What I’m Reading Now


Another in the series. I have no idea where I learned of it. Vikram Chandra is a novelist who writes code. With Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty, he steps into the world of nonfiction as he explores the connection between the arcane worlds of computer code and art.

Even though I can’t code beyond http, I loved the logic gates, especially the computer made of Legos. In “Histories and Mythologies,” we encounter the Hero on the Quest to write or break code. These narratives fit the classic seven plots and add to them.

The section that indicts Silicon Valley for sexism and racism had me cheering. Chandra includes his own people, referred to as the “Indian Mafia.” He quotes some material with vicious stereotyping, but the people making the point are his fellow countrymen who say that Indians stop learning when they get a job, while Americans continue to grow and change.

I’m now deep into “The Code of Beauty: Anandavardhana” in which Chandra uses poetry to explain the ancient theory of Sangam. This concept divides the world into the interior and exterior (another logic gate). The interior life is pleasure and pain as we experience them. The exterior, Chandra says, involves politics and “obligations.”

Like the American coders, I’m experiencing a whole new world here, and it’s exciting.

Sushi Friday Recap


It’s time to revisit some of the sushi places I’ve visited in the last while.

  • Moonlight. This place drove me away. More than once. Now I’m done for good after getting sick on the fried stuff in the sashimi bento box.
  • Oyama remains a mainstay. There’s a new chef since my review and things have improved so I’m revising upward from C+ to B+ because of good fresh fish. Plus the chefs and waitresses recognize me and know my order.
  • Tisumi This one remains the same. Only the parking hassles have increased, and that has nothing to do with the restaurant.
  • Kuyi The food remains excellent and the chefs more than welcoming but I’ve stopped going because my clothes reeked of fried food every time I left.
  • Hachi This place remembers me and I appreciate pretty much everything about except the waitress who calls me “honey.” It feels like a Phila. diner circa 1950.

Book Workout


Once again I’m not sure how I came across  this Buzz Feed article, “11 Exercises That’ll Make Book Lovers Excited To Work Out.”

I tried it out today, except for the Trilogy Tricep Reps since I didn’t have a trilogy handy and the Fat Stack Crunches. I may be crazy but I’m not stupid. Plus, I’d have to put that fat stack of books away afterward.

Here’s my report:

  • Wall Sit and Read. I lasted for about a page, not a chapter.
  • Page-Turner Push-Ups. This exercise would have worked except 1) I can’t do full-on pushups; 2) my glasses kept falling off my nose.
  • Character Kicks. This one is a keeper. I picked Emma. I’m not sure why the book has to be there. But I managed at least fifteen names. Next time I’ll count.
  • Literary Lunges. This one didn’t feel like much of a workout. Maybe I needed heavier books or longer stretches.
  • Page Planks. See No. 2 under Push-Ups above.
  • Chapter Curls. See Literary Lunges.
  • Reading Marathon Leg Raises. Not sure I did this one right; also see Push-Up commentary above.
  • Series Squats. Couldn’t do this one because there’s no room in front of my major bookshelf to squat down and the smaller ones don’t have spines that are visible.
  • Cooldown. Skipped this because I had to put books away and get ready for the writing workshop.

Will revisit this at some point.



Having had conversations over the last few days about learning disabilities, I’m resurrecting a post from 2012. The original concerned the radio program American Routes, a program produced at Tulane University with host Nick Spitzer who speaks in a delightful combination – bayou drawl with a bit of New Yawk thrown in. Plus he makes an effortless transition  from traditional French to Creole.

One show a few years ago taught me a serious lesson. It was called “Festivals acadiens et creoles.” I understand a VERY little bit of French and speak even less. Both skills diminish with the years. If I listen to the CBC out of Montreal, I can generally figure out the subject matter and most of the details even if the accent is a bit different. Example in English: where we say “about,” they say “aboot.” En français the word chair, pronounced “la chayze,” long “a”  en France, is rendered “la chize” long “i,” in Canada. It sounds odd, but everyone understands.

The French spoken in South Louisiana takes its listeners into a whole different world. During the first song on the Routes show, I caught the words “dansons” and “festival,” but they were in two different stanzas. At least I knew it was a traditional Cajun band (no drums) and not Zydeco (drums). Then I heard “ne pas oubliez (I think) le festival acadien” which is “don’t forget the Acadian Festival.” And of course I got the “Merci beaucoup” at the end.

The next song began, “Tais-toi” – “be quiet” or “shut up,” followed by some reference to “your parents,” and “your arms,” which I’m sure involves a guy sneaking his girlfriend out of her house. I missed everything until the last repetition, “Laissez les bon temps rouler,” which becomes ” ‘sez temps rouler” with a bunch of ooh-la-las in between. “Allons, dansez,” nobody could mistake – let’s dance. But what comes after that, I don’t know. And it really doesn’t matter since ev’body be two steppin’.

Anyway as I was struggling with the French, it occurred to me, this is what it is like for a child (or adult) with a learning disability. She grasps the idea, finally, but by then everyone else has moved along to the next sentence, or paragraph, or subject. Now, I know that with some concentrated effort (and a libretto) I could understand the words to the songs, but I will forever be more understanding and patient with people who can’t do the verbal two-step.

Laissez compréhension rouler.

New England Slavery


This is abbreviated because I’m listening to “Forgotten Slavery: How the New England Colonists Embraced the Slave Trade” on Fresh Air and checking out New England Bound: How the New England Colonists Embraced the Slave Trade. Interesting that the subtitle changed to “Slavery and Colonization in Early America.”

Wendy Warren has done a tremendous service in revealing the details of enslavement and exportation of Native Americans and the importation and early breeding of Africans by the Puritans.

My initial reaction is: Anyone who hasn’t read Black Roots in Southeastern Connecticut will be surprised by New England Bound. Otherwise, it’s no great revelation. I can’t wait to see what Warren has added to the scholarship.


Storms To Remember

This is the cottage after the 1938 hurricane. It has survived since.
This is the cottage after the 1938 hurricane. It has survived since.

Based on Larry’s description of watching tornadoes swirl around an Air Force Base in Kansas, I asked the veterans’ workshop to write about a weather event that stayed with them and to explain why.

Here’s my contribution.

I don’t remember the name of the storm, but I was about five years old. The weather forecasters (in our house heard only radio) predicted the Connecticut shoreline would have downpours, gale-force winds, and flooding.

My parents invited the Wilkinsons, the family that rented my grandparents’ beach cottage, because the road into town flooded even in mild storms.

The wind rose, the sky grew twilight dark, and the rain sluiced down at a forty-five degree angle. Pretty soon the power went out. We had been accustomed to outages, but they only lasted a few minutes, at most an hour. This one seemed permanent, at least for the duration of the storm. We had the only gas stove in the neighborhood, so we not only hosted a family, we reheated and cooked food for our neighbors. That was a lesson to me: never own an electric stove.

One image that stays with me is of the lady next door, who had a four-month-old. She was running across the lawn, her poodle skirt billowing in the wind, clutching a bottle for us to reheat.

I grew tired of hanging out with the adults and went upstairs to my room. The Wilkinsons’ daughter, a ballerina in training, joined me, and we watched the storm. All of a sudden, she grabbed me from behind, propelled me into the hall and yelled, “Look out!”

I heard an enormous crack, followed by leaves and a huge branch roaring past the window. It seemed an eternity, but eventually there was a smaller crash and the tinkle of broken glass.

The silver maple in our side yard had split in two. The section that fell took out part of the hedge, a gate, and a window in the living room. The image of leaves draped over my mother’s favorite settee will last forever.

When the eye of the storm passed over, we all trooped outside to inspect the damage. Daddy pointed out that the entire center of the tree was black, a clear sign of terminal rot.

Within a day or two, tree surgeons had chopped down the other half. My parents agreed it was crucial, their decision confirmed by the arrival of another hurricane a week later.

I came away from those storms with a healthy respect for wild weather and have been known to scream, ‘You idiot!” at the reporters getting pummeled on the beach.

Note: I checked online. The year was 1955. The hurricane was Connie, a Cat 4 (maximum winds 150 mph); the next one was Diane, a Cat 2.

Cat Rules, Part II

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It’s Friday, and I’m struggling with various and sundry, so here’s the next part of cats rule, I mean cat rules.

  • Walking: As often as possible, dart quickly and as close as possible in front of the human, especially: on stairs, when they have something in their arms, in the dark, and when they first get up in the morning. This will help their coordination skills.
  • Bedtime: Always sleep on the human at night so s/he cannot move. [My addition: Or curl up next to the human so that s/he winds up with the smallest area of the bed and then stretch out full length perpendicular to the human to occupy as much space as possible.]
  • Play: This is an important part of your life. Get enough sleep in the daytime so you are fresh for your nocturnal games. Below are  several favorite games that you can play. It is important, though, to maintain one’s Dignity at all times. If you should have an accident during play, such as falling off a chair, immediately wash a part of your body as if to say “I MEANT to do that!” It fools humans every time.
  • Cat Games
    • Catch Mouse: The humans would have you believe that those lumps under the covers are their feet and hands. They are lying. They are actually Bed Mice, rumored to be the most delicious of all the mice in the world, though no cat has ever been able to catch one. Rumor also has it that only the most ferocious attack can stun them long enough for you to dive under the covers to get them. Maybe YOU can be the first to taste the Bed Mouse!
    • King of the Hill: This game must be played with at least one other cat. The more, the merrier! One or both of the sleeping humans is Hill 303, which must be defended at all costs from the other cat(s). Anything goes. This game allows for the development of unusual tactics as one must take the unstable playing theater into account.

WARNING: Playing either of these games to excess will result in expulsion from the bed and possibly from the bedroom. Should the humans grow restless, immediately begin purring and cuddle up to them. This should buy you some time until they fall asleep again. If one happens to be on a human when this occurs, this cat wins the round of King of the Hill.

What I’m Watching Now

11021-212a Janis Joplin in the late 1960s. *** USA ONLY *** ** HIGHER RATES APPLY ** © Daniel Kramer / Camera Press / Retna Ltd.

Another in the series. So I took a break from various reading chores to watch Janis: Little Girl Blue. This documentary about the wild woman of rock ‘n’ roll mostly succeeds. It has terrific footage of her concerts and interviews with fellow musicians, former lovers (male and female), friends and business associates, as well as a couple of family members. We see her hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, where the child of the middle class felt rejected and bullied. We travel with her to Austin and then to San Francisco where her talent melded with “right place, right time,” She shows up on Dick Cavett’s show. His interview is one of the more enlightening.

The music does its star turn with all the emotion and power that Janis sent to her fans and that she says she received back ten-fold.

The film doesn’t skirt, nor glamourize, her heroin abuse. It does show how a genius with everything to lose could throw it away because she had to “take the edge off” the pain of living.

The producers/director tie the pieces of her life together with “the road.” In this case it’s train tracks that curve through a verdant and tranquil landscape. These chapter breaks balance the mania of the woman who hollered, “Take another little piece of my heart.” The only song missing is the funny, cynical “Mercedes Benz.” It was her swan song.

The problems with Janis are minimal but detract from the beat to beat the film. At various points, Janis’s letters to her parents are read in voiceover. Some of the images go by so fast, it’s impossible to glean anything about her handwriting. Other times the pace of reading and letters forces a lag in the action, which otherwise has the pacing of a great blues song.

What I’m Reading Now


The veterans’ writing workshop recently completed a prompt about the three or four books that have had the biggest impact on their lives and how those books affected them.

One mentioned Extreme Ownership: How Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. He didn’t write much about it, and I urged him to expand his comments. Instead he loaned me the book.

Willink and Babin open each chapter with a scenario from their tour in Ramadi, Iraq, during the bone-breaking, soul-sucking battles to reclaim the city. After explaining what went wrong, or how a catastrophe had been averted, they apply the lessons to the corporate world. The opening chapter has Willink writing in detail about how his lack of communication caused the death of a “friendly,” an Iraqi soldier, and serious injury to a fellow SEAL. By acknowledging his error to his superiors and to his men, he avoided getting kicked out of the military and built trust up and down the chain of command. That’s the extreme ownership. Other chapters address “decentralized command” and “plan.”

As I read I kept thinking, why has no one written this book before? It was just published this year, but I understand why it had such an impact on Gene. The authors note that not all the concepts are new. Other people have written about simplifying instructions, making sure everyone understands priorities, etc. But no one has compiled them in such a readable and useful form. Here the stakes are not just high; they’re potentially life ending. The commander has to be absolutely sure that his sniper is about to take out an enemy fighter and not one of their own.

Another factor distinguishes Extreme Ownership. Willink was Babon’s commanding officer. This relationship adds a layer of subtlety and complexity not usually found in books about management. It’s an older brother and younger brother telling their story, at once the same and disparate.

Aside from the valuable insights into leadership, the book offers a behind-the-scenes look at the military. One huge revelation: PowerPoint abuse runs rampant and seems to interfere with actual work. Let that be a lesson to corporate overlords everywhere.

I have two problems with this work, neither the fault of the authors.

Only two women appear, probably because there are so few women in leadership positions in the firms that Willink and Babin advise. There’s also a hint in the title to Chapter 4: “Check the Ego.” I’m not saying that women are egoless (see The Devil Wears Prada), but we tend think and act cooperatively (see Miranda Priestly’s assistants). It would be a great service to revisit the companies in ten years to see whether the profile of business executives has changed and whether women have begun to engage in the behaviors that necessitated Extreme Ownership. 

The other problem concerns the photographs. They were not taken with an eye to reproduction in a book, and they exemplify “fog of war.” Most of the time I couldn’t tell what I was supposed to be seeing. Because of security and confidentiality, many backs of helmets appear, at least I think that’s what they are. Even the color author photo on the flyleaf needs serious a workout in Photoshop. The editors who approved these images for a book costing $27 should be forced to attend the series on extreme ownership.

What’s With Marmite?


The word has been part of my vocabulary for years, probably since reading some British novel seeking to evoke a particular time or place. What that would be, I have no idea.

Anyway, I’d never tasted it, in fact didn’t know of any place where I could buy it. A friend had tried to secure some for me a couple of years ago – no luck.

And then on Sunday, I was browsing for soup at the health food store, and there it was on a lower shelf. It cost $6.79 for about 4.5 ounces – pretty expensive, especially if I didn’t like it. I added it to the basket, figuring I’d have it as a post-run snack. The jar suggested a thin spread on toast, but I decided crackers would work just as well.

First revelation: the Brits don’t believe in secure packaging. A little tab opened on the first twist of the cap. And there it was, no safety film. It glistened, brown? maybe purple? I grabbed a knife and dug in. It had the consistency of caramel on the verge of becoming praline. It took some doing to get the thin part, but I finally managed without breaking the cracker.

Then came the taste test: first salt. Even the salt lover in me found it excessive. And then more salt. After that came some odd funky flavor, as I would imagine a pile of mushrooms left too long in the sun. And it was sticky. Spots of it lingered around my mouth, even after I’d wiped with a napkin and rinsed with a wet paper towel. Before I consigned it to the trash, I decided to try it chilled. Twenty-four hours in the fridge should tone down the  intensity.

Chill didn’t help. In fact, I couldn’t tell any difference between Marmite warm and Marmite cold.

I read the label. It’s a yeast extract (probably accounts for the funkiness) and contains B vitamins. Vegetarians can struggle to find good sources, so that’s a plus . The second ingredient is salt, 200 mg. in a half teaspoon. Half a teaspoon? I think I used about 1/16th on the cracker. More would be an exercise in torture! The remaining ingredients are mostly  extracts – carrot, onion, and “spices.” I tried to visualize cooking down those bright veggies into this brown mess. It’s not appealing.

A Yahoo poster wrote: “Marmite is a brownish vegetable extract with a toxic odor, saline taste and an axle grease consistency that has somehow captivated the British.”

I’ll let the BBC have the last word regarding origins and urban myths.