Monthly Archives: May 2015

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS JeannetteIn the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This true story of an intrepid American explorer is riveting. I had never heard of George DeLong before reading this book, but I developed a tremendous respect for him and a bit of national pride in his exploits. Be warned, however, that the book starts off rather slow. The author spends too much time on the biographies of the characters and the back story of earlier polar exploration. In particular, the life of James Bennett, the publisher of the New York Herald and the financial backer of DeLong’s expedition, is too long. Bennett was a colorful character, to be sure, and worth a serious mention, but his outrageous antics take more than their fair share of space at the beginning. The real story is DeLong’s polar expedition. Be patient while reading through or skip ahead. You won’t be disappointed once you get there.

From the outset the author quotes extensively from the logs, letters, and other writings of DeLong and his men, so we know that at least his papers survive the voyage. But what about the ship and its crew? I won’t spoil the suspense. The hardships and incredible feats of seamanship and survival are amazing and inspiring. If you enjoyed The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption you will enjoy this one at least as much. I found this book better than either of those. It doesn’t relish in detailing the human cruelty and unfairness of those two books, which at times seem to pander to the worst of the reader’s sadistic voyeurism. Here, it is all about man versus nature. There is suffering in great measure, to be sure, but also human resilience and fortitude.

I listened to this on CD. The reader is excellent. I highly recommend this book.

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Google N-Gram Mad Libs Redux

Last year about this time I published a story written by Google N-Gram, a program that tells you what words most frequently follow a given word or phrase. For more details of how it works and the rules I followed, see my post last year. It’s time to do it again.

A terrible thing to say about the nature of the work and its author is not a national institution. I was excited when I got the call from the hospital. It was shocking to see the world as a whole. But no one could have foreseen that the time would come when the people of the United States and the Soviet Union would be able to see the whole picture. The alien spaceship might look like this one day when I was in the middle of a sentence. How could anyone think that the only way to get to know the people who are in the same position as a person who is not a party to the action? President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 was the first year of the war the British government had been in power.

Our Ignorant Newsies – ABC Edition

Today I listened to the local ABC weather reporter congratulate graduates of two high schools. One had “many distinct alumni.” I suppose that’s better than being indistinct, although I’m not quite sure how one can be indistinct. Siamese twins maybe? The second school was “Argon” high. I suppose it’s good to attend a school named for a noble gas, except it isn’t; the correct name is Aragon, pronounced “air-uh-gone”. And he again said it had a well-known alumni, Kristin Sze, then changed that to alumnus. Wrong twice. She is an alumna, which she pointed out to him on air.

Then came the national show, Good Morning America, where the news anchor used the term “massive” for four different stories: a massive fire, a massive data breach, a massive scandal, and a massive rescue effort. Wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong. These may be very large. There are plenty of synonyms for that: huge, enormous, gigantic, large-scale, etc., but massive? No. To be massive something must have mass, like elephants, boulders, or planets. None of these things do. At the very least a decent writer will have more than one adjective in his or her vocabulary. How about varying it up a little bit, huh? The anchor who read the stories, Amy somebody, probably didn’t write them, but whoever did should be fired for corrupting the English of our nation.

Biblical by Christopher Galt

BiblicalBiblical by Christopher Galt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“I’m an atheist, the way God intended me to be.” That’s the best line in the book. Fans of the TV series Lost will love this book. It’s full of episodes of bizarre, inexplicable, impossible, spooky occurrences, mostly involving temporal inconsistencies. People experience déjà vu, then see hallucinations of times past. Or are they hallucinations? They seem to be real. The visions are sometimes seen only by a single person. Other times, they are experienced by hundreds or even thousands simultaneously. A man burns to death in front of witnesses where there is no fire or smoke, or even unusual heat. There are mass suicides, accompanied by the enigmatic slogan “We are becoming.”

The main character, John Macbeth, is a psychiatrist. He and his medical and scientific cohorts try to explain away these phenomena by citing various clinical syndromes. The author spends about 200 pages more than necessary just to show off his encyclopedic research into mental disorders. Make that 300 pages. The pseudoscientific jargon gets old after a while, like after page 40 or so in this 440 page book. Okay, make that 400 unnecessary pages.

So there’s a character named Macbeth and an FBI agent named Bundy. Cute. The story line makes no sense, but it’s full of action and the author displays a healthy enough knack for dialogue. Goodreads says the author’s name is a pseudonym. I haven’t researched to see who Galt really is, but he seems to be a journeyman at this kind of thing. I picked this up thinking it was a mystery, but it’s really more science fiction bordering on fantasy. I can only give it an “Okay” but you may find it entertaining if you like to be mildly shocked and terrified in a cloud of mysticism.

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Lie, Lay, Lain

Lie, Lay, Lain

Lie, Lay, Lain

Is it any wonder so many people don’t know whether to say “lie” or “lay” when they see stuff like this? It is said wrong or spelled wrong so often the mistake almost becomes the rule.

The technical explanation is that “lie” is intransitive and “lay” is transitive, i.e. it takes an object. So you always lie down. You don’t lay down, not unless you have a bag of duck down and lay it on the bed. The confusion comes from the fact that the past tense of lie is lay. “Yesterday I lay down” is correct. “I’m going to go lay down” is not. “Lay down your gun,” is correct because gun is the object.

What about “Now I lay me down to sleep”? That’s correct, too, because of the “me” in the sentence. That’s the object. Without it the sentence would need “lie”, but that would spoil the meter, which why the author chose “lay me” instead. For the participle of lie, use lain. “I have lain here for over an hour but can’t fall asleep.”

That only leaves “lay” to deal with. Simple: lay, laid, laid. “Lay an egg,” “She laid an egg,” “She has laid an egg.” Simply put, the Adam@Home comic above laid an egg.

Free Blues Album

If you like acoustic blues, these self-proclaimed “old buddies” (not that old IMO) are offering a free album. I’ve downloaded it and they’re the real deal. Click on the video to play it and if you want the album click on the YouTube icon in the lower right which will take you to YouTube. The download URL is there under the video window.

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

Pirate LatitudesPirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This rollicking tale is chock full of blackguards, privateers, seamen, whores, villainous Spaniards, kraken, betrayal, hurricanes, cannibals, and more. The plot is strictly B movie, but it’s full of swashbuckling action. The squeamish reader need not apply, but the brutality and death, though prodigious in quantity, are relatively civilized by today’s standard. This novel was discovered among Crichton’s effects after his untimely death. It’s not among his best work, but it’s a fun read if you’re in the mood for a lighthearted and gory pirate story.

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel, set in World War II Europe, features a blind French girl and a small, brilliant, German boy-soldier as the main protagonists, although one might also characterize the Sea of Flames, a spectacular blue diamond with a red center, as a co-equal. The book is a huge best seller because it is a compelling story. The writing is elegant without being pretentious. The plot is rather far-fetched, but no more so than most novels that have stood the test of time. I can’t rank it among the very best I’ve read, but it was certainly enjoyable throughout, even riveting at times.

I felt the protracted ending detracted from the story rather than finishing it, but it didn’t spoil the book. It followed the convention of our day in hopping back and forth in time, a practice I do not like. It seems to pervade every medium – movies, television, books. However, it wasn’t particularly difficult to follow. I listened to it on CD’s. The reader was quite good, although not outstanding.

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Q: What’s the best thing about living in Switzerland?

A: I don’t know, but the flag is a big plus.




Swiss Flag

Cow Cow Boogie played in fingerstyle guitar

My mother used to play this on the piano and sing it. She sang and played beautifully. I’ve always liked the song but I’ve never seen a fingerstyle guitar arrangement, so I worked this out myself. I probably had the piano music at one time, but I have no idea where it is now. I don’t have tab. I like the lyrics, too, and since I can’t sing on key, I’ve captioned them in. There are a number of versions out there and the lyrics vary. Ella Fitzgerald and The Judds seem to be the best known based on Internet searches, but I like Ella Mae Morse’s version the best.
Credits: Songwriters: RAYE, DON / CARTER, BENNY / DE PAUL, GENE
© Universal Music Publishing Group, WINOGRADSKY/SOBEL, THE HUB MUSIC COMPANY