Review: The Jungle Book

The Jungle BookThe Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like, I imagine, most Americans (or at least most Americans 40 and under – ie Millenials and Younger) my only exposure was to Disney’s The Jungle Book. I had no idea the original was a collection of short stories. I’d heard it was “Old School British Racist”TM. But I’m on a Project Gutenberg quest to read the classics that I never got to (school never assigned it). This was one of them. As I write this, I’m also reading Little Women for the first time. Overall, I liked The Jungle Book. Seems like it was meant to be an asiatic Aesop’s Fables. It’s cute and I’d probably share it with my kids. I didn’t really care for all the songs/poems, but it’s a neat bit of flavor. Yes, it does have some attitudes against Indians that are racist, but it doesn’t permeate the stories. I think, depending on your ability to read those things, it’s fine. And since it’s free on Project Gutenberg, it’s not like you’re enriching someone for these attitutes.

I had to cut a LOT from the per-story status updates, below is what I would have put for each story if I had no character limit.

Mowgli’s Brothers: Mowgli is able to walk, not Moses-like as in the Disney movie. And Shere Khan is a bit less clever and cool. Unlike Disney movie, the wolves specifically want to keep him so he will grow to a man and hunt Shere Khan because the tiger is such a menace (whose hunting risks bringing the ire of man to the jungle). Baloo is there at the beginning and he and Bagheera both speak for Mowgli. Baloo to teach (and he apparently teaches all the cubs) and Bagheera just to deny Shere Khan. Bagheera was born into a menagerie.

Hunting-Song of the Seeonee Pack: A poem. It’s meh.

Kaa’s Hunting: Jumps back in time to before the ending of Mowgli’s brothers. I wonder why Kipling did it this way rather than as a novella or novel. In a reversal from the Disney movie – Bagheera wants to spoil Mowgli and Baloo wants to be serious about his lessons. This short story contains the essense of the Kaa and King Louis sections in the Disney movie. Differences: Kaa is an ally to Baloo and Bagheera (mostly). Kaa IS able to hypnotize, but not from his eyes. There is no King Louis in this version. Instead it’s only the monkeys that kidnap him and they’re all constantly distracted. I actually liked this version of Kaa a lot more as it was a lot scarier in the resolution of the story.

Road-Song of the Bandar-Log: encapsulates what we’ve learned about the Bandar-Log so far.

“Tiger! Tiger!”: Mowgli joins a village. MAYBE is reunited with his parents. Or it may be another couple who lost their kid to Shere Khan. He does not fit in at first, naturally. And he bristles at made-up stories about the jungle. Looks like Disney stole Shere Khan’s death for killing Mufasa in The Lion King. Interestingly, although Kipling sure had no such intentions, the story functions as a relatively good metaphor of how hard it can be to have feet in two camps – such as bi/multi-racial kids.

Perhaps problematic line: “Herding in India is one of the laziest things in the world.”

Mowgli’s Song: A song about killing Shere Khan

The White Seal: A modern telling of this story most likely would have gone the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer route. This, being a MUCH older story, does not have the white seal suffering any consequences for being white. He’s proud and some seals ask him about it, but it’s never a thing. The story ends up being a tale about perseverence and not succombing to your fate. Overall, not a bad fable.

Lukannon: Seal song.

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi: I remember seeing a cartoon of this from some series that my parents used to rent from the library. I think it was some PBS or PBS-like series that animated kids’ short stories. I didn’t know it came from The Jungle Book. I didn’t remember the story involving humans; interesting. Basic, but fun adventure story in which Rikki-Tikki and the cobras wage war.

Darzee’s Chant: another poem/song.

Toomai of the Elephants: The first story told from the point of view of humans – we hear none of the animals speak. I thought it was a fun story full of adventure that would be fun for a child to imagine, although it did have a couple problamatic sentences here and there. I think I prefer the animial-centric stories in this collection.

Shiv and the Grasshopper: another song/poem.

Her Majesty’s Servants: This is a fun one that takes a hybrid approach. It’s about, and features, talking animals, but the main character is a human who happens to understand them. The fun comes from the fact that the different animals all play different parts in the military and eac thinks they are the most important part of the military. You could easily redo it with Army, Navy, Marines, and Airforce in place of the different animals. This one’s also got the most of the racist/imperialist ideas, but still nothing as bad as what I was expecting with the way people talk about this book. Interestingly, at least in the 1800s (or whenever it was written), Indians were considered “black” by the Brits.

Parade Song of the Animals: another song/poem

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Review: The Gospel Reloaded

The Gospel ReloadedThe Gospel Reloaded by Seay Garrett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my second time reading this book. I got it back when I was getting a bunch of similar books – I have Gospel According to the Simpsons and Philosophy of Seinfeld books as well. For this particular one, I didn’t enjoy the format as much as I remembered enjoying it the first time around. At first the chapters just follow one another, building up on the previous chapters. Then they become somewhat more self-sufficient. What I enjoyed most was remembering about the Gnostic Gospels and how much the Wachowskis really put into these movies.

I know nothing about the authors of this book, but if they still believe what they believed back when they wrot ethe book, boy does it make me nostalgic for a more rational Christian rather than the Culture Wars version that seems to more often make the news, talk shows, etc. The author talks of climate change, of class imbalances, and so many other things that are so much more Christ-like than what you hear spouted all the time on TV. I think if more Christians were like him, I’d probably still go to church. But I just can’t stand how much it’s all become an us vs them situation that discourages using your God-given powers of thinking.

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Review: Hippopotamister

HippopotamisterHippopotamister by John Patrick Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I interviewed John Patrick Green at Baltimore Comic-Con 3 years ago.

You can watch it here!

Although I liked the concept behind Hippopotamister, my oldest (the right age for it at the time) didn’t care for it. But now, one of my twins is really into his other series – InvestiGators. Since the second book still isn’t out (I think it comes out at the end of this month), I got them Hippopotamister. It was a huge hit tonight.

What I loved is how Green takes what seems like a silly premise (and some good repetition to get the kids laughing) and actually creates a compelling story that builds up in a way that most kids’ books neglect to do. There are lots of jokes in the pictures for the kids to laugh at as they get older.

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Review: The Mongoliad: Book Three

The Mongoliad: Book Three (Foreworld, #3)The Mongoliad: Book Three by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a great cap to the long trilogy (although – put together I think it’s not longer than a Brandon Sanderson Stormlight Archive book). While the first third of the book continues to build things up, we’ve met just about everyone by the time we’ve arrived here and so the last 2/3 of the book is a wild ride. It feels like the tension just keeps building until you’re on a giant roller coaster ride to the bottom once the climax proper begins. I can’t really talk about too many specifics in the third book in a trilogy without getting into spoilres, so instead I’ll talk about what I thought was best about this book.

– The book acknowledges that, even for the knights and mongol warriors, taking another human’s life is not easy. There are often lingering effects, up to and including PTSD. It brings a much more grounded reality and complexity to the characters and I really loved that. This trilogy seemed to have the best of both worlds – incredible fight scenes followed by consequences.

– Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II is one of my favorite characters of all time. (Behind Hoid of The Cosmere) His realpolitik made any scene with him a real joy. I think he was used just the right amount because it left me wanting even more.

– The mystical elements of the trilogy were well-handled here. It’s always fun to be in a world where most people don’t believe in the mystical, but we readers know it’s real.

– Realistic-ish consequences for our protagonists. They weren’t all protected by plot armor and that made it more exciting to see who would live and who would die.

After writing this I’m going to do a little research into how much Stephenson, et al were playing with history here. From Hardcore History and other podcasts, I know the Mongols almost conquered Europe. Then Ogedai died and they never found a way to get back. And a HUGE shame that I NEVER learned this in world history. (More like European history! ugh!) It wasn’t until my late 20s or maybe even early 30s that I learned about the vastness of the Mongol Empire. So we know that much is true, even if it’s 99.99% certain some Militaristic Christian order didn’t kill him. But was The Mongoliad real? If so, that’s bananas. Did the Mongols really collect fighters from around Asia? Even if the details of Father Rodrigo were fabricated for this story – was there really a vede sacante? (Or whatever where they couldn’t pick a pope) and was it really in part caused by Frederick’s interventions? And finally, did something like The Binders really exist? It does make sense as a sort of Eurasian spy-for-hire network since most people in either continent wouldn’t be likely to travel much. (Crusaders being an exception)

If you read the first two books and weren’t sure about the pacing – it gets better. If you haven’t read the first two and are somehow reading this review – if you like historical fiction and would like to see a part of the history in a part of the world that almost no one ever talks about – this trilogy from the Foreworld Saga is DEFINITELY highly recommended.

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Review: Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man

Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked ManDon’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man by Tim Allen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second time reading this book.

I first read this book in middle school because I really liked Home Improvement. Kind of reminds me of the joke Eddie Murphy tells in Delirious when he sees a young kid in the audience. “You thought I’d be up here at Buckwheat saying ‘o-tay’ and all that”. I read above my age, but it didn’t mean I was ready to understand everything in the book, particularly the more adult stuff like married life or being a parent. It did leave an impression on me because I was able to completely remember the first chapter.

One thing I didn’t appreciate when I read this as a kid is how the book combines Tim Allen the performer with Tim Allen the human. (Although his next book – I’m Not Really Here – does a much better job of that) He mentions overtly that he’s a big reader. Could be a joke based on his persona on Home Improvement and his on-stage persona. But based on the things he keeps mentioning – you see it’s true while also not invalidating his performance persona. Of course, knowing that many comedians’ books are ghost-written, I do wonder how much is Tim with someone helping him wrangle it vs someone writing in his voice. Since it’s auto-biographical, I imagine he’s got a higher level of input than average.

Overall, reading this book in 2020 was trippy. There are some things that were ahead of their time like when he called out “The War on Drugs” for the silliness that it is. (At least in execution it’s very clumsy and doesn’t seem to have policies that actually lead to its goals) In other ways this is a 90s-ass book. As John Scalzi recently mentioned in a blog post about his newspaper work from the 90s, there was a definite “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus” thing going on in the 90s that leads to a kind of sexism that isn’t quite as accepted nowadays. Of course, there is a point in the book where Tim Allen points out that the humor in the book is just humor and not meant to be taken seriously – he knows he’s goofing on women, he doesn’t actually think it’s true. But it was also the basis of his 1980s/1990s persona. (And the man/woman thing was so prevalant that it gets a mention in an early Futurama episode featuring the Omecron Persei aliens who want to watch an episode of Ally McBeal – Single Female Lawyer in the show) It’s also got a bit of that 1990s gay panic (if that’s the right word) where it’s not homophobia, it’s more of a “hey, I’m not gay because I’m showing my soft side” type of thing beause the ideaof ‘metrosexual’ hadn’t quite hit the scene yet.

Overall, the book comes off as kind of timeless and kind of dated. Timeless in that no matter how enlightened we get as a culture, I think there will always be some differences between men and women that can be mined for humor. Dated in the WAY that it’s expressed in the book can be 2020s-sexist as well as dated in the fact that he uses the phrase “color TV” as if there’s any other kind. And his upbringing is becoming less of the norm as more kids stay indoors to play video games or have more supervised outdoor time. It’s kind of like Little Women, which I’m currently reading for the first time, in that way. For something like the last 100 years children have had roughly the same upbringing beause even when there was TV, it used to cut out at night when my mom was a kid. Our kids (or depending how old you are – grandkids) have a completely different life in which outdoors is the most boring part of their lives. Even my kids, who have spent at least 2 hours outside every day during quarantine and make up all kinds of games out there, can’t wait to have Animal Crossing time. Meanwhile, when I was a kid, video games were so hard that you’d eventually give up in frustration and go play with toys or play outside. So I think that aspect of the book may be slowly fading away (unless the next generation swings back in the other direction).

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Review: Spiced: Unlock the Power of Spices to Transform Your Cooking

Spiced: Unlock the Power of Spices to Transform Your CookingSpiced: Unlock the Power of Spices to Transform Your Cooking by America’s Test Kitchen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As usual for a book by America’s Test Kitchen, there’s a good combination of educational content and tasty recipes. I’ve already made a few recipes from this book, most recently the spiced ragu which had a unique taste due to its use of Five Spice Powder. It was not out of place, after all, for a while the spice trade passed through Italy. But it was also not a boring same-old Italian recipe. It went over pretty well with the family, as well.

If you’re the experimental type, looking for some spice blends and infusions you can use creatively in your recipes, this is a great book. If you’re among America’s Test Kitchen’s target audience – not yet experimenting on your own and requiring specific recipes – it’s yet another great book by them.

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Review: Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 143

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 143Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 143 by Neil Clarke
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This issue’s stories didn’t really work as well for me as the last few issues have.

Thoughts per story:

The veilonaut’s dream: explorers at a spatial discontinuity explore it for money. Partially a tale of exploitative labor and partly a tale of the stages of grief.

The Anchorite Wakes: There are little hints here and there that something odd is going on. It is all revealed in the last few pages and it’s quite an incredible world hidden from us until that point. Very neat story and ending.

Kingfisher: A metaphor for being unable to let relationships go. It involved such strangeness that I often was left to discard various information about the world is the story because it often made no sense. But I think it worked alright as a metaphor.

The privilege of the happy ending: The author is literally in conversation with the reader in this extremely meta short story. It explores ideas of storytelling and, as per the title, happy endings. It’s quite well-written and reminds me of a fable, if fables got extremely meta.

The Loneliest Ward: a very short story about a nurse who works at a ward where people are becoming comatose in some kind of pandemic. The story is so short, it’s hard to talk about without spoiling anything. But the ending really re-enforces the point.

Yukui!: An interesting take on AI that perhaps takes the slave metaphor to a more subtle place than I’ve often seen in other stories.

Othermother (annex excerpt): an excerpt for a novel that was turned into a short story for publishing in Clarkesworld. I often say I went to see more of a world and now I can. Some kind of Alien invasion is capturing children and had used an evil psychological plan to do it. Quite horrific.

Non-Fiction:
Mary and the monster: the life of Mary Godwin Shelley: a really neat insight into how Mary Shelley’s life provided the experience to write Frankenstein at such a young age.

Augmentations, assassins, and soundtracks: a conversation with Emily Davenport: Some discussions on generation ships as a genre and how to consider the technological advances in the future.

Another Word: Keeping Time: A philosophical discussion of time and how that can be used for story-telling purposes

Editor’s Desk: Oh, the Horror of it All!: Neil decides no more horror for Clarkesworld

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First time soldering headers

First time soldering headers

The last time I tried to solder something, it was just a few pins and it gave me so much trouble and took hours. So, when I was thinking about how how I was going to redo my BBQ thermostat with Adafruit Circuit Python and Stemma QT, I was afraid to get the FeatherS2 since it wasn’t sold in a configuration that came with headers already soldered on. The idea of soldering some 28 pins filled me with fear of screwing up the board. After it arrived, I procrastinated. Finally, today I did it. I don’t know what changed from when I tried to solder last time, but it worked reasonably well. Yes, if you look at the picture, I need to fix the USB pin and pin 38 before I try inserting into any headers, but it just took me about 15 minutes and I didn’t have any feelings of giving up or intense frustration. So, I just wanted to celebrate this milestone. Hurray for me!

New Recipes Sept 2020 – Nov 2020

lamb and onion burger
lamb and onion burger

In September I made two new recipes. One was the Lamb and Grilled Onion burger from Weber’s Big Book of Burgers. I also tried a hot and fast recipe for pulled pork from Raichlen’s Project Fire. The taste was good, but the biggest hit was the recipe he had for a mustard sauce.

beef short rib ragu
beef short rib ragu

For October the only new recipe I made was America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe for beef short rib ragu. I really enjoyed a different take on a ragu than the more French and Cuban versions I’d had in the past. It is definitely a recipe I’d like to make again.

Braised Turkey
Braised Turkey

Unsurprisingly, my new recipe for November involves turkey. I’d been wanting to try Bon Apetite’s braised turkey recipe for a couple years now. I tried it out and I have to say that anyone who says this is the best turkey ever has never had awesome smoked turkey. Luckily, I also smoked a turkey so we didn’t have to only eat this. (It was OK, just didn’t live up to the hype)

While I did cook more thank just these three meals, these last few months didn’t have too many new recipes.

Trying out zsh (again, maybe?)

It’s been a very, very long time since I tried using a different shell than the bash shell. Back some 10-15 years ago I remember hearing about fish and trying it out. I think it broke some bash paradigms so I went back to bash. I could have sworn I tried zsh in the past, but I could be wrong. I know the last shell I tried out didn’t let me use ‘*’ during a dnf update to update all the packages that start with the same prefix, say all the 1500-ish texlive packages. That annoyed me so I went back to bash. If it was on this computer it was on a previous install or previous /home directory because I couldn’t find any evidence of zsh. No profiles or other such dot files that I could find. (Not that I looked too hard).

For comparison’s sake, this is how my bash shell looks:

I’ve cut off my username on the left

I’m using Powerline with the git extensions.

The setup was incredibly comprehensive. Here are a few screenshots showing the various menus of configuration options:

first time user. No idea how complex things will eventually get
The history configs after I’ve increased the save history
Completion system configs
Even deeper into the options

Big change I made was changing directories just by typing the directory name. In the end, things looked exactly the same.

zsh with powerline. Not a huge change.

I think the real benefit of zsh is the plugin system. And/or maybe some of the themes. Although I’m not sure how well it plays with powerline. It might be an either/or thing. I need to investigate further.

As I was changing my shell, I came across the command option display, which is AWESOME.

displaying command options!

Programming Update

C#

Back when I was doing GameDev.Tv‘s Unity 2D class, I really wanted to know how to do multiplayer games (I also wanted some better support on using Xbox/PS3 remotes in games). Well, this year they released their Multiplayer class. So, naturally, I bought it up. I started working on it, resulting in two Github Repos. In the first section we were learned the basics of the Mirror add-on. I’m currently working through the second section, where we will create a basic RTS. I haven’t reached a real differentiation point from the GameDev folks. That may come later after we get past the basics.

Scratch

This summer when I was doing Scratch projects with the kids, I’d bookmarked a couple and then I went back to work on a normal schedule. So I wanted to finally get to these. Since Scarlett really loves art, I chose to do the Pattern Pen project with her. It was a great project to do, as it taught me about lists in Scratch as well as the Pen module, which, essentially, add capabilities like the Turtle programming language. The final program looked like this:

In order to get the values for the degrees and increase lists, there was an intermediate step where the program would ask the user for values. Then the programmer was supposed to take note of the ones they liked for use in the final version. Scarlett preferred the interactivity so we did save off a version of the program at that point in development so she could play with it some more in the future. I thought she’d like it because she’s art oriented, I had no idea how much she’d love it.

Here’s a video of it in action:

Python

Since the last time I wrote about my programming projects, I had mostly been focused on the C# Unity Multiplayer class and getting the footage ready for the End of the Year video game post. But it turned out that I still had a couple Python Morsels left in my free trial and then I happened to be on discord when the Python discord mentioned something called Advent of Code…

Python Morsels

This one turned out not to be too bad. Trey wanted us to “write a function that takes a nested list of numbers and adds up all the numbers”. I somewhat tried to outsmart myself trying to be Pythonic. After a while I gave up and went for recursion. I ended up with:

def sums(iterable):                    
    sum = 0       
    for number in iterable:       
        if isinstance(number, list):       
            if len(number) == 0:       
                sum = sum + 0       
            else:       
                sum = sums(number) + sum       
        else:       
            sum = number + sum       
    return sum       

def deep_add(iterable):       
    # print(f"The iterable {iterable}")       
    return sums(iterable)

Turns out I wasn’t too far off from one of Trey’s recommended solutions. The only thing he did to make it more efficient was to make it use a generator in the recursion. Bonus 1 had to take in any iterable, not just a list. Bonus 2 adds a start value. Basically an extra number to add in addition to the iterable. Bonus 3 had to work on anything “number-like”. That meant things like time deltas. My final code looked like:

from collections import Iterable
 def sums(iterable, start):
     sum = start
     for number in iterable:
         if isinstance(number, Iterable):
             if len(number) == 0:
                 sum = sum + 0
             else:
                 sum = sums(number, sum)
         else:
             sum = number + sum
     return sum
 def deep_add(iterable, start=0):
     # print(f"The iterable {iterable}")
     return sums(iterable, start)

Overall, thanks to all that I’d learned during my various Python Morsels lessons, it was an easy problem set and I only needed a small break during part 3 to get my brain to solve it for me.

Advent of Code

As I mentioned above, I heard about Advent of Code in the Python discord. It’s a series of brain teaser programming word problems with an over-arching story being told within the problems. This year, the programmer is going to take a vacation from helping Santa. Each day presents another aspect of his journey where programming helps him solve a problem and get on to the next task. As I write this, today is Day 9. So far, Day 7 has given me the most trouble. In fact, I still haven’t finished part 2 of the Day 7 task. Outside of Day 7 I’ve been having a blast. Some puzzles have been really hard while others (like Days 8 and 9) have been really easy. Day 9 was especially easy because I learned about deques in Python Morsels. Each day, accomplishing the teaser for that day fills me with a sense of joy akin to any other puzzle solving endeavor. I also love seeing how others are solving the problems, including someone who is coding each problem in Unreal Engine. Here’s an example:

I’ve got a Github repo where I’m keeping track of all of my solutions. I’ll certainly have more to say about this during the end of year wrapup blog post on programming.