Wednesday, January 1, 2020

My Favorite Books of 2019

I arbitrarily set 52 books as 2019's goal on Goodreads and ended up reading 50. That's a mix of paper books and ebooks, short stories and novels, fiction and non-fiction. Overall I'm happy with how that all turned out. Here are the books I liked the most, presented in the order in which I read them throughout the year.

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

This third book in Cronin's Passage trilogy closes what ranks as one of my favorite series of novels of all time. Although I would consider the trilogy to be science fiction I think it's officially labelled as fantasy fiction. Whatever. For lack of a better word, it's a post-apocalyptic zombie tale. Did you see the movie World War Z with Brad Pitt? Neither did I. Regardless, that movie was based on a zombie tale of the same name. By way of comparison, World War Z is to The Passage as McDonalds is to fine dining IMO. The World War Z book barely qualifies as notes for a screenplay let alone a novel. They did try to make The Passage into a TV series but it only lasted one season. But enough about movies and TV. 
The three novels in Cronin's trilogy (The Passage, The Twelve, The City of Mirrors) involve surviving in North America after a plague of some sort has wiped out well over 95% of the human population. Fresh in its premise, vivid in its portrayals, deep in its characters. The kind of book that, after you've turned the last page, fills you with both a deep satisfaction for having experienced the story and a bittersweet melancholy because you have to leave the characters behind.
See more info on the author's website

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Scott's book (subtitled Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity) distilled personnel management in the workplace into a simple to understand 2x2 matrix along two axes: your willingness to challenge someone directly and your degree of caring personally.
Of course, radical candor is the sweet spot where you both care and are willing to challenge someone. The other quadrants are labelled ruinous empathy (you care but won't challenge), manipulative insincerity (you neither care nor are willing to challenge), and obnoxious aggression where assholes live (they're very willing to challenge you without caring a bit).
Recommended for everyone who leads other people. See the book's website

High Output Management by Andy Grove

It was Ben Horowitz's mention of this book in his The Hard Thing About Hard Things that made me buy and read it. Glad I'm did and kinda sorry I hadn't read it years ago. Grove covers so many topics that are covered by other books and wraps them into an overall management philosophy.
I couldn't find a website for Grove or the book so here's a link to the book on Amazon.

The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I should read more science fiction. In The Cruel Stars Birmingham presents future humanity with a great threat. In a world where humans are thick with cybernetics, an enemy of purists threatens our race with destruction. A group of reluctant and flawed heroes are key to humanity's survival. OK, enough with the dust jacket notes. The novel's setting was completely new and unique to me and the true nature of the threat caught me completely off guard. I'm hoping he turns this into a series. 
For the record, I was introduced to Birmingham year's ago by Parade magazine from the Sunday paper which I habitually read with my Sunday lunch. Back then it was his After America trilogy in which virtually every living being in the continental U.S. was killed by an energy field that arrived and departed inexplicably. How do you think the rest of the world would act based on that void?

Red Metal by Mark Greaney

Reminiscent of Larry Bond's Red Storm Rising (co-authored with Tom Clancy who seems to be given all the author credit these days) and from an author of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan Jr. novels, Red Metal is everything I want in military fiction: the Russians are up to no good, catch the U.S. off-guard and get in some good licks, then we see how the U.S. will respond. Good characters and kick-ass action. Like Clancy when Clancy was at his peak.
Learn more at the author's website.

Honorable Mentions

  1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This post-apocalyptic scenario won't leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling.
  2. Colonization: Down to Earth by Harry Turtledove. This is part 2 of an alternate history in which aliens arrive at earth in the middle of WWII. (I'm frustrated by the fact that my library doesn't have the first or third novels in this trilogy. Shame on them.)
  3. Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card. This first installment in a trilogy begins the so-called First Formic War, the prequel to Card's Ender's Game. (Again, I choose a novel for which my library lacks the other two. Shame on me.)
  4. The Second Sleep by Robert Harris. From the author of the fantastic alternate history novel Fatherland, a sleepy English village in the 1400s is shaken by a discovery that hints at a prior civilization.

Looking Forward to 2020

Here's my full list of 2019's reading

"Nothing can be said about writing except when it's bad. When it is good, one can only read and be grateful."



My Favorite Music of 2019

It's time for my annual look-back at the music I purchased during the past 12 months and the albums among them that I enjoyed the most. Admittedly, I appear to have gone a bit overboard by acquiring 68 new albums. That's a lot for me.  But a lot of those are me me finally deciding to buy all of Led Zeppelin's albums on CD to replace my LPs. After seeing Phil Collins in concert this year I did the same for his early catalog. Then I did something similar for The Beatles.

With that out of the way, and in no particular order, here are the albums that are my favorites from 2019.

Red Kite's Debut

The instrumental progressive rock on the self-titled debut album from Norwegian quartet Red Kite has an old soul. To my ears there's a late 1960s and early 1970s anthemic ecstasy that could be dropped comfortably into the soundtrack for Apocalypse Now. Balanced between rugged improvisation and careful composition, the albums five tracks left me wanting more. Notable tracks for me are the barely constrained crescendo of 13 Enemas for Good Luck (I appreciate the oxymoronic humor) and the jazz-tinged and soulful You Don't Know, You Don't Know (in which the frustration is almost palpable). Available on Bandcamp from RareNoise Records, I can't wait to hear what these guys do next.


Soundtracks for Winter Departures by ILUITEQ

When it comes to ambient music, I've listened to a lot. Over time I have discovered a lot of ambience that I like. Then there are the ambient albums that I love. Immediately. On the first play. And I can't put into words the reasons why. One of my all-time favorite ambient recordings is Winter Garden by Eraldo Bernocchi, Harold Budd, and Robin Guthrie. Soundtracks for Winter Departures, the debut album from the duo known as ILUITEQ, may be my favorite ambience since Winter Garden. Soundtracks is lush, rhythmically pulsing, richly orchestrated, deep and dynamic. I lack the words to describe the music properly but I can say that I'm happier for the joy this recording has delivered. Available on Bandcamp from TXT Recordings.


Everything by SONAR

This was the year I became a huge fan of Switzerland's SONAR. My fandom was triggered by 2018's album Vortex featuring David Torn, the subsequent live album Live at Moods, and guitarist Stephan Thelen's solo album, Fractal Guitar.  What did these guys offer during 2019? Only the follow-up recording to their work with Torn, Tranceportation Vol. 1. (From which I infer there will be a Vol. 2 during 2020. One can hope.) As the band describes themselves, they eschew individual virtuosity for the group's polyrhythmic, tritonal guitar sound. The result I can only describe as a highly-rhythmic form of ambience. However, with the addition of Torn's slashing lead guitar, the overall effect is heightened by an order of magnitude. Torn's guitar jaggedly weaves through the space created by the band. I'll repeat Sid Smith's words: "Had MC Escher made music instead of drawing impossible and perplexing perspectives, it would sound like Sonar." Available on Bandcamp from RareNoise Records, I really should buy their complete catalog.


What else did the band have to offer in 2019? The Bill Laswell Mix Translations are a dub mix of tracks from Vortex. And Stephan Thelen remixed his solo album into The Fractal Guitar Remixes and Extra Tracks.

Honorable Mentions

I feel bad about including some albums that I love in this section as opposed to giving them full treatment like the ones above, but in the interest of space and time...
I also want to thank the folks at RareNoise Records for their annual "Leap of Faith" offering which allows you to buy in advance all their new releases in the coming year (and not have to pay for shipping). This may be the best thing that's happened to my music listening in the last decade. 2020's LoF should be announced soon.

Coda

Even after everything I've written above, I still feel bad about not mentioning other artists and albums from 2019 that I have really enjoyed. So here's the complete list of all my new music from 2019. And as I like to say, "I don't know much about music, but I sure like the sound it makes."

Saturday, December 28, 2019

We're fascinated by words...

Here are some of the animated short films nominated for an Academy Award. If you watch only one on this page make it be Hors Piste. It's hilarious.

My favorite issue of Aviation Week each year is their photo contest and this year is no exception. Here's a look at some of the finalists.

I can't find any mention of this on the museum's website, but it has been reported that The Science Behind Pixar exhibition is coming to the Perot museum in Dallas beginning next 25 April. I'll declare this a "must see" right now.

Julie Mehretu, Stadia II, 2004. I see Joan Miro with a 21st century tech influence. source
Mondrian shares some of his insight into abstract art. "The emotion of beauty is always obstructed by the appearance of ‘the object’; therefore the object must be eliminated from the picture." Read more from Piet and other artists here.

Make Weird Music (or read about it).

How many of these progressive rock concept albums do you own? Many people own Pink Floyd's The Wall. I only own 4 of them.

How deep is the sea?

Can green light cure migraines and headaches?

Solve the traveling salesperson problem and create art at the same time.
Elevate your Excel game with with these shortcuts. Or these. Or the official ones from Microsoft.

Probably only the most hardcore Disney fan will want to read this article about the layout manual produced for in-studio use during the production of films for the War Dept. during WWII.

Even the great Chuck Yeager crashed a plane every once in a while, like this F-104 in 1963.

Brent Wadden, Untitled, 2019. Woven abstraction. source
Read 'em and weep: He Who Must Not Be Named's wildest statements of 2019.

The origins of figurative art by humans just got 7,000 older with the discovery of 44,000 year-old cave paintings in Indonesia.

I recommend my Paris friends see the Barbara Hepworth exhibition at the Musee Rodin. Her work is what got me interested in sculpture.

Barbara Hepworth, Contrapuntal Forms, 1965. source. From the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art. I think I prefer her work in marble to other materials. She not only makes it organic, but she makes it human. And in person, the desire to touch and stroke the pieces is palpable.
...but where we meet is the silence behind them. ~Ram Dass

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Predominance of the Christmas Spirit

Mondrian himself said that Composition in Black and Gray has a Christmas mood "if one understands the Christmas idea in a really abstract way... the predominance of the spiritual."

As an abstraction, the painting utilizes a simple motif of diagonal lines to divide the canvas into 256 triangles. Mondrian's use of thicker lines to trace out an irregular arrangement of squares produces a twinkling effect at the intersections.

The painting's spirituality derives from the overall visual effect in which the eye wanders across the canvas, an infinite sky full of stars, especially relevant for a particular starry night. Its small size makes this a joyful intimacy, as though this vista is for you alone.

Piet Mondrian, Composition in Black and Gray, 1919. source
Merry Christmas to all.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

What we hate most in others...

Markus Reuter and Mark Wingfield (recording under the name TEAR) have released two EPs on Bandcamp: Secret Music and City of Memories. And both EPs are freely available for download. What better way to give these two musicians a try?

You can also freely stream The Undivided Five, the new album from A Winged Victory for the Sullen.

Rolling Stone reports that beginning in 2020 Steve Hackett will perform Genesis' classic live album, Seconds Out, in its entirety. That show is scheduled to start late in 2020 in the UK. No US dates on the schedule. Yet.

Robert Mangold, Four Color Frame Painting No. 11, 1985. I had the pleasure of hearing the artist speak several years back and he explores a motif like this one for many paintings in a row until he loses it.
And the latest from Sonar and David Torn, Tranceportation Vol. 1,  is a keeper. Check out the teaser.

Colin Edwin has a new album coming out in January. Here's the trailer.

Here's a 2-fer from DJ Earworm.


We're getting close to award season for movies.


Lovers of the seven seas will adore Chris Bryan's film MOCEAN.

ONext spring will see a new exhibit installed in the Disney Family Museum: The Walt Disney Studios and World War II. Given my fascination with their wartime film Victory Through Airpower, I would like to see this.

Speaking of WWII, Godsend was the Soviet's code name for a spy within the Manhattan Project. We now know his name: Oscar Seborer.

Some thoughts on multi-cultural, multi-language communication.

The protophobic X boson may exert its force only across the width of an atom's nucleus but if it truly exists it will upset the entire standard model of particle physics.

Have you heard that the 2nd law of thermodynamics (i.e. entropy) controls the fact that time only moves forward and not backward? Not so fast.

Three Red Bull Air Racers fly by Mt. Fuji. From a photo gallery of the Red Bull Air Race. Still can't believe they ended it.
Houston's Rothko Chapel has suffered the same fate as those home renovation shows on HGTV. During its remodel they found a problem with the walls that must be addressed resulting in a 4-month, $1 million delay. Reopening now planned for late spring 2020. “It’s like resoling your shoes, while you’re standing up, without lifting them.”

This one particular black forest cake is the best dessert in Fort Worth. And it's not German, it's Swiss: SchwarzwaldtÃ¥rta. (Why this article includes a 3D interactive rendering of a black forest cake is beyond me.)

The so-called "creative class" consists of techies, creatives, and knowledge workers. Fort Worth's creative class is growing the second fastest in the country.

Screen shot from a video showing the relative size, appearance, and rotation of the planets. MUST SEE.
Are you a fan of nature and landscape photography? Then checkout the work of Jeff McDonald (on Instagram and Etsy) and George Buxbaum.

2D animation is not dead as evidenced by Klaus. Click through if only to watch the video showing how a scene progresses from rough to final.

I'm not certain it qualifies as history, but here's a history of the poop emoji.

Your essential cured meats. Loves me some mortadella. Saucisson smells like feet.
Five reasons why smart doesn't mean successful. #3 Smart people attach a lot of their self esteem to being smart which can lead to avoidance.

In Ohio, the house of representatives passed a law allowing students to give wrong answers for religious reasons. Any politician who voted for this should be ashamed. Hopefully, the senate will kill this thing dead. Kill it with fire.

Vanadium dioxide, a metal, conducts electricity but not heat.

Have you ever been eating a pop-tart and wondered what whiskey would pair well with it?

I guessed that Oreos' mystery flavor was churros. I just didn't win the prize.

Ze Frank does it again with True Facts: Stinkhorns. And again with Mudskippers.

Sometimes the title says it all: You Can Finally Spend the Night in a Hotel Shaped Like an Anus.
I leave you with Emoji Storm, a real-time animation of every emoji being used on Twitter.

...we fear in ourselves.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge...

One Rothko Per Hour is pretty much what its name says.

Ze Frank has released more True Facts videos: the sand bubbler crab and leafhoppers.

After bookmarking the Bandcamp page for ILUITEQ's Soundtracks for Winter Departures about a year ago, I finally pulled the trigger and bought it based on recent praise for the album from Eraldo Bernocchi. And as I listen for the first time, I regret having waited so long.

Did you know the USS Fort Worth, the U.S. Navy's Littoral Combat Ship LCS-3, has a local support committee?

There's no better time for beautiful news. For example, a 100% biodegradable maxi-pad has been developed.
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Ed Clark, Untitled, 2005. The painter recently passed away at age 93.

Science has finally observed the magnetic bridge between galaxies.

You may need to spend time with this but I think it's a live, interactive map of trains in Tokyo.

The schedule for the next year's worth of runDisney events was posted to the Disney Parks blog.

The geographic fandom of baseball teams. Those poor Mets.

B-52 nuclear alert missions are not historical artifacts of the cold war. They still happen today as this video shows.

Here's a nice video epilogue to 2001.

Or how about a 360-degree, 4K video of an F-35 flight over San Francisco?

Even more aviation pr0n, this time in the form of the annual Strike Fighter Ball video

Let's bring together aviation and animation in this video survey of Miyazaki's portrayal of flying machines in his films.

A handy reference to all those things on your dashboard. (Never knew there was a gas-cap warning light.)
Sorry, no poop.

...faster than society gathers wisdom. -Isaac Asimov

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The only easy day...

The best fast food in every state. Ohio = Gold Star Chili?

Science tells us what happened the day the dinosaurs died.

The Comet, a video about comet 67P.

Disney Docs is where a guy shares his collection documents related to Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and more. (It's nice to see a focused collection.)

It's still difficult to understand how the Red Bull Air Race can be over. But it is. So they share some memorable moments and some best moments.

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park No. 22, 1969. From an article by Tony Berlant on Diebenkorn's influence. "A yin-yang balance between impulse and revision is felt in all his work."
Mark your calendars. The Modern will host the exhibition Mark Bradford: End Papers from 08 Mar 2020 to 09 Aug 2020.

Imagine an entire magazine dedicated to the periodic table of elements. You don't have to imagine it - just read the 28 Aug 2019 issue of Businessweek.

Money only motivates when tasks are simple and formulaic. Otherwise, money demotivates. So what do we want? Autonomy, mastery, purpose.

What's rarer than the collision of two black holes? The collision of three black holes.
Innerviews features Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks. Interesting to hear him be open about feeling a wee bit inferior to the solo careers of band mates Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford.

Robert Fripp said that music is the goblet that holds the wine of silence. Read more about the history of silence in music.
Got a tech (programming) interview coming up soon? Don't forget to ask your own questions. What kind of meetings happen every week? How do you prepare for disaster recovery?

What's most interesting to me in this announcement from D23 of a 50th anniversary celebration by the Walt Disney Archives is that the exhibit will be traveling with an announcement of locations promised in 2020. DFW?

The fall foliage map for 28 Sep 2019. It looks like North Texas has nothing to get excited about until the end of October and beginning of November.
Excel mavens rejoice. XLOOKUP, the successor to VLOOKUP, is coming. The article claims that VLOOKUP is the 3rd most used function in Excel behind SUM and AVERAGE. (I guess I might as well learn what the hell VLOOKUP does.)

Fort Worth's Near Southside is primed to be an innovative economic force.

What are the most important leadership competencies? #2 is "self-organizing," provides goals and objectives with loose guidelines and directions.

The first ever photograph of light as a particle and a wave.
A golden toilet named America was stolen from a gallery where it was being exhibited. How?

You are looking at the world's oldest fossilized turd, the Lloyds Bank Coprolite. It's from a 9th century Viking.
Science proves that knives made from frozen poop don't work. (Who thought they did?)

...was yesterday. ~U.S. Navy Seals