Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

One of the first things to strike you is that AAGTLOE seemed to be equal parts a necessary task and a labor of love for the readers.
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Writing down his experiences leading up to his first space flight, through his career as an astronaut, and through his retirement is as much for him as it is for us and its part of a life-long commitment to happiness and pursuing passions.  It’s really quite a fulfilling reason to write a memoir.
Col. Hadfield hasn’t been on my radar much longer than he’s likely been on many of yours.  Despite my affinity for NASA and manned space exploration, I knew nothing of him until shortly before he took command of the ISS for the 34 35 Expedition in 2012.  Since then I’ve counted the man first as admirable, then an inspiration, and final as a personal hero, though perhaps not for the obvious reasons.  Reading his book has only served to reinforce that.
AAGTLOE is laid out in three sections (before liftoff, during (and encompassing the 34 35 Expedition, and return to Earth).  It’s subsequently further broken into chapters on a theme.  Each chapter talks about some aspect of character that he privileges for making him happy, successful, and fulfilling in a job that had zero prospects for a young Canadian in the 1970s.
Over the course of the book, Col. Hadfield throws familiar aphorisms away entirely or else flips them on their heads to suggest that, contrary to popular belief, there is a lot of be gains from having an attitude, sweating the small stuff, aiming to be a zero, and always keeping in mind what will kill you next.  At first glance, these lessons seems to make more sense to an astronaut than an accountant or an IT professional, but only so if you’ve stopped reading Hadfield’s accessible and inspirational prose.  He is by no means a preeminent wordsmith, but the book is well written and consistently moving and motivating.
What shocked me most is how often I found myself in complete agreement with the author, sometimes despite coming at a problem from a completely different direction.  One might expect that in reading a work of non-fiction by a personal hero, the fear that in becoming human, he or she might cease to be this special entity you’ve made of them.  Instead, seeing all of the typical foibles and doubts and attitude and determination in Col. Hadfield only made him all the more impressive.
There is great merit in viewing every day as progress, rather than the slough you have to put yourself through in the possible pursuit of your dream.  And likewise, in hinging your happiness not on attaining some exceedingly difficult goal but rather on your diligent pursuit of the same.  When he suggest you should sweat the small stuff, the implications are overwhelming, until you realize that sweating these things means you never have to dread them.  When the worst arises, you’ve been long prepared.  Aiming to be a zero might seem pessimistic, but not once you see that aiming to be a top dog (what he calls a valuing adding plus one) is liable to make you seem an attention grabbing nothing (a value sucking minus one in Hadfield’s terms).  Suddenly, aiming to do no harm (being an observant zero) seems a lot better and the first step towards beings a real plus one.  In more common terms, shoot for the stars …
There was a moment around the halfway point when Col Hadfield once again managed to wrap into a single paragraph the import of preparedness in space flight, press tours, filial relation ships, marriage, and camaraderie that I was taken aback and comments—aloud but to myself—that this book was basically a whole guide to life.  The idiocy of that revelation, given the books title, hit me momentarily and hard, yet I felt more amused than embarrassed with myself.
In the epilogue, Hadfield refers to a time years earlier when he and a neighbor worked together to rip down the vestiges of two old docks linking their land to make one shared platform over the lake.  The job might have taken no more than two weeks for a professional, but the two spent the summer together—to their wives chagrin—tearing down the old and building up the newer, better dock.  It is among his proudest achievements for the teamwork, the planning, the execution, and above all else the utter gumption of claiming the problem for themselves and healing divided lands through friendship and determination.  If that one story cannot serve to illustration our own effects over how we view our lives, our success, and the world writ large, I don’t know what can.

Colorado Trip

I love mountains. Adore them. Among my dreams for the future is building and living in a cabin at the base of or up in the mountains, preferably in the Pacific Northwest.  I have never really been to the Pacific Northwest.

Until last week, I had never climbed a mountain.

On Sunday, March 9th, my friend and I set off on a roadtrip to Colorado.  Neither of us had ever been.  When I started planning the trip, I didn’t realize that my friend had never been on a multi-state roadtrip with friends, so from the get go the whole thing was an adventure.

So I stopped planning.  I asked not+entirely for some highlights and they were really helpful once we got there, but besides a couple of vague ideas and a hotel for night one, I didn’t plan anything.  We didn’t even know when we were coming back.

This is completely atypical for me and it could not have gone better.

Sunday was 15 hours of nonstop driving.  We got on the road around 7 and drove straight through with one two stops.  I’ve done this plenty, my buddy had not.  The first half of the drive, because I live in the middle of the second largest state, was monotonous but in the panhandle, we finally hit the upstate windfarms and had some pretties to look at.  Then a few more in New Mexico, and a whole lot more around the CO border.  It was a gorgeous drive.

When we got to Denver, we were pooped and in dire need of some rest.

Day 1:

First thing in any new city, I have to find the good coffee and boy did I.  Purple Door Coffee was awesome and the staff could not have been more friendly. 

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For that matter, no one we interacted with in the whole damn state could have been more friendly.  The baristas gave us more ideas for the day than we could have possibly covered.  After a durn fine cup of joe, we headed to an old factory that has since been retrofitted into an indoor market.  I give you, The Source:

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And inside:

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A taqueria, coffeeshop, grocery, liquor store, bank, bar, produce stand, butcher, baker, and firehouse pizza place (that that order, left to right).  Comida, the taqueria, had the best green sauce I’ve ever had and we had the sous prepare a quart to take home.  I wonder if there is any left in the fridge… Highly recommend.

But let’s speed this up.  Day one was euphoric, the start of vacation, and we got a little smashed and lost our car in downtown Denver.  The 16th St. Mall is a big pass—all corporate—but we had plenty of time to sober before we found our wheels again.  There are a lot of ends and ours in there, but I’ll stop there.

Day two, we made a plan.  We have a buddy who moved to Fort Collins, CO a while back and we wanted to catch up, so on

Day 2

We got up, got ready, and headed north.

I cannot express how much I loved Fort Collins.  It is a perfect Little Bit City.  The corporate and local veins have their own special sides of town, so for folks so inclined, you can avoid the corporate trappings all together.  We did.

In Old Town (the locals side), they have art student painted pianos at regular intervals, kept in working order.

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We went to innumerable shops and and breweries, so again it is hard to say all we did.

Stuft - good burgers

Equinox Brewing - good beer

Ditto Coopersmith’s Bar and Brewery and O’Dells, though by the third, my mind gets hazy.  No worries, we had safe drivers.

With quite a few strapped on, we followed some strangers home after the brewery closed to hang out with locals.  PSA: Kids, don’t do this.  Adults probably shouldn’t either, but I’m no fan of living in fear.

A bit later, we stopped by our friend’s restaurants for some grub and then headed out to the mountains around midnight to star gaze.

My goodness it takes a long time to rundown Tuesday, but it was a fantastic day.  After all that, though, we needed to decompress.

On Wednesday morning, we had a very late breakfast at Silver Grill Cafe and bummed around Old Town shops.  I can’t even recall the names of most of the shops we stopped in, but all of Old Town deserves a nod.  True to my nature, I stopped in Old Firehouse Books and picked up Col. Hadfield’s book.

With a nice morning under the belt, out local friend was thoroughly convinced he should blow off work for another day and we should climb Horsetooth Mountain.  It was my first and damn was it wonderful.

We embark:

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The Peak:

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The View:

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Alright, that’s enough of that.  I just thought the pictures would do it some justice I would not.  Plus this post is growing long winded …On Wednesday, we got a late start for Estes Park, CO (thanks, not+entirely) to see, among other things, the Stanley Hotel, inspiration for King’s The Shining.

With no where to be, we were so taken with Estes Park that I booked a room for the evening and we spent the day on barbeque, local shops, the public library, and then off into Rocky Mountain National Park.

After a good night’s rest, and with the frugal goals of the trip in mind, vacation came to an end on Friday morning and we started the 17 hour trip home.

There is so much more I could say about the trip, but I’ll leave it with this:

1) I’m going back as soon as I can with my lady.

2) It was exactly what I needed.

A Final Note: No, I didn’t proof this post.  I’ve been scrambling for time to write it between catching up on work and my personal life.  I sorta apologize for any errors found herein.

Back from Vacation and Into the Fire

I’m back.  Have been for days.  But as is usually the case, so very many things piled up while I was gone.  I spent the weekend catching up with my lady, the first and most important task.  There was a lot of binge TV watching.  Wow.

I dove back into the novel on Sunday after a week writing absolutely nothing, so again, wow.

I have some 20 odd TV shows I’d like to catch up on which are at present on the back burner, turning black.

Though the office was close during the vacation, I returned to plenty of work.  Surprising how that happens.  Yesterday was jam packed but pretty manageable.  I felt productive, but the work continues.

I would like to come back and give at least a cursory run-through of my trip to the Rocky Mountain state, a place I would absolutely love to call home, and the fantastic people that call it home, but it will have to wait for now.  Suffice it to say, the vacation did everything it was supposed to.

One last note, more to the regular point of the blog.  Yesterday I finished a chapter I left half done before the trip and this morning I dove right into a very enjoyable action and contemplation sequence.  Fun to write and, if I can presume, fun to read as well.

Back real soon…

You may notice that I’ve posted (okay, maybe reposted) something every day this week.  I’m on vacation next week and unlike Spring Break ‘13, I may not write at all while I’m away.

On to the point:

In the last week, the story about Keurig working on the next iteration of their coffeemaker has made the rounds.  If you haven’t hear, here’s CNET’s story and I’ll condense it real quick as well.

Keurig makes pod coffee makers that use K-cup, which they also sell.  They are far from the first pod coffee maker, but they are undoubtedly the biggest and best know.  You start with this:

Drop it into this:

And get this:

Not a great cup of coffee, but it could definitely be worse.  It has no place in my kitchen, but at the office…?

So this thing took off and of course it did.  Why not?  Then, a bunch of companies started making competing K-cups.  A little different in form and vastly different packaging.  Keurig no like, so now they are working on getting DRM into the cups so that only their’s will work.  You know how your HP printer whines when you use someone else’s ink?  It’s like that, but it won’t work at all.  So really, it’s more like trying to play your Audible audiobook on a “non-standard” device.  No worky.

My immediate reaction was revulsion.  There are so many efforts in so many places trying to close the ecosystem.  You use Company X’s platform, and you get only their content.  Unless you work continually to get around it, which I do, but not everyone knows how.

Especially not the people most devoted to these machines.  As at boingboing pointed out, people paying a premium for the convenience of a Keurig are quite likely to go back to shelling out more for official K-Cups because they others won’t work.

But that pisses me off.  Part of me wants to say if they won’t put in the work, screw ‘em.  But the more mature part of me says that we work together to make this suck less and I told my lady, upon hearing the news, that I would likely buy a Keurig 2.0.

I don’t want one.  I don’t even want the one that doesn’t try to screw the buyer.  But I want to make it work.  I want to reverse engineer it and make it work like it ought to.  I have no engineering background, but I’m good at troubleshooting and I’ve hacked enough hardware to think I’ll do a good job.  Then, when I’m done, instructions go up online and I sell the bastard contraption and go about with my life.

It rather amuses me that a coffeemaker I don’t even want is the first device about which I feel so motivated.

Of course, the other thing I thought of first when I read about this was Cory Doctorow's response.  Cory is a go to on all things DRM and always has something good to say.  This was no exception:

As I’ve written recently, there’s not a lot of case-law on Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the law that prohibits “circumventing…effective means of access control” to copyrighted works. In the past, we’ve seen printer companies and garage door opener manufacturers claim that the software in their devices was a “copyrighted work” and that anyone who made a spare part for their products was thus violating 1201. But that was 10 years ago, and it’s been a while since there was someone stupid and greedy enough to try that defense.

I think Keurig might just be that stupid, greedy company.

Cory found the positive in the charlie foxtrot to come.  I’m inclined to agree that this may be just the “awful stupidity we need.”  I hope that works out for the best.

I think I’m still gonna hack Keurig’s stupidity out of the first gen of 2.0.

bastards.

—-

Anyways, enjoy the week.  For those of you who have it off, drink some proper coffee and kiss a loved one often.  For those who have to work, maybe drink a cup of Keurig with a resounding hatred, courtesy of your old pal simsian.

On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (via feeling-natures-glow)

[Is it not Towel Day yet?]

(via wordpainting)

The Sky was Falling … The Sky had Always Been Falling

I have to take exception to pieces like this, in large part because they start from a good point but wear blinders and fail to see the more obvious flaws in their arguments and, thus, conclusions.

Yes, I know, damn near every argument made since the beginning of time.  But this seems pernicious in the omission.

The world has always been getting worse.  It was always once a better place and tomorrow is dimmer, further away from the all-knowing, all-loving source of the life-light.  Except it isn’t.  In any measurable sense, so many things are better than they used to be.  I’ve touched on this before, but in a quick list: lower infant mortality, reduction in deaths from preventable disease, higher literacy, greater access to education, etc.

Now that is not to say that new is better.  Far from it.  I make no appeal to novelty.  Plenty of new things are garbage and will go the way of the Tamagotchi.  But an argument that the sky is falling because it always is amounts to crying wolf.

The phrase “Gresham’s Law” had been bouncing around in my head, but I knew that wasn’t quite the right concept. Gresham’s Law is about currency circulation, where everyone knows that two currencies that have the same official value may differ on other value dimensions (e.g., gold coins and base-metal coins that have the same value when used as currency). But the book market seemed to me to be an asymmetric information situation.*

The result of the two processes is the same: the bad product drives the good product out of the market.

This claim, that possibly bad books are or might drive the good from the market is based, in part, on the proliferation of bad reviews on Amazon.  Sunita points to the percentage of favorable reviews for a single—though admitted very popular—self-published work, Wool by Hugh Howey compared with several NY published works.  Her figures:

Wool (Omnibus): 93.6%
Harry Potter #1: 94.4%
Neuromancer: 71.7%
Cryptonomicon: 77.6%
Ender’s Game: 90.1%
Ready Player One: 89.4%

Let’s ignore the implication here that Wool is “bad,” because it’s neither here nor there and she has the right to that view.  Not one of these works is objectively good or bad.  The only thing they all have in common is a substantial readership.

Now Supita points out that only Harry Potter manages to beat out Wool for favorable reviews.  She also points out that HP is in a class of it’s own.  Both points are true.  She further says that reviews on Amazon are product reviews.

It is on this final point that she fails to follow through.  She is perfectly right that these are product reviews, but that is more significant than she makes it.  Reviews on Amazon are, and should be, for the the product rather than the art.  So were start with two problems.  How do we/should we differentiate between work as product and work as art?  For some works, the answer seems clear, but across the board I have to say no.  Second, when evaluating the significance of reviews of products, how must we differentiate between those products with a physical presence and those that are purely digital?

Neither of these problems has an easy answer and I have no wish to propose one.  To be honest, that would likely be a task I’d still be chugging away at come Christmas.  What is should say is that, given these large question, we need to be discerning in how we weight reviews.  Supita makes a good point that the less motivated readers might burn out on high review works at middle prices that fail to live up.  They might be sent off to other media.  We, the voracious readers, might not give up but what of the children?  Perhaps that is the more important question.

When I want reviews of a product (coffee maker, dog toy, physical book) Amazon can be a great resource.  Of course, you have to take everything with a grain on salt.  The worry that a review might have been paid or else the review might have an axe to grind is very real and thus even the market leader for a said product is likely to have both fans and detractors.  Browse with caution.

When I want reviews of media (books, tv, movies, music), I would rather ask my coffee maker for recommendations that go to the product reviews on Amazon.  A quick glance at the classics will show dozens of jilted students taking out their classroom frustration on an easy target.  Readers pissed at a previous installment of a series will damn the following volume before publication.  There will be some useful reviews in there, good and bad, and good on the readers who publish them.  But Amazon is not the place for the reviews.

So where do you go?  Well, Amazon purchased one of the best places just a year or so ago: Goodreads.  A community of booklovers—e and otherwise—who participate without compensation to cultivate a reader’s paradise.  Like with any social media exercise, there are controversies, but it’s an overall positive place.

For more critical reviews, there are a hundred different outlets and between them dozen upon dozens of aggregators.  For film, a million review can be found on Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes.  For the written word, reviews are often more difficult to boil down and aggregators are further between but there are untold resources for finding reviews, good and bad.

Are bad books driving out good?  That remains to be seen.  Have the Big 5 created a pricing market that hurts them in the long run?  That seems more likely.  Are we in a period of transition for the entire publishing industry?  God yes.

What we should be worry about is not a few bad product reviews burning the casual reader.  We have a system growing that can revitalize the written word and brings millions back into the avidly literate.  That does not happen by accident.  We need to cultivate happy readers and teach web and world literacy so that they know the difference between a 3.5 star average based off of bias and one based on middling reviews.

The issue here is not: Is the Sky Falling (Like Always)? but what is my role is making sure that the next generation appreciates that gorgeous sky I already see?

##The Day We Fight Back code ##/The Day We Fight Back code