Friday, November 27, 2020

Happy Birthday, John

He would have been 80 this year.

Sing along to a particularly beautiful poem he wrote.

So this is Christmas and what have you done
Another year over, a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones, the old and the young

A very merry Christmas and a happy new year
Let's hope it's a good one without any fears

And so this is Christmas for weak and for strong
The rich and the poor ones, the road is so long

And so happy Christmas for black and for white
For yellow and red ones let's stop all the fights

A very merry Christmas and a happy new year
Let's hope it's a good one without any fear

And so this is Christmas and what have we done
Another year over, a new one just begun

And so happy Christmas we hope you have fun
The near and the dear ones, the old and the young

A very merry Christmas and a happy new year
Let's hope it's a good one without any fear

And so this is Christmas and what have we done
Another year over, a new one just begun

Thursday, November 26, 2020

52 Loaves: a very short review

Somewhere along the way I was gifted William Alexander's 52 Loaves.

Alexander sets out to try to learn enough about baking bread to enable him to recreate, in his home kitchen, the marvelous loaf of bread he had at a fancy restaurant. He decides that he will devote a year to this goal, baking the same recipe over and over, at least once a week (hence the title).

Of course, just baking the same recipe over and over doesn't really get you anywhere, much though your ten thousand hours of practice might please Malcom Gladwell, so Alexander does much more than that. He reads books and watches videos about baking bread. He interviews bakers about their craft. He learns about his ingredients, how there are many kinds of flour, many kinds of yeast, variations of temperature and time, ratios of this to that, etc.

And he learns about the history of bread, and about the culture of bread. The cultural aspects are among the most interesting parts, as he ends up traveling to France, to Morocco, and elsewhere, to learn about how different societies include bread into their lives.

In Morocco, for example, Alexander learns that individual houses don't have their own ovens, and instead people bring their bread dough to a magnificant communally-shared wood-fired brick oven that can bake dozens of loaves at a time. He promptly decides that he needs a wood-fired brick oven of his own, and attempts to build one in his back yard, with predictably disastrous results.

It's that sort of a book.

The result is a pleasant mish-mash: you won't learn a lot about bread; you won't learn a lot about ancient French monasteries; you won't learn a lot about what's in that bag of flour you get from the supermarket, or about the differences between active yeast, cake yeast, and instant yeast; you won't learn a lot about why a boule is circular but a baguette is long and narrow, but you will learn a little bit about all these various subjects and more.

And you'll have a fair amount of fun doing so, as Alexander is a light and entertaining writer.

Moreover, since the book itself is constructed as 52 tiny chapters (an artifice, as these have little to do with the actual weeks of his bread-baking year), the book is perfect for placing in that special room in your house. You know, the one that you find yourself in with some regularity, where reading a 3.5 page chapter is just right for your time allotment.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Nice article on being mindful about the next steps along the way

Barry Ritholz is a smart fellow, and a good writer. I mostly read his writings for his observations on Finance and Markets, but he often has a broader outlook that I find helpful.

For example, here: The Halfway Point.

Think about what how unique this situation is, how rare an opportunity it presents for you — and then go take full advantage of it. What do you want this period to have meant to you? Do not lead a life full of regrets and unrequited interests…

Wide words.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Four nice things

In these stressful times, I just wanted to share some nice things:

  • It's our 35th anniversary! To treat ourselves, we took a hike suggested by the lovely Weekend Sherpa website. Complete with the site's suggested post-hike treat, the also-lovely wine bar Tasting by the Sea, which might have the most perfect location of any wine bar in the entire United States of America.
  • It's my youngest daughter's 29th birthday this week! (How can that be? I'm only 29 years old, myself!)
  • The winter rainy season has begun in Northern California, more-or-less right on schedule. All of the plants are happy.
  • My favorite Internet comic XKCD published perhaps the most beautiful strip ever: Ten Years. Congratulations, Randall Munroe, set your sights on 35!

Friday, November 13, 2020

Sisters and sisters

I have no idea how I missed this picture when it first came out years ago.

Just in case, left-to-right, this is a picture of: Sasha, Jenna, Barbara, Laura, and Malia.

It made me smile (actually it made me laugh for joy), so I wanted to share it.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Is Hurricane Eta an unusual hurricane?

In what has surely been an unusual year for hurricanes, Hurricane Eta seems it like has been particularly unusual.

Check out how it behaved in the first 10 days:

It started near the Venezuala coast, headed due west, made a ninety degree turn, traveled over Nicaragua and Honduras, then made another 45 degree turn and went back over the open ocean and traveled east northeast and last night crossed over the center of Cuba, reportedly moving 60 miles per hour at that point.

But now, it is forecast to make a 145 degree turn and head due west again, this time back into the center of the Gulf of Mexico.

Then, after spending 3 days moving at barely 10 miles per hour over the Gulf of Mexico, and returning to hurricane strength, it is forecast to make yet another 90 degree turn and head due north, towards the Florida pan handle.

Since the NHC only attempts a maximum forecast of 5 days, there still may be much more chaos to come.

What a strange and unusual hurricane!

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

American Beauty reviewed by Pitchfork

Pitchfork, the popular music website mostly located in Chicago, typically concern themselves with new music.

But every so often they go back and review something from the past. On its 50th anniversary, they cover my favorite popular music album of all time.

Pitchfork virtually never give an album a perfect 10, it is quite rare. But they picked the right one this time! Grateful Dead: American Beauty / The Angel’s Share Album Review.

Released in November 1970 and reissued for its 50th anniversary this month, American Beauty is a pure and potent representation of Dead-ness as a philosophical outlook. Earlier in the year, with Workingman’s Dead, the band made an abrupt about-face from the murk and discord of previous albums toward the bluegrass and folk that had captivated Garcia in his early days as a musician, with some Buck Owens and Merle Haggard thrown in for good measure. American Beauty, which came just five months later, uses a similarly earthy palette, but its concerns are quite different. The songs of Workingman’s Dead, filled with archetypal characters of the American West, involve a fair amount of rambling and gambling. American Beauty is more like a guided meditation, or a solitary swim in a cool, clear lake.

I found myself nodding along in agreement with the entire review, except for the one part where I had to stop and look up the meaning of "eremitic".

Happy Anniversary, American Beauty.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Jesus' Son: Stories: a very short review

I have no recollection as to when or how I found out about Denis Johnson, my guess is that I read his obituary a few years back, but somehow I ended up picking up his collection of short stories: Jesus' Son: Stories.

I believe that these are autobiographical, though fictionalized, stories that cover a period in Johnson's life when he was suffering from extreme poverty, clinical depression, substance abuse, homelessness, and more.

The stories are astonishing and vivid, and though they are years old now, they still have the immediacy and power of a bandage ripped from a wound.

Each story is like a nightmare, a nightmare in which you bolt awake, drenched in sweat, pulse pounding, gasping for breath, completely confused and baffled as to where you are and what just happened.

I doubt I'll ever forget these stories, but I'm also not sure if I'll go back to them again.

I'm somewhat afraid to (although I guess that means I need to?)

But I might try something else of his. What should I try? Train Dreams? Tree of Smoke? Nobody Move? Angels?