An Easy Career Choice

“A book with career advice”. I was seriously dreading this Category. The career books I’ve read, or have tried to read, have been painfully dull. I’m not interested in a career move, and I’m not interested in career advice.

As I passed the halfway mark in the 2017 Reading Challenge, I still had no idea which book I’d read for this Category. With an attitude of “Well, I have to get this out of the way, somehow” I started doing internet searches. The career books I found were all around 300 pages long. That’s a lot of pages for a book I didn’t want to read.

Last year, it was “A political memoir” that I was dreading. I fulfilled it with The Motorcycle Diaries, a book I actually enjoyed. Although it’s technically a travel journal, it outlined the motivations behind Che Guevara’s future political path – which made it a political memoir. I thought I could find something along those same lines – not specifically a career advice book, but that still contained career advice. Internet searches weren’t helping, so I figured the best way to find such a book would be to use the Seattle Public Library’s “Ask a librarian” feature.

Before I got around to asking a librarian, however, I somehow stumbled upon exactly what I was looking for.

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination, by J.K. Rowling, was published in 2015.

Very Good LivesIn 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered the commencement address at Harvard University. The text of that address was published as a book named Very Good Lives. Sales of the book benefit Lumos, a charity founded by J.K. Rowling to transform the lives of disadvantaged children.

Very Good Lives is less than 70 pages long. I read it in one evening, and then read it again.

In the book, J.K. Rowling makes frequent references to the world of Harry Potter, which is fair, since that was probably why she was invited to deliver the commencement address.

What I feared most at your age was not poverty but failure.” She writes of her “epic failure” seven years after her own graduation – a single mother, a failed marriage, unemployed, and “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless”. She explains how that failure showed her who she truly was, and what was truly important in her life. Without that failure, she writes, she may have never succeeded at what she was meant to be.

Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts – that is something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticized only by fools.

She writes at length about a day job she had prior to the success of the Harry Potter books. It was a job that influenced not only her books, but herself as well.

She “paid her rent” by working at the African research department of Amnesty International’s headquarters in London. She read notes smuggled out of totalitarian regimes, written by those imprisoned and/or tortured. She saw photographs and read eyewitness testimonies. She met people who escaped, and who chose to lead better lives than those of their captors. It still gives her nightmares, but also taught her more about human kindness than she had ever known.

Unlike any other creature on this planet, human beings can learn and understand without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s lives.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate or control just as much as to understand or sympathize.

Her advice to the graduating class of 2008 was to use your imagination and your intelligence. If you imagine yourself in the lives of the powerless, you will transform the realities of millions of people.

She ends with a quote from Seneca: “As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.

There. I got this Category out of the way, and I found a wonderful, inspiring book that I loved.

  • A book with career advice

(You may have noticed that, ever since I wrote about how difficult it was to find a book with a subtitle, subtitled books have been finding me.)

A Day With A Plan

We did some laundry at the laundromat this morning. Then we drove home, dropped off our clothes, and then drove to Northgate Mall.

We had plans to watch Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 with a group of friends – mostly from NorWesCon. Plans also included meeting at the food court before the movie for lunch and socializing.

Phillip and I got to Northgate a little early, so we spent some time cruising the mall. I think it’s funny that neither one of us are mall shoppers, but this was the second time this weekend that we’ve found ourselves window-shopping in a mall.

Shops hadn’t opened yet when we arrived, but we managed to wander around inside Spencer’s and ThinkGeek once they did open.

We met up with our friends at the food court and had lunch together. Then we all crammed into an elevator, and walked across the street to Thornton Creek and watched the movie. It was reserved seating, and we weren’t able to sit together as a group.

We met up again after the show. Then Phillip and I drove home, put our clothes away, and did some house cleaning.

A Random Lazy Day

Today was Free Comic Book Day.

Phillip and I walked over to Phoenix Comics and Games, and arrived a couple of minutes before the store opened. There were six or eight people in line ahead of us.

There were two tables of free comic books. One was “general audience”, and the other was more “mature” themes. We could pick out three free comics – or five free comics if we purchased something from the store. Like last year, every purchase was given a discount based on the roll of three six-sided dice – in other words, anywhere from 3 to 18 percent off.

Phillip picked out his three free comics. I picked out five comic books that looked interesting – the only two I know anything about are Steam Wars (a steampunk retelling of Star Wars, I think) and a Batman comic – and I bought Volume Three of Saga. I rolled a one, a two, and a four, for a 7% discount.

After we left Phoenix, we agreed that we didn’t want to go directly home, but neither one of us could think of anything we wanted to do. Phillip suggested taking a ride on light rail, and I agreed.

We had an eight-minute wait for a southbound train. We boarded the train, found seats, and as we left Capitol Hill Station, Phillip asked where we were going. I replied that I didn’t know. As I started thinking of where Link light rail could take us, Phillip suggested having lunch at Veggie Grill. That sounded good to me.

We exited at Westlake Station. It was 10:30, or so. We agreed that Veggie Grill probably wasn’t opened yet. So, we browsed around Westlake Mall.

We had lunch at Veggie Grill. I checked OneBusAway. We had a 29-minute wait for a 47, and a 10-minute wait for a 49. So we rode a 49 bus up to Broadway.

On our walk down the hill, we stopped into the Capitol Hill Library. (We both like having a library so close to home.) I book I wasn’t expecting so soon was on the hold shelf for me. Phillip picked out a couple of DVDs.

We’d considered driving down to Renton to look at new cars, but we took a short nap first. Our naps lasted longer than expected, so looking a new cars will be another day.


Mysteries Of Driving In Iceland

I watched (listened to, mostly) Part 1 of Sigur Rós’ “Route One” this week – all nine hours of it. Part 1 covered the drive from Reykjavík to Djúpivogur.

I’ve looked into buying “Route One” on DVD – I’m enjoying it that much – but it doesn’t seem to be for sale. I’ve looked for it on Amazon, on the Sigur Rós web site, and on the Icelandic TV station web site. I want to own this thing, and have it playing in the background at home.

I’d love to read a commentary on this project. I have a few questions.

What’s with all the one-lane bridges? Granted, there’s not a lot of traffic on Route 1, outside of Reykjavík, and I never saw anything coming the opposite direction on any bridge, but one-lane bridges seem to be the rule rather than the exception. (I would expect to be the other way around.) There’s a pretty suspension bridge at Jökulsárlón, a little past the 6:03:00 mark in the video, at the base of what looks like a glacier. It, too, is just one lane wide, with a traffic light. Why build a suspension bridge on a major highway, and restrict it to one lane?

There are at least two times when the folks in the truck seem to have gotten lost. There’s a roundabout in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, around the 4:28:00 mark. The truck drives more than one complete revolution around the roundabout before exiting, and then stops in the middle of the road for a few minutes. (It’s nighttime, and no one’s in sight, so there’s no danger of blocking traffic, apparently.) I assume the crew is checking a map. And, at the very end, in Djúpivogur, they drive past a petrol station, and into the town. Then they stop in the middle of the street, make a couple of U-turns through what looks to be a bus terminal, and end up back at the petrol station, where they pull in and end Part 1.

I’m sure it’s easy to get lost out there in the remote Icelandic countryside – Route 1 is not the only road out there. Still, I think it would be interesting to read about what was going on inside the truck.

There’s a couple of stops I’m mildly curious about. Just before a tunnel, at the 7:21:00 mark, they stop (in the middle of the road, again) just before a low clearance marker. They sit there for several minutes. I assume they’re removing things from the top of the truck. (I think they’re driving one of the television station equipment trucks.) Then they drive on, through the tunnel. (I’m glad the tunnel’s more than one lane wide.) Later, along the hilly, winding road along the east coast, they pull in to a little turn-off at sit for a while. Are they admiring the view, or changing drivers? I guess I’ll have to watch the 360° version to find out.

(Edit: I’ve watched the first few minutes of 360° version before posting this. There were two trucks – the normal view truck leaving shortly before the 360° truck – so what I saw wouldn’t necessarily match up with the 360° view. Wow, what a production. And, they were television station crew trucks.)

This project was streamed live, I read. That explains all the people in the early part of the video waiting by the side of the road, waving at the truck as it passes.

At 2:45:00 or so, the truck pulls into a petrol station, next to an “Icewear” store, at night, in Vík. The camera never stops filming. After a while, a car pulls up, and stops in front of the truck. The driver steps out, waves at the truck, gets back in his car, and drives off.

I thought the funniest part of Part 1 was right after the petrol station in Vík. The truck pulls into a little rest area next to the station, and takes a 30 minute break. Again, the camera never stops filming. A car pulls in and stops in front of the truck. The driver gets out, walks around a bit, talks on the phone, just stretching their legs, obviously aware that they’re being filmed, but not making a big deal about it. They give the truck a little wave or two. Then, as the driver is about to drive away, a second car pulls in, and two people run out. The two people start jumping up and down and waving in front of the truck. The first person gets out of their car and walks over to the other two. Soon, the three are taking selfies together in front of the truck. They say goodbye, the two people drive off, and the first people blows a little kiss to the truck before they drive off. (I wonder if the three people knew each other before the rest area.)

It’s interesting to me how many parts of this Iceland drive look so much like the drive out to the Washington coast. We don’t have as many sheep running across the highway, however.

I can’t believe I watched a nine-hour YouTube video.

An Interesting Lady

I asked Phillip if, in his opinion, a category called “A book about an interesting woman” is looking for a biography – or could it be a fictional character in a novel?

(I’m making my own rules for the Reading Challenge – there’s no prize, after all – but I want to do it right. I needed his input. I had a specific reason for asking that question.)

Without hesitation, he said it certainly could be a fictional woman. He pointed out that the category asks for just “a book”, and not any specific type of book. Then he pointed out that all biographies are about someone interesting. (I like that.)

Last year, at NorWesCon 39, I bought a book named The Girl and the Clockwork Cat, by Nikki McCormack. I read it for the 2016 Reading Challenge – “A science-fiction novel”. I liked it a lot. My review is here. The protagonist, Maeko, is an interesting young woman.

Clockwork ConspiracyThis year, Phillip came home from NorWesCon 40 with the sequel. That’s what prompted my question about the category.

The Girl and the Clockwork Conspiracy, by Nikki McCormack, was published in 2015.

The story is, once again, set in a steampunk Victorian-era London. The steampunk elements play a larger part in the story than they did in Clockwork Cat.

Maeko is off the streets now, living in a luxury flat with Lucian Folesworth, the inventor who lost his family in the previous book. Maeko is taught to be a proper young lady, to act properly, and to dress properly. She can’t go outside without a chaperon – that wouldn’t be proper. She has proper coming out of her ears. She misses her friend Chaff. Maeko is miserable, but she still has Macak, the clockwork cat, by her side.

(By the way, we, the readers, finally learn why that cat has a clockwork leg.)

Meanwhile, Detective Emeraude is investigating the murder of Police Commissioner Henderson. She tracks down Maeko and offers her an apprenticeship, and asks for her help with the investigation. Maeko is tempted but cautious. Em had, after all, arrested Chaff. Whose side is Em on?

Then Ash shows up, and Maeko’s life becomes truly complicated. Her feelings for him are still there, but she can’t show him those feelings. She’s a proper young lady now. And, what about Chaff? Should Maeko court Ash, or should she wait until her friendship with Chaff is sorted out? She’s in Ash’s world now, and no longer in Chaff’s – but where does she truly belong?

Has Maeko become too soft to return to the street life? After all, it’s difficult to fight like a man when you’re dressed like a lady. She used to sleep in abandoned buildings, the only girl in a room full of boys. Now she’s starting to think of boys in a different way.

Maeko will have to sort out these priorities if she is going to accept Detective Emeraude’s apprenticeship. And if Em’s theory is correct, and the powerful political group, the Literati, are involved, things could get quite dangerous.

But then a second murder occurs, one closer to home, and Maeko, the half-Japanese street urchin/proper lady/amateur detective/thief finds herself pushed into the middle of a much larger investigation.

The Girl and the Clockwork Conspiracy is the second book in a trilogy, or maybe an ongoing series (I don’t know). It starts right in with the story, with no recap of Clockwork Cat, and gives its readers reminders of the previous story here and there. It ends rather abruptly, even more open-ended than the first book. It’s not a complete story.

(The third book, The Girl and the Clockwork Cannonade, is scheduled to be published this year, according to the Elysium Books web site.)

I enjoyed The Girl and the Clockwork Conspiracy. It takes elements of young adult romance, science fiction, and hardboiled detective noir, and mashes them up into an interesting and original political thriller. And Maeko is an interesting protagonist.

  • A book about an interesting woman

The Best Thing I Discovered Today

I had some fairly intensive data entry to do this afternoon at work, so I needed something not too distracting to listen to. I considered the overplayed playlist on my iPod, or maybe some YouTuber playing Euro Truck Simulator, or some Sigur Rós videos, or maybe an episode of some awful 1970s television show that you don’t have to watch in order to follow.

I decided on Sigur Rós videos. That’s when I discovered something amazing. I may have also discovered how out of touch I’ve become with pop culture.

During last year’s summer solstice, Sigur Rós put on a “slow TV” event named “Route One”. Apparently, it was a 24-hour drive around Iceland’s coastal ring road, Route 1 – all 1,332 kilometers of it. It’s posted on YouTube in three parts. I listened to the first hour of the nine-hour-long Part 1, glancing up at the video every once in a while as I worked. The hour I saw was one continuous video through the windshield of the vehicle, with only an occasional subtitle showing the name of the town they were driving through. The only audio was the continuous music of Sigur Rós playing evolving elements of their song “Óveður”. This is true slow TV.

I suppose there had to have been cuts in the video at some point, but I didn’t notice any. (Of course, I wasn’t watching that closely.) I imagine there must have been stops for petrol, and to switch drivers, but the only stops in the hour I saw were for traffic lights and roundabouts.

I enjoyed it a lot. I plan to pick it up the next time I do some intensive data entry. As I watched it, it occurred to me that it’s not all that different from watching a YouTuber playing Euro Truck Simulator.

Here is the link to the official “Route One” web page.

Mysterious Footwear

I’ve written about this many times over the years, but it continues to intrigue me.

four shoesI come across pairs of unoccupied shoes all over the city. These obviously aren’t random shoes that have fallen out of some passerby’s backpack. These are pairs of matching shoes, carefully placed together along sidewalks or on top of low walls. It’s a fairly common thing.

Today, on my walk home from Capitol Hill Station, I happen upon two pairs of shoes, set at the base of a traffic sign. (The sign, by the way, was remarkably free of graffiti.)

My theory is  that it’s some kind of shoe exchange – shoes set out for those who need them, like a Little Free Library for footwear.

I’ve tagged this post with “Seattle”, but I have no idea if this is a phenomenon restricted to my city.


The Dalai Lamas CatThe Dalai Lama’s Cat, by David Michie, was published in 2012. It is a work of fiction.

Visitors are often surprised to find that the Dalai Lama has a cat. But why should His Holiness not have a cat, asks the cat.

The cat, who has many names, was among a litter of kittens found in a New Delhi alley by two young boys. The boys sold off the kittens, one by one. The smallest kitten was too weak to sell, so they decided to suffocate it. This was witnessed by the Dalai Lama, who was stuck in traffic. He sent his attendant to buy the kitten for two American dollars. (His Holiness was returning from a trip to America, and had no rupees with him.)

The cat moves in with the Dalai Lama. Having been born in an alley, she doesn’t know how unusual her situation is. To her, His Holiness is just someone who gets the temperature of her milk just right.

Seeing how much care and thought His Holiness puts into writing his books, the cat decides to write a book of her own.

At first, the cat thinks that every human wakes up at 3 a.m. and spends five hours meditating. Then, with the help of the Dalai Lama’s assistants, the cat begins to understand that not everyone spends their days meeting with world leaders and celebrities.

In her book, the cat is discrete enough to not reveal the names of celebrity guests. She does drop the occasional hint, however. For instance, one guest is referred to as an absolutely fabulous actress who has appeared on British television.

Sometimes, the cat will name names, like when the teacher Thich Nhat Hanh or the Queen of Bhutan pay a visit.

The assistants, Chogyal and Tenzin, call the cat HHC – His Holiness’ Cat. One day, HHC finds her way to a space under the building, where she finds, and tries to kill, a mouse. She wants to bring the mouse to the Dalai Lama, but he is busy in the temple, so she presents her gift to the assistants. To her surprise, the assistants care for the mouse and do their best to treat its wounds. Then the cat remembers His Holiness’ teaching, and understands that all sentient life is sacred – even the life of a mouse.

Chogyal and Tenzin decide it’s time for the cat to have a new name, but “His Holiness’ Mouser” doesn’t sound right. The Dalai Lama’s driver suggests simply, “Mouser”, but with his strong accent, it sounds like “Mousie”. No, say the assistants, it has to be something more – either something Mousie or Mousie something. The driver suggests “Mousie-Tung”.

All three men laugh. Then Tenzin says, “Compassion is all very well. But do you think His Holiness should be sharing his quarters with Mousie-Tung?” They continue laughing.

For the cat, her new name is a grim reminder of a folly of her youth, when she let instincts take over, when she forgot to see life from the mouse’s point of view. Fortunately, the mouse survived. The Dalai Lama urged the cat to learn from her mistake, and to move on.

Mousie loves life at Jokhang, as the temple complex is called. Although cats spend their days dozing, she writes, they like their humans to be busy, and Jokhang is very busy. The cat provides us with a tour of the complex. She provides an eyewitness account of events and activities in and around Jokhang.

The Dalai Lama names the cat “little Snow Lion”. Mrs. Trinci, the flamboyant cook, names the cat “The Most Beautiful Creature That Ever Lived”. To Franc, owner of Café Franc, she is “Rinpoche”.

The Snow Lion of Jokhang finds that fame brings some benefits among the shops and restaurants in the area. At Café Franc, she is a celebrity. Having a celebrity in the café brings in customers, so Rinpoche is always fed well there. She is also fed well by Mrs. Trinci at Jokhang. She is well fed at a lot of places. The cat admits to being a glutton.

HHC, the cat of many names, continues to live, love, and learn at Jokhang as she grows from kitten to cat.

The Dalai Lama’s Cat is an introduction to the principles of Tibetan Buddhism. Through observations and personal experience, the cat learns of karma, mindfulness, Dharma, and the Sutras. Like the story of the gift of the mouse, the various stories are often told with a touch of humor, and always contain a lesson. Franc, who wears the symbols of Buddhism, learns what it means to actually be a Buddhist. Mrs. Trinci, a Catholic, learns why the Buddhists she works for have never tried to convert her. Chogyal’s teenage daughter, who believes in a vegetarian lifestyle but has an iron deficiency, learns that vegetarianism is not a binary principle. There are many such stories in this book.

As with any book written from a nonhuman perspective, the cat seemed a little too human at times. For instance, would a cat recognize that a car is a Fiat Punto? Would it even care? But that’s really the only nit I have to pick with The Dalai Lama’s Cat. Hey, I read a novel written by a cat, so what do I know?

I thoroughly enjoyed The Dalai Lama’s Cat. It’s a quick read, and I had fun reading it. It’s a wonderful book.

  • A book from a nonhuman perspective