Thursday, September 23, 2004

Why didn't somebody tell me this earlier?

Money Can't Buy Happiness

I love public libraries

I am a heavy public library user. I typically have five to ten books checked out from the library, plus books for my kids, both for home school and for pleasure reading, plus DVDs, videos, and CDs (listening to a library copy of Elton John's Greatest Hits as I type).

Our local library (Hennepin County Library) is really excellent. They have a great website with a very good catalog system for reserving and renewing materials. Their interlibrary loan participation is excellent: I've checked out books from Yale, the University of Minnesota, BYU-Hawaii, Ricks College, and other places, at no extra charge.

They also have lots of events we have appreciated. For example, I took my kids to a magic show; afterward, they checked out several books to learn how to do magic tricks. They have regular story times where a librarian reads stories to young children and they do activities. Of course, they offer computer training, internet access, and computers for children. And that's not to mention the tax information classes, auto mechanics classes, reading clubs, author discussion groups, research services, etc. they offer.

Anytime I start feeling especially skeptical about government programs, I have to remind myself of the benefits I receive from our public library.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Still applicable

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction.”

--Martin Luther King, Jr.,
“Strength to Love,” 1963

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Fall colors

As election season approaches, the colors of fall are abounding. No, not the browns and oranges of autumn leaves -- the reds and blues of election signs on everybody's lawns.

Most of the time, Republican candidate's signs are primarily red with a splash of blue, while Democrat candidate's signs are primarily blue with a splash of red. We are all familiar with the images on TV of the "red states" and the "blue states". But where did the red = Republican, blue = Democrat thing come from?

Different colors have very different connotations. Red has connotations of aggressiveness, radicalism, danger, boldness, heat: emotion. Blue has connotations of calmness, thoughtfulness, depth, patience: rationality. So who gets to decide which party is associated with which color? Do the colors accurately reflect the general character of the two primary parties? The candidates? The labels "conservative" and "liberal"?

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Sneaking food into Shrek

Rarely do I see a movie at a first-run theater. It's just too expensive. Usually I just rent them, but occasionally we go to the dollar movies, which of course really cost two dollars, except on Tuesdays, when they have nostalgia or something and charge only one dollar.

So I took my kids to see Shrek 2 this afternoon. I conceded to the high prices (now you know why it's called a concession stand) and bought popcorn, but there was no way I was paying the high prices for their candy. So I took the kids to the grocery store before the movie and bought some treats, which we sneaked into the theater.

This disturbed my eight-year-old son, who questioned the morality of our actions. Was this a despicable immoral act I committed in front of my children? If we hadn't brought candy into the theater, I still wouldn't have spent the money on candy at the concessions. We would have just gone without. So the theater didn't lose any money because of it. (Of course, you recognize the thought process here: it's exactly the same sort of rationalization many people give for online music swapping: we wouldn't buy the high-priced albums anyway, so nobody's really losing money.)

Do I need to repent?

Oh, and by the way, I thought Shrek 2 was better than the first one.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Game review: Swap!

I'm adding a new feature to my blog: game reviews. I'm not a video gamer or role-playing gamer, though, so if you're looking for that, sorry. I'm talking about board games and card games, primarily. Feel free to suggest some of your favorites.

This first review is of Swap! Card Game, by Patch. You can find this game at Wal-Mart for about $4.

Like UNO, the point of Swap! is to get rid of all the cards in your hand. The manufacturer lists it as appropriate for ages 7 and up, but my 5-year-old was able to play without any problems. The only matching to be done is by color; there are no numbers or letters, so no reading is required. There are cards to change colors, and Slap cards where everyone has to slap their hands down quickly, but most importantly, there are cards that require players to swap hands (hence the title). This can change the game rapidly and really levels the playing field, so that children have an equal chance of winning the game. Of course, my children absolutely love it.

A round usually only lasts 5-10 minutes, so it's a quick, inexpensive, and fun family game, especially for families with younger children who know their colors and who can't wait for a chance to beat Mom & Dad. Enjoy!

How to distract your readers

I've been reading Phillip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series, and am almost finished with book three, The Dark Design. I completely agree with the reviewers at who comment on Farmer's “asides” that give him a chance to include his own philosophy, thinly disguised as a character's thoughts, dreams, or whatever. The later Terry Goodkind books have the same flaw. So, to you budding writers out there, avoid this error.

But, frankly, even more distracting to me is the ridiculous attempt at multiculturalism (I can only assume) by including most measurements in both English and metric system, or both 12- and 24-hour time. This results in ludicrous phrases like:

Jill had assumed, along with everybody else she knew, that the mountains were from 4564 to 6096 meters high.

What? Nobody assumes such ranges with figures like that. They'd say something like “4500 to 6000 meters [or metres?] high.” Or worse:

On the average, The River was 2.4135 kilometers or a mile and a half wide.


The first mate, Tom Rider also known as Tex, stood about 5.08 centimeters or 2 inches shorter than Frigate's 1.8 meters or 6 feet.

About 5.08 centimeters? Are you sure it wasn't about 5.080036 centimeters?

Whatever the merits of inclusivity, this is not one of them. Please, if anyone reading this (is anybody reading this?) is thinking of writing, never, never, never do this.

(That said, I did notice that the Ensign has started including metric system estimates (in parentheses) where relevant. They do a much better job than the above quotes.)