Thursday, December 29, 2011

Some books I read this year

Here are some quick reviews for some of the books I read this past year.

I've always got a pile of books I'm working on.  I read most fiction to completion; with most research and political/economics/self-improvment, etc., I tear through the first eighty percent and then out it back on the shelf a year or two later.

  • T.R. Pearson.  A short History of a Small Place. His first novel with his unique turn of the phrase. It brought back some memories for me as I read it a good fifteen years ago.  Louis Benfield is a sentimental young man.  I felt for his mother and the way Pearson helped her express her grief.
  • T.R. Pearson.  Blue Ridge It was a Pearson year.  I'm currently reading Gospel Hour.  Blue Ridge introduces a new setting and new characters.  Sometimes crime-bosses do things with class.
  • Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises I read this about twenty years ago.  This time through, I noticed some good writing about three quarters of the way in, but I think for the most part he was phoning this in.  I have, however, realized some acquaintances remind me of Lady Ashley and Jake Barnes.  It also inspired me to search for some YouTube videos of Pamplona's Running of the Bulls.  Oh, that and the use of telegraphs back in the day was very much like texting.  They drank a lot.
  • Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.  Makes me want to avoid Paris.  Politics as usual.  Mobs are bad.  I loved the political intrigue but found the love story formulaic.
  • Jack London, The Call of the Wild.  A fun and adventurous read; a view into a place and time most have forgotten.  Told from the dog's perspective. 
  • C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength).  I think I read them this year.  I had attempted them a few times in my past but I was frankly just too young.  Perelandra stands out and shows the battle of evil against innocence.  I shall re-read.  That Hideous Strength takes an unexpected and frightening twist into the evil workings of organizations.  You don't want to meet the Head.
  • Orwell, 1984.  Speaking of evil workings of organizations... Does listening to an audio book count as reading it?  In my case, 1984 had a profound, depressing, and haunting impact on me.  I'm glad I didn't read it when I was younger.  It is intense and timely today, which I consider to be an Orwellian time with a smiley face drawn on it.  Liberty had better overcome.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, A Pale View of the Hills.  I read The Remains of the Day a long time ago; this has been on the bookshelf teasing me for over a decade.  The main character is confused and troubled by her past and believes it was someone else who did these things.
  • Robert Kroese, Mercury Falls and Mercury Rises.  Rob is a humorous and philosophical writer, software developer, and tweeter (is that the right term?) with the initiative to forge his own path towards success in the publishing industry through hard work and determination.  I came across Rob through his humorous website and have had witty exchanges with him through the years.  Imagine my delight to read his self-promoted and published novels about an angel and a mortal who cut through the heaven and hell's bureaucracies to stave off armageddon.  A few times. Should you enjoy Douglas Adams, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and non-sequitur style of humor, you'll devour these.  
  • Robert Kroese, Self-Publish Your Novel: Lessons from an Indie Publishing Success Story.  Good advice on marketing and creating an audience for your book.
  • SAP Variant Configuration, from SAP Press.  Hey, you know, professional interest and good bedtime reading.  Knocks you right out.
  • Ludvig von Mises, The Anticapitalist Mentality; The Causes of the Economic Crisis.  Economics is not economic policy. Economics is not a weapon.  Economics is the study of Human Action and how it deals with scarce resources.  Economic chains of events, however, are constantly being set in motion ( as a weapon?) through bad economic policy by governments.  Some of those pulling the levers are compassionate, if ignorant; many pulling the levers are sinister and seeking power at the price of liberty to others.  If you find yourself compassionate yet ignorant, these are good books to educate yourself.
  • Dr. Thomas Sowell, Basic Economics and The Housing Boom and Bust.  Excellent introductions to economic concepts.  Don't let the size of Basic Economics scare you away.  It is written for all to understand... if only more would read it.  It's also thought provoking in Audio Book form.
  • Anna Sewell, Black Beauty.  Like The Call of the Wild; one horse's life from the perspective of the horse.  A happy ending!
  • Mark Frost, The Match.  Golf.  A telling of golfing legend and history.  Would that he had spent twice as much time and space on the book, building up the characters and the drama even more.  I recommend "The Greatest Game Ever Played" first.
That's all I can think of for now. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Carried away

In just about a month, I'll achieve ten full years of owning what I intend to be the last car I ever buy with debt, my 1997 Audi A8.

Funny how a tenth anniversary is a 'tin' anniversary.  The irony.

For its part, it has decided to celebrate the occasion by presenting me with an $800 bill to replace the fuel pump.  The fuel pump is, like many parts on this odd duck of a car, unique.  It's not a $79 fuel pump like those on most cars (Audis included), it's a $900 fuel pump that resides in the gas tank.  I found a used one from a reputable Audi recycler* online for $400.

Here it goes, headed off to the shop.

I've put over 100,000 of the car's 180,000 miles on myself.  It was Audi's flagship technology showcase back in the 1990s when their advertising slogan was Vorsprung durch Technique** (Advancement through Technology).  It's an aluminum bodied and paneled car with a 300hp/300 torque V8 and all wheel drive.  Heated seats and power headrests in the back!  The sticker on it was $65k when it was new in 1997; I picked it up five years later for $18,000 when for the same money I could have had a base Accord with cloth seats and a four cylinder.  Audi, here I come.

If a car is the fashion statement I believe most material items to be, it certainly expresses a lot about me:
  • Quality, but at a value price. 
  • It is a subtle Q-ship, yet can command some attention.
  • It's quirky, sporty, powerful, safe, luxurious and performs best when pushed.
  • It works hard until it hits the wall and can't continue.
  • It has a lot of good years left in it.
  • The glovebox key was never provided, ans so its contents remain a mystery to me, even ten years later.  I'll have to pry it open before it goes to the wrecker.
  • It's missing something (a manual transmission.  Oh, nirvana!) to be perfect.  And aren't we all missing something? 
  • It's looking a little old, but cleans up nice.
    It's a great fifteen year old car.  When Hertz deigns to give me a luxury or sport car as a rental, I always enjoy getting back to the A8 when I return home- it compares favorably, even today.

    I've spent enough money on it this year to have bought a dependable replacement for it, but am rolling the dice with what I know.  I'm tempted to get another of the same vintage- either as a parts car or as a backup.  But having two or three of the same, older model car in the driveway would reveal another personality trait that I'm maybe just not ready for.

    Audi A8, here's to you.  Keep me running for another five years, will you?

    *Shokan in NY. When I called and placed the order with them, they asked if I'd bought from them before to save some time in the order entry process.  I remembered the name and thought maybe.  When the customer service rep checked the computer, they came up with a shipping address to a company I worked at in 1993.  That's pre world-wide-web stuff, folks.

    **If you've ever wondered what Bono is saying in the opening lines to Zooropa, now you know:
    "Zooropa...vorsprung durch technik (a step ahead through technology) all that you can be"

    Monday, December 19, 2011

    An outlet for passion

    Over the last few years I've discovered how much I enjoy the spotlight.  I'm coming to embrace opportunities to grab it. I enjoy the moment, the responsibility, the execution, and, of course, praise.  The spotlight combines the excitement of risk and passion into a period of time where I, for my audience, am the focus for helping them move forward. 

    In my career, I lead the engagement and presentation of software solutions for business problems.  My audiences are business people in executive, leadership, and front-line roles.  I hopefully give them a new perspective and direction in their business roles.

    As a coach, I try to create an environment where the athletes learn through experience.  My risk is doing things differently.  My reward is seeing growth of my players talents.  My audience is the parents.  For them, I'm a running color-commentary of the action and, perhaps, confirming to them their children's personality.

    As a catechist teaching faith formation to third graders, I hope I'm a witness and a different experience than they encounter in schools and in dealing with other adults in their lives.  The stage is mine and I invite them onto it, extracting some participation by expressing joy and passion for our faith.

    There are some challenges that come with the spotlight:
    • If you're the type who leads, people will ask you to lead (usually by them taking a giant step backwards when volunteers are asked for).
    • Not everyone appreciates the effort that goes into preparing for the stage.  It's easier to critique than create.
    • I don't like to share in the effort of creation or the glory of the results.  And since the stage is a production, I want everyone's performance to be great, not merely acceptable.
    I know this passion will take me somewhere else.  Will it be writing?  Will it be performance- musical or stage?  Will it be humor?  Keynote presentations?  Why not combine all of the above?