• Readings: A Look Back

    We stocked up on books for our vacation trips, and picked up more along the way, so I have quite a backlog of book reports:

    Solar Bones, by Mike McCormack. Anne borrowed this from the library and liked it a lot, so I borrowed it from her to bring to Michigan. This is a novel, written in a sort of internal monologue — there is a definite structure or format based on paragraphs, but there are no periods and the whole book might technically be a single sentence — of an Irish engineer reminiscing about his life, his work and his family. It’s built on plenty of flashbacks and a growing feeling of tension or dread, and has a surprise twist at the end. The unusual writing was interesting (until it became second nature and faded into the background), and the characters were interesting as well, but the story itself did not really grab me. I’m glad I read it, but this book was a chore to finish.

    You Are Here, by Hiawatha Bray. Another one from the library. Subtitled “from the compass to GPS, the history and future of how we find ourselves,” this was nonfiction, an account of the history of navigation. The first chapter or two covered that history up to about 1900 — ancient navigation, the Problem of the Longitude, and so on — and the rest covered the development of radio and radar navigation, satellites, and GPS, from there looking at the ubiquitous use of GPS in smartphones. I found this on the library shelf while I was trying to find something — anything — on GIS or cartography as an art, so it really wasn’t what I was looking for, but it was well written and interesting; the only complaint I had was that it was more the story of the people involved in the discoveries/inventions, especially the more modern ones, and came across as if they had been interviewed for the book or something. It read a bit like a long piece of journalism, and I wasn’t surprised to find that the author is primarily a journalist.

    The Boy on the Bridge, by M. R. Carey. I bought this one at an Ann Arbor bookstore; it’s by the same author as The Girl With All The Gifts, and happens in the same postapocalyptic, fungus-zombie storyworld. Like The Girl With All The Gifts, it reads like young-adult fiction — and also like The Girl With All The Gifts it features a highly gifted, but also seriously flawed, young protagonist, someone a young adult might identify with — but it was a fun, fast read. I guess I just like zombie apocalypses…

    The “Imperial Radch” Trilogy, by Anne Leckie. We were home for a few days between trips and I was really at a loss for a good new book, so I read these three again. One a day: Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, all really good reads and I’m surprised I never reviewed them before. The basic story follows Breq, an “ancillary” — an augmented human, a soldier whose previous mind has been destroyed and replaced by a link to an interstellar battleship’s AI. Ancillaries are the battleship’s crew and combat troops; Breq was once a part of the Justice of Toren, but the ship was destroyed by treachery and she is the ship, all that’s left of it, and she seeks revenge. Her nemesis is Anaander Mianaai, who inhabits hundreds of cloned, mentally-linked bodies, and who for three thousand years has been leader of the Radch. But now the Radch is in decline, and civil war explodes as Anaander’s hive mind fragments into warring factions… The story is part swashbuckling space opera, part meditation on identity and gender (the Radchi do not differentiate between genders), and it’s a page-turner across all three books.

    The Genius Plague, by David Walton. Another fungus-zombie apocalypse story, I bought this one at a late-night bookstore in Columbus, Ohio. I think the basic premise here is good — a fungus from the Amazon starts infecting human brains, making them super smart but also driving their behavior, linking them into a vast, mind-controlled army trying to take over the world — but the storyline has too many coincidences, the ending is too pat, and the protagonist is a young, somewhat dickish prodigy, someone an immature audience is likely to identify with. (It didn’t really read like YA literature though.) I have my complaints, but it was a fun read.

    The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guinn. I also got this at that late-night bookstore, and I’m still working my way through it. I won’t get into the basic story, since it’s a classic and reviews can be found everywhere, but I will say that I’m surprised at how modern it feels for a book that came out around around 1970. The midgame is a bit slow compared to how the story started, but I am enjoying it.

    The Rise of Yeast, by Nicholas P. Money. Another non-fiction book from the library, subtitled “how the sugar fungus shaped civilization,” and I am really not much past the introduction but it looks good so far. Another mind-altering fungus story?

  • Lazy Day, Sunday Afternoon

    Just kicking back this afternoon. We woke up at the crack of 10:30 to a rainy day, bad weather ahead of Hurricane Florence — the “pre-math” of the hurricane? — and since it looks like a good day for housework, nobody here is moving very fast. It’s actually a bit chilly out, mid 50’s, and I am wearing a long-sleeved shirt Anne got for me yesterday while “back to school” shopping with her nieces (who all have school-age kids, and who are all in education themselves). I can do without the rain, but it feels like the start of my favorite time of year.

  • I Care About Nutrition, Part Infinity

    I was supposed to go for a lunch-hour ride today with Greg H, but his office was shorthanded and he had to bail. I went out anyway, just for an easy towpath ride, but by about five miles I was sluggish and exhausted and couldn’t go on. I stopped at Farmersville Road, ate some shot blocks and two GU packs, sat for a while for them to take effect, and then moseyed my way home. I think I guessed right: whatever ailed me was nutritional, and I felt much better on the way back.

    I also think I lucked out, because with Greg I’m sure  we would have done either Lehigh or Sals, and I would have been dying. I still have no idea what could have made me so drained — I haven’t overdone the physical activity lately, and we’ve been eating much better, since our return, than we have in about a month.


  • More Nashville

    We did a bit more sightseeing yesterday, and managed to go out to the Parthenon replica they have here. It was built for the Tennessee Centennial, and I’m guessing it was part of the same impulses that influenced the Greek Revival type buildings throughout the town. It was a pretty impressive building, and the inside (the basement, really) is now an art museum.

    Nashville Parthenon
    A full-scale model of the Parthenon in Nashville

    After that, the group split up, with some going to Reese Witherspoon’s store while the rest of us went on a brewery tour, in a section of town called “The Gulch.” The first place we went was Yazoo Brewing, and — we planned it this way — I met my old Manalapan friend Scott and his family. (They live nearby and were going to a College football game.) Really nice to catch up, and meet his wife and kids in person rather than just Facebook.

    After Yazoo Brewing, we went to the Jackalope brewery where the Reese Witherspoon crowd caught up with us. Again, awesome place and really good beer — it was kind of strange to see so many breweries with serious local cred that I’d never heard of, but it was also kind of fun… BBQ dinner after that, then we split again, the youth among us heading back to the honk-tonk part of town, while us olds checked out the free concert.

    The less said about that the better: we are probably a bit too old but it was loud, and crowded, and the act we saw — Matt and Kim — was just plain horrible. They seemed to be a cartoon parody of  a bad techno act.

    Today we’re going on a hike at a local park, and the wedding is tonight.

  • Greetings from Nashville!

    We interrupt this Michigan vacation report to say: we are now in Nashville, Tennessee for the wedding of Anne’s nephew. We left on Thursday about noon, stayed over in Christiansburg VA, and arrived here yesterday in time to go out on the town with a big portion of the wedding crew. The strip here is basically nuts — Nash Vegas, as one homeless guy said — but we got some really good BBQ, and did some serious honky-tonking, before bed.

  • Manistique: Big Spring and Indian Lake

    We were only able to reserve one night at Tahquamenon Falls, but I did get two more nights reserved at Indian Lake State Park, between Lake Michigan and the much smaller, but still huge, Indian Lake. We were almost glamping at this one: our site was near the bathroom, and we ate out for breakfast and dinner. We were right on the shore of Indian Lake, which was forbidding and choppy when we arrived. Llater that afternoon the wind picked up; it felt like, if we were back home, an incredible thunderstorm was about to begin, but all it did was blow — all afternoon and all night.

    The next day was much nicer weather, and we rode the seven miles to Big Spring, which was a huge, crystal clear pond, fed by springs coming up through fissures in the bottom. They said it produced 10,000 gallons a day, which then exited via its own stream and fed Indian Lake. Incredible color, with huge trout just swimming slowly around in the water.

    That night we ate at Big Spring Inn, and the next morning we took off for Marquette.

  • The Searchers All Say We Made Whitefish Bay

    We didn’t quite make it to Whitefish Point, but our first night on the Upper Peninsula was spent pretty close to the bay, at a campsite in Tahquamenon Falls State Park, right where the Tahquamenon River enters Lake Superior. It was pretty serendipitous, actually: the campground was supposed to be full, but I took a chance and called, and we got a reservation for one night — in the RV section. (We got a good look at RV camping here and at our next campsite, and it’s a really weird, alien world.)

    Anyway, we made it to our site in the middle of Thursday afternoon, set up camp and took a short walk down to the river mouth and lake shore, and saw a bunch of pileated woodpeckers, all hopping around on the ground eating bugs. The sunset was pretty; we watched from the riverbank as the sky grew dark, then crashed for the night in the hammock. We’d been warned about serious mosquito nastiness, but the bugs were not too bad, and it was also mush warmer than we were expecting, mid-eighties during the day and maybe 70 at night.

    Friday we packed up, then we did a road ride out to the Lower Falls on the river, about 30 miles round trip. This area is so flat that we were doing a good 17 mph  with almost no effort — it was a bit of a surprise  that there could even be waterfalls here, when we actually found ourselves at the falls they were really big (though not tall), and beautiful. It was another hot day and people were swimming;,and some teens were even playing behind the falling water.

    It was mid-afternoon when we got back to the campsite. We showered and changed, and then hit the road for Manistique.

  • Greetings From Ann Arbor!

    Well, we made it! The eight hour (and change) travel time turned out to actually be more like ten-plus, what with construction delays, rest breaks, and breakfast/lunch stops, but the trip was uneventful. We got to our bed-and-breakfast — the Baxter House, which by the way is really awesome: I’ll take photos — around 6:00.

    We didn’t do too much last night — Nicole Atkins was playing in town, but we blew it off and just grabbed dinner and drinks, outdoors at an Irish pub on Main Street; we wandered around afterward, did some people watching, and then we just walked back to our place. We tried to do a bit of reading but were both probably fully asleep by 10:00. It’s actually much warmer here than we expected, and a lot like home: highs in the upper eighties, lows around 70, though not nearly as much rain (or flooding). We brought tons of warm clothes, which will probably come into play once we’re sleeping outdoors in the Upper Peninsula.

    Today is our only full day in town. We’ll be meeting Ben’s old friend Jason, who’s getting his PhD here, so he can show us around a bit. There are many cool bookstores and coffee shops, and I have a list of great brew pubs to check out, but I have a feeling we’re only going to scratch the surface of what’s on offer here.

  • Just A Test

    This is a shot of VolksPlatz and other Musikfest shenanegans, from the Broad Street bridge over the Monocacy and colonial industrial quarter. I took it on our way home the other day, and I’m posting it here as a test, to see about blogging from my phone.

  • The Party’s Over!

    Musikfest 2018 has now come and gone. I’d guess that between the heat and the rain (and flooding), this one’s going to be a bit of a disappointment when they finally tally up the money and attendance — we certainly didn’t go as much, and when we did we noticed the crowds were kind of small.

    For our part, we were a bit spoiled by the early evening concert series at the Moravian church & chapel, and also the new beer garden at the Sun Inn: we saw two shows a night, Tuesday through Friday, and did not even go down once to the main VolksPlatz/FestPlatz areas. Nor, for the umpteenth year, did we get anything to eat or drink from any vendors. We pay for our Musikfest experience by putting up with it in our neighborhood…