Superfluous Matter
Central America Trip

After a number of social-life related delays I managed to push through this morning and finish up my trip blog for my recent adventure in Central America. I had a great time visiting Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras and Rob and Janet's amazing wedding in Roatán was a perfect way to complete the trip.

Books - What If? by Randall Munroe

Anyone who reads the web comic xkcd is probably aware that author Randall Munroe also has a site called what if? There he uses his background in physics and math (he worked at NASA in robotics for a while) to try to provide "serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions." He is pretty successful while also being hilarious (so many questions result in the complete destruction of earth). Last year he published a book compiling many of the articles from the site along with new exclusive content.

If you like the site then you'll like the book. I liked both quite a bit. I'm not sure if it's worth buying or not, but it is a good way to support the mountain of amazing free content Randall Munroe delivers weekly across his two sites.

More Awesome Times

I've been doing all the things lately and thought I'd like to write a few of them down for posterity while I wait until it's time to leave for the airport to do my next awesome thing.

I've been on three weekend snowboarding trips: Tahoe (Northstar+Kirkwood with Trevis), Seattle (Stevens Pass+Crystal Mountain with Trevis), and Salt Lake City (Snowbird with Alex). Despite sub-optimal conditions due to horrific drought on the west coast I had a blast on all three trips. Salt Lake City was the winner though for it's amazing snow and wonderfully run resorts. There was public transit to the mountains and I could pay with my iPhone using Apple Pay! I will definitely go back to Utah.

I went to several events with Keizo for SF Beer Week including the opening gala at Fort Mason. My favourite beer was from Speakeasy: a crazy blend of barrel-aged wonderfulness called "Joe's Ale of Strength."

I went with Mike to see "Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play" at the A.C.T.'s Geary Theatre. It was ostensibly about apocalypse survivors attempting to entertain each other by trying to recreate old episodes of The Simpsons. In actuality it ended up being a really cool commentary and exploration of how legend and myth can be born. Really surprisingly deep stuff and excellently staged.

Also with Mike I went to a fairly exclusive whisky pairing dinner hosted by the Dr. Bill Lumsden, master distiller for the Glenmorangie and Ardbeg distilleries. There were about 30 people total in attendance and Dr. Bill spent some time addressing the group and some time chatting with people individually. Along with Bruichladdich, Glenmorangie and Ardbeg are my favourite distilleries so this event was just amazing. The food was prepared by the Farallon Restaurant's chef Mark Franz and expertly paired with six different whiskies from the two distilleries. Mind-blowing.

Tonight, with Mike and two of our co-workers, I attended an interview of Neil Gaiman by Michael Chabon. Neil Gaiman is easily one of my favourite authors (hello, Sandman) and Michael Chabon is great too. He read from his new book "Trigger Warning" and I was able to pick up a signed copy before the talk. Sadly, fellow amazing author and Neil Gaiman's close friend Terry Pratchet passed away this morning. Neil spent a bunch of time reminiscing and telling awesome stories about that clever man's life. It was sad, but also very interesting and cool. He also read a bit of Good Omens, a book they co-authored.

In a few minutes I'm headed to the airport to catch a flight to Guatemala to begin a 1.5 week adventure in Central America finishing with three days in Roatán to attend and celebrate Rob and Janet's wedding! Woo!

All the things!

Books - Scott Pilgrim (Vols. 1-6), by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Scott Pilgrim (books and/or movie) is a giant love-letter to Toronto and anyone who grew up in middle-class North America in the 80s/90s. It's completely ridiculous that the movie even was made, much less widely distributed. I love them both and if video games or music or Toronto or being awesome sound good then you'll like them too.

Books - Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood's latest work is a collection of nine short stories and as such is a nice counterpoint to my Alice Munro binging. They both are adept at conveying emotion, but Munro does so through more realistic and commonplace scenarios while Atwood likes to work with more fantastical situations. If I were the essay-writing sort, or just someone with more time, I think it would be a lot of fun to develop a comparative analysis of these two truly wonderful Canadian authors.

Several stories in this collection are set in Toronto which is super great. Atwood has a fierce loyalty to my favourite city and you can feel her love of it in her descriptions of setting.

I totally recommend this book and all of her other works. I've yet to read one I didn't enjoy.

Books - Saga (Vol. 1 & 2), by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

I haven't read many graphic novels, but each one I have read has been great. So when Adrienne suggested I borrow and read the first two issues of Saga from her I readily agreed.

I wasn't disappointed. The art is stunning and the story is great. Many suggest it is like Star Wars crossed with Game of Thrones, with dashes of Lord of the Rings, Romeo and Juliet and The New Testament. Cool stuff. My only problem is that I devoured the first two issues in no time at all. I've ordered a hard-cover edition from Amazon that collects the first eighteen issues so I'm pretty excited for that.

I recommend it highly!

Books - Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, by Alice Munro

A year ago I declared that Alice Munro is awesome, that it is shameful I haven't read more of her and that I would definitely read more of her soon. But then I began the process of tearing down my life in Toronto and rebuilding it in San Francisco. It's not a great excuse, but it took me until now to read another of Munro's collections.

I enjoyed "Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage" every bit as much as "The Love of a Good Woman." Each story was a delight to read (even those of darker tone) and it is becoming clear to me that Munro has a knack for the unexpected and the subtle. In this collection I particularly enjoyed "Floating Bridge" and "Nettles" for reasons so personal I don't know how I'd begin to describe them even if I was so inclined.

I have three more collections of Alice Munro on deck, but I intend to interleave other books into my reading and not binge on the works of this amazing woman. I feel there is value in having other works in my mind for comparison. Reading this collection after Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot" made stark the notion of context I discussed in my post for that book. While I have almost no context for 19th century Russian literature I have a ton for Alice Munro's work. Many of her stories are set in Southwestern Ontario where I have spent most of my life. The descriptions of people and places are so familiar to me that I am instantly drawn in to the stories. It's fantastic.


Something unexpected happened: I got a movie credit! Movie credits happen when working at ILM, but not very often for people in R&D like myself. ILM does not own most of the property it works on and so we do not have a lot of control over how many credits are available for our staff. However we just released Strange Magic which is a Lucasfilm property. They were generous with credits and the whole R&D department seems to have been included!

I now have my own IMDb page which is super super cool. My new job continues to be awesome.

I haven't seen Strange Magic yet, but the reviews are not very positive. Apparently the look is quite good though.

Books - The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I haven't been reading much lately but when I have made the time I've been very slowly working my way through Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot," considered to be one of his best. My final project in OAC English focused on his novel "Crime and Punishment" and I've been meaning to read more from him ever since.

Neither book is an easy read, although after some research this morning I learned that I had read rather old translations of each. More modern translations are considered to be not just more accessible but also better at conveying the intent of the original text. So if you decide to pick one up I recommend choosing your translation carefully.

I enjoyed The Idiot, much as I enjoyed Crime and Punishment, however I only achieved a superficial understanding. Although Dostoyevsky's novels are very much a study of people they are all set in 19th-century, pre-revolution Russia and my knowledge of that period is extremely limited. There is just so much context I don't have.

"The Idiot" centres around a man, Myshkin, who is so kind-hearted and selfless that his peers are often baffled by his behaviour. They call him an "idiot" as a shorthand for their confusion and also as a reference to his mild case of epilepsy. The book explores his interactions in a world that doesn't understand him and uses those interactions to provide criticism of the Russian ruling class of the day. Again, I'm sure there's a lot going on for Russian history scholars, or even the average Russian, but for me I mostly paid attention to the human element. I really enjoyed the stream-of-consciousness type of narration as Myshkin tries to work through the troubles he encounters. His character feels like a very real person.

Anyway, good stuff, but very heavy. I will be going lighter for my next few books which will maybe help me reestablish a more regular reading habit.

Zhuhai/Macau/Hong Kong!

For American Thanksgiving my company gives two holidays: the Thursday and the Friday. A four-day weekend is too long for me to not use it to travel somewhere so I decided to use three of my precious and few vacation days to extend it and take a week long trip.

KJ, one of my oldest friends, has lived in Zhuhai, China (near Hong Kong) for the last ten years and I had never visited her. When she told me she and her family plan to move to Germany in 2015 I realized it was now or never. I booked plane tickets to Hong Kong for the week of Thanksgiving and got a double-entry Chinese visa in order to be able to stay with KJ and her family in mainland China (Hong Kong does not require a visa for Canadians).

In addition to seeing Zhuhai I spent a day in Macau and four days in Hong Kong. KJ was an excellent host and guide and as a result I saw so many amazing things in a very short time. The focus of the trip was definitely food and many things I ate have claimed the spot of "best I ever had" in their respective categories. Hong Kong is a wonderful food city. Besides the food I saw some great scenery, enjoyed being in a world class city and had a wonderful time catching up with a dear friend and her family.

I've written up my usual trip journal very quickly this time as I wanted to finish it before Christmas. Check it out!