Jun. 5th, 2014

So I’m in Amsterdam, on the train heading to Nijmegen to spend a day and some before going to Hamburg for the OHBM annual meeting. I cannot believe I am so lucky that I have international collaborators and an excuse (and the $$) to get together with them! I remember when I was considering going for my PhD back in college and my dad was very concerned that I would be locked away in a lab somewhere staring down a microscope all day, which he considered very unhealthy for me. I pointed out that psychology researchers have these international meetings where they go and share their research, and it’s really quite a social enterprise. Little did I know how right I was!

I haven’t written in forever, mostly because we got smart phones and that has allowed me to indulge my stupid vices of silly puzzle games, which I’ve been doing when I wake up at 5 am and have the time in the morning. Silly me. :P it’s really bad—I always think I’ll just do it for 15 minutes and then go exercise and start the day, and of course an hour and a half later I’m late for work. This is what we call an addiction, boys and girls. I know it’s not good for me, but if I let myself start (and at 5 am it’s hard to consider doing anything else), it is damn hard to walk away.

However, I’ve been keeping up with the 11 pm bedtime, and that’s been working well for getting me through the night to at least the 5 am hour. I’m doing a solid 6 hours a night and sometimes 7, so that’s a good thing. Plus, I get more snuggle time with the hubby in the evening before passing out, and that’s all good.

In other news, I don’t have much on the personal front. I haven’t been to church all year, which is probably not good; I do need some connections to society that are not all work. The hubby and I don’t have a social life, but that’s been true pretty much since we left California in 1997. When you don’t have hobbies or kids and thus excuses to meet up with people of similar interests, it’s tricky to make friends. I don’t mind so much because I’m a workaholic, but the hubby being a frustrated workaholic finds it more difficult, particularly when I leave town and he’s all alone.  The last couple of weekends were pretty quiet—if I wasn’t working we were lazing about. Though we did buy a grill! That was new, and very exciting indeed; we’ve only been talking about getting a grill since we moved to NM. I didn’t grow up using a grill so for me it’s all very exotic. So far we’ve stuck to hot dogs and sausages, with a brief foray into vegetable skewers the way Salu had at her parties; but I definitely want to try fish and steak and other options.
We finally watched Season 2 of House of Cards, a few weeks ago. We had been looking forward to its release back in February, but then when it did come out, we hadn’t watched Season 1 again and every night we just didn’t feel up to getting back into it. So it wasn’t until the semester was over that I at least had the mental fortitude to get back into it. We never did re-watch Season 1, and that was probably less than ideal—we’d certainly forgotten a lot of the details of the plot, though we remembered the broad strokes. It’s a fascinating show, and it helps that the hubby watched the British version years ago and told me all about it at the time; it’s not the same plot exactly but so far it’s been the same trajectory, just more fleshed out and complex. However, we were both under the impression it was a 2-season run, so we were stunned that they ended where they did and are clearly going for a third one—much more stretched out than the British trajectory.

I was thinking a bit about this and Breaking Bad, which are the two most recent shows to garner this sort of loyalty from the hubby and me. They are both about bad people—as my friend Gubu put it, “plumbing the depths of human evil”—and both are astoundingly well written and well shot, though I think BB takes the prize for better scene arrangements, timing, and cinematography. But in each case the villain is the main character, and it’s hard sometimes to know who you are rooting for. The Underwoods are so callous and driven by their monomania for power, that the hubby referred to them as “the lizard people”—they don’t seem human. I rather liked them, though; the way their marriage is such a partnership was really something to see, and made me cheer for them when they pull through, even though I know they are horrible people by human standards and responsible for the deaths of several people. In BB, it was similar, in that I know that Walt needed to be caught, he was a horrible person doing horrible things in his drive for power, and he deserved to go down in flames, but at the same time there was always this hope that he’d get away with it for just a while longer. It was a shock to me how quickly I could forget that just a few episodes ago, either Frank or Walt had been guilty of some shocking atrocity.

Interesting difference between the two shows, though, as I pointed out to the hubby, was that in BB there was a good guy, a person who you could root for to actively catch Walt and stop him—it took a while, but eventually Hank served as a nexus for all the intentions to stop Walt’s evil. In HoC, there is no such nexus for good. Everyone is evil, everyone is opportunistic, and there’s no central character who is trying to stop the baddies. Maybe in season 3 some of the underdogs will coalesce into the force that takes Frank down—we know he has to come down, if they follow the British version at all—but they’ve been really marginal characters up until this point, and it will be a bit like minnows taking down a shark when they do. Hank and Walt were more evenly matched. I don’t know if that reflects the underlying world view of the story writers or the view of Washington for the HoC writers specifically (there is not one righteous—no, not one), or just a good way to tell the stories.
I’ve read a number of good books lately, the kind which stick with you even after you put them down. One was another from the god-punk genre, The Age of Zeus (already read The Age of Odin and the Age of Ra, all by the same author; he seems to be singlehandedly creating the genre). It was a much slower start than either of the other two, but eventually it got pretty gripping, though it turned out to be an Island of Dr. Moreau situation at the end. I think the other two books’ premises, where the gods actually *are* gods, are better. But I found myself in the days after I finished the book thinking about Zeus and Athena and folks in togas on Mount Olympus, so it was definitely effectively done.

The other one was the follow-on to Springheeled Jack, which is The Clockwork Man (not the full title)—it’s Richard Burton and Algernon Swinburne back in action again (steampunk, I guess, much as I didn’t think I was fond of that genre), saving the world. Rather gruesome—I didn’t remember the first one being that bloody—but definitely gripping, and one of the ones I was fine being up at 4 am to keep reading. I particularly like how he works quotes (and non-quotes) into the mouths of his historical figures, and then clarifies later that they actually said or didn’t say that. He does his research and works within that, for all it’s an alternative timeline.
Oh and then there was Anno Dracula, also a Victorian piece though not steampunk. That one was not quite so good—not as well written, maybe? Definitely more forgettable than the other two, I’m having a hard time remembering the details of the plot other than a few key scenes or explanations. I don’t even remember who the main characters were, though the Dracula character and backstory I definitely remember. The premise is that unlike in Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula was not killed but instead won, and is now married to Queen Victoria and vampires are the upper class of British society, though they still carry their medieval ways with them in many gory ways. Our heroes are out to change that, and it works. Also a well-researched book, if I recall correctly, and for those of us who are familiar with the original it’s cleverly done.



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