Sunday, September 17, 2017

the naturalist

The Naturalist (The Naturalist Series, #1)The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Theo Cray is trained to see patterns where others see chaos—he is a computational biologist. When one of his former students is found apparently mauled to death by a bear, things about the case don’t add up. He sees things the cops missed, or refuse to see. It bothers him enough that he starts investigating similar events and is able to discover the victims’ bodies where no one else could or, if they could, no one ever bothered to look for the victims. He is determined to prove to the cops the deaths were not due to bear attacks, but to a serial killer.

Another novel that just ended. Nothing about what happened following the ending, which was pretty hard to believe as it was. A whole major character just disappears. The statistics, if true, were interesting though sad. The science behind his “discoveries” was interesting as well, if the science is valid. I haven’t had time to do any research to see if any of it is even valid. Patterns are my thing, so it might be that it is.

So much of it was far-fetched. I find it hard to believe that all of the cops in Montana are so stupid or corrupt, even the one Theo Cray decided is smart. Even the FBI guy that suddenly appears is an asshole.

It was really easy to figure out who the killer must be—not exactly an original concept (saw it on “Criminal Minds” not so very long ago). It was a compelling read—and I’m glad I chose it as my September First book. But after I finished it the plot holes and “science as magic” aspects of it keep bugging me. I will say I was glad to see the Frog in the Pot of Water myth shot down. And I’m wondering why Theo didn’t end up brain damaged from all of the times he gets beaten up (even a beatdown by a cop he deliberately provoked).

So, it was promising. If the second Naturalist book doesn’t cost much, I may even give it a shot when it’s published. Maybe one of his magic-centered books would be interesting—but I don’t know since I’m not very interested in magic.

posted by lee on 09/17/17 at 05:20 PM

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

more house - looks so much better than it did

We found out in March what hell winter weather, coupled with a half-ass builder, can do to a vacant house. The first set of photos are here, the horror movies are here, and a slideshow with more sad details is here. (All the links open in a new window.)

Scott was up there last weekend to check things over. He said the house looked like an abandoned house in Detroit as far as the landscaping went.

a prairie for a lawn
The house, with a lawn reverting to prairie. (click to see it big!)

Now I love a wild lawn (a Freedom Lawn) and wouldn’t have much of a problem with this, but I’m weird. Doesn’t add to the curb appeal to most people. The HOA and the Town of Oscoda do have a problem with this, so Scott found a ticket in the mailbox threatening pretty pricy fines if things weren’t dealt with by the 18th of August (this was on August 19). The birch tree in the yard (which you can see in the slideshow, linked above) finally gave up the struggle and needs to be removed—it’s never been very healthy there. Scott sent Scooter up to deal with the front yard.

The inside looks so much better, believe it or not, though the woodstove needs restoration.

Family room post remediation
The family room, post-remediation. (click to see it big!)

woodstore needs some love
Definitely needs some restoration—it will be pretty again. It’s a really good stove. (click to see it big!)

Breakfast area near the main break
This looks like the area below where the pipe broke, in the dining area between the kitchen and the family room. I think that’s a dog butt in the upper right corner! (click to see it big!)

lookng down into crawlspace
Looking down into the crawlspace—not sure where this is. Notice the great work the plumber did, notching into the joist. A very small example of the botched plumbing job the asshole(s) did when they cut into the joist holding up the second floor, where the joist was nearly cut through to accommodate the waste pipe for the upstairs full bathroom. (click to see it big!)

more down into the crawlspace
Another view of what lies below. Not sure where this is. (click to see it big!)

And there you have it. It looks so much better now that it’s been cleaned and demolded (is that a word?) Stay tuned ...

posted by lee on 08/26/17 at 05:27 PM

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

oh, the birds ...

Gambel's Quail by Mick Thompson, Green Valley, AZ
Gambel’s Quail by Mick Thompson, Green Valley, AZ (click to see it big!)

The Audubon website is one of my favorite places to spend time. I love birds, to watch them and to hear them. I even love gulls and pigeons. And I would love to have enough talent, time, and patience to be able to photograph them well.

Since I don’t, I was happy to find “The 2017 Audubon Photography Awards: Top 100” page on Audubon. Visitors can scroll through 100 of the entries into the annual Audubon photography contest, which accepts entries from both professional and amateur photographers. I like that each slide tells the story behind each shot.

And then, when you’re done with that, you can take a look at the 2016 100 top entries.

And then there are the bird cams ...

posted by lee on 07/30/17 at 03:45 PM

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

is it too late for the united states?

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth CenturyOn Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a primer on how to avoid letting the United States (and any other democracy) fall into tyranny. He uses the many lessons of the 20th century to demonstrate how easy it is to let democracy slip away. If you don’t think it can happen here, Professor Snyder points out: “The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands.”

His prescription isn’t easy. It involves actual thinking and avoiding knee-jerk reactions to every outrage, real or imagined. It involved paying attention to what’s real and ignoring the distractions thrown up by would-be tyrants to obfuscate the real issues. It involves not tolerating bigotry, discrimination, and bullshit, and calling them out wherever one sees it. It involves supporting the real press, the investigative journalists, and other truth tellers.

Snyder points out that tactics employed by Trump during is rallies are precisely the same tactics Hitler used in his rise to power. He cautions that the rise of a paramilitary echoes the SS. And he stresses that so many people allow tyranny to take root because it’s the easy way.

It’s a deeply disturbing book. And painful to read. But also inspiring—there are things we can do to help avoid our slide into tyranny. I wish more people would read it.

posted by lee on 06/11/17 at 04:24 PM

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

cold end to may, but roses!

The drought is definitely over. And so far, we had only one unbearable day as far as the heat goes—one day, it got up to near 90°. But, for the most part, May has been a chilly month. Today it will not get up to 65°. And it’s dreary. Overcast and damp.

But, the roses are blooming! Stanley brought some in for me, and the fragrance is just lovely.

First roses, May 30, 2017
First roses of the summer. (click to see it big!)

Roses, May 30,2017
Another shot (click to see it big!)

And yet another shot of the first roses, May 30, 2017
And yet another shot of the first roses, May 30, 2017, because why not? (click to see it big!)

Roses and Peruvian Lilies on the mantle, May 30, 2017
I put the roses on the mantle to protect them from Bad Cat Slink. (click to see it big!)

Pepper still surprises us.Earlier this month she decided to explore the ceiling—something she’s never done before, at least not that we’d ever seen!

Pepper checking out the ceiling, May 4, 2017
Perhaps she was looking for spiders? (click to see it big!)

posted by lee on 05/30/17 at 03:45 PM

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

learning stuff in photoshop

Though I’ve been using Photoshop for more than 15 years now, I’ve pretty much used it for journeyman stuff, such as making and processing graphics and photos for use on websites and in digital advertising. Haven’t had time to experiment much with it, or learn new stuff unless I have to in order to achieve an effect I want. So I decided to try to learn something new at least once a week.

Today comes from the MediaLoot blog: Make Colors Pop in Lightroom or Photoshop—I have both, but use Photoshop all the time while I haven’t had time to actually learn Lightroom. It involves using the Camera Raw filter. I used the settings from the tutorial, and here are the before (minimal processing, low-res image taken with my Galaxy phone):

flowers on the mantle, pre-filter
Flowers on the mantle, before processing (click to see it big!)

Flowers on the Mantle, filter applied
Flowers on the mantle, after applying camera raw filtering (click to see it big!)

I think the second image does look a lot better. So much so that I’m willing to use the preset filter I made with the tutorial on other photos. But I also think I need to learn more about what I’m actually doing so I can twitch the filter to make it look even better.

Here are two more experiments. I think the processed photos are much better—these are images taken with my Canon:

Slink in the Window, May 25, 2016, no processing
Slink in the Window, May 25, 2016, no processing (click to see it big!)

Slink in the Window, May 25, 2016,color processed
Slink in the Window, May 25, 2016, after filter application (click to see it big!)

Pepper in the Window October 29 2015 no processing
Pepper in the Window, October 29, 2015, no processing (click to see it big!)

Pepper in the Window October 29 2015 color processed
Pepper in the Window, October 29, 2015, after filter application (click to see it big!)

So, cool. Learned something new.

posted by lee on 05/24/17 at 05:20 PM

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

cat snot & other tribulations

This afternoon, I decided to open the window for a while. It was wicked hot earlier this week, but now it’s just cold.

Slink was here, in the living room:

image
Slink snoozing. (click to see it big!)

Which is at the front of the house and includes getting by the dog to get to the window at the back of the house.

But he managed to do it, probably by teleportation since it was instantaneous.

He then proceeded to rub against my face as I was opening the window. Then sneezed in my face. A full, snot-laden, allergy-induced cat sneeze.

Which caused me to step back fast—stepping right into the dog’s water bowl.

Normally it’s just an “oh shit” moment. But I’ve been sick for a week (allergies or a cold, who knows?) and am exhausted because last night I 1) binge-watched every episode of Marcella on Netflix and 2) got very little sleep once I did get to bed since every time I settled down, I started coughing. And trying not to cough so I wouldn’t wake Stanley. Which made the coughing worse, of course.

(Marcella was very good. But a lot of holes, kind of built-in to the series—she suffers from fugue states, it seems—maybe to explain things where you don’t really know what happened but seem to be resolved so the story continues. Hmm. Maybe these get resolved in season two?)

Anyway, after stepping into the dog’s water bowl, I just started laughing (while sopping up the water), which made me start coughing again. Which made me think about the benefits of Depends.

It’s just too cold for May.

posted by lee on 05/21/17 at 07:00 PM

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

when will there be good news

When Will There Be Good News? (Jackson Brodie, #3)When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book introduces a character I like even more than Jackson Brodie: Reggie, a smart, loyal, and resourceful 16-year-old girl strives to do the right thing while dealing with the worst circumstances.

This novel, like the earlier two in the series, is far from perfect. Sometimes there are just too many details and too many characters, sometimes there’s not enough detail about the characters who drive the plot. Not every thread is wrapped up or resolved—you can only hope things are resolved in the next JB novel (which I will read as soon as I can download it from the library) or, hopefully, the one after that. (These really are not standalone books—you’ll get very lost if you don’t read them in order.)

I love the humor of the characters. I love learning more about the characters—even the ones that are, really, unnecessary to the plot, such as Louise (she was introduced in JB2, and was unnecessary there, too) other than getting Jackson out of a sticky spot or two. (I like her, and hope it ends up well for her—she deserves a happy resolution.)

The story revolves around a 30-year-old massacre of a family leaving one survivor, a killer, a train wreck, an orphan, and fierce loyalty to loved ones. There are very sad events, some brutal events, and plenty of humor and hope. It left me wanting to know what happens next.

posted by lee on 05/20/17 at 03:38 PM

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

one good turn

One Good Turn (Jackson Brodie, #2)One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is what happens after “Case Studies,” with two the same characters: Jackson Brodie and Julia (who has become Jackson’s sort-of girlfriend). Brodie has moved to France, but gives the impression that he’s kind of bored with it. He’s in Edinburgh for a festival because Julia is performing in a play. While there, he witnesses a road rage incident, which spins out to having all sorts of repercussions.

In the meantime, a very rich but very criminal home developer who is about to be taken down for fraud has a heart attack while with a woman providing “favors” and his wife, Gloria, decides she doesn’t want to be bothered by his employees and minions so tells them he’s off somewhere. This appears to be a side story, but ...

Jackson, while doing a bit of sightseeing, comes across the body of a drowned woman, but loses it (the body, I mean) as he’s trying to pull it away from the incoming tide. This sets up a the introduction of Louise, a Scottish cop (and her son, Archie, and his bad friend, Hamish). And very interesting character, though it’s hard to see what she ads to the actual plot. Even after everything is resolved, Louise seems to be a set-up for a future Jackson Brodie book. Which is fine—I like her, just don’t see the point of her character in this particular tale. Events involving Louise and her son just kind of hang. Unresolved threads here. Maybe for the next JB novel (which I will download next).

A central theme revolves around matryoshka (the Russian dolls that stack inside each other), and indeed the entire plot is matryoshka. It all makes sense in the end, though it’s kind of dizzying while in process.

What I enjoy a lot about the way Atkinson spends a lot of time with the inner stories of many, but not all, of the characters. Some people say it bogs down the plot too much, but I think the characters’ development is the point of Atkinson’s Brodie books and not so much the plot, and I enjoy this.

There was one reference to “Case Studies” that did bother me, and that was in reference to one of the characters in that novel, her ultimate fate—seemed gratuitous and pointless. I won’t get into it because I don’t want to spoil “Case Studies” for anyone.

The main problem I have with this, and with “Case Studies,” is the plots do not quite resolve. Things are left hanging; some answers are just assumptions the reader draws based on hints. I don’t know yet if this is planned or if it’s just weak storytelling (or laziness) on Atkinson’s part. Or I’m just nitpicky. Maybe this novel ties up in the next ... ?

posted by lee on 05/10/17 at 02:08 PM

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

case studies

Case Histories (Jackson Brodie, #1)Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not your usual detective novel—it’s more of a series of character studies, I think, several stories that somehow all get connected. After I read the case histories (there are three in the beginning, and one more further in), and I was getting into the story, I was a little confused at first. But I like the “hero,” Jackson Brodie, and I especially like the way Atkinson draws you into each character when she limns their inner dialogues, the real thoughts that show who the person really is. It reminds me a lot of Stephen King’s writing, where he managed to make the characters seem like real people, people you actually know.

In this book, the stories of the survivors are more important than the whodunnit and really, much more interesting. And funny, and in some cases, sad.

I liked it so much I downloaded the second Jackson Brodie novel from the library.

posted by lee on 04/30/17 at 01:54 AM

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