Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Books in brief.

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

I’ve ranted to some of my friends about Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me and I should probably post a longer review here. (Short version: now I know why there aren’t more books following an author during their writing process.)

But you know how it is. Mom likes Jack Reacher, and I kind of do as well, so when I found a copy of Night School at Half-Price I grabbed it.

And I think it’s actually a pretty okay book. It still has some of the things that have started to grate on me (Reacher makes women’s clothes fall off: Reacher takes on seven guys at once), but the annoyances are modulated by a couple of factors:

  • This is a “historical” Reacher rather than a “contemporary” Reacher. Night School Reacher is still in the Army, and the book is set sometime between 1993 and 1999.
  • Frances Neagley from Without Fail and Bad Luck and Trouble is a major character (introduced early on, and cleverly, so I don’t think this is a spoiler). I like Neagley, and not just because Reacher doesn’t make her clothes fall off; she’s smart, at least as smart as Reacher and possibly smarter, and there are hints of an interesting backstory. I’d read an entire “Adventures of Frances Neagley, PI” novel if Child ever decided to write one.

There’s an interesting MacGuffin (who is “the American” and what is he selling for $100 million?), some clever procedural work, and a satisfying level of ass-kicking (seven against Reacher aside). Night School isn’t a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.

I don’t have a Single Action Army (yet) but I grabbed a copy of Shooting Colt Single Actions in All Styles, Calibers, & Generations from Half-Price right after Christmas (it was 20% off, so I picked it up for relatively short money). It seems like HPB got in a fair amount of relatively obscure gun books from someone or somewhere. (I also got a copy of Compliments of Col. Ruger in the same purchase.)

Venturino’s book, while about 20 years out of date, is still informative. I don’t know that much has changed in the world of Colt Single Actions since 1995. (Except for prices, and I suspect some of his listed vendors have closed up shop.) The most interesting thing about my copy of the book, though? When I’m reading it, I can just faintly smell Hoppe’s #9 or some other form of gun cleaner/lubricant coming off the pages. Someone must really have loved this book, and their guns.

(It isn’t an annoying smell, at least to me. I own a few books that used to belong to smokers; as any serious book collector will tell you, that’s annoying.)

One of my Christmas presents from my beloved and indulgent sister was Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life, a book I was previously unaware of (but which was a NYT bestseller). I’ll confess that I was initially a little bit skeptical about Spy Secrets, mostly because the author set off my “reality show contestant” radar. (He apparently appeared on “Shark Tank” and got a deal.)

My reality show skepticism was offset early on when Jason Hanson came out and said: he’s a gun guy, who has a permit, carries everywhere he legally can, and hangs out in gun shops. But Spy Secrets isn’t a gun book, nor is it a text on mastering covert tradecraft. Hanson’s emphasis is on protecting yourself through:

  • awareness – paying attention and knowing how to spot possible trouble.
  • avoidance – staying out of trouble and, if you stumble into it, not making it worse
  • preparedness – if you do get in trouble, what do you have and what do you know that can get you out, or at least keep you alive until the cavalry gets there?

I’m probably not the best person to evaluate this book – I’d love to see a take from Weaponsman or Karl – but Hanson impresses me as sane and practical. I do have one small quibble with his advice, but beyond that I feel comfortable recommending Spy Secrets. And if you have a high school or college freshman around, I think you could do a pretty good deed if you bought them a copy of this book, a nice tactical pen, and a good quality pocket-sized flashlight.

(My one quibble? I disagree with Hanson about the value of smartphones and text messaging. I agree with him that smartphones detract from situational awareness: I’m conscious of that in my own life and need to work on it. But it is also a well known fact that, in emergency situations where the cell network is overloaded, text messages have a much better chance of going through than phone calls. If you’ve got someone to watch your six, or can dictate a text to Siri, texting “Meet me at the meeting place” may be the smart way to go.)

Obit watch: December 30, 2016.

Friday, December 30th, 2016

George S. Irving has died. He was 94.

Mr. Irving was a Tony award winner (for a revival of “Irene” in which he acted opposite Debbie Reynolds):

Mr. Irving was a regular on Broadway, in the musicals “Can-Can,” “Bells Are Ringing” and “Irma La Douce,” among others, and in plays like Gore Vidal’s political satire “An Evening With Richard Nixon and…,” in which he played the title role.

He was also a television spokesman for White Owl cigars, and narrated episodes of “Underdog”.

But he was perhaps best known as the voice of Heat Miser in “The Year Without a Santa Claus”. He was also in “A Miser Brothers’ Christmas” (which I’d never even heard of, but I was apparently in my 40s when that premiered).

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Sunday, December 25th, 2016

Overheard in the office…

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

“It’s just not Christmas until I see Hans Gruber fall from the Nakatomi Tower.”

More weird intersections.

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

This is kind of a weird three-fer. Sort of one of those triangle intersections.

A woman bought “$23,000” worth of “Hatchimals” which I am given to understand is this year’s hot Christmas toy. (Personally, they sound stupid to me, but I am not a small child.)

…purchased 156 of the in-demand toys at an average price of $151— spending more than $23,000 — with the goal of reselling them at a further marked-up price.

Interestingly, eBay has apparently imposed limits on “Hatchimals” sales.

“I have a fortune invested, only one venue to offload them, and in only three weeks they will magically transform into useless pumpkins that will take up space in my office FOREVER, and have caused my financial ruin,” [she] wrote. “Oh, and I’ll still owe the lawyers.”

…she paid $23,595.31 to buy 156 of the toys before realizing she wouldn’t be allowed to resell them on EBay. The site only lets users post three Hatchimals auctions per week.

So why is some random woman’s attempt to profit on the backs of hard-working parents who just want to get their children a toy for Christmas interesting?

Intersection number 1: the random woman is author Sara “Water for Elephants” Gruen.

This raises questions: namely, why would Ms. Gruen, who is surely rolling in all that sweet Oprah’s Book Club and movie money, embark on this quest to profit on the backs yadda yadda? And why wouldn’t she have checked eBay polices before spending $23,000?

I don’t have an answer for the second question. As for the first, that’s intersection number 2:

On her Shopify site, Gruen wrote that the mission of her store is “to get justice for a wrongfully convicted man who was sentenced to LWOP(Life Without Parole) 23 years ago, and who has been incarcerated since.”

More:

Gruen has declined to offer any details about the man she says she’s trying to help by selling the toys. She told the Philly Voice she’s working on documentary series about the case, and that his identity will be revealed soon.

Curious. I might watch that series, if shows up anyplace I have access to, mostly because I wonder how she got involved in this case.

Edited to add: Got to remember. Always, always do the math.

She’s selling the toys, which come with an autographed copy of one of her five books, for $189 each. Batteries — for the Hatchimal — are included.

$189 times 156 is $29,484. Subtract the $23,595.31 she paid, and that leaves a gross profit of $5888.69. And that’s before the cost of the batteries, whatever she’s paying for the copies of her books (unless she just has 156 copies lying around the house), and assuming she sells all of them. (The article says she’s given four away to “needy kids”, which reduces her gross that much more.)

Doesn’t $5,000 seem like a relatively paltry amount to fund a documentary? Heck, couldn’t she have raised that on Kickstarter without the whole exploiting parents yadda yadda angle?

Leadership Secrets of Non-Fictional Characters (part 12 in a series)

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

This is a rare combination: both a leadership post and a swell Christmas story.

It is also very short, and I’m afraid to even quote from it as I might spoil it for you. I will say that it is a story from fairly recent history that involves two Marine Corps generals, and reflects honorably on both of them.

So, here: please go read.

Where do we get such men?

Christmas is coming.

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

I’ll post another reminder after Thanksgiving, but remember: clicking on Amazon links, or using the search box, gives us a small kickback on your purchases, and allows us to indulge our penchant for small electronics, knives, books, and movies from the 16 page list, “A partial and incomplete list of movies we might want to watch or have talked about watching (with annotations)”.

(I maintain that as a Google Doc which is shared with a few friends. I’m not sure I want to share it here, and if I did, it would be read-only. But if you ask directly, I might think about it…)

(Speaking of the Amazon search box, is anyone having trouble with it? It seems to be working okay for me, and I thought I replaced that when Amazon end-of-lifed the old version, but Lawrence made a comment to me the other night about it not working…)

I don’t expect gifts: the thoughtful and pleasant people who hang out here are more than enough of a gift for me. However, as an administrative note: if you are someone who feels inclined to purchase a gift for me, please do not purchase this book. Thank you.

(However, I wouldn’t object to a book on goat raising. Especially those Nigerian dwarf goats. I have been trying to persuade my mother that she needs a dwarf goat, or some dwarf cattle, to keep the Corgi company and give it something to do besides park itself under the bed.)

(Via. The funny thing is, I’d actually heard of this guy, or at least his toaster project. I would be more interested in the toaster, though it strikes me as an inferior version of “I, Pencil”.)

TMQ Watch: December 29, 2015.

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

We hope all of our readers had a good Christmas, and that Santa or Krampus brought you everything you wanted. Sadly, Robot Santa Claus failed to bring us everything we wanted, as far too many of our enemies remain alive. Maybe in 2016. Or maybe we should submit our wish list to Morbo.

It looks like TMQ got what he wanted; a Panthers loss. Does this mean what we fear it means? After the jump, this week’s TMQ

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And what was in those ships?

Friday, December 25th, 2015

I think if you do it two years in a row, it becomes a tradition, and you have to keep doing it.

Also, I really do like this song.

Merry Christmas, you guys.

A Christmas Story.

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

I’ve been threatening to tell this one for a while now. What pushed me over the edge was this (because, hey, Christmas story), and a conversation with my mother about the first “Star Wars”, which filled me with nostalgia. (Or that may have been indigestion from a combination of three cup chicken and the pills I’m taking; sometimes, I can’t tell the difference.)

(We were trying to reconstruct the circumstances around seeing “Star Wars”. My father took my sister and I to the theater at Greenspoint Mall in Houston (which was the closest good one) to see it first run. My younger brother didn’t go with us, because he was roughly 2 1/2. So the questions that came up were: what did we do with him, and when did he first see it? I always thought my dad took us as just a nice gesture, while my mother thinks she had a Tupperware party going on that night and wanted to get us out of the house.)

End of introductory digression.

One year, over the Christmas break from school, I decided I wanted to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I’m pretty sure I was in middle school at the time, and to this day I can’t explain what motivated this: perhaps I thought it had a cool title, and I may have read about it elsewhere.

Anyway, I checked it out of the school library and brought it home with me.

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Art, damn it, art! watch (#50 in a series)

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

I don’t remember how this originally came up – I’m pretty sure it was by way of someone’s Twitter – but over the weekend Mike the Musicologist and were discussing odd gingerbread constructions. I wouldn’t exactly call them “houses”…

I got to wondering: has anyone ever done a gingerbread Fallingwater?

That would be a “yes”, Bob. And the conversation moved on from there. But I had it in the back of my mind: could you do a gingerbread Guggenheim? Doesn’t seem like it should be that hard, should it?

The answer is also “yes”.

And a gingerbread Tate Modern. And five other museums.

(Now I want to do a gingerbread Reichstag. Mostly because at the end of the Christmas season (which, as we all know, is January 6th), I can pour brandy on it and set it on fire.)

TMQ Watch: December 15, 2015.

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015

After last week’s “slit your wrists” opening, we were hoping to find something light and funny for this week. We didn’t have much luck, alas.

We did briefly consider doing something with “All I want for Christmas is a goat”. But then we listened to “Holy Night”. Or at least we tried to; we had to shut it off 30 seconds in. With all due respect to ActionAid, they could use this to torture prisoners at Gitmo.

So the heck with trying to find something light and funny. Let’s just jump into this week’s TMQ

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