miscellaneous commentary

The Pale King

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I have no problem quitting books I’m not interested in (see If on a winter’s night a traveler) and I’ve pushed myself to finish books I really didn’t want to (see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). But I find myself in the extremely unusual position of wanting to quit reading a book I’m actually interested in.

Last month I picked up a few books from the CF library, one of them being The Pale King, the book David Foster Wallace was working on when he died in 2008. His editor collected the manuscript and draft computer files and compiled a book out of the pieces. It’s about 500 pages long, of which I’ve read about 150, but the chapter on deck is 98 pages (I’ve flipped ahead to look) and I feel antsy about spending so much time on this book and I feel like quitting where I am and move on to two books I’ve read before but have been increasingly wanting to reread: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and (before the movie comes out next month) The Hobbit. 

My usual rule of thumb with a book is that, if I’m not hooked within the first 50 pages, I give up and move on. Life is short and there are too many books I want to read (with what little free time I have during nights and weekends not allocated to movies). I feel I remain on-track to reading somewhere in the neighborhood of 500-600 books before I hit my eighties — legitimate old-age.

So back to The Pale King… it’s not that I’m not interested in the subject matter, because I am. And I’m not turned off by Wallace’s writing style; I did, after all, slog my way through Infinite Jest over the final months of 2005, his tome of 1,079 pages. Like that work, and like most of McCarthy’s novels, TPK can’t be skimmed: the beauty is in the words, the sentence structures, the dialogue, the imagery, et cetera. Each sentence deserves to be read deliberately, or not read at all.

Tomorrow I will remove my 1994 bookmark and return TPK to the library. It will remain on my to-read list for 2015, along with a dozen other titles I did not find time for this year.

Written by camcarlson

November 21, 2014 at 11:11 PM

Silent Symmetry

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Written by camcarlson

October 26, 2014 at 4:55 PM

Posted in Cinema, video

Tagged with

Summer 2014 Road Trip

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Like most vacations, I can now look back on the road trip Viet and I embarked on in July and remember it as a whole thing. But while it was taking place, each event felt episodic, inspired by the events that preceded it but still able to exist on its own. This is how I’ve chosen to recollect the things we witnessed in the Summer of 2014.

For the most part, we experienced sunny, often hot weather. 99ºF in Montana one day, 45ºF mornings in Yellowstone the next. Occasional light rain during our full day in Yellowstone. I dressed appropriately — light jacket, soccer shorts, hiking boots, with my iPhone for taking pictures and a bag of snacks and Gatorade in the back seat of the LaCrosse.

We drove over 3,300 miles and spent around $430 on gas. Spent only two nights on hotels, one in Salt Lake City (was not impressed with either the hotel nor Salt Lake City) and one in Denver (our first night on town; spent the next two as guests at the Girard residence). Camped two nights at Yellowstone, a place of such beauty and natural serenity I now believe everyone who is able bodied should make a point of visiting at least once in their lifetime, to spend at least one full day with nature. Camping, not RV-ing or staying at one of the lodges, is preferred.

That having been said…

SAC CITY: Start of our journey. Spent the night sleeping on two couches pushed together in my sister’s basement. Woke up with the sun and filled the gas tank with non-ethanol from 1 of the town’s 2 gas stations.

IA-20: Mostly a 2-lane highway west of Sac City. Gentle hills and decent NPR reception on a Saturday morning.

I-29 (SD): A rather bland 75 mph roadway heading straight north. Passed by Vermillion, no reason to stop there.

I-90 (SD): About a thousand bug splats on the windshield, matched by a thousand billboards hawking the wonders of Wall.

BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK: Brief excursion along Highway 240. Takes about an hour to drive through and stop at a few choice turnouts.

WALL: The very definition of ‘tourist trap’.  The Jackalope gag is cute but we didn’t see the huge fiberglass dinosaur. Can get a free “Where in the heck is Wall Drug” bumper sticker at one of the many gift tchotchke shops. Had a delicious buffalo burger at the Cactus Café, despite our waiter botching both of our orders.

RAPID CITY: Stopped only long enough to purchase bug bite relief cream at the enormous Cabela’s off the highway (my first time inside one).

KEYSTONE: Tiny little town at the bottom of a windy highway that attracts tourists like a light attracts bugs. Overpriced motel rooms, crawling speed limits and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Avoid if possible.

MOUNT RUSHMORE: To be honest, I was not as impressed as I thought I would be. If the Crazy Horse monument was finished, I would have gone there instead. If you want decent pictures, come during the morning or early afternoon.

CROOKED CREEK: Several miles west of Mount Rushmore. $32 will get you a campsite and access to bathrooms and showers . An extra $3 will get you an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. Pay both with cash, if possible.

SD-385: we drove the 45 northernmost miles of this 1,206-mile highway that begins at Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas and ends in Deadwood SD. One of the coolest stretches of American highway I’ve ever had the privilege to navigate. Up, down and around the Black Hills in an endless mix of inclines, declines and sharp curves. Highlight was descending along the east side of Pactola Reservoir.

I-90 (WY): white knuckle driving at 80 mph. Occasional road construction. More bug splats on the windshield.

WY-14: Winding high plains road with many hilly fields and little civilization past Sundance.

DEVILS TOWER: Impressive rock formation hidden behind dozens of miles of beautiful Wyoming hillsides. Should be included in any Great Plains road trip itinerary.

SHERIDAN WY: Meh. Ate a late lunch at a Burger King, decided on a whim to escape Wyoming and drive up and through Montana instead.

I-90 (MT): Same 80 mph speed limit, but more maneuverable roadways. Trucks forced to drive slower in the right lane, which makes for easier passing. Beautiful view of the Crazy Mountains west of Billings. Exit at Livingston.

MT-89: beautiful valley route that ends in resort town of Gardiner.

YELLOWSTONE – NORTH ENTRANCE: Be sure to take a picture of the giant stone Roosevelt Arch leading into the park (as there isn’t a similar archway at the southern entrance).

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS: Like a town within the park. Wild animals lounge in the grass along the roadway. Check out the multicolored terraces from both the upper and lower observation walkways.

MADISON CAMPGROUND: 6,806 ft. elevation. Less than $25 per night. Bathrooms but no showers; bear-proof dumpsters, and a fire ring for each campsite. Good luck finding ground that isn’t hard-as-rock dirt to pitch a tent atop of. Park rangers give a nightly presentation at the nearby outdoor amphitheater.

GRAND CANYON OF YELLOWSTONE: My favorite feature of the park. The view of the lower falls and the canyon is best seen from the upper deck at Grand View, but we also stopped at Lookout Point. Didn’t make time for Artist Point or Inspiration Point.

YELLOWSTONE LAKE: With over 100 miles of coastline, it’s the largest high-altitude lake in North America. Deepest point is over 400 feet, and the undercurrent is cold enough (even in summer) to cause hypothermia in mere minutes. Next time I go to Yellowstone I will try to camp at Bay Bridge, on the western side of the lake.

OLD FAITHFUL: A necessity for any visitor of Yellowstone, though it’s not as impressive as other features at the park. A magnet for annoying tourists. I would have been satisfied watching the geyser erupt from inside the dining area of the nearby lodge.

GRAND PRISMATIC LAKE: Steaming beauty. I felt a small sense of reverence walking silently around the site, witnessing a geological formation that by and large has no equal anywhere else on Earth. An absolute must-see for any visitor, far more so than Old Faithful.

GRAND TETONS: Directly south of Yellowstone along the Rockefeller Parkway; check out the entire range from the first lake overlook. Don’t be tempted to stop at the Jackson Lake Dam to take pictures; keep going until you reach the Potholes Turnout or Mount Moran Turnout, or go all the way to the parking lot at Jenny Lake Overlook for superior views. Also, don’t let temporary gates along the walking trails deter you; just sidewind your way down the hillside right to the shoreline, and enjoy the view.

JACKSON HOLE (WY): First city after leaving Yellowstone/Grand Tetons; everything is crazy expensive, especially the gas. Just keep on driving…

CARIBOU NATIONAL FOREST: tied with SD-385 through the Black Hills as the most beautiful route of the trip. 15 to 20 miles through the park and I don’t think there was a combined 1,000 feet of straight road. The pace was leisurely and I didn’t see another car the entire time.

SODA SPRINGS: Plenty of smooth asphalt roads and elongated street lights in the small Idaho town.

I-15 (ID): The geography changes from mountain greenery to southwestern sagebrush. Hot, hot, hot.

NORTHEAST UTAH: An endless sea of cities, concrete and billboards, much like I-5 from San Diego to Los Angeles. 12 lanes of Hondas and Mazdas leapfrogging one another. Set your cruise control to 5 over, stick to the middle lane and plow ahead.

SALT LAKE CITY: Stayed at a Super 8 and dined at an In-N-Out Burger in Midvale. Didn’t have time to take in the Great Salt Lake. Temple Square was locked down for the night but could still see the big white temple from behind the perimeter wall.

UT-6: Some pretty tight canyon driving, though it doesn’t last for long. Local drivers continue to speed by like maniacs on a mission.

UT-191: Desert driving. Long stretches of straight roadway flanked on the east by seemingly never-ending cliffs of eroded rock.

I-70 (CO): A picturesque stretch of up & down roads that largely follows the Colorado and Eagle rivers. Lots of fun curves and tunnels along a 65-mile stretch between Gypsum and Silverthorne.

GRAND JUNCTION: The most disgusting truck stop I have ever set foot inside of. Nearly lost my faith in humanity. Avoid at all costs.

LOVELAND PASS: Take the 216 exit and weave your way up the mountain range to 10,990 feet. Foot paths lead higher up, though I settled for walking over to a nearby snowbank and scooping up a clump of hard snow in my hand… in July.

DENVER: Largest ‘midwest’ city that doesn’t feel too expensive. I don’t think I drove more than 2-3 miles in any direction without encountering some manner of road construction.

PHO 96: $9 bought a bowl of ‘special rare flame mignon’ pho larger than my head. So incredibly %#?@*&ing tasty!

QUALITY INN CENTRAL: The first room didn’t have working A/C. The second room reeked of nicotine despite being labeled a non-smoking room. Slept great in the king-size bed. The front desk was woefully understaffed, the continental breakfast was subpar, and the neighborhood was sketchy. Would not stay here again.

16TH STREET MALL: Free MallRide buses continuously run up and down the pedestrian mall. Illegal Pete’s offers tasty and affordable burritos, with a  full-service bar to the side. Browse the stores at the 3-story outdoor shopping mall or take a tour of the Denver branch of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank. At the bottom of the hill is the awesome Tattered Cover Bookstore (cartography buffs like myself will enjoy the sampling of maps kept in the side reading room); at the top of the hill is the Colorado state capitol building.

BROADWAY: A variety of stores, restaurants, cafes and bars. Several cluttered used book stores (one of them also a coffee shop – great idea!). One of the highlights of our entire trip was seeing “Boyhood” at the Mayan Theater. The décor inside the main theater is amazing.

BROTHERS: Just like the Iowa City one – packed with twentysomethings. The only saving grace were the $1 well drinks.

THE RETRO ROOM: offers more than a dozen delicious vodka infusion shots in flavors such as pickle, pepperchino and bacon. Go here instead of Brothers.

LOWRY BEER GARDEN: hip bar/restaurant at the former Lowry Air Force Base. Three sides of retractable walls. Outdoor and indoor seating. Cedar Falls needs a venue like this ASAP.

TRACKS: $12 cover gets you an evening of deafening club music and black light drag performances. If you ask for water, you will hand over $3 for a 10-ounce bottle. Take it… you don’t want to be rufied here. On a positive note, the bathroom was clean.

I-80 (NE): Tied with I-90 through South Dakota as the most boring stretch of highway driving of the trip. The only attraction of interest was the highway-spanning Archway near Kearney, which we didn’t stop at. Maybe next time.

OMAHA: Nearly 11 years ago I lived here while student teaching, and remember my time there with some fondness. Had I not been tired and hungry from driving all day, I may have turned off the interstate and driven through a few neighborhoods.

I-80 (IA): Some familiar sights driving through Council Bluffs. I don’t remember southwestern Iowa being as hilly as it is.

IMG_2733IMG_2761_MG_3789IMG_2938   _MG_3975

Written by camcarlson

October 19, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Onward with the summer

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I concede I have let this blog drift by the wayside these past few months. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve found a new home with Instagram, but my use of that app remains hit or miss. Much has transpired this summer & I have a weeklong road trip to look forward once I leave work tomorrow. Clothing and personals packed, car gassed up, tires properly inflated, beef jerky and sugary snacks procured, and arrangements have been made for Lacy to be fed, watered and played with each day until our return.


Written by camcarlson

July 17, 2014 at 11:46 PM

Posted in Travel

20th century military anniversaries that occur in the month of June.

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Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre.


Friday (6/6) will mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, France.


And June 28th will mark the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the prelude to World War I.


Written by camcarlson

June 4, 2014 at 9:16 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Spring Cycling

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Viet and I took advantage of the fine spring weather last weekend to get out on the trails, cycling through George Wyth and Big Woods Lake. Didn’t make it to Black Hawk Park… next time. I noticed my odometer wasn’t recording miles property. Either the computer that clips to the handlebars is going wonky or the sensor strapped to the fork is going bad. I tried repositioning the sensor, and the spoke magnet, but that didn’t help, so I suspect the computer… which means the only way to accurately record my miles would be to buy a new odometer. Meh.

I’m not sure I care enough anymore about how many miles I log to invest in it. I cared in years past, like in 2010 when I put in over 1,700. Last year was a far cry from that… I probably logged 250 or 300. Hard to tell, as Viet used my bike on occasion when his was left at his apartment. Since he’s not much for long-distance riding, the only way I’ll get in many 20+ milers this summer would be get out the door on weekend mornings.

While decluttering bookmarks these past couple weeks I found some articles about cycling that struck a chord with me. Here’s a description of a situation I know all too well:

I continued across the intersection as the SUV bore down on me, giving the driver a hard stare; he responded by braking momentarily, then he simultaneously accelerated and swerved toward the curb, squeezing by me with a half-dozen inches to spare and nearly clipping me with his rear-view mirror. I got an up close and personal view of a middle-aged driver in a button-down shirt, his face contorted as he screamed for me to get out the hell out of his road. I hollered back with succinct instructions involving his junk and an adjacent orifice.

Most motorists in the Cedar Valley are polite enough to stop and allow cyclists and pedestrians the right of way, so this is more the exception to the rule. But when it does happen, it tends to nag at me for a while.

What bothers me is how cyclists are expected to either restrict themselves to only riding on trails, or if they must ride on roads, to hug the curb. This is dangerous, as Peter Walker of the Guardian details:

There are all sorts of reasons for taking the lane. Often, a cyclist might ride centrally to keep at least a car door’s width from parked vehicles. … It could be to pass the message to those behind: this is a narrow (or twisty) road, there’s no space to squeeze past, you’re going to have to overtake me as you would a car.

It’s pretty simple stuff, but it’s amazing how many drivers cannot grasp it. … I can just about forgive some drivers for not knowing the rules and reasons for cyclists taking the lane. … What I can’t forgive are the dangerous maneouvres that sometimes follow. Squeezing past a cyclist carries a clear message: not only do I believe you are in the wrong, but I believe my righteousness is justification for putting your physical wellbeing in danger. I believe my right to reach the next red traffic light about five seconds earlier than I would have otherwise trumps the rights of your loved ones to welcome you home tonight in one piece. It sounds dramatic, but that’s what it amounts to, and it appalls me.

I found that article on Jake Mohan’s blog, who has previously written with wit and eloquence about the frustrations cyclists face from the general population:

I might also point out, as a corollary, the complete absurdity of the hypothetical bargains that I’ve heard people (in newspaper comment sections, social media, and real life) express a magnanimous willingness to strike with us monolithic, uniformly miscreant and socially aberrant cyclists:

How about we stop using our tax dollars for cycling infrastructure like bike lanes until all bikers [always BIKERS] can follow the rules of the road and ride safely

I’ll start passing bikers with three feet to spare and giving them the right-of-way when they extend the same courtesy to me.

If bikers are going to get special treatment like bike paths, we should make them get licenses and pay user fees, just like motorists. 

To which I always reply, silently, in my head, my cerebral arteries threatening to occlude with impotent rage:

1. By that same logic, we should not spend another penny on motor-vehicle infrastructure until all MOTORISTS also follow all the rules of the road and ride safely.

2. You get to decide whether you put my life in danger because you have the advantage of weight, horsepower, infrastructural privilege, and state-of-the-art automotive safety technology. I don’t have any of those things. Even if I wanted to somehow hurt or kill you on my bike, I don’t see how I possibly could without the aid of heavy artillery.

3. Licensing programs and user fees don’t exist for cyclists in most cities because they flat-out don’t work. They don’t really work for motorists either, in practice: licensing is designed to keep dangerous and unlawful drivers off the road, but so pervasive is our belief that driving is a god-given right that a person has to do a hell of a lot of drunk-driving, maiming, and killing before they get their license permanently revoked. And again, bicyclists aren’t capable of doing that kind of damage.

4. For the billionth time, cyclists pay more than they should to maintain our transportation infrastructure, seeing as how a) many are also tax-paying home and car owners; b) they pay sales, state, and federal taxes, which heavily subsidize our roads; c) they aren’t even allowed to use interstates, which are among our nation’s most expensive and maintenance-intensive infrastructure, but they still pay for them; d) their vehicles inflict an infinitesimal amount of wear and tear on the roads compared to cars. How many of the potholes now emerging from the melting snow and ice on our streets do you think were caused by bikes? Whole thoroughfares are out of commission for months at a time so they can be upgraded; do you really think cyclists are the ones causing that inconvenience?

5. I strongly doubt that if, starting tomorrow, cyclists miraculously and monolithically started being perfect human beings and following all the rules of the road and riding perfectly safely, the people who hate us would begin showing us even one iota of respect. After all, they’ve amply demonstrated that they barely understand the “rules of the road” and have such a warped perception of reality already, why should we expect that to change?

Right on cue, my blood pressure has been successfully raised… time for a jog.

Written by camcarlson

April 27, 2014 at 3:40 PM

Posted in Bicycling

Digital clutter

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Some years ago I embarked on a comprehensive decluttering project [I interchange the word declutter with unclutter, though the latter is not recognized by my spellcheck], purging unwanted and unneeded books, clothing, household items, various trinkets and baubles, as well as scanning all my photographs and paper documents and culling both down to the bare essentials. A couple years ago I swallowed hard and purged my DVD collection. I’ve embraced a minimalist way of living, not only in the things that I own but also in my daily activities, taking part in only those things that bring me the greatest sense joy and fulfillment (aside from work, naturally).

Yet I’ve allowed my computer to harbor an ever-growing collection of digital data, and it’s reached a point where I often spend so much time attempting to retrieve a quote or a photo that I either forget why I was looking for it or lose interest altogether.

Digital clutter is easy to accumulate as it does not take up space in our lives the way a book or a piece of clothing would. Storage space is incredibly cheap, both in disc/SSD format and in the cloud, and most of us will never come close to filling up our computers’ hard drives. But the point is that, just because every file we ever create can be saved forever, doesn’t mean they should be.

Over the next few months I’m going to review and purge three main areas on my MacBook. The month of May will be devoted to the six thousand-plus songs in my iTunes library, while June will be focused on my nearly four thousand pictures in iPhoto.

April will be spend on Safari, my web browser of choice. I have a knack for saving bookmarks to sites I will likely never revisit, and over the years I’ve created folders within folders to tame them. But the bookmark zoo has grown far too large. I have 20 main folders, covering topics such as movies, employment/resumes, simplicity, nutrition, exercise, computers/technology, places/travel, habitation and (everyone’s favorite) “random”. Most of these folders contain several dozen sites; my exercise and random folder have well over a hundred, as does my employment/resume folder if I count the sub-folders for resume-writing, interviewing and recently-unemployed. Whew.

So my first task is to go through each folder and sub-folder, open up every bookmark in a separate tab, review the site, see if it’s something I still want to reference, then either keep it or delete it. Having done this to several of my folders, I have already found somewhere between a fourth to a third of all bookmarks are dead links! Of the live links, I’ve tried to delete multiple links to the same web site, opting to keep just one link to the main page if possible. I’ve probably already eliminated a couple hundred bookmarks already, and I’m not even halfway done… I’m saving the two biggies (exercise and nutrition) for last, as they’ll correspond with folders cluttered with various clippings on my hard drive.

Once I’ve purged my bookmarks, I will move on to the Reading List, a neat little feature built into Safari, like a Netflix queue for web articles. It’s insanely easy to save a page in the Reading List to read later… and then forget about it completely. Such is life. But I dislike having so many unread articles out there. It gives me the feeling of having unfinished assignments hanging over my head, a feeling I came to dread when I was in college.

I made a cursory review of the list last weekend and deleted about a third of the one hundred or so articles saved therein. What’s left will be read, consumed, contemplated, then either referenced on this here site or deleted. I’m going to resist the urge to simply transfer saved articles to my bookmark folders.

Thinking about my to-read pile reminded me of this article in Unclutterer about handling the flow of information in our lives. There’s a lot of shit out there on the internet and not enough hours in the day to consume it. I can’t read every article or watch every video posted to my Facebook feed (note to my family and friends — PLEASE stop posting links to Facebook on a daily basis!). As Chris Miller is quoted in the article, “my time and attention are the most valuable things I possess.”

Upon reflection, I think I save so many bookmarks and Reading List articles because I want to learn, to stay informed, on as many topics as possible. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that life is just too damned busy for me to keep up with every topic of interest. I have to develop an ability to cull from the monstrous pile of information, to seek out what really benefits my life and focus solely on those things, and be at peace with leaving the rest of it behind me. With that said, I’ll close with this gem of a comment from the Unclutterer article:

EVERYTHING is interesting when you have a curious mind but we can’t read everything, can we? Why are we becoming so afraid of missing out on the latest post, article, whatever? Why do we have to follow so many feeds or “friends”?

I am just as guilty in some of these areas as everyone else and I have been asking these questions of myself lately, so this is not intended as just criticism for all of you and not me. I realized that in my quest to remain “informed” about so many things, I was actually learning less by becoming distracted and scattered. I am trying to turn that around now but it’s not easy!

Written by camcarlson

April 14, 2014 at 9:55 PM

Posted in Apple, Simplicity