Mother’s Day 2015

My mother passed away a few years ago, but I am lucky to have a wonderful step-mother to spend Mother’s Day with.

My wife and I drove back home in the morning to visit our mothers. I dropped her off and spent a little bit of time with my parents-in-law before going over to my parents’ house (they live in the same city).

My parents were out at the farmer’s market when I got there (a Sunday tradition for them). I played with their dog a little bit and puzzled over the mail I was receiving there. Apprently I now have a subscription to Car and Driver magazine for some unknown reason.

When they got back they announced a surprise, my best friend would be visiting as well! Apparently his parents were spending some time in the Netherlands so he’d been hanging out with my parents for company.

We chatted a bunch and made snickerdoodles. The cookie baking was a Mother’s Day activity so we joked non-stop about it. My friend and I got on our knees to be “children.” We pretended to mess up the recipe by adding “one and a half eggs.” The usual stuff.

The cookies turned out really good, obviously due to adding one and a half eggs.

We went on a walk up to “the dish.” Everyone in Palo Alto already knows what that is but I will explain for those of you who don’t know.

A lot of Palo Alto attractions are remnants of the two big owners of the land around there, Stanford and Coutts. Stanford owned a huge amount of land in the hills behind Palo Alto.

That land was never developed or turned into part of the college. Instead it is an open space preserve where you can go walking up in the hills.

At the top of one of the steep hills behind a chain-link fence is a giant satelitte dish, probably about 100 feet in diameter.

“The dish,” as everyone calls it, is part of the program to contact alien life. It sends signals out and listens for responses. Nothing yet!

We came back after the walk and opened presents. I got my step-mom a Ursula K. Le Guin interpretation of Lao-Tzu’s poetry. She likes Le Guin and both her and my dad are fans of Eastern philosophy. She seemed excited to read it and I hope it is as good as her expectations.

We hugged goodbye and I took half the cookies with me. My friend took the other half.

I went back to my in-laws house and picked up my wife there after taking some pictures. We drove back home through the heavy Mother’s Day traffic.

Happy belated Mother’s Day to everyone else’s mothers who I didn’t see yesterday!

-GoCorral

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Favorite Books

There’s this thing going around Facebook over the past couple weeks that finally reached me. No, not the Ice Bucket Challenge. I’m talking about a list of your top ten books.

Someone posts on their timeline and tags you in it. The copy and pasted section of the status reads:

“In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be the ‘right’ books or great books of literature, just ones that affected you in some way. Tag 10(ish) friends including me so I can see your list.”

I got tagged by my sister and here is my list:

Hyperion – Dan Simmons
Game of Thrones – George Martin
Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkein
Shade’s Children – Garth Nix
1984 – George Orwell
Dark Prince – Russell Moon
The Iron Ring – Lloyd Alexander
Nine Princes in Amber – Roger Zelazny
Gates of Fire – Steven Pressfield
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Obviously there are a lot of great books that I can think of that I didn’t include on here. Dune and Harry Potter for example.

I felt the list was supposed to be composed somewhat impulsively, so I stuck with what I first thought of.

So why did I pick these?

Hyperion is possibly one of the best space opera novels ever written. Dan Simmons is an excellent writer in nearly every genre. The story follows seven travelers in a space ship on a pilgrimage to the fictional Hyperion planet where a great monster, the Shrike, awaits them. The Shrike will grant a wish to one of the travelers and kill the other six. The travelers spend their voyage telling stories like in The Canterbury Tales (every story where characters sit around and tell stories now officially based off of Canterbury Tales). The stories focus on the travelers’ past lives and why they are going to get a wish. I put Hyperion on this list because it was the first book that made me realize I love fragmented stories. Like in TV shows where there’s an A plot and a B plot. I love that in books as well. Hyperion has three sequels that I’ve read as well, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and Rise of Endymion.

Game of Thrones is the latest craze. I got into the series right before book 5 came out and consumed them at a rate of about one book per month. They’re good, they’re sexy, and they’re one of my favorite genres, medieval fantasy. Plus, it has a fragmented story line! Perfect!

Lord of the Rings is also a great book. My dad spent years reading me bits and pieces as bedtime stories. We started with The Hobbit when I was six and didn’t finish until I was eleven. The Lord of the Rings also inspired my favorite hobby, Dungeons and Dragons. So this one’s got too amazing things going for it. AND FRAGMENTED ACTION  ONCE AGAIN!

Shade’s Children was my first dystopia book. It’s fairly awful as far as complex themes go. Some robots from an alternate dimension invade Earth and start hunting humans for sport. The humans hide underground, but their society is kept alive by the robots or something? Sounds like a Matrix ripoff. Still, I loved it. Also, I was eight around the time I read it and there is the barest hint of sex in the book. I’m pretty sure it was my first exposure to sex, so it is significant for that reason as well.

1984 is the quintessential dystopian novel. Also, its by Orwell who is an amazing author. I loved this book and I still love it. I love the genre. Putting Shade’s Children on my list reminded me of 1984 so I put it on as well. Like I said, I didn’t think much about the list.

Dark Prince is probably one of the weirder ones on this list. It is the last book in a trilogy. The first book is called Witch Boy. The author, Russell Moon, has only written one other book. I’m not sure why he stopped writing because his stuff is quite good (or at least I remember it being good). The book tells the story of a teenage boy who suddenly discovers he is a witch and accidentally kills his girlfriend with his newfound magical powers. He then discovers that she was part of some weird witch cult which plans to use him in a plot to take over the world or something. My memory of the book is hazy, but I do remember loving it at the time.

The Iron Ring is a story that imitates Indian fairy tales. My dad read Grimm’s Fairy Tales to me when I was a kid and I loved them.  This was a continuation of that, but in an entirely different way. The stories were vaguely familiar because they used the same themes, plot devices, and stock characters, but they were also very different due to the setting for the story. Rajas instead of kings. Rakshasas instead of the Devil. It was really cool!

Nine Princes in Amber is amazing and everyone should read it. The book is the first in a series of ten books split into two halves of five books. The series details a titanic struggle between order and chaos across all dimensions. The center of order is called Amber. The series is extremely well written. One of my favorite parts is how Zelazny handles sexual or crude stuff in the books. He always alludes, but never mentions stuff explicitly. A character curses instead of “He exclaimed, ‘Shit!'” It’s very well done and I’d recommend it to everyone as long as you don’t require female characters. There aren’t very many of them…

Gates of Fire is a historical novel about the Greek defense of the Hot Gates of Thermopylae from the Persians. The story is stunningly realistic. The Spartans fight until their swords, spears, and shields are broken. All that’s left is their hands and they fight on against the Persians. I’ve always loved reading and learning more about the ancient Greeks and Romans. This novel gave me a means to do that in a more mature way.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy always makes me laugh. I loved the books and they are one of the few novels that I have read more than once. A few of the others on this list are also in that exalted category. The book is absurdist humor in a space opera setting, both of which appeal to me greatly. The Hitchhiker’s Guide was originally a radio show which I own a recording of and listen to occasionally in the car. If you like absurdist humor you should check it out!

Let me know what your ten would be in the comments!

-Mister Ed

Taking the Bus

The college-run bus stop a few blocks from my house.
The college-run bus stop a few blocks from my house.

Because my bike was effectively unusable for the past three weeks I have been taking the bus.

I’ve never really taken the bus before. When I was in elementary school I lived a block from my school, so I just walked.

I was homeschooled for the second half of elementary school and I biked to my middle school and high school.

At college I’ve always biked or walked to class. The bus was for rare occasions when I had a poster board too big to carry on my bike.

I rarely took public transportation anywhere else besides school either. I’d bike, drive, or walk. I do this because I don’t like waiting for the bus. When I transport myself then I can go wherever I want, when I want, and I can leave in the same fashion.

I did take the train every day to summer school one year, but that is the extent of my knowledge of public transportation.

From what other people have told me, public transportation is not a pleasant experience. There are crazy people on the bus or train that yell at you. There are thieves and creepy people who seem like they’ll jump you when you get off at your stop.

There’s also the fact that someone has probably peed in your seat at some point before you sat in it. Sure, it’s been cleaned by the bus janitor, but how well did they clean it? Did they use sanitizer or did they just wipe it off with a pee sponge that has never been replaced?

Do you talk with the person next to you on the bus? My wife’s experience with this is if you do then it’s rarely a good conversation.

When I took the train for that one summer I talked with the person next to me and often had good conversations. That’s probably just coincidence though.

Taking the bus was an adjustment for me. I noticed a couple things.

I am a large man, so people don’t want to sit next to me. If I sat in a seat, it was typically one of the last few to receive another passenger.

Nobody talks on the bus except friends who got on together. There aren’t any crazies on the bus route I rode, but there aren’t any “friendlies” either.

I spent most of my time on the bus playing Candy Crush, writing notes on my iPad, looking out the window, or reading from my pocket copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

My sister says she takes the bus because its like an extra twenty minutes of time each day while someone else drives you to work. I guess that’s true, but I still prefer freedom from the bus schedule on my bike.

That’s all for now!

-Mister Ed

The True Colors: Chapter Two

Chapter Two: Swift Troubles

“Back from the dead?” exclaimed Hornblower, “Dammit Bush! What is this nonsense you’re spouting? Explain yourself!”

Bush drummed his left hand on the table while with his right he took a sip from a beer stein that Hornblower had previously missed. “There’s little time to explain right now. I have a strong suspicion that I was followed here. I’ll only be able to explain once we get back to the others.”

“The others? What others?”

Bush leaned forward out of the booth and swept his eyes across the room before answering. “You never know who may be watching… or listening.”

Hornblower struggled not to shout. He elected to use a harsh whisper instead, “Bush! If you don’t tell me where you’ve been for the last ten years or what is going on right now then I shall count this as a strange dream and go back home in my carriage to sleep it off!” By the end of the short squall Hornblower unleashed he was on his feet instead of sitting in the booth.

Bush’s eyes flicked to Hornblower’s, to the bar, and then back to Hornblower. “We’ve been friends a long time haven’t we?”

“Not for the last ten years we haven’t. And I thin-”

“Shush! We’ve been friends a long time. I’m asking you to trust me right now. I promise I’ll explain everything soon, but right now we need to get to a safe place. Now how did you say you got here?”

“In a carriage. I left it at the middle of the port with the driver.”

“Let’s go there. Everything will be made clear soon.”

Bush hefted himself up out of the booth and made his way to the door. Hornblower sighed and pulled his coat tighter around him as they headed out into the cold night air. He thought to himself, At least it smells better outside of this place.

They walked in silence with Bush leading the way. Hornblower attempted to collect some of the dignity and poise appropriate for a man of his position as they walked. The same questions flew through his mind. Where had Bush gone? How did he survive the explosion? Where had he been all these years? And what the Devil was that poppycock about Napoleon coming back from the dead? If it was true, which it wasn’t, was it the Second Coming or something altogether different? Hornblower decided it was best not to think of such things now. He’d wanted his old friend back for so long and he feared that any excessive questioning on his part might drive the new cagey Bush away.

Still, some old rules should continue to be observed. Hornblower wouldn’t have Bush leading him to the carriage. He walked a slightly quicker pace and easily passed the Captain on his wooden leg. “It’s this way,” Hornblower said. Bush grunted and followed.

They soon reached the carriage. In the dim light, Hornblower could see the driver on the seat with his hands folded in his lap holding the reins. Hornblower waved at him, but got no response in turn. Annoyed, Hornblower opened the door to the carriage himself. He turned back to Bush and asked, “Where are we going?”

“I need to check something first. Did you bring my letter with you?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Where is it?”

“Right here on the seat where I left it.” Hornblower glanced to the seat, but saw the letter had fallen onto the floor.

“On the seat?” asked Bush. He looked at the letter on the cabin floor, then at the driver, who continued to stare straight ahead with his hands in his lap.

Over the constant sound of the sea, Hornblower heard a creak behind him of a roof tile moving slightly in the wind. Bush turned to look at the sound and then instantly lunged at Hornblower, tackling him to the ground. A gunshot blasted into the side of the carriage sending a spray of wood chips onto the ground around the two sailors.

Hornblower picked himself up onto his elbows and drew the pistol from inside his coat. Bush shouted, “Take cover! They’re on the roofs!” Hornblower rolled under the carriage just as another bullet hit the cobblestones where he was before.

Bush joined Hornblower under the carriage. As he crawled under, Hornblower saw the body of the driver fallen on the ground. He must’ve been killed by their attackers earlier and placed back on the driver’s seat as bait for Hornblower and Bush. The two horses stamped their hooves, but stayed where they were.

Between two deep breaths to keep himself calm Hornblower asked, “How many did you see?”

“Four I think.”

The gears in Hornblower’s mind turned. They attackers wouldn’t be able to get them under the carriage with pistols or rifles. If they came down he could shoot one of them easily, so they probably wouldn’t take that risk. It was also unlikely that they would keep waiting til one of them came out. If they waited til morning other people would come out and he and Bush could make their escape. If he were in the attackers’ position that left one other option.

Hornblower asked, “Do you know these people?”

“I know who they work for.”

“Are they the types to set fire to the carriage?”

“Yes.”

“Did you bring a pistol with you?”

“I brought two,” Bush replied.

“You watch the left and the rear side and I’ll watch the right and through the horses’ legs. If you see them lighting a fire, then fire back at them.”

“Aye-aye.”

Hornblower and Bush waited. Soon, Hornblower saw two boots approaching from the right side of the carriage close to the horses. In the darkness he propped himself up on his elbows. He laid the pistol barrel in the palm of his left hand and aimed three feet above one of the pairs of boots, hoping that the blind shot would hit. Hornblower heard the sound of flint on steel and fired. A split second later he heard Bush fire as well. The horses spooked with the gunfire so close to them. They ran, taking the carriage away with them. Hornblower heard a pistol fire from one of the pairs of boots while person in the other pair fell to the ground bleeding.

Hornblower jumped to his feet. The horses pulled the carriage past the body of the man Hornblower shot and the other man approaching from that direction. Hornblower whipped around and saw a second man fall to Bush’s pistols. All that remained was the one man who had wasted his shot when the horses spooked. The man fumbled for something in his coat and Hornblower rushed him.

Without a weapon of his own, Hornblower simply tackled the man to the ground. He doubted he could overpower him, but perhaps he could buy time for Bush to get up from the ground. Hornblower and the man fell. Another gunshot resonated through the dockyard. The man went limp. Hornblower felt a pistol shaped lump in the man’s coat and then the warm wet feeling of blood pouring out of the man’s chest. He had shot himself with an extra pistol when Hornblower tackled him to the ground.

Hornblower rolled off the man and stared at the clouds over the harbor as he recovered his breath. He saw the wind blowing the clouds away for a bit of starlight to shine through. Bush appeared in his vision next to the star. “We’ve got to get to your estate. They’ll have figured out who you are and will try to use Lady Barbara and your son against you. We don’t have time to wait for the constables to sort this out. We must leave quickly.”

Hornblower picked himself up, “For God’s sake, Bush! What is going on?”

“I promise I’ll explain on the way, Admiral, but we must hurry. Your family’s lives are at stake.”

“Fine. Now where’s that blasted carriage gotten to?”