Friday, February 25, 2011

Old Book, New Book #31: The Accidental Billionaires -> The Devil in the White City


I took this book with me on my President's Day weekend road trip to La Verkin, and as the weather was pretty wet and cold I had plenty of down time for reading, and I actually had this one finished off by the end of Saturday, leaving me without much to read on Sunday afternoon.  Oh well... at least it was a good read. :)  If you've seen the film "The Social Network", this is the book that that film was adapted from, and the subject matter is pretty much the same.  There are a few additional story elements added in the film for the purpose of story-telling, and a little more jumping around the timeline than in the book, but having seen the film first, the book didn't really add anything too crucial. Which I guess means the film was a pretty decent adaptation.  Anyway, it was a nice quick vacation read, so if you're looking for something like that, you might like this.

Up next is "The Devil in the White City", recently recommended to me by a good friend who happened to own a copy, and long ago mentioned to me by my old roommate CJ, who at the time was showing me around the Midway in Chicago, where a significant portion of this book is set. I don't know much about it, other than it is a work of historical fiction (I guess you could argue the same about "The Accidental Billionaires") about the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893 and a serial killer who was there at the time. I think it's got potential to be pretty good.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Zion in Winter

So, my "escape the winter" road trip to St. George didn't really pan out quite as planned. I mean, I guess cold and rainy might be slightly better than cold and snowy, but neither one was really what I had in mind.  Nevertheless, we refused to let the damp weather dampen our spirits and we sallied forth to enjoy the out of doors. At least for a few hours each day. :)

Saturday morning, Laci took us to a place called Red Cliffs Recreation Area, and after cruising Alicia's Murano through a potential flash flood zone, we enjoyed a drizzly stroll along the Red Reef trail.  We saw some cool rock formations and pretty much had the place to ourselves for most of the time we were there.  We did eventually see some other people on our way out, but it was kind of cool to be the only ones there.

Flash Flood Area!
The less wet of the two flash flood zones we had to cross is down there in the background.  Glad that the rain didn't cause us any real trouble.

Red Cliffs Recreation Area
Probably my favorite spot on our hike. Loved the weathering and coloring on the rocks.  Clearly the stream was not at its highest level.

Laci & Dustin
Laci & Dustin at another cool spot

Chilly St. George Overlook
Laci trying, unsuccessfully, to hide from the rain and wind

We also made a brief and bone-chilling stop at an overlook up on the hill above St. George, but after about 30 seconds of freezing, we all decided we'd be okay to spend the rest of Saturday in-of-doors.  We watched a little Planet Earth, played games with the extended family, I showed off my Kinect skills, and I finished the book that I'd brought with me to read on the trip. Just a few days too early. :)

Sunday morning we were lazy, watching snow fall outside (but not stick) and playing Canasta. Then we went to church (all 3 hours! I mean, I usually do that, but not always when I'm on vacation and the only person I know in Elders Quorum is the guy I met two days before on the way down).  After church it looked nice outside so I took myself for a brief walk at sunset and did a little shooting along the way.  Despite the whole looking nice thing, it was still pretty chilly, and I soon found myself back at the house, in plenty of time for more cards, Kinect, and "see if Jake wants to be set up with my 41 year old friend who has 6 kids" time with Laci's sisters-in-law. :)

Snowy Sunset
The higher hills were all covered in snow Sunday and Monday

Monday morning brought more laziness and eventually we got in the car and headed over toward Zion National Park.  We made a brief stop at Grafton, a ghost town near Rockville, and happened to show up while some historical worker guy was busy with some restorations, and he let us into one of the buildings and let us look around a bit more than we would have otherwise.

Grafton Church
Church building in Grafton

Then it was on to Zion, where we first stopped at the Weeping Rock trailhead and made the short, and somewhat snowy hike up to Weeping Rock.  There was plenty of melting snow to "weep" off the rock, and an impressive array of icicles as well.

Frozen railings at Weeping Rock
Icy Handrails at Weeping Rock

Weeping Rock w/ Icicles
Icicles and "Weeping" at Weeping Rock

After that, we drove the rest of the way up the road to the last stop, which is where you go to hike the Narrows when the river isn't surrounded by snow on all sides. We strolled the full length of the paved and rather snowy walkway out to where you actually start hiking in the river. Despite there being snow and ice everywhere, it actually wasn't too chilly. I felt perfectly warm in my hoodie. And the snow made for some picturesque scenes.

Just around the riverbend
Along the trail

Narrows Trailhead
At the entrance to the Narrows.  The large rocks in the foreground are fairly representative of what's waiting for you in the river bottom as you hike. Part of the fun that is the Narrows. :)

After that we headed back to La Verkin for a late lunch and then hit the road. Got home last night around 10.  It was nice to get away and very nice of Laci's family to host us and take such good care of us.

More photos on Flickr.

Old Book, New Book #30: Consider the Lobster -> The Accidental Billionaires


So, as I was preparing for my road trip last week (for those who can't wait for a recap here, photos can be found here), I realized I only had about 20 pages left in my current book, and that I would probably need to get a new book to take with my on the trip if I wanted some reading for downtimes. And I didn't really want to have to pack two books just for the last 20 pages of the first one. So I buckled down and finished off David Foster Wallace's "Consider the Lobster" in the last hour or so before my ride came to pick me up.

I know I've been reading this book for a while now, since December, I believe.  As a collection of essays it definitely didn't provide the same impetus to get to the end that a good novel generally does, so that probably made it easier to put down and just work on it from time to time when I needed something to fill up a little bit of time.

There's definitely a broad variety of topics addressed in this collection, and I have to say it started out pretty rough.  The first essay is about the Oscars of Adult Video (aka porn), and after a couple pages of that, I decided I'd rather just skip it. The next essay or two were critiques of literature that I haven't read written by authors that I am not familiar with (James Joyce among others).  Finally I hit the essay that made me think I ought to stick with this book to the end.  And to be honest, the topic was pretty esoteric as well. It was a review of an English language usage guide. Which, I've never heard of a usage guide before, but it seems to be the equivalent of a dictionary, but for grammar.  DFW spends a fair amount of time talking about why this particular usage guide is particularly well-written, but the part that really grabbed my attention was the topic of "smart" kids who are able to speak like adults, but fail to communicate effectively with their peers (other kids) and that really they are lacking a certain kind of intelligence in not being able choose their communication to fit their audience.  Or something like that. This was a couple months ago.

I also particularly enjoyed essays about John McCain's 2000 campaign, one about the author's experience with September 11th in an Indiana suburb, and one about star athletes and their inability to produce memoirs that consist of much more than cliches.  There was also an essay about Dostoevsky, or more particularly one man's compendium of analysis of Dostoevsky that got me thinking maybe I should take a crack at Crime and Punishment or the Brothers Karamazov at some point in the near future.

Anyway, minus the first essay that I skipped, I thought this was a thought-provoking collection of essays and I think I would consider reading more of Wallace's work, though I probably won't start with Infinite Jest first, given its 1079 pages.

The book I grabbed just hours before that at the tiny library branch near my work was "The Accidental Billionaires", a book about the creation of Facebook by Ben Mezrich (author of "Bringing Down the House").  If you've seen "The Social Network", it's the book that that film was adapted from.


Friday, February 18, 2011

On the road again, can't wait to get on the road again...

After a significant break from traveling (my last vacation was my trip to Hawaii in October), I'm sitting at work today counting down the hours until I can't head home and then hit the road for a little road trip down to the St. George area.  And yes, it does look like it'll be somewhat rainy down there this weekend, but I'll take rainy over snowy. :)

In addition to this weekend, my spring is starting to line up with a good number of trips as well.  Back to Hawaii in March, Moab in April, Washington in May (and maybe a trip to Orlando as well for work if things work out right).  The first year I was employed full-time I feel like I did tons of traveling, and then last year I made it a goal to save up some emergency time off, and also knew we were planning on going to Hawaii at some point, but because I never knew when, I mostly just sat on my time off so that I'd have enough for Hawaii when the time came.  And I did still manage a couple short trips to St. George and trips up to Lava Hot Springs and Bear Lake, so I wouldn't say I didn't do any traveling last year. Just nothing too big and exciting (Hawaii excepted, of course).

I'm excited to do a little more traveling this year.  Should have at least enough time off for another week in the fall or something.  Another cruise would be fun. I always love DC, and wouldn't mind going back to Chicago for another round. Or any number of things. Maybe Hawaii again. Who knows? Just feel like this could be a good year to get back out on the road.  And it's nice to already have some trips to look forward to.

It's a good feeling.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why would prosperity lead us to seek other gods?

Last night in my Institute class, we read the following passage from Deuteronomy Chapter 8, that talks about the danger that once God has blessed us many good things and met our temporal needs of then forgetting about God and thinking that we got all those good things by our own power and might: 
10 When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee.
 11 Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day:
 12 Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;
 13 And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied;
 14 Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;
 15 Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint;
 16 Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end;
 17 And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth.
 18 But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day.
 19 And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the Lord thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish.
 20 As the nations which the Lord destroyeth before your face, so shall ye perish; because ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the Lord your God.
Certainly this is a common pattern that we see in the scriptures. But what really stuck out to me was in verse 19, where it says that having forgotten God and feeling like we did it all on our own, that the people would "walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them".  And I started wondering, why when God has given us so much and our needs are met, why would we then worship other gods?  You'd think that if God has given us everything we need, if we aren't going to worship him, wouldn't we just not feel like we need gods at all?  But clearly, as I've been reading the Old Testament over the last couple years (I'm still only about halfway through), the children of Israel love to have them some other gods before Him.  Pretty much every other generation there are idols ("groves") and Baal worshipping and offering sacrifices in places that God didn't authorize ("high places").  So it's not like their prosperity led them to atheism. It actually led them to seek out more gods to worship.  

So I was thinking, maybe it's because even when God gives us everything we need, out of His great wisdom, He doesn't give us everything we want, at least not on the timetable that we think is best, or at the level of effort that we are willing to put forth to receive it. And sometimes rather than accept that He knows better than we do what is best for us, we turn to other sources that we think can give us everything we want and right now, and with less effort than is required for real spiritual growth.  And of course, these spiritual get-rich-quick schemes, these junk food joys, can bring us momentary pleasures, but in the end they are like cotton candy, leaving us empty or worse, if we eat too much, with a spiritual stomach ache.

Anyway, that's what I was thinking about last night in my class. Thoughts?

Monday, February 07, 2011

Average Garbage Collection

The garbage collection situation at my work is an interesting on.  When I first started here 2 years ago, it seemed like people came fairly regularly to empty the trash cans in our office suite.  I definitely remember that every Friday afternoon someone would come and vacuum right outside my office and I'd have to close my door.  But somewhere along the way, things got weird. Sometimes we'd go days at a time without having anyone show up to empty the trash, and then randomly we'd get someone coming every day for a week.  Sometimes I joke that our trash collection is done on a Fibonacci scale (1 day,1 day, 2 days, 3 days, 5 days, 8 days, 13 days...)  We don't generate enough trash to merit daily pickup, but we definitely could use it more than every couple of weeks.  When things get really bad, we eventually call central dispatch and ask them to send someone.

Then this new year started and suddenly they were coming every day again.  Not sure what changed, but at you didn't have to worry about running out of space for trash.  Then just as suddenly, a week or two ago, they just stopped coming again.  And the trash is full.  Here's mine (complete with today's breakfast plate and a healthy supplied of used tissues):


The large can in the common area of the suite has had an old keyboard and a fluorescent light tube balanced on top for about a week now.

In the end we've decided that the janitorial staff must be contractually obligated to pick up our trash an average of once a week.  So they just decided to come 52 times in January and be done for the year. :)

Update: Someone must have called them down, because they are now in the process of gathering up all the garbage and piling it in the entry way to our suite.  I assume this is an intermediary step on the path to actually getting rid of the garbage, but if not, I think I liked things the way they were before better.


Thursday, February 03, 2011

Guess I spoke too soon, and something I read that I wanted to share

So...turns out that I may still be sicker than I thought.  I had stopped sucking on cough drops and cut back on my generic cold medicine to just twice a day, and I was down to just a mild, dry cough. And then somehow I ended up back at sore throat ville.  And increased congestion.  Is this a new cold? Or just the old one making a comeback, aided by the super cold weather we've been having? Who knows? I just know it sucks. I don't want to be sick any more? Do I not want to be sick any more enough to get to bed at a reasonable pre-11 time? Guess we'll find out...

In other non-sicky news, I was reading through this month's Ensign last night, and I found a "Gospel Classic" from President Packer titled "Strengthening the Less Active", adapted from an address he gave back in 1969.  I won't recap the whole thing for you here, but I felt like the crux of it was that we should ask less actives to participate more in the areas where they are able to (prayers, giving short talks and testimonies) and not be so worried that they'll be scared off if we ask them to participate.  Pres. Packer compares activity/participation to medicine and says that by not giving less actives opportunities to participate, it's like we invite them to the hospital but then take all the medicine for ourselves:

When a home teacher brings a lost sheep to meetings, it is only a beginning of his being found. Where can he be used for his spiritual benefit? Actually, there aren’t many places in which a leader can use a person who is struggling for worthiness. Unfortunately, it seems that those few situations in which we could use them—to offer prayers, to make brief responses, to bear testimony—are almost invariably reserved for the active: for the stake presidency, for the high council, for the bishopric, for the patriarch, for the auxiliary leaders. Indeed, we sometimes go to great lengths to import speakers and participants—to the loss of our hungry ones.

At a ward sacrament meeting I attended recently, a sister had been invited to sing whose husband was not active in the Church. He was, however, at the meeting. The bishop wanted a very special program for this occasion. His first announcement was: “Brother X, my first counselor, will give the opening prayer.” His second counselor gave the closing prayer.

How unfortunate, I thought. The three men in the bishopric struggle with such concern over the spiritually sick, then take the very medicine that would make those people well—activity, participation—and consume it themselves in front of the needy!

There are some fantastic stories that he shares and it just reminded me that what's important isn't so much that the talks and prayers and everything that happens at church be perfect, but that we give people opportunities to learn and grow.  That participation is probably more important than sitting and listening to others participate, even though both are important. 

He closes with a fantastic story of the principle in action in a stake conference he presided over, where opportunities were given to some who otherwise probably would not have been asked to speak, and great things happened. Anyway, I really liked the article and recommend it.