Monday, November 30, 2009

Why you should juggle

Jason Kottke had a link to this article on why you should juggle. I couldn't agree more. Juggling is one of those things that I feel has contributed immensely to my physical and emotional capabilities and, to a lesser extent, my intellectual.

I learned to juggle when I was in ninth grade. I was in a self-taught mathematics class and a number of us flew through the material and wrapped up all the required stuff with weeks left in the school year leaving us with an hour of free time every day.

The father of one of my classmates was a professional clown and my classmate taught me how to juggle, first by juggling beanbags off of walls. I still maintain that this is the absolute best way to learn how to juggle. I don't quite know why but it is much easier, and those I have taught to juggle agree, to get the rhythm by first doing it off a wall.

Since that time, I juggle frequently. Pretty much whenever I find myself with a trop of objects. I'm not that good and cannot handle more than three but it is a lot of fun. It alleviates boredom. I don't know how often I have waited for a ride or to meet with someone running late and I grab three rocks or pinecones or something and juggle. I used to keep a bag of baseball equipment in my trunk so I could juggle (not only three balls but the always challenging bat, glove and ball).

Where it has helped me the most, though, is improving and encouraging further improvement in the symmetry of my body. Juggling requires using both hands. I used to be predominantly left-handed. As I juggled throughout the years, my coordination developed in my right-hand. When I played baseball, I switch-hit (albeit poorly). I extended that to golfing, hockey, and racquet sports (especially ping pong, where I enjoyed whooping on my friend Eric with my "weak" hand). I write all right with my right-hand.

From there I started messing around with my feet, too. Then once I got into martial arts, my ambidexterity really took off. Many people think my dominant leg is my left even though I'm "naturally" right-legged. I've reached the point where I don't really have a side of my body that is dominant.

Granted, it has been a lot of work in a lot of different ways that has enable me to achieve this but there is no way I would have even begun down this path had it not been for juggling.

As for the emotional and intellectual side, as I said, it alleviates boredom. There is probably something to the whole hand-eye thing, too, and the brain but I don't know that I feel like juggling has benefited me in that area as much as the physical side.

Definitely take the time to learn. It's fun and it's good for you.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My first internet baseball card trade - with the legendary Thorzul

I've mentioned before that I read two baseball card blogs regularly: Cardboard Junkie and Thorzul Will Rule. These two pretty much rekindled my interest in trading cards although the baseball card companies themselves have done a lot to counter the effect.

Nonetheless, when Thorzul announced his annual "Trade Me Anything" event, I had to do it. Here are the cards he sent me:

I've toyed with the idea of being a player collector, despite the ridiculous number of cards produced, and limited print runs for many of these cards but figured what the heck, why not start another collection? Dunn, being my favorite current player, seemed like a good bet and I really like the propaganda card. Latos could potentially be a good pitcher and I thought he might be another decent guy to collect if the Dunn cards seemed too overwhelming.

So what did I send Thorzul? Well, you can see for yourself. Not having much in recent cards, I thought I would provide him with some older cards he needed. Turns out I read the wrong list. Alas. Nonetheless, he seemed to like what I sent.

If you're reading this and have Adam Dunn or Mat Latos cards with which you would be willing to part, let me know. As you can see from what I sent Thorzul, newer cards aren't my forte but I have a lot of unusual things and older cards.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Super Freakonomics, not that impressed

I immensely enjoyed Stephen Dunbar and Steven Levitt's book Freakonomics when it came out, have enjoyed reading articles of theirs elsewhere and was looking forward to Superfreakonomics. Reading it, I was disappointed.

First, the pair have established themselves. They don't need to try and draw attention to themselves. Yet the chapter titles are written as if they are trying to get Digg hits. I forget the exact wording of the first chapter title but it is something like "How prostitutes are like mall Santas". The chapter is largely about prostitution and may be the only chapter similar in style to the original book. But the answer comes way late in the chapter and is a bit of an iffy connection. They cite a study of Chicago prostitutes and find that in one area of Chicago, the prostitutes only really operate on the 4th of July weekend. That area contains a large park and many families have reunions there which apparently result in fellows getting bored (and horny) and looking for action. So, at least in this case, prostitutes are like Santas in that they are seasonal. Lame, right?

Which brings me to the second issue with the book. With the exception of the first chapter, the rest of the chapters read like connected blog posts. It felt like Dunbar and Levitt just tried to cram a whole bunch of research studies into the book that were loosely connected and then threw chapter headings on like groupings. Some of the studies I know I have read before and I'm not that into any of the fields discussed. Unlike Freakonomics, which had a lot of original, somewhat obscure research that made you think and maybe wanting to learn more, the sequel felt like I was reading old news and it left me lukewarm.

Of course, you can't read a review of the book without seeing the discussion on the fifth chapter involving global warming. Unlike other denizens of the internet, I didn't have issues with it. If you're interested in the discussion, just Google the book. Having studied environmental and energy policy years ago, I enjoyed their alternative solutions to the global warming issue (and the possibility that there is no issue) and wish that more people would be open to solutions rather than just stomp around morally outraged.

To me, this is a fun book. There's not enough deep exploration of any given topic to make me feel like having this as a book is an improvement over just taking snippets of the chapters and turning them into blog posts. Sort of like they already do.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Deluxe Transitive Vampire

I'm always looking for different ways to discover interesting books to read. On top of that, I'm in a bit of a reading rut (and going through my old blogs and journals over the years suggests I have some sort of Thanksgiving Seasonal Affective Reading Disorder). I haven't been able to figure out what appeals to me, in part because I'm focused on the end of the semester and all that good stuff. So I've been looking for suggestions and coming up with some goofy ideas (you'll see in future posts).

Ze Frank asked readers of his website for reading suggestions. I offered up Toby Barlow's Sharp Teeth and took a gander at the list myself. After reading the list (and I'm not linking to it for your sake), my first thought was "Wow, Ze has a lot of fans who are taking AP English". I think at least half the books on the list I read when I was in high school. Most of the others I have seen on high school reading lists here. Folks, there is better literature out there than Of Mice and Men.

Despite my observation, I was intrigued enough by a couple appearances on the list of a book entitled, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire. I should have realized I was on the money with my perception of Ze's fan base. This book, if it has a target audience, is the high school student learning about English. It's a nice primer on sentence construction, nouns, verbs, adverbs and all that jazz. it is illustrated with a bunch of gothic pictures from other texts, often cobbled together to form goofy scenarios.

The reason I say "If it has a target audience" is because the book reminded me of a business law professor I once had. This professor enjoyed (WAY too much) illustrating cases using characters from Beatrix Potter stories. "Let's say Jemimah Puddle Duck has sued Peter Cottontail for breach of contract...". He would go on and on and you could see him getting lost in the story. It felt like he was telling the stories to entertain himself rather than teach us.

I felt the same way with this book. The pictures, but especially the examples, on the surface seem designed to appeal to the younger folks. But after a while you think the author was doing it for the kicks and heck if anyone ever reads it.

Examples of examples?
The way you're wearing those pajamas is bound to give the sandman pause.
The barber who found the nose in his croissant never did get along with his wife.
We waltzed Lisztlessly.
This wildebeest is swifter than that jellyfish on wheels.
That cat who's checking out the back room says he's here on a divine mission.

And so on and so on. They are charming at first, then quirky, then irritating.

If you have a high school student that is struggling with getting the whole language thing down pat, or even a junior high student who is an aspiring writer, this might be a worthwhile book to pick up. For the vast majority of folk, I don't see it being of any value as a tool or entertainment.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Modern fiction time

Hey, I'm catching up with my reviews! It helps in that I have been so overwhelmed with school and life that I've been in a bit of a down mood that has left me unable to both identify what I want to read and focus on what it is I'm reading when I do finally pick something out. So there hasn't been much to add to the list. The semester is about to come to an end, though, which will help my mood and focus immensely. Cow holy, this has been a tough semester.

Enough with the whining. On to the reviews.

I've wanted to read Bret Easton Ellis and when I was in one of my "What do I want to read next?" moods, I came across Lunar Park, the only one of his books we have in our library. Much more recent than his "classics", it is a novel about him. I'm not one for horror novels but man, this was SPOOKY and good. Ellis is haunted by Patrick Bateman, the main character in American Psycho, who, according to the novel, is really based on his father so it is his father who is haunting him. There are also evil stuffed animal spirits. And a double.

The thing is, Ellis takes a lot of drugs and consumes a good deal of alcohol. We don't know what is real and what is imagined. Which is interesting because since Ellis is the author and narrator, we also don't know what parts of the book are real and what are imagined.

Great book. Almost two star worthy but in the end I opted for a single star. I'm not sure how good it would be for someone who had no idea who Ellis is or why his self-importance in the book is so important. I may be wrong on this, though, and this might be a two-star. Or maybe I'm imagining writing this post and I haven't even read the book.

The Weekend by Peter Cameron came about because I realized as much as I love City of Your Final Destination, I've not read much else by Cameron. Remedied. This was about as meaningless and plotless a book as I have ever encountered and it was fantastic. The book is about character conflict. There is a couple, John and Marian, living in a country house in upstate New York. They are two pretty boring people. They are friends with Lyle, who decides to come visit them and bring his lover of a week, Robert. No big deal, right? The thing is, Lyle is visiting on the one-year anniversary of the death of Tony, Lyle's former lover and John's half-brother. And John and Marian's house is where Tony died. Awkward. Add in a strange Italian woman who is sort of a neighbor and the book just becomes more awkward. Yet it's really good. Despite there not being a plot, it ends in a satisfying manner. The dialogue, typical of Cameron, is fantastic. The people, despite lacking much in the way of redeeming qualities, aren't bad either. Just sort of troubled. It was a different book (for me, anyway) and I recommend it for the entertainment value.

Lastly came An Invisible Sign of My Own. I enjoyed this so much I shot an e-mail off to the author, Aimee Bender, an English professor out in California, letting her know how much I enjoyed it. I didn't realize until after I read it that she is part of the same writing group as David Glen Gold, author of one of my favorite books Carter Beats the Devil and Alice Sebold, Gold's wife, and author of The Lovely Bones. Sort of bodes well when you're hanging with a pair like that.

I loved the shade of blue on the dustjacket. That's what made me pick it. It stood out. Then I read the epigraph, a quote from the mathematician Wim Klein, which read "Numbers are friends for me, more or less. It doesn't mean the same to you, does it--3,844? For you it's just a three and an eight and a four and a four. But I say, "Hi! 62 squared."". Awesome.

The story is about a 20 year old woman named Mona who, despite lacking any sort of education or background to suggest she is capable of doing so, is asked to teach elementary school math, mostly because she is a math whiz. Mona's got problems. Her mother pretty much kicked her out of the house. Her father has been suffering from some mysterious ailment for years. Mona quits anything she ever gets good at. She eats soap to become sick to avoid having sex with guys she likes. When she's out of sorts, which is quite often, she knocks on wood to comfort herself, sometimes for hours on end. She turns out being a decent teacher, though, at least for a period of time.

Everything gets really crazy as Mona begins to believe that numbers are causing the deaths of people in town. She then finds that the numbers are at least somewhat connected to a neighbor who then vanishes. And one of Mona's second grade students gets a little crazy with an ax in class and ends up in the hospital. All works out well in the end.

Writing this review reminded me of just how much goes on in this book. Mona's constant quirks/mental problems keep the book moving as Bender does a good job of making the reader as on edge as Mona is. When the ending works out well, because you're so in tune with Mona, it feels good. But I think most people will have to work hard to suspend their disbelief with everything going on. Because it's a little too out there, I have limited my rating to one star. If you're as off-center as I am, though, you'll probably really like it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Generous Man

I'm always trying to find ways to identify books I might like to read. My tastes tend to run counter to the masses so looking at best-seller lists and the such isn't going to do me much good. It's not always the case, particularly with some non-fiction (Gladwell for example. I will also be reviewing Superfreakonomics in the near future.) but you're not going to find me reading Nora Roberts or James Patterson.

How to find books, then? I came up with the idea of finding books represented by the same agent who represents Jeffrey Moore. He wrote two excellent novels, Prisoner in a Red Rose Chain and Memory Artists. I figured if his agent likes his work enough to represent him, that person may like things I do.

Turns out Moore is represented by a big agency in England that represents primarily European writers. Doesn't bode well when I'm trying to find something my library has (we don't carry too many books written in French). But lo and behold, The Generous Man, written by the Dane Tor Norretranders, was translated into English and the library had it. So I read it.

It was a pretty interesting book. Mostly it talks about how being generous signifies to potential mates that we are superior because we can afford to handicap ourselves by giving something to someone else. The book examines this concept sociologically, developmentally, evolutionarily, psychologically, to the point where it started to just become tiresome to me. The parallels to the principles that Neil Strauss outlines in his book about pickup artists, The Game, is almost uncanny. Peacocking, for example, is discussed (a peacock feather is even on the cover of the book). Being as the epigraph to the book is a quote from artist Jens Jorgen Thorsen that states "I paint to get pussy", it's not a stretch to make the connection.

If you're into psychology or sociology or evolution and those aspects as they apply to getting laid, this is recommended. If you want to learn about attracting women in a more entertaining fashion, check out Strauss. If you're just looking for a good read, well, there's a big list of books to your left. Find one on there.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Wondering what to get me for Christmas?

There is some nifty stuff in this auction catalog, particularly this game worn Frank Chance jersey.

Without a doubt, though, the most awesomest item listed is this. It sure would look good under the ole Christmas tree, let me tell you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A trio of older fiction

In recent weeks I've knocked out some older fiction. Two came off Keith Law's always trusty KLAW 100. The other was by old favorite Christopher Morley. How old are they? The oldest is Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time. Lermontov wrote that in 1839. The copy I read was translated by Vladimir Nabokov. I knew I couldn't go wrong there. Nabokov's fluency in Russian and English is such that I knew he captured the story well. There were lots of footnotes where Nabokov explained where he might have gone with one word over another and he also voices some criticism about the simplicity of Lermontov's writing.

The story is about a solder named Pechorin who is really a nihilist. He doesn't quite care enough to be labeled amoral but he really does not consider others much when acting. The story is told in an interesting manner in that Pechorin is described in three points of views, including his own. The narrative style and the making of the "hero" being not very heroic sets this book apart. Lermontov does not describe people well which is sort of odd in a sense. Otherwise, the descriptions are good. Once again, another solid choice by Keith Law (this book will likely fall off his revised list this winter as it is at #100).

The other Law recommendation was G.H. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday. Published in 1908, this is sort of an early spy thriller. It is very surreal, however. The main character, a poet named Gabriel Syme is recruited by Scotland Yard to try and stop an anarchist movement. He gets in a heated discussion with another poet who takes him to an underground anarchists meeting where Syme finagles his own election to the council of anarchists. Each member of the seven man council is named after a day of the week with Syme being Thursday. Sunday is the leader of the council and is a terrifying individual who invokes fear in everybody. Syme tries to thwart a plot by the group but discovers along the way that all the other members of the council are also undercover agents.

Crazy book but good. The anarchists aren't quite what you would expect nowadays and the "evil" is sort of the caliber of an A-Team episode. Nothing really terrible ever happens. There's definitely a lot of religious undertones to it which drives me nuts simply because I hate trying to derive meaning from novels. But again, definitely a good book.

The last, and most recent, of the trio is Morley's Parnassus on Wheels. Written in 1917, this is a cute, charming, funny story about a bold woman, Helen McGill, who buys a traveling bookstore. McGill, approaching age 40, cares for her older brother who is an author and lover of books. The brother travels a lot and doesn't do much around the farm when he is around and relies on McGill for quite a lot. The Parnassus comes to her home and McGill buys the bookstore in part for adventure and in part to prevent her brother from possibly doing so. The story is about her adventures traveling around the countryside selling books. A lot of the charm comes from the era. A woman conducting business! Traveling around the countryside alone! Abandoning her duties as a housewife! Egads!

You can actually listen to this book if you are illiterate like my good friend Transfixed Ingress. You can also read it online for free through Project Gutenberg.

Actually, all three books can be found on Project Gutenberg as can an audio version of The Man Who Was Thursday. Damn technology. Making books useless. Grrrr.....I will never get used to reading online. Can't do it.