Mad Times

“To be sane in a mad time is bad for the brain, worse for the heart.” – Wendell Berry

May 28th, 2007 at 12:18 am

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

bright red title on white background with spilled bowl of red cherriesThis book got featured in a couple of Friday cat pictures here at Mad Times. A friend at work suggested the book based solely on the author’s smart ass sense of humor. But more about that later. The book is not really a self help book. It’s more of a description of what psychologists know about what makes us happy and what keeps us from being happy. There are 388 footnotes in this book and almost all of them refer to a specific experiment conducted to measure some aspect of human happiness. (Lest that scare you off, let me say that I only know this because they’re end notes and so they were all in one place to be added up. I only read the first footnote in the book which helpfully assured me that I wouldn’t be missing much more than references if I didn’t read any of the others.) So the book isn’t an opinion piece, it’s closer to a friendly survey of the literature.

I don’t remember the specific points Gilbert makes in the book. Part of that is because I read it sporadically and failed to take any notes along the way. But I’m afraid I have to lay some of the blame for my lack of retention on the author’s (and editors’) shoulders. Remember the smart ass sense of humor? It really is pretty funny. The problem is that the jokes don’t generally serve the subject matter very well. His examples are colorful, but the glitz overshadows the message. I wish I had taken notes because I think I could benefit from some reflection on his points about the ways in which we fail to accurately predict what actions will make us happy. But to get back there now I’d basically have to reread the book and I can’t quite dredge up that much interest. Maybe my work friend took notes and will share.

May 27th, 2007 at 5:50 pm


Six camerasRachel wanted me to blog this so she’d have the opportunity to ridicule me in public. Those are all the digital cameras we have in the house at the moment. They are (left-right, top-bottom):

Largan Chameleon
Used for the beginning of my photo-a-day project in 2002. The camera that took the first eleven lost glove pictures. Whopping 640×480 resolution, fixed focus, no on-camera review.

Pentax Optio S4
My beloved teensy camera. Got it in 2003. Took something like 5000 pictures with it. Still the tiniest of the batch (the fx30 is a half inch longer and a smidge thicker). Really miss having its excellent audio recorder function in my pocket all the time.

Fuji FinePix F20
Decent little camera, especially for low-light indoor shots (pictures aren’t stellar (as evidenced by the last couple months on the blog and flickr), but it can take them unlike the Optio that gives up as soon as the world gets a little dim). Pocketable but a little boxy.

Kodak EasyShare Z730
Becky’s camera. Takes very nice pictures and incredibly feature rich for its price range (the only camera here with aperture and shutter priority for example). Really big, though (relatively speaking).

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX30
28mm equivalent Leica lens. Back-filling crystal clear LCD. Fast. Will take pictures in low light (if you don’t mind them looking like something from Monet’s cataract period when you look at them too closely) Almost as tiny as my Optio.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
10x optical zoom. 28mm equivalent all the way out to 280mm. In a package just a little bigger than the Fuji. Leica. Huge LCD. Did I mention the Leica 28-280 zoom?

Of course I won’t be keeping all of them. The Chameleon is really just a toy and has been sitting in a drawer for a few years. The Optio is getting wonky and I’ll probably just keep it around as an audio recorder. The Fuji and the Kodak will be finding new homes. The fx30 will be in my pocket and the tz3 will be somewhere near Becky. That is once I’m done doing side-by-side experiments with the lot of them.

May 26th, 2007 at 2:48 am


cat grabbing a black ribbon

May 23rd, 2007 at 10:21 pm

Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs

tattooed babe with coveralls open to her waist holding a big wrench. sigh.Sequel to Briggs’s Moon Called. This one is plotted more like an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but thankfully, the main character, Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson still isn’t like Buffy at all. (not that I don’t like Buffy, but we’ve already got one of those). The story starts off when Stefan, the Tri-Cities’ resident vampire with a sense of humor asks Mercy to accompany him on a visit to another vampire. That vampire has no sense of humor at all.

As with the last book I really enjoyed the relationships in Blood Bound. All the characters interact in ways complicated not only by their own personalities, but also by the social groups they belong to. The werewolf community is especially fascinating with all the shifting levels of dominance and submission. Also fun is the fact that Mercy has men of various races falling at her feet and has so far refused to even think about picking one.

Briggs’s website shows another Mercy book in the pipe with one more under contract plus a couple more books in the same universe planned. Yay!

May 23rd, 2007 at 12:39 am

Paloma by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

moon sector police badge over a bustling space portThis seems to be the fifth Retrieval Artist book, but only the second I’ve read. As with the last one, I read this as a nominee for the Endeavour Award (given each year to a book by a northwest author). In this volume, Miles Flint returns to the moon in time to receive a frantic call from his mentor, Paloma, but too late to save her from being brutally murdered. The book is a fairly straightforward murder mystery from that point.

The mystery isn’t very mysterious. I don’t read a lot of mystery novels, but I’m sure there’s a word for books where the solution hinges on information that the reader wasn’t privy to and couldn’t possibly have guessed.

What keeps it interesting is that it leads Miles on a deep exploration of the continuum of ethics in the occupations he and Paloma pursue. Rusch manages to make a number of morally ambiguous characters simultaneously sympathetic and repugnant. It’s really a pretty impressive feat. It will be interesting to see if anyone changes their behavior as a result of the events of this book.

May 18th, 2007 at 10:34 pm

Got it!

Alice reaching under shelf to catch her own tail

This has always been one of Alice’s favorite games. It’s so good to see her playing again.

May 11th, 2007 at 11:15 pm


Cat sitting on Daniel Gilbert's book Stumbling on Happiness

…is a cozy book.


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