Friday, August 14, 2015

Book Review: Far Beyond the Pale by Daren Dean

I got a review copy of +Daren Dean's new novel, Far Beyond the Pale and was pleasantly surprised. I've been given review copies before and I've wondered if the people who are giving them to me have read my other reviews before asking. I don't think I'm an overly generous reviewer. I want people to trust me if I recommend something. Enough about me. How's the book?

In this darkly comic novel Nathan "Honey Boy" Kimbrough narrates a boy's search for a father and his mother's search for a "good man" in the mid-1970s. (from Amazon.)

Far Beyond the Pale had a real Tales of a Texas Boy (by +Marva Dasef ) feel to it, which is probably a book you've never heard of but that I heartily recommend as well. Tales is available on audiobook through audible and it's worth the listen even if it's short, only a bit over two hours I think. Daren Dean's novel was in my sweet spot for nostalgia. I grew up in the seventies in the South and while this takes place in Missouri instead of Alabama (where I grew up until I was 11) it has a real Southern novel feel to it that I particularly liked and felt right at home with. 

The language is what really stands out in this book. Daren Dean's command of colloquial Southern at the time was almost lyrical to read.

Here are some of my favorite quotes. Remembering that this book is narrated from the point of view of a thirteen year old in Missouri in the seventies:

  • Aunt Oleta had always been the type that if you throwed her in the river she’d float upstream 
  • Vaughn knew when to disappear. He had a sixth sense about cops, and a scanner. 
  • “I’ll tell you what . . .” Roy chewed on his peanuts with his front teeth. “If she gets to heaven she’ll ask to see the upstairs.” 
  • Mrs. Trapp always went around with hair piled up Pentecostal style.
I loved reading it. I liked the people in it and I liked the kid's real struggle to be good in spite of not always doing good.

The cast of characters is varied and they're fleshed out enough to feel like real people. There were times when I caught myself wanting to go to the crappy little town and visit it, stop at the gas station and get some of that Doctor Prune Juice and shoot the breeze with the gas station owner... forty years since the book was supposed to have taken place and the part where it's fiction make such a trip unlikely barring my finding a TARDIS.

I've been reading a lot of books lately where the people in them are all bigger than life, great at everything with no flaws. Space Opera type √úbermensch as the good guys and incredibly hollow bad guys... I haven't reviewed those. Mom said if I couldn't say something nice about someone I shouldn't say anything... the characters in this book are flawed and human. They seem to be trying with what they've got doing what they can to get by. Some with the church, and some by trying to find safety and security for themselves and their son in the arms of a man... I know people like these people in this book. Nobody's an √úbermensch and nobody's perfect, but they're all trying. I like that... to be fair, Vaughn isn't trying in any kind of way anybody else likes, but he's playing the hand he was dealt and doing the only way he knows how... it's not a good way and probably won't end well for him.

If you're looking for a good summer-time read I recommend Far Beyond the Pale

* Interesting note: he used the word "dork" in the book and I thought that seemed like an anachronism until I looked up the etymology and saw that it was coming into common usage in the Midwest in the mid-to-late sixties and originally mean well, penis and came to mean someone who looked uncool which is exactly how it's used in the book. 

** I had a review copy (digital) and there were some editing issues that I suspect have been cleared up by now. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

New Orleans - A love letter to a city on a river.

In 2005 my work took me to New Orleans on July 10th. Hurricane Dennis had just turned and was going to miss New Orleans and it was a month before Katrina got there.I was there from July 10th - August 8th for work.

I didn't take enough pictures.

It was the first time I'd been to New Orleans since 1976 when I was 8 and I don't remember it then. I remember the King Tut exhibit but I don't remember the town, or didn't think I did.

New Orleans has been on my mind a lot lately. Summer's here and it's been hot and humid. I've never done humid like New Orleans does humid though. I don't drink so Bourbon Street I just skipped and my whole three weeks was spent in the French Quarter. I ate everywhere. I walked the streets looking at things, just the homes and houses were fantastic. The Garden District is beautiful. The wrought iron is lace frozen in place. The streets in the morning are wet and empty. But not desolate empty. They're the empty of a deep breath being taken and held... it's the quiet of the held breath. You can see people stirring in shops. The little crowd at Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait. The oppressive humidity and complete lack of a breeze... the hidden gardens you can glimpse through wrought iron gates.

I loved New Orleans from the first time I stepped out of the cab into the heat on Chartres Street. I loved the voodoo. I love the cemeteries. I love the street performers. I loved the music and the food and the history and old buildings and the feeling that this place, this city is a place where wonderful things can happen just because it's Tuesday. I loved every day of my time there and I didn't take enough pictures. I didn't take enough pictures because there was a weird familiarity to it all. When I saw something it wasn't like seeing it for the first time it was like seeing it again after a long absence.

I didn't fall in love like a new lover, I fell in love with the town like old High School friends seeing each other again decades later. It was beautiful and wonderful and had a stately grace to it in the mornings... remember, I didn't walk down Bourbon Street more than a block at most. I crossed it a couple times but didn't care for it. That's not my thing. I could smell the piss and puke smell of Bourbon Street anytime a gentle lazy breeze would come from that direction but that wasn't what I went for and it's not anything I took any part in.

I wouldn't have thought I could miss a town I'd only visited for work but I have been missing it lately. I'd like to go back. I don't know that I could go back and visit it long enough to stop wanting to go there. I know the city is doomed.
I know that at some point the water will come and fill the bowl that is New Orleans and when it does that, my favorite city, will be swallowed up and that makes it sweeter I guess, bitter sweet. It's so special and so wonderful and there's no other place like it in the world.

It's unique and amazing and if you ever get a chance go. Go and do all the tourist things. Take the ghost tours, the graveyard tours, the historic walks and bus rides. Do it all, and in the mornings get up early and just walk around before the heat gets too hot, before the sun's too high, and before the press of crowds happens and just walk and take it all in. Look at the buildings, the architecture, the history, the windows and the wrought iron. That's what I remember the best is my solitary walks in the morning just looking at the city and remembering memories that I couldn't possibly have but that the city itself has and has so strongly they infected me.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Comparison: Fitbit Flex, Striiv Touch (Walgreens), and Jawbone Up Move

Image result for fitbit flexI've worn three different step counters for the past few weeks to compare them. Here are the results of a week's worth of data from them. I wore them when I walked, hiked, and worked (retail) I used them all to track my sleep as well, but that's not what I'm reviewing here. I'm talking about their step counting accuracy. All three are ONLY good for counting steps and I haven't tried using them in my sock or whatever for biking so I can't speak to that at all. They're pedometers, not really fitness trackers I don't care what they call themselves. And that's a gripe I have about a lot of these things. Their APPS may help track your fitness but the gadgets themselves... they're pedometers. Swimming? Nope. Biking? Nope. Weight lifting? Nope. Stop calling yourselves fitness trackers. You're not. You're hundred dollar pedometers. You're not fooling anybody with the fancy names.

The three devices are the:

$86 Fitbit Flex (amazon affiliate link) - pedometer, sleep tracker, worn on wrist, no watch
$80 Striiv Touch (Walgreens) - pedometer, sleep tracker, worn on the wrist, has a watch.
$45 Jawbone Up Move - pedometer, sleep tracker, worn on your belt or in a pocket.

They came in about as accurate as their prices would indicate (Prices are accurate as of May 30, 2015) with the most expensive, $86 being the best, the Touch was slightly less money and less accurate, and the Jawbone Up Move was MUCH less money and FAR less accurate as well. Here are the numbers I got on my test week & my test walks (how I got them is below)

Weekly TotalDaily AvgAvg on 700 step walk*% accuracy
Fitbit Flex60446863568698%
Striiv Touch32949470760286%
Jawbone UP26872383936452%
So... will I keep wearing all three? I'm not sure I will keep using the Up Move. I like that I can put it in my pocket because at some jobs watches aren't okay, like in a factory or any job with rotating/moving machinery. You don't want your arm ripped off in the interest of counting steps... or the band ripped off (more likely) and run through the machine. So, I like having the UP Move in my pocket, but if it's not going to count correctly why bother? Also I like the Up Move's battery. It's replaceable and not rechargeable but it lasts for WEEKS. The other two need charging, Striiv every other day and Fitbit Flex about every 5 days.

The Striiv Touch is nice because the app has a game in it where steps are used to generate energy that you use to do things like build castles or gardens or trees and such and you can build a little fantasy world so I imagine that'd be motivational if you only needed a few hundred more steps to upgrade your Tiger Garden you're more likely to do it I think. Also, it has a time feature that's nice on a wrist wearable. I hate that the Fitbit Flex doesn't do anything but show me five (or fewer) dots based on my steps. Really Fitbit? Is a clock that hard? Yes, the newer ones have them and they cost a significantly more. That seems stupid of fitbit. 

All in all they are all good at something but if you're getting one to be a pedometer that's accurate I'd go with the Fitbit Flex. It was VERY accurate. Honestly, I'd probably go with a newer fitbit that tells you what time it is, but I didn't test one of those because I don't have one so I can't really recommend something I've never used. That'd be crappy of me.
* I walked a fixed distance of 700 steps on flat ground without carrying anything in the hand wearing the bands so it was swinging like normal. The Jawbone Up Move was on my right hip the whole time on a belt using the clip it comes with. I did five laps and counted the steps each time, stopping at 700 and then taking them off and setting them on the ground while I counted them so I wouldn't get any accidental steps as I recorded results. Scientific? Nah, not really, but better than just guessing which was most accurate. I did five laps and averaged the numbers for my chart here.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Apologies are gifts, not demands!

Watching Survivor last night something struck me about apologies that I hadn't thought of before.

One of the players had said things that were incredibly cruel, intentionally hurtful, and just generally beyond what is acceptable discourse even in the context of a million dollar game. He went too far, period.

Months later, on the reunion show he was prompted to apologize on national TV and he sort of did. I say sort of because it wasn't a great apology. So after the apology the cameras of course cut to her and she was asked, "Do you accept his apology?"
She took a LOT of words to say that she did not accept it. Then the apologizer went on to tell her that if she didn't accept it she would never be the person God intended her to be, or some such. He was demanding she accept the apology.

That's not how apologies work.

An apology, a real apology, a sincere apology, is a gift. It is freely given and the other person's acceptance or not is NOT up to the one apologizing. An apology is a gift, not a demand for forgiveness. And the thing is... a person doesn't HAVE to accept an apology. If you do something horrible to me and then simply apologize but show no real remorse, no intention to not do the thing again. Not only do I not accept your apology, but you've made it worse by attempting to black-mail me into forgiving me.

A lot of people use an apology to place the bad-guy onus onto the initial victim of their being a jerk. Look. I stabbed her  kids 93 times but I apologized and the bitch didn't accept it. She's the one with problems! Um. No. You are.

When I apologize to someone, and I've had to do it more than once because God knows I'm not perfect, my hope is that they will accept it but I can't demand or expect it. I've violated their trust. I've hurt them. It's okay for them to need, want time to heal, and get over it, and learn to trust me again by my showing, every day for the rest of my life, that I meant the apology by NOT DOING IT AGAIN.

Is it healthy for them not to accept my apology? Not my problem. All I can do is sincerely apologize and endeavor to make sure I earn their trust back at some point if they're willing to give it. You can no more demand someone trust you than you can demand someone accept an apology or respect you. Those are internal things, those are choices we make as people. We can't make another person do a lot of things, as much as we'd like to sometimes. So, if you apologize and they don't accept drop it. You've done the first part. You've given the gift. Whether they choose to accept it or not is on them. It may sit unopened on the table for 19 years. Fine. It's their call whether they open it or not. You just make sure not to screw things up again in the future or it'll go in the bin, opened or not.

I'll say it again because it's the important part: An apology should be a gift, not a demand, and a person is not required to accept an apology or forgive the transgressor.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Don't Laugh...

Sometimes people I like will surprise me and say something or do something that makes me think, "Oh man... do they think I'll like that?"

Somebody sends me an Obama joke, I'll laugh at Obama jokes. He's president. I don't like stuff presidents do... I open it and it's not a president joke. It's racist. I don't mean mildly racist. I mean the punch line is that he's black or mixed or... that's it. That's the punch line. Um. That's not funny. The part where they THINK it's funny, or derogatory makes me sad for them. Here's the thing. And it's not news to anybody. Our. President. Is. Black. So, as a punchline it kind of sucks. I know. He knows. Everybody knows. The thing about a punchline is it's unexpected. It's a surprise. "Two guys walk into a bar; the third guy ducks." THAT'S funny. It's unexpected. It's a play on the word bar. "Obama is half black and half white..." Um, not funny. Stop thinking I'll think it's funny.

Grown ups falling is funny. Kids fall and it's like "EEP!" *thud* and it's over. They fall so fast. They're only like >< that far from the ground anyway. No time to react. Adults though? We pinwheel our arms, we stagger around, we have lots of time to make amazing faces and noises. It's great. Unless they get hurt. Then it's not funny. Then they're hurt. That's not funny. Somebody getting hurt isn't all that funny to me, especially if it's somebody I know. Even if I don't like 'em I don't wish them ill. I don't want people to be hurt. Well, most people. You know who you are. :P

I'll leave you with this found over on reddit's long page of offensive jokes, many of which I found funny.

A girl in a bar said to me, "I wouldn't fuck you if you were the last person alive." Leaning over and whispering, I replied, "But who would be around to stop me?" Wiped the smug look right off her face.