Winter Is Here!

I wanted to call this post “Instant Winter” but I used that title eight years ago. Pity given that, as of yesterday morning we had no snow, and by 5 pm it looked like the picture above.

It would have been a good title.

Obviously the well-worn “Winter Is Coming” would have been a bit past tense (and well-worn to the point of being threadbare).

From what I’ve seen, most Minnesotans mostly delight in the first snow, although one can’t but help think, “Well, here we go again…” How early or late that snowfall is has an impact — when it’s before Halloween there is concern it could be a long winter.

So when, at noon on October 20, it already looks like this:

And by 5 pm it looks like this:

(And one has decided one had better get one’s ass out for a bit of shoveling while it’s still light even though it’s still snowing and more shoveling will be required later.)

It definitely seems like it might be the long snowy winter the Farmer’s Almanac said would happen last year (but which didn’t really).


One thing that’s kind of nice is that, after my knee went bad on me and I had to stop taking my morning walks, I can get a little exercise and outdoor fun by shoveling.

That’s how I spent my morning, and it felt pretty good (first decent workout I had in weeks):

There is something satisfying about having a shoveled driveway. At the very least a feeling of accomplishment to start the day.

And the snow does make for a nice scene out my bedroom window (so glad I got out and washed my windows earlier this month):

Not a bad sight to wake up to.

(I’ve done a lot of dumb things in my life, but buying this place wasn’t one of them. Living here has worked out really well.)

((You can click the pictures for the large version if so inclined.))

§ §

In other news, the Baseball World Series started yesterday, too. It’s the Tampa Bay Rays (once known as the Devil Rays) versus the Los Angeles Dodgers.

You’d think having lived in L.A. for almost two decades I’d be more a Dodgers fan, but they tend to tweak my anti-dynasty sensibilities. I’ve always favored the “little guy” and the underdog, and I’m often uncomfortable with Big Whatever (pharma, industry, finance, business, industry, whatever).

With everything that’s been going on this year I’ve been more disengaged from baseball than since 2010 when I got really into it. I can’t tell if it’s just an interest that’s run its course, or if it’s due to, as I said, everything that’s been going on. Perhaps a bit of both?

I think baseball this year is just one more thing that’s wrong with 2020. One more example of how everything seems to have gone off the rails.

I pretty much ignored postseason once the Twins got taken out 1-2-3 by those verdammte cheating sleazeballs, the Houston Asstros (not a typo), but I will tune in for the last baseball of the season, the World Series. After all, it’s the last baseball of the season.

Not that I feel vested. My baseball loyalties usually run: Minnesota Twins, American League Central, American League, USA. In theory I’m hoping the Rays win, but I’m so utterly neutral on the team, I’m not sure it would bother me if the Dodgers won.

Maybe a little, but I don’t think the Ray are going to pull it off. Certainly not based on how they played last night.

§ §

In completely unrelated news, I wonder how the debate Thursday night will go. I understand there will be mike cut-off switches.

It’ll be interesting to see, although it’s doubly a moot point. For one thing, I’ve already voted by absentee ballot (and checked back to see that my ballot has been accepted and will be counted). For another, the choice has been clear since 2015, and it has become ever more clear since.

I truly do not fathom how anyone could be “undecided” at this point.

Just be sure you vote!

§ §

Having gotten through nearly all the Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot novels I can get through the library, I’ve turned to other reading material.

I’m working through The Sellout (2016), by Paul Beatty, which is not my usual sort of reading, but I’m finding it interesting, compelling, weird, chaotic, surreal, funny, and insightful. It’s also high-style writing and exhausting. Definitely not casual reading.

I’m also working through The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2014), by Becky Chambers. I liked it at first, but the more I read it the less I enjoy it. It’s feeling very derivative. I’d almost go so far as to call it bad science fiction, but I’m only 300 or so pages into the 900-something page novel (as paginated by my e-reader).

The thing is, around the 300-page mark I realized I was bored and that nothing had happened. I also wasn’t engaged by the characters, and certain aspects (like fuel) were raising my eyebrows. I think Ms Chambers may have lost me (or failed to ever engage me). But more on that when I’ve read more.

I’ve realized I’m not a fan of David Berlinski, which is a pity since he writes about mathematics (which you know I love). I’ve tried two of his books now (One, Two, Three: Absolutely Elementary Mathematics and A Tour of the Calculus) and couldn’t get through either one. I find his writing baroque in the extreme — lots of stylistic meandering that actually says very little.

Looking at his Wiki page just now, “He is a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, a center dedicated to the promulgation of the pseudoscience of intelligent design.”

Wait,… what??

I read further that “An opponent of the theory of evolution, Berlinski is a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, a Seattle-based think tank that is a hub of the pseudoscientific intelligent design movement. Berlinski shares the movement’s disbelief in the evidence for evolution, but does not openly avow intelligent design and describes his relationship with the idea as: ‘warm but distant. It’s the same attitude that I display in public toward my ex-wives.'”

Oh, my. I wonder if that explains why his books seem empty of substance. Interesting how I took a dislike to his writing just based on the writing. And I really wanted to like both books.

Well I certainly won’t be trying any more books of his!

§ §

Stay safe (and warm), my friends! Go forth and spread beauty and light.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

11 responses to “Winter Is Here!

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Still in the 80s down here, although we had some cool days last week and over the weekend. (It made standing outside in the vote line much easier to take.)

    I’m not planning to watch the debate Thursday. I didn’t watch the other one even though I hadn’t voted yet. Having voted, I’m sure not going to subject myself to it now. I’ll get enough reading about it Friday morning.

    I’m not a fan of baroque writers myself. I find Antonio Damasio to be like that, even though he’s a serious scientist. But he often has a lot of verbiage, often doesn’t get around to answering key questions, and generally I don’t feel like it’s a good investment of my time to parse him. Even though I find his ideas interesting.

    On the Discovery Institute, one of the things I’ve learned to watch out for is their satellite organizations. I read a lot of articles from the Walter Bradley for Natural and Artificial Intelligence before I realized they were a branch of Discovery. All the biases I smelled suddenly made a lot more sense. (I no longer click links that point to it, if I notice in time.)

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I had a friend in Los Angeles tell me she read my post while sitting outside on her porch in bare feet. Helps to be south and near a large body of weather-moderating water! 🙂

      I’m going to be curious how the debate goes — or if it goes. If it turns out to be a complete shitshow, I may well bail. It’ll just be one screen. World series will be on another, and I may watch YouTube videos besides.

      As I just wrote on your blog, I try not to let an idea’s antecedents affect my judgement of the idea. If Berlinski was more of what I wanted in a writer, I’m not sure his allegiances would be that much of a problem. (As you know, we face that same issue with certain SF writers.) I just don’t find his writing worthwhile. Others might. His books seem more like coffee table books (i.e. picturesque) or books that someone who wants to be impressed by math without actually learning any math might enjoy. It’s just a lot of flowery oration. (Math is so abstract that political or metaphysical beliefs have a hard time getting any traction, so bias isn’t really a problem.)

      In fact, I’m glad I didn’t know about his affiliations, since those would have been hard to ignore. In retrospect I can’t help but wonder about the connection to his belief in bullshit and his apparent inability to tell a straight forward tale about math.

      After bailing on A Tour of the Calculus, I checked out Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Science (2012), by Jim Al-Khalili, and it’s a night-and-day difference in writing clarity and meaning. A much shorter book covering much more ground, and it’s a delight to read.

      Reading more of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet hasn’t improved my view. It reads like dull fan fiction. Halfway through a 900+ page novel, and nothing has happened except people sitting around talking. This is one of those books people have been raving about, but I’m not seeing why.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On the debate, it sounds like at least the opening two minutes of each segment might allow for coherent presentation since the other person’s mic will turned down. I still won’t watch. I’d just spend the whole time hoping Biden didn’t mess up, that Trump wouldn’t score a hit, or just feeling the burn of Trump’s caustic stupidity.

        The first book I read on QM was Al-Khalili’s. He is an excellent writer (and presenter if you’ve seen any of his talks), although in retrospect I think he played up the spookiness a bit much, and he had only the briefest intros to each of the alternate interpretations.

        I started “The Long Way” a long time ago. I know because it’s in my Kindle account about twenty pages in. Not sure why I stopped. I’d have to start over now because I can’t remember anything. I may have read another novella book by Chambers (To Be Taught If Fortunate), because my Kindle is at the end of it, although I have only the vaguest memory of it.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        What I discovered during the first debate was that I’ve managed to successfully enough avoid seeing, hearing, or reading, Twitler’s words that I didn’t feel that burn as much as I expected. I know exactly what you mean by it — just having to see and hear that asshole makes me outraged.

        I have not seen any of Al-Khalili’s talks, but I have seen videos of them on YouTube. Based on this book, definitely a guy I’d check out now.

        I am not digging The Long Way… at all. Feels like Star Wars fan fiction, and Chambers has no weight of authenticity to me at all. Two thirds through the book and still nothing has happened except talk. At this point I’m debating whether to finish. I just page-flipped through a long chapter involving a family reunion for the lizard crew member (because you have to have a lizard alien type in these things) that was a complete snooze fest and stalls what tiny thread of a the plot there is.

        The chapter ends when the initially timid naive new crew member (who’s the protagonist and, I suspect, avatar for the author) just offered to have sex with the lizard (whose species is super touchy-feely and she feels physically lonely on the ship but also because of a supposed attraction we’ve seen no hint of). Talk about out of the blue and zero character development, yet oddly I knew where the author was torturously going to take the scene the moment it started. (That’s another thing. The things Chambers does I see coming a mile off.)

        This book is clumsy, amateurish, and incredibly inauthentic. I’m sure that’s why you stopped reading. I’m not sure why I still am.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        On Chambers, yeah, I see the whole alien sex thing as a definite sign of derivation from media sci-fi. It’s a silly idea, usually a stand in for interracial sex or something. PZ Myers pointed out that if we don’t want to have sex with a chimpanzee, a creature with 98% of our genetics, what makes anyone think it would be possible or desirable to have sex with a being who may not even use DNA, and who is certainly not going to have compatible equipment.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Exactly. And the book is worse than just that one scene. The ship’s captain (this is a scruffy crew on a beat up spaceship story) has a secret love relationship with a scaly fish-type alien who pilots another ship. Secret because her race wouldn’t like it. No explanation of why they’re together or what the attraction is, it just is. Then there’s the nice girl with no experience from Mars and the big lizard female alien. (Wiki says Ms Chambers lives with her wife, so absolutely that scene is channeling. I don’t object to the idea so much as how badly written it was.)

        Lastly, one of the ship’s techs (a little person because everyone loved Tyrion) is in love with the ship’s AI and is secretly considering finding a way to get her a body. Which apparently would be illegal. A great deal of stress seems to come from fears she’ll [A] no longer run the ship, [B] be lost forever if she’s caught and disassembled.

        (That’s a error that bugged me about the ship’s AI holo-doctor in ST:Voyager. They acted like he had no backup, no ability to copy himself. Same error here. Why can’t a copy run the ship? Why can’t a copy be saved somewhere?)

        Of the remaining two crew members, the algae tender turns out to be a clone (even he didn’t know it), and the other tech is a weird combination of Kaylee from Firefly and the basic tech-on-a-scruffy spaceship model. So she’s a bit rowdier and more of a party gal, but basically Kaylee. (And, of course, Firefly was exactly the sort of scruffy spaceship crew this book is trying to be.)

        Part of the problem, I think, is the Chambers is writing in a hard-SF mode with, as far as I can tell, absolutely no feel for science or technology. Everything feels like a borrow, and a lot of it is laughable. The ships apparently run on algae fuel somehow (not clear if the engine consumes the algae or a byproduct and it’s a total hand-wave anyway), and there’s something called “ambi” (ambient, I assume) that can be scooped up, usually next to black holes, and stored in batteries as a powerful (totally magic) power source.

        If I review this book, it’s going to be hard to resist going full cat on it. It would be fun (and all too easy) to rip it to shreds. But I’ll try to be kind.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        As I’ve gotten older, I tend to abandon those types of books, particularly fiction, where I’m reading for pleasure and expect to be entertained throughout. (Which of course, might have been what happened, although I usually go further than 20 pages in unless the beginning is really turning me off.)

        I’m currently reading a non-fiction book that I considered abandoning at a few points. But I’m most of the way through now, so I’ll probably finish it, although I went into skim mode on some of it. I’ll have to think about whether I want to post on it. I generally don’t like to write about a book (or paper) unless I can say some good things about it, at least unless the author is a famous bestselling one, and won’t feel the hit.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I’ve also gotten more willing to abandon movies or books that aren’t doing anything for me. It’s always warred with my sense of ‘starting what one finishes’ and of ‘giving someone a fair chance.’ There can also be a bit of curiosity about where the story goes. I think that last may be a bit in play here (all three may, come to think of it).

        There is also that I can’t give a thumbs down on a meal unless I ‘clean my plate’ (as my mother might have said). It’s always possible that last couple of bites change the overall balance somehow. I’ve had that happen — a book I really wasn’t getting into manages to pull off a good finish. The author just wasn’t that good at setting it up. (In contrast, most fails seem to be a decent set up and a failed payoff. That happens a lot.)

        Not writing about a work unless one can say good things reminds me of a grandmother’s advice that, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” I appreciate the gentle ethic involved, and wish I was better at following it, but it wars with my scientific analytical side — also my debugging side and my “Mr. Fixit” technical side. These sides all insist on the importance of reporting and diagnosing problems. Machines and mathematics don’t start working better because you’re nice to them. (And certainly not because you quietly ignore their issues.) People, OTOH, do, and I learned way back in high school to never correct the spelling of a girl-friend’s love letter. (Yes, I actually did that. Once.)

        I keep seeing the book listed in “SF books you need to read” articles, so, if anything, maybe it’s time someone suggested the Emperor isn’t fully dressed. I gave a very positive view to new author Lindsay Ellis, and I gave a thumbs up to new author S.L. Huang’s Cas Russell series, so I wouldn’t feel too bad about dinging this one.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Part of what drives me to the grandmother type stance on book reviews is, early on in my blog, I actually got an email from the author of a book I reviewed, thanking me for the review. It was a reminder that most of these authors aren’t famous, wealthy, etc, their book is often their baby, and that I as a reviewer aren’t nearly as lost in the crowd as I might have thought. My review might have an actual effect on their (probably limited) sales.

        (Interesting exercise, for an obscure book you review, do a google on it and see how high your post comes up. Many authors routinely google themselves and their book.)

        That said, for famous or bestselling authors, I’m not as concerned. If I hated a book by Stephen King or Fareed Zakaria, I wouldn’t feel that bad about posting a negative review. It’d be like rating a bad movie or TV show. In Chambers’ case, she’s got tons of positive reviews out there, so it seems less likely she’d notice or feel a negative review.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I can see how contact from an author could have a damping effect, but bad reviews are just part of being an artist. I wouldn’t want someone to give my bad work a pass just because their heart was in the right place and they felt sympathy for me. I want that as a human, but not as an artist, and not for my work. I’ll uplift the human behind the work, but I have to treat the work honestly.

        (There can also be an Emperor’s new clothes aspect in this. If everyone is nice about an artist’s work, there is no incentive to grow or become better. It’s the problem with the current “everyone is a winner” culture.)

        Of course, the grandmother view, one can just tactfully say nothing, and sometimes that is the best choice. It certainly is in a lot of human situations — on that my grandma had it right. I think it’s more complicated when it comes to people’s work, though.

        If I had more influence, that might change the equation. I might be more circumspect about my ability to affect the work of others. I tried Google as you suggested, and my post about Axiom’s End doesn’t appear at all in the eleven pages of results I went through, so I’m obviously pretty obscure.

        There is also that I’m vaguely bothered by why this book has gotten such glowing reviews. If I talk about it negatively, perhaps someone will explain what’s so great about it.

        I finished it yesterday and I’m not sure I have one good thing to say about it. It was one of the most boring and derivative SF books I’ve read that I can remember. There is only a single semi-exciting scene, and it’s all over with over 100 pages of more talk, talk, talk to go. And it ends almost literally like a child’s fairy tale — with the little hero girl happy in space with her lesbian lizard lover.

        Definitely won’t be reading more books in the series.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Just finished a second Paul Beatty book, Slumberland (2008), enjoyed it as much as I did The Sellout.

    So I did something I’ve never done before: bought not one, but two, books I’ve read recently (as library books) and then bought two others of his I haven’t read, The White Boy Shuffle (1996), and Tuff (2000).

    Beatty’s way with language, playful yet insightful to the point of pain, really appeals to me. His books are also a little over my head which is why I bought them. I need to read them again and maybe discuss them with someone who has read them. So much juice to squeeze out!

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