August 2012

Ride the Divide

Ride the Divide ★★★
While exploring the feasibility and practicality of doing the Continental Divide Mountain Bike Trail, I thought it best to see a documentary of this being done. This documentary actually details a race involving 17 people, 10 of who drop out, going from Banff to the Mexican Border. The film showed not only the beauty of this undertaking but also the challenges that the ride presents. Unfortunately, the ride was presented as a race, which in my mind is quite stupid. Why ruin a beautiful ride by forcing yourself to go as fast as possible? The sole girl in the race actually drops out twice, and whines continually, before actually completing the course. The only people who seemed to enjoy the trip were a group of four riders, several from Europe, who rode together, did not come in first and were not well documented in this film. I was able to grasp from this that it is feasible, that it should probably be ridden in the late year (August/Sept) rather than early year when there is much snow, that it should not be done as a race, that it should definitely be ridden with another person, and that one might expect some aches and pains on the way. Most of the path was quite clear, and it didn’t seem like there was much cycling on footpaths, though a modest amount appeared to be on gravel and dirt roads. I doubt if I could talk Russ into doing this one.

Everyday Guide to Wine, Spirits, and Cocktails

Everyday Guide to Wine ★★
Everyday Guide to Spirits and Cocktails ★★★★★ – both by Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan
These two courses are sold separately from the Teaching Company, but can be purchased as a single set. The two courses differ vastly in their style and character, leading to two divergent ratings, even though taught by the same person.
In the Everyday Guide to Wine Jennifer S-B introduces herself, and spends at least one lecture justifying her qualifications for teaching a wine course. She was superb at taking one through the necessary formalities of a wine tasting, and the basics for determining the quality of wines. She then marches from region to region, introducing and sampling the various wines. One is left with a reasonably good idea why certain wines from various regions tend to be more prized, and thus (often) more expensive. I disliked two things about the course. The first was Jennifer’s continual self-referential comments. I really didn’t care that JSB was classified as a master wine-taster, and could detect scents of olive or asphalt or burnt American Oak in her wine.  Secondly, I found it to be totally gross that she always spit out the wine. If wine appreciation means spitting out wine and not drinking it, then I’ll stick with beer. All in all, the course failed to enhance my appreciation for wine, and I instead gave most of my wine away, so that I could focus on gaining a better appreciation for beer.
The other course on spirits and cocktails was a much different course. JSB really didn’t talk much of herself, and she focused on the various spirits that are available, with good overviews of the nature and origin of the various spirits. She also had a number of expert bartenders demonstrate the preparation of various cocktails. All in all, this course was fun to watch, and enhanced the appreciation for the various distilled spirits that one might imbibe.

Honest Money

Honest Money, by Gary North ★★★★★
This book was read on my iPad in e-book format. Gary North offers very basic economics but does diligence in seeking a biblical answer to the creation, flow, and use of money in an economy. North was an advisor to Ron Paul, and I’m sure influenced Paul significantly. I appreciate North’s insights into the economic scene, as well as his desire to avoid labeling himself an Austrian or free-market economist. I dreaded the possibility that he would have a lengthy appeal for a return to a gold standard, which he does not. Instead, he suggests that the market itself can decide standards that determine value. Thus, the state would have no role in fixing the price of gold, silver, and other commodities. In addition, the state would be removed from its role in the manufacture of “money” or the operation of banks. While this is radically opposed to our banking system, it seems far more reasonable than the current system, which, like all historically similar systems, will lead to the collapse of the entire monetary system. North’s words will, unfortunately, be heeded by all too few people, and the government will continue to enslave us more and more. This is a book that can be obtained free from North’s website, can be read in a single evening or two, and should be on everybody’s must-read list.

Thinking with Type

Thinking with Type, by Ellen Lupton  ★★
This book had an initial very strong appeal to me, that quickly wore off. While the title of the book seems to suggest that the principal topic of the book is typography, it is not. Rather, it is a manual of modern design ideas. Ellen suggests that her goal is not to encourage readability but to encourage the reader not to read. I quote “Although many books define the purpose of typography as enhancing the readability of the written word, one of design’s most humane functions is, in actuality, to help readers avoid reading.” This thinking is quite consistent with the deconstructionist philosophical school that she tends to often quote, especially with Jacques Derrida. That is fine and dandy, except that the fact that Ellen is writing something suggests that she hopes that somebody will read what she writes. She is correct about one thing, that this book was not easy for the eyes to read. Her efforts to be different or unconventional made it very tense to get through her book. The book is laden with illustrations and the first impression of the plethora of examples of design that she provides is that they are cute. Subsequent impressions of her examples are less complementary, in that they are a tremendous strain on the reader (user, if you wish) to interpret the message being conveyed. Unfortunately, as she has received many favorable comments on, there will be many budding young graphic designers out there trying to establish their position in the world of graphic design and are spurred by this book to be bizarre rather than effective in communicating an idea. If one has no ideas or thoughts to communicate, then this book is excellent for you. Allow your imagination to run wild, defy any convention, and never think about whether your message (if you have one) has been sent to the “other user”, i.e., the reader. I can only presume that most “readers” of this book actually never read the book, but only looked at the “pretty” pictures. Her design style has much tension to it. It is crowded, busy, disorganized. The important readable type, such as the announcement of an event, is not immediately obvious or written quite small and at an obtuse angle, making it a challenge to identify a purpose for the illustration. Deviations from convention rarely are effective at conveying or symbolizing anything, such as when she decides to arbitrarily and occasionally defy the text box of the main text. Perhaps the only value of this book is to suggest that deviations from convention can occasionally improve the efficacy of communication of a message, and for that it received two stars.

Gobblers Knob Bike and Hike

Gobbler’s Knob Bike and Hike, 04AUG2012
The Westside Road in Mt. Rainier National Park has been closed for many years now, and so popular hikes have become less popular because of accessibility.  A few weeks ago I had ridden the Westside Road on my mountain bike, and now wanted to combine that with a hike up the Gobbler’s Knob trail to the summit of Gobbler’s Knob. I have no clue why it is called Gobbler’s Knob, but was a fire lookout built in the early 1930s within Mt Rainier Park, and giving an awesome view of Mt. Rainier.  The road was 6 km, and the hike (each way was 2.5 miles, with an approximately 1400 ft elevation gain for the hiking portion. I talked Russ and Pete into doing it, and we all loved the possibility of combining both biking and hiking. Here are some photos.
View of Mt. Rainier from Gobbler’s Knob
Pete making himself one with the Andesite of Gobbler’s Knob
Russ enjoying his lunch and keeping an eye on Pete and me
Avalanche Lily, found only in the Pacific Northwest, and my favorite flower
The day was beautiful but hot. It allowed us to discover the joy of combining two different activities into one, and surely will be repeated.

Genetically Modified Iowa

Iowa Visit 26JUL-01AUG with Ken and Betsy
Iowa was in the midst of a heatwave, and oddly, the one outdoor activity that we really wanted to do, the water fight, had to be canceled because of electric storms. We were able to meet little Lily, a very cute baby. We also got to know the town of Sioux Center much better.
I learned that the overwhelming preponderance of Iowa corn is genetically modified. How terrible. Then I realized that everything in Iowa was genetically modified. Here are some examples…
Genetically modified people smoking genetically modified tobacco and drinking genetically modified beer
Genetically modified Fireman
Genetically modified water was used in this watertight by genetically modified firemen
Genetically modified baby. Notice the blue “thing” growing out of her mouth. The eyes and face are too perfect to be a real kid.

The Complete Manual of Typography

The Complete Manual of Typography, second edition by James Felici ★★★★★
This book was read in the .pdf version on an iPad 3. The quality of the book in .pdf format was excellent, and it worked well for me, the only difficulty is figuring out how to get the file to my iPad, as it would not e-mail.
Amazon reviewers have attacked this book for being a bit outdated, and not providing a significant update from the first edition. I have not seen the first version and so cannot make comments on that. The artistic aspects of typography do not seem to change much over time, and so I’m not sure exactly what is being referred to. Felici does provide a rather broad survey of typography, though certainly not a comprehensive discussion of the topic. He engages first in the history of typography, goes on to discuss the nature of hot type, and then the changes that have occurred in the world of cold type. There is much discussion about the nature of typefaces and fonts, in comparison to typewriting. Part II of the book discusses the particulars of how to set type, mostly laboring on how to provide an artistic look to a typeset piece, while elaborating on the conventions foreign and domestic for type. Felici remains mostly program-independent, in that he offers general principles rather than laboring over how to accomplish a task using Quark vs. InDesign vs. anything else out there. The last two chapters were on the use of style sheets (not really typography) and resolution issues for print vs. screen and web presentation.
I appreciated Felici’s focus on the art of typography rather than the mechanical principles of producing a page of type. For the mechanics of typesetting, I’ll read an InDesign or Quark text. It is unfortunate that typography is so seldom viewed as an art, even among those who take pride in their printed works. I can speak of that first-hand. I entered a typography apprenticeship immediately after high school and obtained my journeyman’s card along the way. With that, I worked by way in various typesetting houses and printshops through college and medical school. Even after becoming a surgical oncologist, I still enjoyed playing with InDesign, reminiscing on the very first edition of Aldus Pagemaker, even though my avocation was elsewhere. My typography days were at the bitter end of the cold type era, and I was trained in the use of linotype and handset type as well as phototypesetters, our shop using an Alphatype machine. This machine was a veritable nightmare, constantly breaking, and rarely accurately providing a smooth baseline of type. The entering type went to a magnetic tape that gave one no clue as to the entry, and mistakes had to be corrected a line at a time, as there was no backspace like on a standard computer. One was so grateful to just get the manuscript in print, that artistic elements were often overlooked. The linotype colleagues were no better in that occasionally a few lines of type were reset to eliminate a river or distracting element, yet artistic elements were more lip-service than actively sought. It is a touch amazing how much more critical one is allowed to be, and how much greater control one has over the type with a program such as InDesign. I lack any sense of nostalgia for the “good ole days”. I still have my two volumes of lessons from the International Typographical Union, a union that no longer exists, and soon few if any people will be alive that have any clue about the operation and maintenance of a linotype machine. The two volumes from the ITU sought to instill an artistic sense into the typesetter and was most effective based on the technology of the time.
The Complete Manual of Typography was a joy to read, written in a very easy style, occasionally repeating things in different chapters, but mostly allowing a cover-to-cover read, after which one will have a fairly decent grasp of contemporary typographical art and style.