Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quakers: The First Wal-mart

As many of you know, I am a Quaker. I'm proud of the long tradition of justice and peace from my community. But what I didn't know was that Quakers were also early entrepreneurs and businessmen. This great BBC article explains how Quakers had a near monopoly on sweets and chocolates in Britain. It was fascinating to see a completely different side of things!

BBC News - How did Quakers conquer the British Sweet Shop

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New Year, New Books

Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffeneger
One of my favorite books is The Time Traveler's Wife, which was Audrey Niffeneger's first book. When I heard that her second novel was being released I was eager to get my hands on it, but I decided to show some restraint and not buy it until it came out in paperback. Imagine my surprise when I found not one but four copies of Her Fearful Symmetry on the shelf in the library! I really enjoyed it but it is a great departure from her debut novel. Her Fearful Symmetry tells the story of twins Julia and Valentina. When their aunt (their mother's estranged twin sister) dies, she leaves them her apartment in London, but only on the condition that their mother never sets foot inside. The book turns out to be a dark, twisted, Victorian story in the best sense. Although I found parts of the ending a little farfetched, I enjoyed the plot twists and the quirky characters, especially the poignant story of Martin, the compulsive agoraphobic upstairs neighbor. I hope your library has four copies as well!

The Checklist Manifesto, Atwul Gawande
This book was recommended on the Freakonomics blog (I think) so I decided to check it out. The author, a surgeon, explores how simple checklists at critical points can have dramatic effects on the outcome of complex processes. Although it dragged at times, overall I found it fascinating. All my pilot friends will definitely enjoy the discussion of how aviation embraced checklists and how new ones are developed and tested.

The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
Vampires are pretty much the hottest undead creatures out there these days so it's no surprise that The Historian has been at the top of the bestseller list for months. That said, I haven't been swept up in the vampire craze and didn't really understand the fuss about this book. Finally I gave in and picked it up at the library. I think it is a cross between The DaVinci Code and Dracula. It was definitely a page turner and kept me engrossed, but to be honest I enjoyed the historical lesson as much as the vampire story. It's told as a story within a story which was confusing at times but also allows the many threads to wrap up with increasing speed as it progresses. This was a fun read but a long one.

The Final Season of Lost

There are plenty of people today who complain that smart tv doesn't exist any more (or never did). These people have plenty of evidence to support their claim (see also: Jersey Shore). However, there is still thought provoking, smart, exciting tv as well, and my favorite example is Lost. I can't wait for the final season to start in just a few weeks! As always, The Onion shares my views...err, well, sort of.

Lost Fans Become Even More Annoying

(thanks to John for the passing along the link)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What I read during last week's work trip

Superfreakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
I read Freakonomics a few years ago and still follow the New York Times' Freakonomics blog daily, so I was thrilled to see that another book was out. Like its predecessor, Superfreakonomics looks at every day situations and breaks them down logically to see what really makes us tick. The unintended effects of our decisions (and legislation) can be both tragic and comical. After you read this you will never look at the world the same way again.

The Weight of Silence, Heather Gudenkauf
This novel tells the story of two young girls who go missing one morning and follows the fallout as people question each other while trying to find them. The two seven year olds are best friends even though one of them, Calli, has been mute for the past three years. The story alternates between the search and exposition of the stories of their families. Although I enjoyed the book very much, I would have liked it more if the author delved into the characters and relationships. I wonder why Calli's mother would marry her father, an abusive drunk, instead of her high school sweetheart who clearly still cares for her. The novel does explore why Calli became mute, and more important, what will make her talk again. I read this in the airport and on the plane and it held me rapt; hopefully it will do the same for you.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Yuletide Projectiles

In the past few weeks I have seen quite a few Christmas trees by the curb to be picked up by the trash truck. Some people brought their trees to the recycle center, which made me happy. But these gentlemen took re-using their tree one step further.

For anyone who launched model rockets as a child, you remember threading the rocket on a pole so it would launch straight then stepping back and hoping for the best. Multiply that by about 1000 pine needles, and you get this video. Awesome.

Attack of the Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons

I am a big fan of Calvin and Hobbes and one of my favorite themes in the comics was always the twisted snowmen he made. I did attempt to make them myself a few times in high school but I had neither the skill nor the right snow to make them look this good. If I drove past one of these houses I'd definitely get a chuckle!

Calvin and Hobbes Snow Goons

It's hard to pick a favorite but I would have to go with the protesting snowmen.