Book: The Hero With A Thousand Faces

Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

I have had this book for a while now and just finished it in while on vacation in Alaska. In fact, I bought this book back when the original Power of Myth PBS series aired some time ago.

I have always had an interest in mythology, religion, cognitive psychology and linguistics and this definitely plays into the first two and to a lesser extent the third. It also builds on my interest in the works of Carl Jung as well.

It was interesting to finish the book in Alaska, a place where the indigenous practices have (seemingly) not been surpressed as they have been in other places. The visit to the Alaskan Heritage site was rewarding to talk to some of the people who are from the various tribes and collectives of Alaska.

In a subsequent conversation, I was curious as to where young kids these days get their mythology and how do they learn the lessons that a cultures mythology attempts to internalize? Video games? Television? Internet? Sadly, interaction with parents and the community seems to be a scarce commodity.

Travel: Alaska

Just back from two weeks on a driving tour of Alaska. We had decent weather for most of the trip (which was handy because we were outdoors for most of it). The itinerary was basically a few days in Anchorage and around, Wasilla (just to get out of Anchorage), Seward, Homer, Whittier and back to Anchorage to fly home.

Considering that we were in coastal places the entire time (ok, except for Wasilla) I was shocked at how appallingly bad the food was, particularly the seafood. Think about it, you are in a place with fresh seafood coming in everyday (and all day) and what do they do to it? Batter and deep fry it or slather it with some disgusting concoction that tasted like ketchup mixed with honey. And forget about vegetables (you wouldn’t want them even if they were on the menu). To add insult to indigestion, you pay top dollar for the honor.

On a hiking trail that is basically right in Seward, my daughter and I came within 50 yards or so of a black bear cub. So while she stood there with her mouth agape, I was mentally running down the list of things to do/not do when you encounter a bear (make lots of noise, don’t get between the cub and the mother, stand your ground if charged, etc). As luck would have it, by the time I thought to reach for my camera and power it up, the cub took off like a shot. Nicola still talks about it to this day. Perhaps, obvious to some, but worth a note, the mosquitos in the area are awful so plan appropriately when venturing into the woods.

In addition to the hiking we did, the highlights were the two glacier cruises that we did on the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. While the wildlife viewing was so-so, getting up close to some of the tidewater glaciers was quite impressive. As an aside, on the Prince William Sound cruise, the BBC were onboard filming what appeared to be a travel show on Alaska.

Lastly, the 22+ hours of sunlight a day does take some getting used to. There were many nights when Martina would tell Nicola “you need to get ready for bed in a couple of hours”, then realize that it was after 10PM! Waking up in the middle of the night always gave you that “oh crap, its morning already” initial shock before you realized that it was 3AM. Defying all logic, one of the hotels that we stayed in didn’t even have blinds on the windows, let alone black out shades. Thank goodness for eye shades.

Photos from the trip are here and here on Flickr.

On the pond

We have been planning a small pond in the front garden since shortly after we moved in 7+ years ago. Well, this was the weekend for it. The ground wasn’t too hard, so shifting all of the dirt wasn’t as challenging as it could be if we put it off until later in the summer when the soil is like concrete.

We got the dirt (and debris) out, the sand in, and the liner down. Then off to a nearby garden shop to buy some stone to edge with (and really to help keep the liner from shifting once the water went in). When it came time to fill, I was surprised that it took almost an hour to top it up. Nice start.

So all of that together was really ‘step one’. Next comes putting in the water plants, the waterfall, tidying up the edging and ultimately some goldfish. I’ll post some pictures as we are further along in the process.

Book: Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather

Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather by Gao Xing Jian

I bought this book after it was rather deliriously reviewed on NPR.

While there are a few interesting moments in the book on the whole, I was left wondering what all of the breathless praise in the review was about. The last two short stories in the book where particularly unsatisfying. The short that shares the same name as the book moves along nicely then absolutely disintegrates into a stream of consciousness load of blather. It’s almost as if the author couldn’t figure out an ending so he pulled the literary equivalent of the last 10 minutes of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey movie.

The final short in the book reads like a collection of snippets for ideas for scenes in a book (or even a film for that matter). They don’t come close to hanging together and have the jarring effect of poorly done free jazz (to my eyes anyway).

I’d give this book about 2 out of 5. Not a total clanger, but definitely not one that I would read again.

Newton, Palm and PSP

As an Apple Newton user from back in the day I was always amazed at the amount of sniping over the Newton when there was no clear, better alternative at the time. I wasn’t even a big Apple fan, but could recognize that the Newton provided the functionality that I wanted. Granted the much derided handwriting recognition took a bit of ‘training’ for the Newt to become more consistent, but for me that was time well spent. Within a few months, I could take meeting notes directly on the Newt with something close to 100% recognition. The ability to draw on the screen along with the text was handy as techies are famous for their napkin-back design sketches.

Supposedly, one of the cures for the ‘poor’ Newton recognition was to use an add in product called Grafitti. This was met with a great deal of hue and cry as the Apple bashers when on about ‘having to learn a new way of writing’ and ‘it should recognize my handwritting — I shouldn’t have to change’. That was all well and good until the first Palm came out and required the use of Graffiti, then suddenly the (not-from-Apple) Palm product was proclaimed the best thing since fish grew legs. Another popular criticism at the time was the the Newton was ‘the wrong form factor’ and that Palm had it all right. I disagree, and feel a bit vidicated with the release of the Sony Playstation Portable (which has nearly the same form factor as the final Newton) and it being hailed as the ‘perfect size’ for a portable unit. Hell, the Newton even had many of the same capabilities, albeit with a monochrome screen.

Around four years ago, I finally gave up and bought a Palm device (m505) to be able to synch up my growing and changing Outlook calendar and not have to carry around marked up printouts of my calendar. I find Graffiti to be a pain, but have forced myself to bend to its requirements. Then I bought a Tungsten T5 because I very much needed the extra storage and wanted to have some wi-fi capability only to find that some genius at Palm had ‘improved’ the handwriting recognition by changing it. Now I find myself writing ‘L’ when I want an ‘I’ and getting some random character when I try to do the old stroke for a ‘T’. Sigh. I just wish that Palm would come out with a patch to keep the T5 from randomly rebooting, locking up and crashing after synching.

In the end, I think that I am going to start exploring a Symbian OS based device, probably a Nokia smart phone. The most promising device (that I have found in my limited research) is the (as yet unreleased in the USA) Nokia 6682.

The Scourge of Subdivisions

Why does everyone who lives around here assume that everybody else lives in a subdivision?

This question comes from people stopping over for Nicola’s birthday party. In spite of clear directions, all of the moms who had not been here before drove past the road we live on and went straight to the sub-division about a quarter of a mile up the road. They then called on their mobile phones complaining that they cannot find our street. Martina patiently explained that they drove past it and they needed to backtrack to find it. Within a few minutes everyone arrived.

I have a theory: there has been so much growth in this area, coupled with everyone wanting to have some Mc Mansion on a postage stamp lot that I’d guess that the majority of the population of this area lives in a sub-division (ergo everyone else does). One of the attendees expressed surprise that we were not among the short timers who moved to the area in the last 2-3 years when it became trendy (I have lived here for 14 years; Mart for about 7).

I also detect a bit of snobbery when you ask someone where they live — rarely do they tell you what city they live in or proximity to some landmark, they tell you what sub-division they live in as if it conveyed their perceived status in the world. Hell, when people ask where I live, I tell them ‘near Kings Island’ and they either know where that is or not.