Yes. Truly. Before I started watching these talks, I had a view of the world acquired through 40 years of living and working in Western Society, heavily influenced by modern media, a Roman-Catholic education, a B. Sc. in Physics, and 18 years in “Corporate America” (and Corporate Canada). I had fairly strong beliefs in what I thought was important in life, and what was worth discussing, working on and working towards.

And that showed by my selection of which TED talks I watched first. I wanted to see the ones on Space and Technology, cool inventions and adventurous stuff. And those were all pretty good. But as I watched those, I found myself pushing some of the other collections of talks towards the end of the list, as I apparently valued them less, or thought I would find them less interesting.

But it was those collections that have made the most profound impact on my way of thinking about the world, and my life. As I began to learn more about climate change, the importance of the oceans, the effect of truly bringing women into the leadership of society, and the differences between religion and compassion, I began to re-evaluate what I viewed as important. It altered my “Future View”—how I see what is possible, both good and bad, and what needs to happen to steer things more towards the former and away from the latter of those two outcomes.

I can’t cover everything I learned in this one blog entry. But I can tell you what I now believe to be the most important issues we face on this planet. In future blog posts, I’m going to go into more detail about these issues and my views on them. But for now, here is the list. It’s not an exclusive list, and over time, I expect it will change slightly.

1a. Climate Change / Preservation of the Oceans

1b. Women’s Rights and Equality

3. Providing empowering technology to the poor

4. Education

5. De-politicizing Religion

6. Space Exploration

The topics are huge and diverse, but so were the talks. Of course, my original views still present strongly in these subjects. Space exploration will always be very important to me. Luckily, a number of the other things that I think are very important fall into the Climate Change discussion, so I will cover those there.

Not only did these TED talks influence what I think about and how I think about them, they’re already influencing what I do, and how I do things. I pack my kid’s lunch differently to have lower impact on the environment. I vote differently to try to enable more women to lead. I evangelize about the positive effects of early childhood education. Furthermore, I expect that at some point these thoughts will carry over into my career and what I am going to do with the rest of my life. But that’s a whole other story, and one that is not yet even outlined.

At this point, I am going to end my quest to watch every TED talk as it appears on NetFlix. Spending too much time on any one area is never good. Diversity of thought is critical in this day and age, and the TED talks do tend to lean towards the progressive side of the house. It also takes up a lot of time, and I hope to soon be able to spend more time doing, and less time watching.

Regardless of where you currently sit in the liberal-conservative discussion, you can learn a lot by watching these talks. And when you’re done, tell people about what you saw. Because, as they say at TED, these are definitely Ideas Worth Spreading.

The Watch List: Part V

The list grows shorter again this month, but that’s a little bit misleading since I watched nearly 230 TedTalks. I’d go into more detail about that, but that’s a whole other blog entry.

I just haven’t had much time (or inclination) to sit down and watch 2 hour movies lately, so for entertainment, I’ve stuck to watching episodic television, mainly Breaking Bad and more Masterpiece Mystery. There also aren’t a whole lot of movies left on my NetFlix queue that don’t fall into the following categories:

  • Movies my wife and I  added that both of us really want to see, but don’t have time when we’re both home to see right now
  • Movies my wife added that she probably doesn’t even want to see anymore
  • Children’s movies we added for the rainy weekends of winter

I expect next month’s report to get even slimmer… so slim that I might even start blogging about individual movies. Not sure I really want to get into that yet, as I have a ton of other topics I want to blog about. We’ll see.

So anyway, listed below are the movies and TV series I’ve been watching since Part IV of this series:

  • [x] = Number of Episodes watched if TV show
  • ( y ) = Rating out of 5.
  • Items in bold = ones I highly recommend

Instant Watch

  • A League of Their Own (4)
  • Breaking Bad [11] (4)
  • Captain America: The First Avenger (3)
  • Forks Over Knives (5)
  • Inspector Lynley: For the Sake of Elena (3)
  • Inspector Lynley: Missing Joseph (3)
  • Margin Call (4)
  • TEDTalks: [229] (4)
  • The Cosmos:[2] (4)
  • Weeds: Ssn 1: [3] (3)

DVDs

  • 50/50 (5)
  • Game of Thrones: Season 1: [3] (2)
  • Get Low (2)
  • Inspector Morse 1: The Dead of Jericho (3)
  • J. Edgar (1)
  • Red Tails (1)
  • Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (3)
  • The Wire: Season 3: [5] (4)
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1)

Other

  • Downton Abbey Ssn 2 [8] (3)
  • Inspector Lewis Ssn 6 [4] (4)

Documentary Recommendation: Forks Over Knives

ForksOverKnives

I’ve never been one to worry about my diet. Controlling my weight has never been a problem. In fact, I’ve often been dramatically underweight. When I started college, I was a very slender 5’11”, 118 pounds. By the summer of my 3rd year, I was just over 6’ 1/2” and 127 pounds. I worked out. I played lots of sports (though poorly). I drank my fair share of calories as well. But my metabolism was ruthlessly fast, and I remained a skinny, little twig.

That changed in the summer of that 3rd year. I had an internship at a company that made parts for satellites that summer and moved into a townhouse with 3 other people. One of the girls had a boyfriend who was a bodybuilder. He took one look at me, and told me “Boy, we’re going to put some weight on you this summer.” And we did. I ate four full meals a day. I downed protein shakes twice a day with a dozen raw egg whites, half a liter of whole milk, a banana and a little chocolate sauce for taste. My morning and afternoon snacks would have been meals for most people. But I wasn’t eating junk. I ate ‘healthy’—a ton of protein and lots of carbs. I didn’t eat many vegetables, unless baked potatoes or white rice count as vegetables. I did put on weight, and, because I worked out like a fiend,  and most of that was muscle. By the end of the summer, I was up to 153 pounds, and I felt great.

But it was impossible for me to keep that weight on once I got off the diet and back to the crazier diet of college in September. After college, and for most of my twenties, while working 60-80 hours a week and eating low-cost food (often a can of tuna with mac and cheese, or ramen), I hovered between 135 and 142 pounds.

When I moved to Colorado in 1996, I began doing a lot of long-distance cycling. My caloric intake went crazy again, mainly with pastas and rice and Power Bars, and Gatorade by the gallon. While I was riding, I was in the best shape of my life, and even attempted the 1997 Denver to Aspen Classic—200 miles of riding in 1 day, with 4-9000+ foot passes. I did not finish the ride. I wasn’t in as good of shape as I thought, and when brutal winds smacked us in the face for the first 80 miles, I knew I was done. I made it, I think, 109 miles that day. Certainly nothing to sneeze at, but not as far as I wanted to go.

But the crazy riding and working schedule took its toll. In the fall of 1997, I came down with a severe bout of Mononucleosis that took four months for basic recovery, and over a year to regain my long term stamina. My weight dropped back into the upper 120’s, and I never really felt good.

In 1999 I moved to Washington State, and I started to gain weight. By 2004, I was up to 175 pounds, with occasional glimpses of 180, and as high as 185. I no longer rode my bike much. I hiked instead, but I also spent a lot more time inside in front of a computer. The biggest contributor to my weight gain though, was the amount of fast-food I ate. I had more money, so instead of packing leftovers in with me, I went out for lunch and grabbed a burger or a slice of pizza or some mall-food. While I felt more confident about my body (being skinny always bothered me), my doctor raised concerns about my cholesterol, and even went so far as to put me on niacin for a while to lower the levels.

Over the past few years, I’ve found my most comfortable weight to be around 172 pounds. At that weight, I have the most energy, fewer aches and pains in my joints, and a positive self image. Sometimes, due to illness, I would drop down a few pounds, and even after recovering from the illness, I wouldn’t feel right until I worked back up to that weight. If I got above that mark, I could feel it too. The incentive to work out again would quickly rise and I would get back to that ideal weight.

The last year or so, with so much time spent on the couch due to foot surgery and GBS, has caused my weight to balloon. At one point, a few weeks ago, I weighed in at 182 pounds. I began to wonder if my recovery was being impacted by my weight. I’ve been quite inactive—that’s just a fact of life right now—and I have to let things heal.

Last week, my wife and I watched the excellent documentary on food and diet called Forks Over Knives. It discusses the benefits of a whole-foods based diet as it applies to health and disease. It challenges many of the basic assumptions of the American diet that I have never before questioned. Not just that processed food is bad for you (I already knew that), and that large amounts of red meat is bad for you (I also already knew that, and eat relatively little of it compared to the average American), but also that any meat or dairy is, in fact bad for you. Wait, what? Dairy is bad for you? I though milk and cheese and yogurt were good for you. Doesn’t the United States Department of Agriculture say that meat and dairy are key parts of a balanced diet? Yes, in fact, they do.

But Forks Over Knives goes deep into the mythology of the various food pyramids created by the USDA over the years, and discusses the reasons why these were set up the way they were. The USDA is, by definition, primarily an advocacy group for American food producers, not for the American consumer. The USDA is in place to ensure that the US Farmer has markets for the goods they produce, whether they are good for people or not. The policies they set greatly influence the choices of American consumers and American politicians. Forks Over Knives discusses how these policies are, in turn, greatly influenced by the corporate and lobbying organizations it represents. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, a plan by the USDA to have its cafeterias offer a “Meatless Monday” menu was derided by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and eventually the plan was cancelled.

Now, this is not an announcement that I am becoming a vegan, or even a vegetarian. But after watching Forks Over Knives, I have come to realize that I can do a lot better in my diet, and doing that will have many positive effects. By consuming a more plant-based diet, I should be able to better manage my weight and my cholesterol. Reducing the amount of meat that I consume is also better for the environment as the production of meat is an incredibly inefficient use of energy and creates a huge amount of carbon emissions which, as we all know now, is directly linked to global warming.

So what’s stopping me from becoming a vegetarian? Well, first of all, I still like the taste of perfectly cooked meat. I’ll just eat a lot less of it, buy it from sustainable farms, and treat it as a side on my plate, instead of the main course. But on some days, we are going meatless. Last week (not counting dairy), we had meatless dinners 3 times. I think that’s pretty good as a start. As we find more recipes we like, that’ll become more common.

I’m not going to be all preachy about it either. I hate it when other people try to cram their beliefs down my throat. If you want to talk to me about this, fine. I’ll tell you about our experiences. I’m not going to be religious about it either, so if you see me with a burger in my hands some day, it’s not a ‘gotcha’ moment, or weakness on my part. It’s probably that wherever I was, there was just not the opportunity to eat healthier at that moment.

So if I’m not going to commit to being a full-time vegetarian, and I’m not going to be preachy about it, why even talk about doing it? Well, in this case, I just wanted to pass along the information about this excellent documentary in the hopes that someone else watches it, and can, from that, make better choices that have a positive impact on their lives.

Criticizing the consumption of meat in America is something akin to criticizing the Pope in the Vatican. But before you comment as to the rightness, or wrongness of our desire to reduce our meat consumption, I ask that you watch the documentary. I think it’s really worth the time and effort, and after that, I will be happy to engage in a conversation that will, hopefully, enlighten us all.

The Watch List Part IV

The good news about recovering from Guillain-Barre Syndrome is, well, recovering. The bad news is that my NetFlix queue is now growing again instead of shrinking. For some people, that would be okay, but dang it, I had a GOAL! And not reaching that goal feels a little like failure.

I’ve actually watched very few movies in the last month or so, choosing instead to watch TV shows (most of them good), and TedTalks (almost all of them very good). It’s hard to commit to watching something for two hours when you don’t have a good, two hour chunk of time available. The one hour shows are perfect for the evenings, and the TedTalks are great for the little breaks I need to take during the day to rest my eyes.  I’ll say it again, if you have NetFlix instant watch and aren’t watching the TedTalks, you’re missing out on some amazing things.

Below are the movies and TV series I’ve been watching since Part III of this series:

  • [x] = Number of Episodes watched if TV show
  • ( y ) = Rating out of 5.
  • Items in bold = ones I highly recommend

Instant Watch

  • Adventureland (4)
  • Being Human: Series 1: [3] (4)
  • Broken Limbs (5)
  • Ethos (3)
  • Friday Night Lights: Ssn 1 [1] (3)
  • Frontline: Sick Around the World (4)
  • Inspector Lynley [2] (4)
  • Luther: [10] (5)
  • Mad Men: Ssn 1: [2] (3)
  • Outcasts: Ssn 1: [4] (3)
  • TEDTalks: [148] (5)
  • The Karate Kid (4) – Just note, I watched this one with my son on a day he was home from school and sick. But I still love this movie.

DVD

  • Cedar Rapids (3)
  • Cowboys & Aliens (3)
  • Hawaii Five-O: Season 1: [4 Discs] (3)
  • Inspector Lynley: A Great Deliverance (4)
  • Larry Crowne (4)
  • Leverage: Season 1: Disc 1 (3)
  • Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (3)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Stranger Tides (2)
  • Take Shelter (4)
  • The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1)
  • The Wire: Season 1 & 2: [10 Discs] (5)

Even More Time on the Couch: The Watch List Part III

I’ve really slowed down on my movie watching the last few weeks. Working 6 or 7 hours a day just doesn’t leave many two-hour blocks of time to watch movies, especially if the kids are around. So my movie watching has been mainly confined to the nights where my wife is out. On nights where she is home, we prefer to watch only one or two TV shows, since by the time we get the kids to bed, and we get things cleaned up, it’s closer to 8:30, and a full movie would keep me up far too late.

I have, however, filled the time by watching a few other things: TED episodes on NetFlix Instant Watch, more TV series, and Detroit Tigers games on MLB.tv. Watching baseball is something I can do while the kids are around, and last night we let them come downstairs to see the end of the Tigers-Yankees game, after they had already gone to bed. They kept hollering downstairs to see what the score was, and I was secretly glad they did. Luckily, the Tigers won it in the bottom of the ninth, or they would have been disappointed not to see the extra innings.

I’m not going to list all the TED episodes I’ve watched, because there are 20+ categories, and each one has over a dozen episodes, ranging from 3 to 27 minutes in length. I haven’t watched them all yet, but I’m working on it. I liken watching these presentations to reading magazine articles from National Geographic. The topics are diverse, and the talks can be in-depth or just a quick introduction. Since I can’t actually do too much reading right now (and the NatGeo’s are stacking up beside the couch), it’s a good way to get caught up on things. There are some talks that sound interesting, and aren’t, and there are some that sound like they wouldn’t be interesting at all, and are fascinating. I highly recommend adding them to your queue if you can.

Below are the movies and TV series I’ve been watching since Part II of this series:

  • [x] = Number of Episodes watched if TV show
  • ( y ) = Rating out of 5.
  • Items in bold = ones I highly recommend

Instant Watch

  • Being Human: Series 1: [3] (3)
  • Big River (5)
  • Commander in Chief [18]  (3)
  • Dirt! The Movie (3)
  • Eureka: Ssn 4.5: [4] (5)
  • Friday Night Lights: [1] (4)
  • Frontline: Obama’s Deal (4)
  • Frontline: Sick Around the World (4)
  • Luther: [1]  (4)
  • MI-5: [1] (3)
  • Monroe: Class of ’76 (3)
  • NOW on PBS: Fixing the Future (4)
  • Outcasts: [4] (3)
  • Star Trek: TNG: [3] (3)
  • The Cosmos: [2] (3)
  • The Future We Will Create (3)
  • The Guild: Ssn 5 (3)
  • The New Recruits   (3)
  • The Planets: Different Worlds  (3)
  • The X-Files: [1] (4)
  • Weeds: [4] (3)

DVD

  • Changeling (3)
  • Contraband (3)
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (3)
  • Date Night (5)
  • Doubt (4)
  • East of Eden: Special Edition (2)
  • Extraordinary Measures (3)
  • For a Few Dollars More (3)
  • Fracture (4)
  • Hawaii Five-O: Season 1: [6] (4)
  • Haywire (2)
  • I Am Number Four (3)
  • It’s Complicated (3)
  • Knight and Day (2)
  • Lifeboat (2)
  • Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (4)
  • The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (3)
  • The Descendants (3)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (US) (3)
  • The Help (5)
  • The Hoax (3)
  • The Sand Pebbles (3)
  • The Wire: Season 1: [3] (4)
  • War Horse (3)

More Time on the Couch: The Watch List Part II

While I have been working more the last last few weeks, I have still been watching quite a bit of TV and a lot of NetFlix while I recover from Guillain-Barre Syndrome. There’ not a lot else I can do, so I keep churning through my movie backlist. The backlist is considerably shorter now, than it was on January 31.

Here’s some of what I’ve been watching via NetFlix since Part I of this list back on March 13th. I wish I had time to do actual reviews of each of these, but I just don’t have that much energy. However, if there are a couple on the list you want to know more about (or even debate), drop in a comment.

  • [x] = Number of Episodes watched if TV show
  • ( y ) = Rating out of 5.
  • Items in bold = ones I highly recommend

Instant Watch

  • Collision: Part 4 [2] (4)
  • Commander in Chief [1] (2)
  • Doctor Who: Ssn 5: [1] (3)
  • Eureka: Ssn 4.5: [6] (4)
  • Freakonomics (4)
  • Friday Night Lights: Ssn 1: [3] (4)
  • Giant (2)
  • Inspector Lewis [14] (4)
  • Ken Burns: Baseball [11] (4)
  • Memento (3)
  • MI-5: [1] 3
  • Star Trek: TNG: [3] (3)
  • TEDTalks: [20] (5)
  • The Big Energy Gamble: Nova (5)
  • The Cosmos: [1] (3)
  • The IT Crowd: Series 4: [3] (3)
  • The Last Enemy [5] (3)
  • The State Within: [7] (4)
  • The X-Files: Ssn 1: [1] (5)
  • To the Ends of the Earth [3] (3)
  • Weeds: Ssn 1: [3] (3)
  • White Collar: Ssn 1: [1] (2)

DVDs

  • 10,000 B.C. (1)
  • A Fistful of Dollars (3)
  • Almost Famous (5)
  • Burke and Hare (4)
  • Contagion (4)
  • Crazy, Stupid, Love. (5)
  • Dolphin Tale (4)
  • IMAX: Hubble (3)
  • In Time (5)
  • Jonah Hex (3)
  • Jumper (2)
  • Knowing (3)
  • Layer Cake (4)
  • Lions for Lambs (3)
  • Moneyball (4)
  • Pale Rider (4)
  • Push (1)
  • Rebel Without a Cause: Special Edition (2)
  • The American (3)
  • The Andromeda Strain 2008 (4)
  • The Birds (5)
  • The Brave One (3)
  • The Life of David Gale (3)
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales (4)
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show (3)
  • Untraceable (4)
  • W. (3)
  • Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2)
  • Why We Fight (4)

My Time on the Couch: The Watchlist

It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve watched a lot of television since being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome at the beginning of February. I’ve been clearing the backlog on my DVR of things like CBS’s Person Of Interest (the whole season), Fox’s Alcatraz and Discovery’s Gold Rush, but I have also been getting my money’s worth (and more) from both my NetFlix DVD queue and my Instant Watch Queue. Below is a list of the DVD’s I’ve gotten, followed by the movies I’ve streamed.

A few notes:

1) This does not include every movie we’ve streamed in the house because my kids watch a lot that way. It also doesn’t include the movies we got for my kids which I watched part of, or movies or shows I watched part of and turned off because they were so bad I couldn’t watch any more.

2) In general, the movies I have been getting are ones that are on the queue that I put on which my wife doesn’t have any ambition to watch. i.e. I can watch it while she’s working and she won’t miss it. This also means that I’ve watched a fair amount of crap, so the average score here is on the low side.

3) The numbers in ( ) after each movie / show is my rating (1-5), but the numbers in [ ] are the number of episodes or parts I have seen in the last 6 weeks.

4) I’ve bolded the ones I think are extraordinary, must watches. Make sure these are on your queue and you watch them soon.

DVD

  • Unknown (2)
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2)
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (3)
  • Bridesmaids (2)
  • Roving Mars (3)
  • Pirate Radio (2)
  • The Express (2)
  • Sharpe 4: Sharpe’s Enemy (2)
  • Abduction (1)
  • The Aviator (3)
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (1)
  • Hang ‘Em High (2)
  • Drive (2)
  • Coach Carter (3)
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes (3)
  • Flags of Our Fathers (2)
  • Ninja Assassin (1)
  • The Dark Knight (3)
  • PU-239 (3)
  • The Switch (3)
  • Despicable Me (2)
  • The Ghost Writer (3)

Instant Watch

  • If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (4)
  • Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 (2)
  • Battle Beyond the Stars (1)
  • Being Human – UK: Series 1: (3) [1]
  • Can We Make it to Mars?: Nova science NOW (4)
  • Casino Jack (3)
  • Ken Burn’s Civil War (3) [9]
  • Collision – UK (4) [5]
  • Cool It (4)
  • Doctor Who: Ssn 5 (4) [2]
  • Downton Abbey: Ssn 1 (5) [7]
  • Friday Night Lights: Ssn 1 (5) [12]
  • Fuel (5)
  • How the Universe Works (5) [8]
  • Inspector Lewis: Series 1 (3) [2]
  • Island at War: (3) [6]
  • Lady Jane (2)
  • Mad Men: Season 1: (3) [2]
  • Malcolm in the Middle: Season 1 (3) [2]
  • Monsoon Wedding (3)
  • Ken Burn’s National Parks (3) [4]
  • Phoenix Mars Mission: Onto the Ice (4)
  • Possession (4)
  • Puccini for Beginners (3)
  • Religulous (4)
  • Revenge of the Electric Car (3)
  • Sliding Doors (4)
  • The IT Crowd: Series 4: (4) [4]
  • The Last of the Mohicans  (3)
  • The Lincoln Lawyer (4)
  • The Pluto Files: Nova (5)
  • Top Gear: Series 2: Ep 1 (3)
  • Vanishing of the Bees (5)
  • Welcome to Mars: Nova (4)

I’ve still got a couple hundred items on my NetFlix queue, so they have me hooked for a couple more months at least. But I’ll certainly be glad when I can read books again and can just turn the TV off once in a while.

Reading and Reviewing

As I said in my last blog post, I’ve been reading a lot lately, at almost a dangerous pace.  So much so fast that it seems I could have a reading crash and injure my dictionary.  But I still am not as bad as my wife, who I caught reading while she was walking down the stairs two nights ago.  In a house with kids, not watching where you are going is really not a great idea.

So what’s been on my reading list?

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.  This is a pretty famous book about a computer science professor from Carnegie Mellon University who is diagnosed with cancer, and the inspirational last lecture he gave to his students and the faculty there.  It’s a quick read, but it isn’t always easy, and if you’re not careful, it may just change your life.  You should also watch the video of his last lecture (either before or after is fine)

I got a lot lighter in reading after that.

The Spellman Files, Curse of the Spellmans and Revenge of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz (Yes I read all three of these in the past month).  A series of novels about a private investigating family in San Francisco.  The books are good, pretty funny and a quick read, but they have one really annoying flaw that drove me nuts.  Footnotes.  Not footnotes as in references to other books, but parentheticals that constantly distract from the flow of the story.  As a writer, I’ve learned to never distract the reader and disturb the flow.  A couple of times, this might be fine, but, to do it so constantly is just annoying, and were it not for my OCD and the fact that my wife recommended the books, I would have stopped after book one.  My hope is that Lutz stops this practice going forward, or at least minimizes this device.  I’d like to read more about the Spellmans, but I’m on the edge about actually doing it if I have to fight through the distractions.

Life As We Knew It – Susan Beth Pfeffer – A great Young Adult Apocalyptic fiction book that will have you restocking your pantry by the last chapter.  We bought this book at John Scalzi’s recommendation.  Lisa loved this book and so did I.

The Inside Ring – Mike Lawson – A disclaimer here, I’ve met Mike a couple of times at PNWA functions and got him to autograph this book.  This is a political thriller revolving around the attempted assassination of the President of the US.  It’s a good book, but I can tell that it is a writer’s first book, and it has a couple of flaws that I noticed as a writer, that the average reader my not.  I’ll read more of Mike’s work, and from what I hear, the writing gets better in the next book.

As for Movies, with the death of the 2009-2010 TV season, I’ve had more time to watch movies.  So here are the recent ones.

Seven Pounds – Will Smith – 3/4 Stars.  If you don’t tear up at the end of this one… then you weren’t sitting where I was last night. This was a much better movie than I expected, and I really liked it.

The Enforcer/The Dead Pool – Clint Eastwood.  Two movies in the Dirty Harry series.  I’ve been watching these to say that I have, but I was really glad they were only about 90 minutes of my time and that I watched them when I couldn’t really do anything else. 0/4 stars.  Keep those three hours of your life and use them to take a bath or something.

The Blind Side – Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw – A true story about a white family in Tennessee who takes in a disadvantaged black kid from the projects who goes on to play in the NFL.  Not a bad movie, and worth a watch, especially since I’m a big NFL fan and watched the draft where Michael Oher was drafted.  Bullock was good, but McGraw stole scenes with some great lines. 2.5/4 stars

The Hurt Locker – Oscar winning film about bomb disposal techs in Iraq.  Great movie, with really well done visuals and movie effects.  It is about the Iraq war, and there are a number of scenes that might be hard to watch.  It doesn’t drown you in them, but it doesn’t let you into a false sense of safety either. 3/4 stars

Crazy Heart – Jeff Bridges in another Oscar winning role.  Don’t expect to be uplifted by this, but the story isn’t bad, if not a little cliché at times. 2/4 stars

Notorious – An Alfred Hitchcock classic with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.  Good flick which seems a little cliché now… but it’s cliché now because everyone copied  them.  Every time I watch a Hitchcock movie, I gain appreciation for what he did. 3/4 stars

Surrogates – Bruce Willis – A pretty good, pure science fiction movie that I really enjoyed, but I like both SciFi and Bruce Willis, so this one may have been ideally tailored to me. 3/4 stars

The Lovely Bones – A slightly disturbing but good movie about a serial killer in the early 1970s, told through the eyes of one of his victims.  Based on a highly acclaimed book by the same name.  I haven’t read the book, but I still might, if I have time. 3/4 stars

The Commitments – A young man from Dublin forms a soul band to try to find a way out of poverty.  A great movie, but you’d better be able to understand the Irish accent to watch it, and you’d better like music.  3/4 stars

I think that’s pretty much it, for now.  It’s Saturday morning and it’s time to get some stuff done around here, so I can read more or write more or watch more this afternoon.

The Week+ In Words

I’ll start with books today, because the OCD in me says I must cover it.

I haven’t been reading a lot for fun lately, mainly because I am working on a novel of my own, am reading more for work, and am working a lot.  So this list is relatively brief:

Thursday Next:  First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde.  Fforde’s series is unique.  I guarantee you have read nothing like it.  This one is good, though not as good as the other Thursday Next books, but the man has a great concept and if I had it, I’d be cranking out the books too.

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank:  Written in the late 1950’s during the height of the Cold War, it’s one of the early ‘end of the world’ novels, better be prepared for a big change to civilization.  Not a bad read, but some of the dialogue didn’t age well, and some of the story seems a bit quaint these days.   I’m sure it was pretty edgy fifty years ago, but only worth a ready if you are a die hard apocalypse fan these days.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.  I started following John Scalzi’s blog Whatever last winter when the big confrontation was going on between Amazon and MacMillan Publishing.  Old Man’s War is a GREAT science-fiction book, and a must read for anyone who is interested in the genre.  It’s a quick and easy read, but a great concept book, likeable characters and inspiring for writers like me.

I’m currently reading Vacuum Diagrams by Steven Baxter, another sci-fi book.  I’m struggling to finish it.  It wanders through 5 million years of the history and future of the universe, with a series of vignettes that are tied together by very thin plot line.  It’s an admirable undertaking.  Pure sci-fi aficionados probably loved this book.  I’m more in the camp of “I can’t wait to be done it, and I wish I had never bought it.”  It’s not that it’s that bad, it’s just that it kills my desire to read anything else.   Kind of like having a bad sandwich at the only deli near your office.  You know you will eventually go back there, but it might be a while before you get the bad taste out of your mouth.  I’ve read Baxter’s stuff before, and it’s generally pretty good, but if I were his agent, I would have held this one back.  But what do I know?

Movie wise, if had a few clunkers too.

Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey, Jr.  Did not meet my expectations, which were probably too high.  It was okay. 2/4 stars.

Robinson Crusoe – The Pierce Brosnan version.  I’ve been watching this 20 minutes at a time for the past two weeks.  Really bad.  Epically bad. 1/4 stars – just because I refuse to give 0 stars to any movie I didn’t just delete from my queue after the first 20 horrible minutes.

To Catch a Thief:  Cary Grant and Grace Kelly.  Wonderful classic movie.  And now I understand why people loved Grace Kelly. 3/4 stars

The Informant!:  Matt Damon.  Interesting, but not great.  Felt kind of uncomfortable during the whole thing.  Kind of Fargo meets Catch Me If You Can.  2/4 Stars

Up In the AIr with George Clooney:  Good movie with good dialog.  But we have seen so many ‘talkie’ movies lately that we weren’t in the right mood for this one, and it was just not that enjoyable.  2/4 stars

Zombieland:  I loved this movie.  It’s right up there with Shawn of the Dead in the Zombie genre (did you know there was a Zombie genre?”).  3/4 stars.  Brace yourself for the gore of the first 5 minutes.  After that it’s not so bad.

The Week in Words – 03/24/2010

I’ll start off with a very funny exchange between my wife and Reece, as mommy was changing a very poopy diaper last Friday.

“That’s a big poop, Reecie.”

“No mommy, it’s not.  It’s a Good Lord.”

“What?”

“It’s a Good Lord, Mommy.  That’s what Daddy always says.”  He sits up just a bit, looks at the poop, shakes his head a bit, and says in a near perfect imitation of my inflection. “Good Lord!”

Who knew that potty training would become such a religious experience for him?

Moving on.

I finished the novella I was working on last week called “Izzy’s Story”, and merged it into ‘The Forgotten Road’.  It turned out to be about 9000 words long.  I then cut about 2000 back out of TFR, which is sitting right around 90000 now.  That’s a little higher than I want it to be.  There are probably some more places I can chop, but I still have to make sure I’ve wedged the scenes from the novella into the right places in the rest of the story, and then make sure it actually works done like this.   I’m still waiting on replies from two agents who have some parts of my books.  If I don’t hear from them by tax time, I’m thinking of trying out a book doctor (a freelance editor) to do a structural edit to see how far I am off target.  I think it will be a good investment, and I hope to learn a lot from it.

For now though, I’m probably not going to work on that book or that series for a bit.  Until all the aspects of that first book are nailed, I can’t really say book 2 is ready to be called done, and starting on book 3 seems a little premature.  Instead, I’ll explore a few other ideas I’ve been playing around with and see if any of them work out.

Work just got a whole lot busier this week as well, as we’re ramping up on a couple of big projects that will keep me busy through the end of the year.  I’m back to taking the first train in each day, which means waking up at 4:25 each morning.  Tonight I’ve got a 4:00 meeting on site with a client, which means I wont get home until 6:30.  Makes for a very long day.   But with this new project, we’ll be able to do some hiring to fill some open spots, and hopefully that will make my life easier in the long run.

Last weekend we had Lisa’s mom, dad and grandmother over for a day, and went out to a park in Tacoma with two of Lisa’s brothers and their families.  With that many kids running around, there wasn’t much time to sit down and talk to adults.  I don’t know why people say life isn’t always a picnic.  Sure seems that life is always like a picnic:  don’t touch that, don’t eat that, you have to share with your sister, stay away from the water, get out of the mud, don’t you dare throw that stick at her, stay where I can see you, that’s not a pine cone, damn it, does anyone have any antibacterial hand wipes?

Movie wise, we watched a great little movie on Sunday called ‘Saint Ralph’, a story about a 14 year old boy in 1957 at a Catholic school in Hamilton, Ontario who wants a miracle to save his mother who is in a coma and gets it into his head that winning the Boston Marathon is what God wants him to do.  Definitely worth the watch.

Reading wise, I’m slowly working my way out of my reading funk, and in the middle of Orson Scott Card’s ‘Shadow of the Hegemon’, a continuation of the “Ender’s Shadow’” series.

There’s a bunch of new technology being released by Microsoft in April, and that means I’ll have a whole new slew of tech books to read.  I probably won’t get to read much for fun in the next few months, but maybe all this new stuff will be easy, and the books will be shorter than the last time.  Yeah, right.