Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Book Review: Exhalation by Ted Chiang

ExhalationExhalation by Ted Chiang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book of ideas. The stories are philosophical essays tucked into sci-fi wrappers. Most of science fiction is idea-based, but these stories are more so than most. Two stories struck a chord with me, and a third deserves a special mention.

The Great Silence

This story moved me the most. It’s written from the point of view of one of the few remaining parrots in Puerto Rico’s rain forest. According to Wikipedia, as of 2021 it was estimated that only 500 existed after hurricane Maria. I learned about a gray parrot, Alex, who was quite smart and Irene Pepperberg, who trained and studied Alex. The narrator parrot says this:

“Human activity has brought my kind to the brink of extinction, but I don’t blame them for it. They didn’t do it maliciously. They just weren’t paying attention.” (Italics mine.) First, do you think humans would be so forgiving? And second, we do not pay enough attention to a lot of things.

What’s Expected of Us

This story explores the question: What if there were a device that could definitively prove that free will did not exist? What would happen to society? From the story: “Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has.” So true, from our conception of America versus it’s true history to our economic system, self-deception has proved invaluable.


A friend of mine loaned me this book (Al – I will return it next time we have dinner). He told me, before I read any of the stories, that the story Exhalation affected him deeply. I didn’t have that same reaction. This is one of the advantages of a book about ideas though. Next time we meet he’ll explain to me what affected him and I might have an “ah ha” moment. Or, he might.

It does have some interesting concepts such as the idea that obtaining sustenance is better in the company of others. It also explores the concept of entropy, though I think based on my limited knowledge of entropy that the story has the ramifications backwards. The last paragraph does have a line that we should all consider: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

I really liked the story notes at the end. I always enjoy reading what influenced an author in the creation process. In the notes for Exhalation, he notes a book that got him thinking about entropy and now I have another book on my list to read!

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Morton Arboretum Pictures: January 28, 2023

Our black & white photography class met at Lake Marmo in the Morton Arboretum. We were supposed to be  "trudging through the tundra" (Frank Zappa fans will understand) and taking pictures. I took 48 pictures in the time I was there and these 4 were my favorites. As an aside, the Arboretum supplied hand warmers and they were truly appreciated!

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Illinois Winter

I'm taking a class in black & white photography. This is the perfect weather for it! 

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Ideas For 2023

Less digital. More analog.

More doing. Less reading.

More vegetables. Less vegging.

More walking and biking. Less driving.

More home-prepared meals. Less fast food.

More rewriting. Less posting sloppy first drafts.

More purging unused belongings. Less purchasing crap.

More local. Less national.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Odds & Ends: December 31, 2022

Another year done. Let's hope 2023 is a better one. 

This is the Depot Pond today. It was around 25 degrees when I shot this. Despite the warm up earlier this week, it appears as if there is still some ice on the pond!

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Change in Perspective

 I went from this on Friday

to this on Tuesday.

We're back from Puerto Rico, where the weather was perfect for two weeks. It rained lightly the day we left, but it was still almost 80 degrees, about 60 degrees warmer than it is here today. 

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Odds & Ends: November 26, 2022

The Depot pond looked really pretty this morning. It is 32 degrees, going up to 55 degrees today. I will get the final grass cutting chore done today. 


We've had three mass shootings in the last ten days. The pro-gun folks blame mental illness. They are right. There is something wrong with someone who thinks killing a bunch of innocent people is an appropriate solution to whatever problem they are experiencing. But it is far to easy for those afflicted people to get weapons capable of killing many people in a short amount of time. We need to make it far more difficult to buy guns. Surely we can do it without making it impossible for law-abiding folks who want to own a gun. 


Practice kindness. Wouldn't the world be better if we all could try harder to be kind? I know it's not manly. I know the popular impression is that it is for chumps. I know the tough-guy, Trumpist bullying way is attractive to a wide group of people, and has been for quite a while, even before Trump came on the scene. But it's not working. It is time to try a different approach: kindness.


I spend way too much time fretting over social media. I change my mind about it 2 - 3 times every hour. Where am I on it right now? First, I do firmly believe it has contributed to making our world worse, coarser and more fragmented. However, I also believe some of that is on us, the consumers of social media - I won't blame all of that on the social media systems. It's on us to utilize common sense and discard the crazy stuff. 

I'm going to stay on Facebook (I already deleted my Twitter profile - one account is enough). My friends and family post things that I'm never going to see anywhere else and I'd miss that. I'll ignore the negative stuff. It's up to me to manage my consumption of social media. It's up to me to make sure social media does not exert influence over my moods or actions. 

Train Pictures

Friday, November 25, 2022

Lynne Handy's Facebook Cover Poetic Snippets

Starting in 2018, Lynne Handy asked me to change her Facebook cover image once a month. She wanted to put a different poem, or portion of a poem, on the cover each month. I got the impression she spent a fair amount of time putting this together each year. On November 8, 2022 I received her poems for 2023 (She included one by our poet laureate of the Fox Valley, Frank Rutledge!). Unfortunately, she passed away on November 20, 2022. 

I don't feel right logging on to her Facebook page and changing the covers anymore. It just seems wrong, but at the same time, I want to acknowledge her work, the effort she put into choosing which poems to display. Accordingly, I'm going to post the remaining poems here, all at once.


 A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.”


T.S. Eliot, “Journey of the Magi”


That winter I had nothing to do

but tend the kettle in my shuttered room

on the top floor of a pensione near a cemetery…


“January in Paris,” Aimless Love, Billy Collins (1941-    )



And the moral of my code

is this:

beauty is twice


and what is good is doubly


when it’s a matter of two

woolen socks

in winter.


“Ode to My Socks,” Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)


MARCH 2023

Touch our bodies, wind.

Our bodies are separate, individual things.

Touch our bodies, wind,

But blow quickly through the red, white, yellow skins

Of our bodies

To the terrible snarl,

Not mine, not yours, not hers,

But all one snarl of souls.         


“Wind,” Selected Poems of Langston Hughes, Langston Hughes (1901-1967)


APRIL 2023

I remember this woman who sat for years

In a wheelchair, looking straight ahead

Out the window at sycamore trees unleafing

And leafing at the far end of the lane.


“Field of Vision,” New Selected Poems 1988-2013, Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)


MAY 2023

Now has come the joyous month of May,

So gay, with such sweet delights,

As these orchards, hedges, and these woods,

All decked with leaves and blossoms,

And all things rejoice.


“The Joyous Month of May,” The Writings of Christine de Pizan, Christine de Pizan (1364-c 1430)


JUNE 2023

 The sun should be a couple of million miles

Closer today. It wouldn’t hurt anything

And anyway, this cold rainy June is hard

On me and the nesting birds…


“Solstice Litany,” Dead Man’s Float, Jim Harrison (1937-2016)


JULY 2023

 But when the thistle blooms and on the tree

The loud cicada sits and pours his song

Shrill and continuous, beneath his wings,

Exhausting summertime has come…


“Works and Days,” Hesiod and Theognis, Hesiod (ca 750 BCE – Unknown)



 I am a honey locust tree

with summer green intentions,

to be a Mourning Dove

swallowing twilight…


“Two Places at Once,” Clothed in August Skin, Frank Rutledge (1962-2019)



Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run…


“To Autumn,” The Odes of John Keats, John Keats (1795-1821)



…Autumn and winter are in the dreams…the farmer goes

with his thrift,

The droves and crops increase...the barns are well-filled.


“The Sleepers,” Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman (1819-1892)


When icicles hang by the wall,

And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,

And Tom bears logs into the hall,

And milk comes frozen home in pail…


“Winter,” A Little Treasury of Great Poetry, William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


 The stars, the heavens, and the elements

contested, using all their arts and care,

to make that living light where Nature and

the sun are mirrored, nothing matches it.


“Sonnet 154,” The Poetry of Petrarch, Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374)

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Story Written, Edited and Posted for Contest

We submitted our story. We wrote a few, picked two that seemed worthy of editing and selected what we thought was the strongest and posted it in time. We won’t find out until January if we make it to the next round. There were 5,439 writers registered. The organizers set up 125 groups of 44 (though one group must contain 43 since it’s an odd number of writers) and they will select the top 10 out of each group to participate in the next round. If we’re lucky we get to do it all over again in January. There is a third round, in March. I can’t post the story we submitted until the contest is over.

I was involved with for a while. It seemed to me that writing a story that would make an impact in 500 words was really difficult. Now that I’ve tried to do the same thing in 250 words, 500 words feels like writing a novel! I think it’s good to try to write short; I’ve always thought most writers write too long. I’m glad I participated, whatever we find out in January.

Thank you for your kind words and support. I appreciate it.

Friday, November 18, 2022

Ready For Battle

I'm ready to do battle. Cathy Kern-Betts and I have entered a short story writing contest, which kicks off tonight. At 10:59 I should receive an email from NYC Midnight - the organizers of the contest. The email will contain a genre, an action and a word. We have 24 hours to combine those elements into a story of 250 words, or less. This is just round 1. If we make the cut, there are two more rounds before we get to collect the grand prize of $4,500. 

Please wish us luck.