Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson - A B&N browse and pick. The story is a few years old (I think 1999) and jumps back and forth between World War II and the turn of the millenium. It centers around a few main characters in WWII and their descendants, and it's focused on the cryptological (then) and information security (now)business. The cast of characters includes a kind of cryptological savant, a marine grunt, spies, treasure hunters, damsels in distress, lions, tigers, you get the picture. Ok, mostly it's about the spy business from the side of cryptographers (go figure with a title like Cryptonomicon) Stephenson shows quite the touch at handling the science (which he appears to be quite versed in) as well as offering a plausible and interesting plot. He also does a good job of handling multiple plot lines as he jumps back and forth between past & present and between different characters. This is often a risky venture and very few pull it off while maintaining the urgency of the story (George R.R. Martin has very succesfully written his entire Song of Ice and Fire series with this technique). Perhaps best of all, he is very funny in the most geeky sense of the word. Some of the metaphors he uses to describe a painful or exasperating experience are laugh out loud funny. I don't know how much of the technology described is real, but it all sounds convincing when he describes it. I really like his writing and will be reading his other novels when I get time.
And by folks, I refer to the singular. It's been a fairly action packed few months. I was really busy with school in the fall semester, especially near the end. I discovered that the workload and complexity of the courses as I proceed through my degree plan were increasing to the point that I was burning myself out. I managed to pull off the grades, but I felt I was sacrificing true understanding and deeper absorption of some really important concepts. So, in reaction I have decreased my courseload to two going forward. The heavier courseload was predicated by my (I think now, false) assumption that I needed to take a full courseload to receive all of my GI Bill benefits. I had actually been told that by multiple advisors at Berklee, but I managed to get the supervisor of financial aid to weigh in and he said otherwise. Apparently taking two courses for 3 months would be the same as taking four courses for 1.5 months. I won't know for sure until I look at my explanation of benefits after this semester is complete, but I think it's accurate. It's a huge relief and weight off my shoulders. I'm not taking these courses at Berklee just to check a box or get a certificate. I'm taking them because I truly want to learn this material.
There's not much new to report at work, same behavior from the same jackasses. I compiled a DBQ report for October which essentially was unchanged from the report a year ago. Submitting this report to dickless did result in more maneuvering as expected and he actually endorses the idea of counting exams for providers in the interest of capturing workload. That being said, it's apparent that the same non-performers are being protected and given credit for "other duties" which essentially means they're getting a pass since he's unwilling to grow a pair and actually do his job. I'm not surprised, it's essentially what I expected from him. My only faint hope is that eventually when the contract supports runs out (if it does) he'll be left to explaining why the clinic can't meet the demand to his bosses. He probably already has detailed plans on how he'll tap dance his way out of that scenario if/when the day comes. I just can't bring myself to give a shit what he and the other oxygen thieves are getting up to. Life's too short.
On the homefront, we finally got Aeyong her new car, a 2016 Toyota Highlander. It worked out pretty well, and it's a really feature packed nice car. We traded in the Ranger, so I've got the Pathfinder now. We saw Patton Oswalt and Kathleen Madigan on back to back nights at the Majestic last month, and they were both hilarious. I got a cool one off poster that was made for Patton's Majestic show featuring him as various Star Wars characters. On that theme, I've mostly gotten all the concert and music posters framed and put up in the drum room as well as the upstairs living room. I bought four different framed artists renderings of Jimmy Page, David Bowie (as a statue head from the Man Who Fell to Earth), Kate Bush in a sort of airbrushed painting from the back photo of Hounds of Love (probably my all time favorite photo of her), and then an alternate view of Battersea Power Station (from Animals) in black & white with a small colorized flying pig. I think it's the same photographer who shot the album cover, just an alternate view.
Continuing in the home decorating theme, I sort of grabbed the torch from Aeyong and attached jet packs to my feet before taking off. Aeyong had bought a Daenerys Targaryen doll from one of the local stores a year or two ago. We had incrementally bought these little pop figures (cartoonish versions) of the other GOT characters in the subsequent months. I had seen an article or video showing various Star Wars characters from The Force Awakens, and this led to more exploration into miniatures and figurines. I added several pop figures from TFA including Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma. This led to further investigation, and long story short, I've ordered several miniatures from Star Wars, LOTR, and GOT. This includes premium versions of Darth Vader, C3PO/R2D2, and Rey with BB8. The pop figures are little rubber/plastic dolls and fairly cheap, but the premium format figures are made of quite sturdy material and feature multiple poses, articulations, working lights, etc.
I have some cool versions of Tyrion and Arya that we've already received. Also coming is a miniature of Strider (it's called Aragorn, but he's definitely in ranger mode with this figure). I also have ordered some really cool Weta miniatures and artwork. The biggest is a huge miniature of Smaug laying on his pile of gold with a tiny Bilbo underneath. I'm also getting a miniature of Bag End, and I've got my eyes on Minas Tirith. We're also getting some lovely prints of various LOTR/Hobbit scenes - a wide angle Bag End with Gandalf at the door, a close up of Bilbo looking out the front door, a wide angle of the Argonath with the fellowship in canoes crossing the water, and a shot of the meeting pavilion from the Hobbit where Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman held their dawn counsel.
The really cool thing is that Aeyong is into it, and actually wants to display the artwork and miniatures around the house. My first instinct is to keep most of it in the home theater area, but ultimately we're going to run out of room and it will naturally spread. I don't care if this fits with the better homes and gardens of vacuous assholes aesthetic. This is the stuff we're into, and we can do what we want with our house. It's a bit childish I suppose, but in a repeating theme for this blog and my adult life, I still like the stuff I liked as a teenager and I learned a long time ago to do what makes me happy not what meets other's approval. Stephen King made a comment in an updated preface for a comprehensive version of the Dark Tower series (which I've finally got around to reading, mea culpa) that his adult personality and tastes were basically established by age 19. I think that's essentially true. I know most of the stuff I really value was already present in some shape by that age. I've expanded my tastes a bit and I've accumulated a lot more music, books, movies, etc. in the intervening years, but I essentially still love the same stuff. Continuing the geek acquisition theme, I got a really cool Marvel Graphic Novelish omnibus of the Dark Tower series that I need to hold off until I finish the proper series. I'm on the Waste Lands at present. I had gotten on a bit of a coffee table book kick in the last year which included Jimmy Page's photo biopic, the Kate Bush photo book created by her brother, a comprehensive three volume set of my favorite webcomic Ctrl - Alt - Del and several others. My geekdom spreads its tendrils like kudzu.
I've gotten some new albums over the past few months. I especially love Beck's 2014 album (yes, the one Kanye had to interrupt the Grammy presentation about), Morning Phase. This is easily one of my favorite albums, and it's gone on the stress reduction anti-depressant album list (sharing space with the LOTR soundtracks, Zero 7, Metheny, Emmanuel and a few others). I've also added a few more Radiohead albums, and I really love Kid A. I went back and got three Big Audio Dynamite albums as well as The Big Heat by Stan Ridgway. This was after Matt had posted several 1985 era tunes on Facebook. I had forgotten how much I loved that music. This isn't the complete list, but I also added Mozart's Requiem and Symphone Fantastique by Berlioz.
The past few months saw some devastating losses, but one positive addition. In music we lost David Bowie, Lemmy, Scott Weiland, and several other key musicians. In my personal life, we had to have Bridget put to sleep in November. She was 15 years old, and the small benign growth on her abdomen had grown so large it was affecting her movement, breathing, and she was beginning to behave erratically. We grew concerned that she would hurt herself, as she was doing things that didn't make any sense. Aeyong was finding her digging in the back yard for hours in the early hours of the morning. She just seemed confused and not herself in the past few months. She didn't seem comfortable or happy anymore and we had to make the hard decision. We had a similar experience with Lucy. Once they got to the point that their personalities changed and they no longer seemed comfortable, it was time to let them go. It's still the hardest thing we've had to go through. These are our children, and as much as I loved and miss my parents, their loss didn't hit us as hard as losing our pets. The silver lining is that we noticed our two other dogs were missing her (unsurprisingly), but we also have grown accustomed to a three dog dynamic since we first got April in 2007. So, on that note, I charged Aeyong with finding us a new puppy. She looked at several shelters and eventually found our new chihuahua (mix?), aptly named Skittles. She could have also been called skittish or skitters, but Skittles seemed appropriate. She was a rescue and she still has some of that street mentality (she apparently wasn't fed well and has a predilection for plants, acorns and various other flora). She is a sweetheart and I think she knows she is a member of our family now.
I would be remiss if I didn't further discuss one of the most devastating losses I've ever experienced as a fan of music and the creative arts in general. Two days after the release of Blackstar (on his 69th birthday), David Bowie suddenly passed from this world. Apparently well aware he had terminal cancer, David composed and produced this album as a sort of swan song and parting message, and it's proven to be an amazing piece of work. I can't give the album an adequate review in this space, and neither can I adequately express how much David and his work meant to me. I'll do my best in the future, through spoken word and music alike. For what it's worth, his loss has proven to be just as devastating for artists around the world of every age and genre. Almost anyone of note has expressed their immense sadness at his loss and the profound effect he had on their lives. The number of tribute songs and covers are too numerous to count. I have been working on versions of his music for years, and so a short term plan (which was already in the works long before he passed) is to put together a cover version of "Life on Mars" with me performing all the parts including vocals. This project derived from a desire to put together an audition for the Music Composition program with Berklee (I'm currently in the Music Production program, but want to dual major), but it's also been a long term goal to further my musicianship, production, etc. skills in being able to cover entire tunes by myself. Life on Mars was one of a few select tunes that I felt capable of not making a complete ass of myself in the process. We'll see.