31 10 2007

We bought Alex two Halloween costumes this year: A black cat and a teddy bear.

Whenever we brought out either of those costumes to get him to try them on, he’d shake his head and say, "No! No!"

So no Halloween pictures this year.

Book Review: The Air We Breathe

30 10 2007

LibraryThing arranged to get me an advance reading copy of The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett in exchange for a review (either positive or negative). So, here we go.

The Air We Breathe is another “antique science fiction” novel by Andrea Barrett. I’ve just made up the genre of “antique science fiction,” and as far as I know, Andrea Barrett is its only practitioner. Unlike conventional science fiction, which speculates about scientific advances to come, antique science fiction focuses on the scientific advances of the past. Like Ship Fever and The Voyage of the Narwhal, the other two Barrett novels I have read, The Air We Breathe tells the story of the scientific advances of an earlier age and the impact that had on characters’ lives. In this novel, Barrett lovingly dwells on the advances in chemistry, physics, and archaeology in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. However, because the novel is set in a WWI-era sanatorium, what most impacts the characters lives are the scientific advances that haven’t yet happened.

The rough plot arc of the novel makes me think of Paradise Lost. In the beginning of the novel, you’re introduced to characters who have lost nearly everything, both materially (many are poor immigrants) and socially, being exiled to the living death of forced rest & recuperation. In the first part of the novel, I had to continually remind myself that I wasn’t reading about elderly patients in a nursing home. These are vigorous people in their 20s and 30s who are suddenly forced to do nothing. Slowly, the patients at Tamarack State Sanatorium build an idealistic community organized around a love of learning and teaching each other — their own mini-paradise. Then, as with Adam and Eve, out-of-control passions bring the paradise to a sudden and tragic end.

You don’t want to read this book for its plot. Because most of the characters have to do nothing more than sit and breathe the cool air of the Adirondacks, there’s not a lot of action. You also probably don’t want to read the book to try to find nuanced, realistic characters. For the most part, Barrett’s characters neatly fall into one of three categories: Saintly, calm personalities with diverse backgrounds but united by their love of learning; Obsessive, selfish, and destructive characters; and the narrators who “?lived as if we were already dead, as if we’d died when we were diagnosed and nothing we did after that mattered?”

That said, I loved the book. I loved it because it vividly carried my imagination back to 1916. For a few hours, my mind soaked up that other universe. I felt the dread of being in the tomb-like atmosphere of a sanatorium. I felt hopeful as teaching, the arts, and the sciences woke up the patients at Tamarack State and gave them hope. I felt saddened as the delicate, utopian community shattered on its impact with irrational human passions. And finally my mind can’t stop thinking through this fictional story of 1916 to find what it says about human nature that is still true in 2007.

Especially if you love science, this book will take you on a worthwhile intellectual journey. Worth reading.

A Day at the Zoo

28 10 2007

I took Alex to the zoo today. We had a great time. I brought my camera and got some cool pictures of animals. It was hard to get good Alex pictures, though, because he stayed in the stroller much of the time.

One fun thing about visiting the zoo near Halloween: For many of the animals, instead of feeding them as normal, they hide their food inside of a pumpkin. So here are some river otters wrestling with a pumpkin to get their meal:

Otters and Pumpkin

River Otter and Pumpkin

Apparently, they did the same thing with the jaguar, too — stuffed some raw chicken inside of a pumpkin. (Yum! I’ll have to try that for Thanksgiving!) While I was a few minutes late to see the jaguar wrestling with the pumpkin, apparently that little change of routine put the cat into a good mood. She was happy to be near the glass with the rest of us.

Good thing there's glass


Most of the other pictures I took were of animals. If you want to see them, click here:


I’ll just leave you with this picture. Yes, that fuzzy brown lump in the background is a Grizzly bear.

Alex and Grizzly

Greenlake Playground

28 10 2007

Saturday, Molly & I took Alex to the Greenlake playground. You can see all of the pictures here:


This playground is a good change of pace from our usual haunts, the University Village playground or the Bryant Elementary playground. For one thing, it has swings. Alex loves swings.

Autumn Light

(Yes, you see correctly — in spite of the crisp fall air, Alex wanted to wear his sandals. He’s quite particular about his footwear these days. And as everyone knows, you can wear socks with sandals and blend in around here.)

This playground also has a few thingamabobs with steering wheels. No matter what it is, if it has a steering wheel, Alex loves it.

Blue Eyes

And even though Alex isn’t in this picture, it’s one of the coolest ones of the day. So here you go. Be sure to check out the other six pictures from the day. Once again, here’s the link:


Stop Motion

Memento Mori

24 10 2007

Yesterday was the memorial service for Ralph Abdo. I had some time at home before I had to put on my suit, and I took the time to grab my camera and walk to the cemetery at the end of our street. I’ve always wanted to take pictures there, and the combination of an unseasonably sunny October day, the splendid Fall foliage, and my general melancholy mood meant I couldn’t resist. I spent about an hour walking around taking pictures in a memento mori frame of mind.


I like this picture the best of the set. My original conception didn’t work out at all — I wanted a dramatic backlit scene, but too much was washed out. But I liked the elements of the picture too much to give up on it, and by playing with different black & white renderings I hit on this otherworldly vision. It perfectly captures how I felt yesterday.

I like the next two pictures because they contain all of the conflicting thoughts in my brain. On the one hand, everything yesterday was so beautiful. How could you not celebrate that? Yet all around are the reminders of death and sadness… and when you stop and think about yesterday’s beauty, what you’re seeing is the color of decay and fading and the onset of winter. But it’s still beautiful.

Fall Colors II

Fall Colors

Cavalry cemetery is an old graveyard. One of the things I valued most my about my walk through it is the perspective I got from visiting families that lived and died over a hundred years ago.

Sad Rose

This marker was from a family who had several children who died young — some a few months, some just a couple of years old. It’s a reminder that we live in an unusual era. In entire span of human history, it’s only been in the last hundred years that living a long, full life is the norm… so much so that we take life for granted and death comes as a surprise. But we’re as mortal now as we were a hundred years ago.

Everyone said this at yesterday’s memorial service: Ralph knew how to live life to its fullest. He was always laughing, always had a story, was always planning his next skydiving or windsurfing adventure. He clearly didn’t need a walk through a graveyard to remind himself that his time on Earth was limited, or that life was precious.

Alex at the Pumpkin Patch

21 10 2007

Make sure to check out the pictures of Alex at the pumpkin patch:


Scarecrow Alex

It was a cold, wet day — but that didn’t stop Alex from having a great time. He loved the goats & ducks. They also had some hay bales out for the kids to climb on… and when it was time to leave, we had to drag him screaming from them. Clearly cold and wet doesn’t bother him at all!


19 10 2007


Cardboard Box, Toy Hall of Fame

16 10 2007

Last year, they added the simple cardboard box to the National Toy Hall of Fame: http://www.usatoday.com/news/offbeat/2005-11-12-cardboard-box_x.htm?csp=34

We let Alex play with his cardboard box earlier this week.


Time and Chance Happeneth to Them All

14 10 2007

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.

We’ll miss you, Ralph.


A Fine Fall Day

14 10 2007

We’ve had great autumn weather this weekend in Seattle. The days start foggy, but by the afternoon it burns off and we’re treated to sunny skies and 60 degree weather. To top it off, the fall colors seem exceptionally pretty this year.

I took my camera with me on a solo trip to the Arboretum yesterday morning, and also in the afternoon when I took Alex to the Bryant Elementary playground. The pictures give you a good idea of what a fine fall day is like in Seattle. You can see all of the pictures here:


Here are some of my favorite shots of the day. First, on my way to the Arboretum, I stopped by "Hec Ed" pavilion at the University of Washington campus. There’s a pedestrian overpass that goes over Montlake Boulevard there. We drive under it every day to and from work, and I’ve been thinking to myself, "I’d like a picture of the fall colors from that bridge." Well, at 7:00 in the morning on a foggy fall day, there’s not a lot of light to really appreciate the colors… but I do like how the car lights turned out.

Driving in the Fog

I faced a lot more foggy weather in the arboretum. It turned out to be a better morning to look at shapes in the mist than to see fall colors, but every now and then you could see a color combination that stood out.

A Place to SitMushroomsReflected Branch

The coolest thing about a foggy day is all of the spider webs stand out as water condenses on the silk.

What Tangled Webs we Weave

The difference between the morning and the afternoon was pretty striking. Here’s the Bryant Elementary playground with the fall colors and blue skies on full display.

Playground and Fall Colors

Alex now spends more time playing with balls at the playground than he does using the slide. Most times, we can find a stray ball at the playground, but to be safe I now bring one with us. This particular day, we also found a stray frisbee. Alex had a great time chasing after the frisbee when I threw it. In a lot of ways, he really is like a puppy. Alex also really liked watching me throw the ball into the basketball hoop. Given my basketball skills, I guess that would be pretty funny to watch. Here are some of my favorite Alex pictures from the day. You’ll find five more Alex pictures if you look at the entire set. (The link again is here.)

Anyway, I sure hope the nice weather lasts!

Alex and a FrisbeeOver There!