Tuesday Titbits

I’ve been following my new way of planning my workday yesterday and today. I block a certain time for certain tasks and do those tasks not letting myself get side-tracked. I’ve been getting ahead with those tasks steadily. Even the horrid, excruciatingly boring stuff that makes me want to go to sleep. It has to be done, and I’ve always managed, but this new way of going at it is an improvement. And I’ve got blocks of time left over for other things, such as calls, or adhoc tasks that come in by mail.

I’ve also been having connection problems, but this time I think the problem may be with the company network. My VPN-connection kept connecting and disconnecting minute by minute (it felt like). In the afternoons, both today and on Monday, the connection stabilized. I still got my work done in the mornings, but it involved a lot of short freezes of applications whenever the connection was gone. Very disruptive and annoying. Hope it gets better soon.

Curious Dog’s kibble stores are almost depleted, so today I took a longer than usual lunch break and got two 15kg sacks at the pet-food shop near my old flat. As always, on the way I was tempted to check out what my old place looks like now, and as usual I didn’t do it. I always feel nostalgic when I drive past my old exit, although I do like my new place and it’s cooler here during summer and the internet connection is better, which is important. I would have had problems doing home office at my old flat. Though, who knows, maybe the internet was upgraded there in the last couple of years.

On the way to the dog food store, I also stopped off at the organic produce supermarket that I used to shop at (and still sometimes do ̶ it’s on the way to the office) and got some food for the next couple of days. On Thursday we will again be traveling to Bavaria, it’s been three weeks already. Amazing how time flies.

I’ve been reading this month’s quota of War and Peace. It’s the second to last part, because we shall be finishing in October. Maybe I’ll do the October reading later in September, so that I don’t have to keep it in mind during my vacation, but maybe not. I keep thinking that I can read tons of my TBR-pile (to-be-read) during the vacation, but it’s only two weeks and one will be spent at the seaside where I won’t be reading that much. We’ll be walking outside a lot, cooking, and watching movies with the cousins. And the other week, I’ll probably want to do some house-hold things, cleaning or decluttering. So not that much time for reading.

Tolstoy doesn’t think much of Napoleon. He thinks he’s neither a genius, nor a great man, but someone who was driven by circumstances and who “never once in any place, not even in exile, displayed a trace of human virtue” (p.1208, Penguin Classics clothbound edition, 2016, trsl. by Anthony Briggs) and who was responsible for the death of millions. I don’t know much about Napoleon, but I’m inclined to think that there’s something to Tolstoy’s judgement. Maybe one of these days I’ll read a biography of Napoleon, but I’m not sure if I want to. I’m more likely to read one of Tolstoy. Generally speaking, I’m more interested in writer’s biographies than in those of statesmen (or whatever Napoleon can be defined as). Still, Napoleon had a great deal of influence on European history, so there is some motivation in finding out more about him. So, it’s open, maybe I will one day read up on him. But not at the moment.

We’re having nice sunny weather, up to 25°C, pleasant. Quite cool in the mornings ̶ the time for sweaters has come again, but cotton ones are warm enough for now. Walks with Curious Dog this week in the mornings have been lovely. There are first signs of early morning autumn mists, very nice. The afternoons are warm, so warm that I’m happy when we are back in our cool house. Soon I’ll have to do the walks earlier yet, as the evenings start encroaching on the afternoons but I guess that will only happen after our vacation in the first half of October. Oh vacation, I can hardly wait.

Keep safe, world.

August Reading

My reading report for August. Not perfect, but not bad.

Ongoing projects:

  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
    138 pages, my quota for August. Good, as usual.
  • Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy
    Total fail again. Maybe I should give up for now?

Poetry:

Daniel Karlin (ed.), The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse
I’m really enjoying this collection and have reached the half-way mark already.

Short stories:

I only managed about half the month’s number of short stories. Hopefully I’ll catch up in September.

  • A. S. Byatt, The Oxford Book of Short Stories
    I didn’t read a lot of stories from this anthology in August, but the ones I read were all good.
  • Jay Rubin, The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories
    I’ve read only a few of these short stories, but they are very interesting.

Non-Fiction:

Redmond O’Hanlon, Into the Heart of Borneo.
I greatly enjoyed this travel book and wrote a review.

Graphic Novel:

None. Didn’t get around to reading a graphic novel in August either.

Novels:

  • Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby
    This one of Dickens’ earlier novels was quite enjoyable. Not one of my favourites, but a good read. Still planning to write a review.
  • Cyrus Mistry, Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer
    A very interesting and good book. Here’s the review.
  • Toni Morrison, Paradise
    Great, and here’s the review.
  • Ilona Andrews:
    • One Fell Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles 3)
    • Sweep of the Blade (Innkeeper Chronicles 4)
    • Sweep with Me (Innkeeper Chronicles 5)
    • Magic Bites (Kate Daniels 1)
    • Magic Burns (Kate Daniels 1)
      I felt the need for some light fantasy binge reading. It was fun, I recommend these novels if you like romance with fantasy elements. Next time I feel this need, I may continue with the Kate Daniels series, but this will probably not happen very soon, as I have tons of other books to read.

So, I didn’t reach all my goals this month, missing out on the graphic novel again and not managing all the short stories, but I did read a lot, so I’m fine with what I managed.

Keep safe, world.

In Trouble Again

A journey between the Orinoco and the Amazon (1988) by Redmond O’Hanlon. Today I finished this book; I liked it a lot. While the first part of the book describes the journey to discover a river, the Maturaca, that is supposed to connect the Orinoco and Rio Negro rivers and also to approach the Neblina mountain via canoe through the jungle of Venezuela, the second part describes the journey to a tribe of Yanomami in Venezuela. As O’Hanlon and his Venezuelan guides couldn’t find the river (although they did get to the Neblina), they decided instead to visit the Yanomani tribe of Leapopuei-teri. These people are described as dangerous (the Venezuelan guides are afraid of them) and so O’Hanlon’s English companion Simon leaves the expedition about at the half-way point. The others and are welcomed cordially for a few days to the tribe and then told to leave again, politely but firmly:

Jarivanau ostentatiously took down his hammock and packed his catumaré in the front of our shelter. He tied our cooking pot to his load with a length of vine and placed a bunch of plantains on top. He grinned at me and nodded towards the door by which he had entered on the far side of the shabono.

If Jarivanau thinks we should go, I thought, then we had better go.

In Trouble Again (1988) by Redmond O’Hanlon, page 298f.

As with his other book Into the Heart of Borneo, I enjoyed the way O’Hanlon describes his trip, the people he travels with and those he encounters, as well as all the animals and plants he describes. I like his robust humour and the way he describes the Yanomami. At once as ferocious warriors and loving family fathers and mothers. I was surprised, as I hadn’t though that the Yanomami were ferocious, and I remembered that I’d read anther book about them by Kenneth Good: Into the Heart: An Amazonian Love Story (1991). This book describes how the author, an anthropologist, lives among a Yanomani tribe, falls in love with and marries a Yanomani woman. It’s been a long time since I read this book and I’m going to reread it. I also found that Good’s son, David Good, has written a book The Way Around: Finding My Mother and Myself Among the Yanomami (2015). This seems very interesting, as it tells the story of what happened when his mother left Good and her three children because she was unhappy living in America and how they reunited. It must have been very difficult for her and the family, having to reconcile two such different cultures. I’m planning to read this book as well. I love it when books lead me down this kind of interconnected web of stories. I also believe that learning about other cultures is both interesting and important.

David Good has a YouTube channel that shows some of the cultural practices also described by O’Hanlon and has started a non-profit dedicated to supporting the Yanomani people: https://www.jointhegoodproject.org/. I haven’t had time to explore the webpage in detail, but I will do so when I read the books. They have expedition summaries as PDFs on their pages which I want to look through as soon as I have time.

Today was very relaxed. In the morning the usual walk with Curious Dog, up the hill and back again through the woods. We didn’t meet anyone, and it was cool but sunny. Later it became overcast and on the afternoon walk, it was a little chilly at the beginning. We only met one other dog in the morning, none in the afternoon. It’s weird, sometimes we meet lots of people with dogs, other times none.

We watched the third part of the German classic Treasure Island TV series and will watch the final part either tonight or tomorrow (it’s on YouTube). Perhaps we will watch the Tatort tonight, the classic crime series that always runs Sunday night “im Ersten“, one of the public service TV broadcasting channels. We don’t watch all instances of the Tatort (which means “Crime Scene”), but this one plays in Vienna and we like the Vienna pair of detectives, so I guess we’ll be watching it tonight (although, if not, we’ll watch it sometime during the week via the channel’s mulitmedia library).

The weekend is over again. It always seems to pass so quickly.

Keep safe, world.

Treasure Island

We watched a classic German TV-version of Treasure Island this afternoon (or rather the first part of it). It’s a four-part series from 1966 directed by Wolfgang Liebeneiner. Quite good so far, slightly old-fashioned, but the first part seems to be true to the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson although I haven’t read it for quite some time and don’t know if I remember everything correctly (probably not).

I actually wanted to finish reading the book by Redmond O’Hanlon that I’m currently reading: In Trouble Again: A journey between the Orinoco and the Amazon (1988) but I let myself get sidetracked. Well, the book won’t run away; I’ve still got about half to go. Oddly, O’Hanlon seemed to select people to accompany him on his journeys that that then found them trying at times (to put it mildly):

“You bloody con artist,” he said, staring straight at me, showing the whites of his eyes. “I read your Borneo book. You said that was fun and I believed you. You said this would be fun and I believed you. Well, I can’t even imagine fun anymore, not anywhere. Not anywhere at all.”

In Trouble Again (1988) by Redmon O’Hanlon p. 152

The stress of the journey on the jungle rivers in dugouts, the weather, the others on the team, and the insects get to his companion. I like reading about these things, but I think the insects would do it for me, too. Specially the spiders, and the ticks, and the leeches, and the scorpions, and the ants… No wonder O’Hanlon’s companions never want to travel with him again once they’ve survived the first adventure. Still, it makes for a very good read.

Later, I took Curious Dog for his afternoon walk. On the way back, there were a couple of strangers in our driveway and of course he had to make a fuss. I think the neighbours all think he is dangerous, because he keeps barking and jumping at them and any strangers (though I’ve always got him on the leash). He’s an idiot. I tried to distract him with some treats, but it didn’t work. I think he’s defending his territory or something, because he never acts like that anywhere else apart from by our house. I wish he’d be a bit more relaxed. I’m adding a picture of CD as a puppy. Wasn’t he cute? We had to put the carpet away because he kept chewing the fringe. He’s still cute, but all grown up now. He’ll be turning 6 in November.

This morning, on the morning walk, we saw a very small calf in a nearby cattle field. I’m pretty sure it was newborn. Curious Dog doesn’t like cattle. He gets quite nervous if any of them show interest in us and come up to the fence. He certainly doesn’t bark at them; instead, he tries to pull me past them as quickly as possible.

After the morning walk, I hung around on the sofa reading for a bit and then pulled myself together and cleaned the bathroom. Tomorrow I’m going to do the staircase and the basement. Partner vacuumed the rest of the house, but he never does the stairs and I don’t think he’s ever done the basement. Ah well, he’s currently making Tiramisu, which I never do, so it evens out.

For dinner I cooked a vegetable curry with zucchini, carrots, onions, and bell pepper (basically all the vegetables that we had in the fridge) with whole-wheat pasta. It used to be a staple of ours, but we haven’t had it for quite some time. I also added some soy curls for a bit of protein. It was good.

Yesterday we tried some apple cider that I’d found in our local supermarket. My dad used to drink it ages ago when I was a child to lower his blood pressure (it worked) and since Mum has some issues with high blood pressure, we thought we’d try it again. Although, her blood pressure isn’t nearly as high at home as it at the doctor’s. At home it is just a little above the regular values. She is one of those people that suffer from white coat hypertension.

Tonight, we’ll be watching the next episode of Treasure Island. And tomorrow, I guess, the next two.

Keep safe, world.

Food for Thought

Today, before I even got out of bed, I read a sci-fi short story by James Tiptree Jr. (alias Alice Bradley Sheldon) called “Beyond the Dead Reef” from 1983 collected in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection (1984) edited by Gardner Dozois. It was rather thought-provoking, about a coral reef in Mexico destroyed by man-made pollution and over-fishing and how the sea fights back (no details, no spoilers, but it was kind of sci-fi horror, very memorable). It was written in 1983 and I’m sure the situation of our oceans and coral reefs is worse today, what with the rising water temperatures and rising levels of pollution, garbage and plastic. I find it so sad that we haven’t managed to turn around our irresponsible treatment of the planet in the almost 40 years that have passed since the 1980s. Wonder what our oceans will look like in another 40 years?

What I hate most about the destruction of our planet is that all the innocents are also affected: the future humans, all the animals, the people in countries that don’t contribute much to global warming and pollution. Last week we saw a documentary about how climate change is already affecting Germany and I can only say: just deserts! I hope we get a lot of reforms going in the next years ̶ but this week, the opening of a new Mercedes factory for petrol-guzzling luxury cars (not even electric) in Sindelfingen was all over the news. Exactly what we don’t need. It is so stupid.

I’ve read seven short stories in this sci-fi collection today and found all of them very good, except one, which I found a bit too confusing. There are 35 of these collections, all out on Kindle. I’m planning to read all of them eventually (it will take years, I guess).

Other than reading, I did some of the usual Friday chores: shopping and hanging up a couple of loads of washing. It’s quite hot today, up to 29°C, good for drying laundry outside. Shopping was a lot, mainly because my stores of bottled water, juice and oat-soy milk were low, because we used up most of them with last week’s guest. Five people do use up a lot more than three. So, I did one tour through the supermarket picking up all the beverages, took them out to the car and then did another tour to get the rest of the groceries. Enough fresh produce to last us over the weekend. I was too disorganized to buy more and didn’t really have a cooking plan for more than the next few days. Bought the first pumpkin of the season for soup as well as vegan Lebkuchen. The Lebkuchen is a Christmas cookie with spices and a dark chocolate glaze. Much too early, really, but already available in the supermarket. I kind of disapprove of having Christmas stuff already at the end of summer. However, they do taste best when they are fresh, so I couldn’t resist. We had them for our afternoon coffee break, and they were delicious.

We didn’t meet any other dogs on our morning walk with Curious Dog, but we were later than usual, because we usually get up a bit later on Fridays (and the rest of the weekend) and the other dogs had perhaps already returned home by the time we got to the usual haunts. Yesterday, when I took Curious Dog for his late afternoon walk, we only got to the edge of the village, when all of a sudden, he sat down and didn’t want to go on. It was overcast and humid and I think he mistook the noise of some aeroplanes passing overhead for thunder. I couldn’t persuade him to continue and, on the way back home he pulled like a draught horse the whole way. He doesn’t care for thunderstorms.

Keep safe, world.

Echoing Corridors

Like the only person in a hulking, echoing great spaceship in the black of space or one lonely pea in a pod: that’s what the office was like yesterday, when I was working onsite instead of at home. Occasionally another lost soul traversing the empty hallways passed my glass office door (firmly shut against any wafting virus). Once a great clomping Shirehorse of a colleague startled me, as I felt the reverberations of his steps through the floor while in a call with noise-cancelling headphones on. In short, the day at the office was lonely and felt boring, although I did get quite a lot of things done. I only spoke to a few colleagues in calls, not live. Walking round the grounds during my lunch break was the nicest part of the day and the time I saw the most people (but they were colleagues unknown to me). The grounds looked like always. I picked a handful of plums from a tree, but I’ve had better.

The commute was relaxed. I was quite late, it was almost 7:30 when I set out. Pre-Corona the traffic would have been dreadful, yesterday it was not worth mentioning. The radio told of traffic jams on the nearby Autobahn, but this nowhere mirrored on the road to work, not even in the town where usually I have a ten-minute wait to get through the traffic lights. Well, the empty office was an experience, but on the whole, I prefer my office at home. There’s Partner, Mum and Curious Dog for conversations and play. In the office, all is quiet, only the plants may have been glad to see me, but you couldn’t tell. I was in the office because I had to take my car in for maintenance and the garage is near the office. Otherwise I wouldn’t have gone.

But would you believe it? Curious Dog, who has been refusing to walk with Partner more or less since I’ve been working from home, actually condescended to go walking in the morning without me. He’d seen that I’d packed my work bag before driving off and apparently that was enough to induce him to accept Partner as the substitute walker. Today, we again both took him on his morning walk. It was nice. Sunny and brisk, only about 10°C. We met a couple of his doggy friends and they chased each other around. One, a black and grey bitch, bigger than Curious Dog, we met in the fields, the other in the woods. A big friendly Doberman bitch, also bigger than CD. All Curious Dog’s best friends are larger than him for some reason.

Today is my last day of work for the week and I again got a good deal done. I tried planning my days in more detail this week, with blocks of time around meetings reserved for specific tasks. It’s been working well, and I’ll try to keep it up for the rest of the month. If it keeps working for me, I’ll adopt it for my new modus operandi. I need to get stuff done before my vacation at the beginning of October.

The past week I’ve dealt with some annoying colleagues. One person was supposed to check a document and update it if necessary. First, four weeks ago, they tried to get out of it; then they said they needed the input of some other colleagues who were on vacation. Now, four weeks later, they’ve decided that the document is obsolete and needs to be archived. I don’t believe it; they had a rotten explanation. I think they just don’t want to be bothered. I shall follow-up with the project manager when they return from their vacation, but that won’t be until mid-September and then there’ll only be two weeks to get anything done.

Another colleague also annoyed me, but for a different reason. I had set up a call with them and another colleague, but never heard back. They didn’t reply, they didn’t have an out-of-office note, their calendar had my meeting as tentative. So, I thought they were on vacation or ill and went ahead and had the call with the other colleague. We were finished quite quickly and had decided what to do without the missing colleague. I sent the missing one an e-mail with the details of our plans and got a reply that they’d been a bit late and therefore missed the call. Is that an excuse for not getting back to me in the first place? Very unprofessional behaviour. You either accept or decline a meeting or ask for it to be postponed. Just not doing anything and then wanting to join the call late is inconsiderate. The call took 20 minutes and they hadn’t joined by the end, so it’s not as if they were just a few minutes late. This colleague is actually one that I’ve had communications problems with before, so I wasn’t surprised. If you have to coordinate people, at least a quarter of them are going to be flakey and will need friendly reminders above and beyond. It can be a pain, but I always say to myself that it keeps my job secure. A little silver lining. And, it’s the weekend coming up. That’s always a bright shining sparkling silver lining. And, let’s not forget, I also had numerous communications with perfectly competent colleagues. One tends to focus on the negative.

Keep safe, world.

The Way of Kings

by Brandon Sanderson is a 1000+ page novel, the first volume of the Stormlight Archive. It’s an excellent fantasy novel and I have high hopes that the next volumes (the fourth one comes out in autumn) will be just as good. It has unusual and great world building, with very different, mind-boggling flora and fauna, a great history, interesting characters, lots of plot elements that are only hinted at in the first volume. Very engaging, not the usual fantasy fare at all. I very much recommend it.

As usual, my summary/review is under the cut, as it contains spoilers.

Read More »

Long Weekend with Dear Guests

Had a lovely four days with my two young cousins who were visiting over the weekend. Curious Dog was very pleased, as he got a lot of attention and goodies to chew on ̶ he loves the Cousins. A good time was had by all.

I had last Thursday and this Monday off work, so I had an unusually long weekend (since I never work on Fridays). Cousin 1 and 2 arrived on Thursday early in the afternoon. In the morning, Partner and I took Curious Dog for his long morning walk and then bustled about getting the house ready. Partner vacuumed everything and baked a cake. Mum cleaned the tiny bathroom, I cleaned the main bathroom and the guest room (well, Partner’s office) and wiped the floors on the ground floor. Basically, got all the weekend cleaning done in one short morning. Should always do this!

Cousin 1 and 2 are sisters and both studying to become schoolteachers, Cousin 1 for disabled students and Cousin 2 for primary school kids. At the beginning of October, we’ll be taking a week off on the Baltic with them, Cousin 1 hadn’t seen our new house yet, so they borrowed their grandfather’s car and drove up for the weekend. Cousin 2 is my godchild. We’ve been taking the two them for vacations for years, ever since their mother tragically died of cancer in 2006. I’m super happy that they still like to come with us on holiday and to see us at home although they are both now in their early twenties, all grown up.

We had a lovely time. The weather was so-so, often overcast, sometimes raining, sometimes with a bit of sun, quite cool. So apart from taking Curious Dog for walks twice a day, we didn’t go out. We watched a lot of films: The Fall (very good) and then a string of zombie films, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later and World War Z. And yesterday, Hereafter (not bad). One afternoon, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. We always watch a lot of films when we are together.

We did a lot of talking and catching up. Mum was also happy to see them, as she hadn’t seen them for a long while. She didn’t watch the films with us ̶ not that keen on zombies. We played a guessing game called “Black Stories”. The game involved cards with a very short story (very black humour) where one person knows everything and the others have to find out what it’s all about from one short sentence and a lot of yes/no questions. Very funny! We also read a lot. The Cousins have really got into reading and buy a lot of secondhand books online. I managed to finish Nicholas Nickleby.

As usual, we cooked and baked a lot. We had vegan spaghetti Bolognese on Thursday, mushroom risotto on Friday, cauliflower florets in a tomato and caper sauce with fried polenta on Saturday, home-made pizza on Sunday, and potato salad with tofu and tempeh yesterday. For coffee and cake we had yeast dough scones with a berry sauce; a lemon and poppy seed cake brought along by Cousin 1; plum cake with cashew cream, a vegan cheese cake and nut cake (on consecutive days ̶ since our cakes are usually not large, five people can polish one off every day).

Today, after the morning’s walk with Curious Dog, they packed their bags and left again. They’ve already arrived safely back home in Hessia (they life in the town where I was born). I had to start work again and was amazingly productive. I’d kept up with my emails (only a handful needed a reply) and did my usual quality checks in the morning, did my planning for the day (I’ve decided to plan my days better), booked an office room at work for tomorrow (the office isn’t generally open; due to Corona only a few people can go in on any one day), had a look at and completed some of the open tasks on my documents and generally was quite enthusiastic after my relaxing weekend. Will need to eat a little less for the next few days to make up for the over-abundant eating on the weekend.

Tomorrow I’m driving into the office, as my car needs to go to the garage for maintenance. Apparently less than twenty people will be on my office floor, it’ll be weird. I’ll pick up some stuff on the way back, mainly kibble for the dog, as I always get that from a shop near my old flat. The two 15 kg bags from my last trip are almost used up again.

Keep safe, world.