Update: Slight Change in Direction

Seeing as I’m about to graduate from law school and will be on the lookout for jobs, I figure that perhaps I should move some of my sillier and book related posts to another site. I just started dabbling in Medium, which seems pretty cool so I’ll probably try that out for a while.

My goal is to transform this site from a place where I can post whatever I want, which is usually either extremely boring or silly, to a place where I can focus on personal growth (ew, can’t believe I just wrote that) and resume/brand (also ew) strengthening. It may be a while before this site sees some drastic changes, but for now, on the off chance you check the site out from time to time, head on over to Medium instead. I may get sick of it in a couple of weeks but it’s worth a shot.

The Next Great Kickstarter Idea

Let’s all take a moment to think about how different our lives are now that Kickstarter exists. We’ve got a new Veronica Mars movie, thermostats that learn our preferences (and may or may not send all our data to Google…), and rechargeable LED bracelets that will revolutionize our LED bracelet wearing lives.

With Kickstarter, anyone can become an entrepreneur, comic book author, African safari adventurer, etc.  Just check out these amazing Kickstarter pages. I guarantee your life will be enhanced merely by pressing play on the videos or adding one more pageview to a project’s page.

The mason jar shaker:

I never knew I needed this but now I know it’s a thing, I feel a void within me being filled with boozy goodness. A regular mason jar with a slightly different lid? Genius!  This project was $74K+ well spent!

Camera Obscura:

For all those times you wanted to carry more shit with you to the club. This quaint as eff.

This next project is pure inspiration:

My entire life, I’ve dreamed of nothing more than to wander around Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park collecting dirty twigs in my Crate and Barrel mango bowls. If only I looked half as good in a milk bath.

On to the next great idea

Now that I’m filled with such motivation, I’ve decided to come up with my own project. Unfortunately, I have no video making skills so this is more of a plan to come up with a plan for a plan.

First, I need some catchy, instrumental tunes to play in the background. Listen to this while you read the rest of this post:

Next, I need to present a problem and explain what got me thinking about it.

Like a lot of people, I love watching shows on Netflix, especially before bed. But I find I often fall asleep before an episode ends. The problem is  that Netflix doesn’t know when I fall asleep so the little Netflix tracker didn’t accurately reflect what I’ve actually watched. As a result, I often start shows, forgetting I’d fallen asleep the night before, and realize I was in the wrong location. I’d be confused, lost, upset. Sometimes I even saw spoilers, which I couldn’t enjoy because I didn’t understand the backstory leading up to it. That’s when I started thinking, what if Netflix knew when I fell asleep? What if it could either stop the show or provide two trackers – one where the show played out and another that shows where you fall asleep.

HoC skitch

Then comes the innovative use of existing technology:

Now, imagine that we could take sleep tracking technology, typically used for health and fitness purposes, and retarget it for an ideal show watching experience? We’ve come up with a basic sleeptracking device and thought of software that will send your sleep data to Netflix so it literally knows when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake.

Now the inspirational pitch:

With this sleeptracking device attached to your wrist every night, Netflix show tracking technology will revolutionize the way we watch Netflix before bed. No more confusion. No more sadness. No more spoilers. Welcome to Netsleepx.

Plea for money:

To make Netsleepx happen, we need your help. First, I’ll need to pay tuition for some programming classes because I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. Then, I’ll need money to build the actual sleeptracking device. We’ll also need $$ for marketing, the fancy, bespoke wooden box the device will come in, and attorneys for when Netflix tries to enjoin us from moving forward. Right now we’re asking for $563,579 (which is definitely a number we actually thought about and not something we just came up with on the spot).

What backers will get for donating:

For $1, I’ll give you a virtual high five!

For $25+, I’ll send you some stickers I got for free at a tech conference.

That about sums it up. Think I can make this happen?

 

Book #5 The Giver

Okay, this is another cheat. I read Lois Lowry’s The Giver back in sixth grade when it was assigned in my Language Arts class. Let me tell you something, I hated it. I mean, I really hated it. I think after finishing it, I probably threw it against a wall and said “WTF” even though people didn’t say “WTF” all the way back in 1996 or whenever it was. It’s a short book and I’ve always been a fast reader, so I probably finished this before anyone else. I waited for other students to finish it so we could complain about it, as we often did with the other crap books we were assigned for class. The problem? I was the only one in the world who thought this book was bullshit. Everyone else was all, “Oh wow, this was the best book ever. Maybe we do sometimes get to read good books for class.” Even when I got to high school, in a completely different state, years later, people would say, “Have you read The Giver? It is amazing and I’ve read it a thousand times.” I couldn’t escape it.

I wanted to read something quickly and for whatever reason, my hatred of this book has stuck with me since the first time I read it so I thought, maybe there is something to it after all, maybe I should give it another shot.

First off, it took about two seconds to read, which surprised me. Second, it was slightly better than I remembered but still kind of crap. I appreciate that Lowry is a good writer and manages to get kids thinking about complex subjects, such as what happens when we learn that our parents and other adults are often lying to the rest of us. However, it didn’t give me enough, not then and definitely not now. I suppose I’d already read quite a few dystopian novels by the time I got to this one, so it just left me going “So?”

Also, the ending and overall shortness of the book feels more like laziness or fear of development to me than any sort of deep message. When I was younger, I did a couple of short story projects with some pretty cool teachers. It was so tempting to create a world where the character is stuck in place, has his or her eyes opened by something, and creates some sort of change by leaving the scene. Maybe the girl is sick of her environment so she jumps into the ocean and swims away. Maybe that’s the best ending. Or maybe the author got scared and didn’t know where that girl wants or needs to go. My creative writing teachers would look at such endings and say, “This is good, but you need to step it up. Challenge yourself. Go beyond this.” It would be hard but it could be done. I’m not saying that every story needs to be neatly resolved or have a clear ending, not at all. But there’s a difference between leaving things open ended and dropping everything because you couldn’t think of anything else to say. I’m sure that many people would argue with me over this, but that’s how I see it, and that view hasn’t changed since 1996.

Book #4 Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & The Prison of Belief

Not gonna lie, I’m a bit scared to write about Lawrence Wright’s recent book on Scientology. I chose to read this book because I’m weirdly curious about their ideas, it got mostly good reviews, and appeared on a list of books picked by the Economist, my favorite weekly publication.

Prior to reading the book, I thought Scientology was mysterious and bizarre. I didn’t know anything about it other than that some science fiction writer wrote about some creature called Xenu and a bunch of celebrities paid a ton of money to be involved. I also knew, from some unrelated legal research, that there is a ton of litigation surrounding Scientology. I was doing a copyright memo for my summer internship a couple years ago and one of the main cases was about how some Scientologists tried to take down an author for republishing some of L. Ron. Hubbard’s “religious” works. The funniest part was that the judge who issued the opinion reprinted several portions of the contested material, which meant that even if the scientologists won, the materials would remain public within the opinion. Lol. Anyways…

After reading the book, I still think Scientology is mysterious and bizarre (one might even say  ”that shit cray”.) However, I also now think it is brutal, scary, and kind of a bully of an institution. Wright bases much of his material from interviews with members who have defected for one reason or another, such as Paul Haggis, which makes the book feel fairly authentic. It is hard to know for sure, though, which parts remain shady and which parts are dead on.

There are several instances throughout the book, which depict the path Scientology has taken from L. Ron Hubbard’s early days until the present, where members of the “church” (sorry, I just can’t not use quotations for this stuff. I may be a lapsed Catholic but even so, I hesitate to throw these terms around loosely) who target outsiders that pose threats to them. One lengthy battle was between the “church” and the IRS over whether Scientology constituted a religion for tax purposes. While the IRS remained skeptical, in large part because the “church” reaped huge amounts of money, which were often used to fuel Hubbard’s and other high up members’ lifestyles, the members held firm. One argument that arose was that Scientology was like any other major religion in its infancy; of course there will be some brutality, some firm hands, and some disagreements, just as there were in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Stepping back, there is some truth in that sentiment, that many of the world’s major religions have had their fare share of turmoil. However, one difference, and maybe I’m crazy for pointing this out, is that the others were established a long freaking time ago. A lot has changed since then. We know, or should know, better than to treat people this way. If your religion won’t grow unless you sue anyone who threatens to reveal your secrets (if not worse), maybe there’s something a little bit off about the foundation of your organization. I’m sure there is some value for members who join, such as this alleged drug rehab program. If it works, why not? I’m not going to be receiving any auditing any time soon, but kudos to anyone who does…as long as you don’t wind up in a basement somewhere or on a crazy naval trip trying to take over all of Morocco. I typically try to be open minded about different cultures and ideas but clearly I’m not so open minded about this. Maybe the next Tom Cruise or John Travolta will someday convince me otherwise.

The big issue I had with the book itself was organization. Wright seemed to have the problem of having so much information at his disposal that he got too excited and wasn’t sure how to properly tell it all. It got hard to keep track of some key characters and timelines. Also, while some sections were really exciting, others felt like he was regurgitating information he had from another part of the book. If it had been neatened up a little bit, it would have made for an absolutely excellent book. As is, it’s just pretty good.

 

 

Book #3 An Officer and a Spy

First off, this book is SO GOOD! So good that I had to use caps lock there. It is definitely the best book I’ve read all year (okay, so I’ve only read 5, but whatever), and probably one of the best books I’ve read for a while. My dad gave it to me and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but once I got a few chapters in I was hooked.

Robert Harris’ An Officer and a Spy tells the story of the Dreyfus Affair, a real case, from the perspective of Georges Picquart, head of France’s counterspionage agency. The story begins with the sentencing of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish offer who has been accused of spying for the Germans. Dreyfus is exiled to life imprisonment far away, where life is not so good in his tiny cell. Picquart, a loyal French officer, is promoted to the spy unit – not a job he was truly excited to take on – but he vows to do a good job nonetheless.  He quickly discovers that there is another spy passing secrets to the Germans. When he delves deeper into the facts, he realizes that something fishy is going on and that Dreyfus may not be the horrible traitor the army has painted him to be. Picquart attempts to uncover the truth but finds barriers at every step, including some that threaten his own freedom.

The Good: This is extraordinarily good storytelling. My dad read a nonfictional account of the Dreyfus Affair after reading this book and could not believe how true to the facts Harris stayed. Every part of this book is exciting, every character is engaging, and every new discovery within it is thrilling. I was surprised how anxious I felt at some parts, even though I had an idea of how it would ultimately end. I don’t really have anything else to add other than to encourage everyone to go get a copy and read it right now.

The Bad: It wasn’t long enough and I’m not still reading it.

Book #2 The Circle

Next up in my Reading Challenge for 2014 was Dave Eggars The Circle. This was my second Eggars book, the first being A Hologram for the King, which I read last year. While I enjoyed both, Hologram is the stronger of the two for a variety of reasons.

That being said, The Circle is a lot of fun, especially since it pokes fun at one or more of the major Silicon Valley companies (ahem, Google). I currently live in San Francisco so find it particularly amusing.

The book follows Mae Holland, a young woman a couple years out of undergrad who ditches her dead end job for a slightly less dead end customer service job at the up and coming Circle. She got the job through a college friend who happens to be pretty high up on the chain, which affords her friend celebrity status within the company. Mae starts off feeling grateful for the opportunity, yet overwhelmed by the barrage of social media notifications, both stemming from internal and external networks. She struggles to find a balance between her personal desire for private enjoyments and the need to keep up. When she finds out the company will fully cover her parents’ medical care, which is a huge expense due to her father’s illness, she devotes more and more of herself to the company, which winds up having far-reaching effects.

The Good: What worked well for this book is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and there’s no terrifying message at the end about how the world is going to end. It pokes fun at users freely giving up their privacy rights, but it is so over the top that it is clearly making fun. However, I do have to say that I felt a bit weirded out when Google bought Nest shortly after I’d finished reading this book. In the book, the Circle buys all sorts of companies that will enable it to track personal data, including fitness and health information. The Nest purchase almost had me shouting, “No! Privacy isn’t theft!” (that would probably make more sense if you read the book or understood what a Nest is). Other than that, I found it to be engaging and entertaining. I definitely ignored people for a day or two while I finished it.

The Not So Good: It’s just a bit too silly. Eggers also spends a lot of time building up the various social networking sites Mae has to use, which got a bit dull. It also struggled to find a place between being a story about a young lady and being a full on dystopian novel. There were times where Eggers tries to get us into Mae’s head and other times he ditches her and uses her only as a vehicle to carry out the “privacy as theft” portion of the story. The whole book would have felt a lot more solid if he had stuck with one or the other, or at least hadn’t abandoned Mae so quickly. However, I didn’t really get the sense that Eggers was going for a masterful novel, just something to get the point across. Overall I’d say it’s a worthwhile read as long as it’s not taken too seriously.

 

A Jumble of Thoughts and First Book of the Year

Welcome home 2014! I have dreaded and anticipated this year for some time now and it is sort of shocking to think it’s finally here. Almost any time I jot down the date and write “14″ I can hardly believe it’s true.

What’s so special about 2014? Is it that there’s a second Muppet movie coming out in March? Yes! Well, actually no. I mean, that’s pretty flippin’ awesome, but that’s not really it. The main reasons this year is so epic is that I will (1) graduate law school, (2) take the Bar Exam, and (3) turn 30. These are all big things! I’m not quite sure how I’ll feel by the end of this year, but I’m expecting it will include a bit of fatigue. California doesn’t give out Bar results until close to Thanksgiving so I anticipate the months of May-November to be fairly stressful. I suppose the best I can do is take it one day at a time – and go do fun things like see the new Muppet movie, of course.

Anyways, I’m going to try to post about books again because I find it’s a decent mini and casual writing exercise. This year’s goal is 36 books, which I’m hoping won’t be too difficult for me to do. My success will probably depend on whether I wind up finding a job before I graduate and whether said job starts before my Bar results are released.

The first book I read this year was Mount Merrion by Justin Quinn, which was given to me by my dad. I believe it is the first novel by an Irish writer, who happens to be quite talented at creating believable dialogue but not so much a thrilling plot. The story follows the Boyle family, from when Declan and Sinead meet at school, to when their children go off and decide to do their own things. Declan, whose father dreams his son will follow in his footsteps and become a barrister, surprises him by becoming a civil servant. Sinead has grand dreams but winds up spending a lot of time with bottles of wine and her favorite cookbooks instead. Although the book is fairly fast-paced, I struggled to enjoy it. I didn’t hate it, just felt it was kind of “meh”.  The characters are not particularly likable; in fact, they don’t seem to really like themselves. Some of the actions that take place in the book, such as Declan’s decision to start a factory in Ireland with the help of some German workers, start off interesting but then are wrapped up for too quickly to ever be fully developed. Much of the rest I’d felt I’d read somewhere before. I have the feeling I’m going to forget having read this within a couple months.

 

#14 The Rainbow Troops

More bookity books 

What a wonderful book! My dad gave me this book back in March but I kept putting it off – somehow I couldn’t get through the first couple pages. But the reviews were so good, it seemed short, so I couldn’t stay away for much longer.

The Rainbow Troops closely follows the author, Andrea Hirata’s story about his time going to a poor school in rural Indonesia. The narrator, one of the young students, tells tales about his 9 (and eventually 10) classmates, as well as his two teachers and school inspector. Each student has a story to tell and something to share with the class, whether it’s strong moral character, artistic ingenuity, or a positive attitude towards success. The island of Belitong, where their school is located, is rich in minerals, which means that various organizations, including the PN, have colluded with the government to dredge the soil and push local villages out of the way.  The PN has set up a school where its children may go but the children of the workers who do the dredging are forbidden from attending, which forces them to go to schools that often don’t stay open for very long. The characters in this story are determined that their school remain open.

What I loved so much about this book was that it was honest and realistic about the hardships occurring while remaining highly positive. No matter how hard things got, the teachers and students push themselves and each other to work harder, to find the good in a bad situation. It it a truly inspiring book and I would recommend it to anyone!

#13 Trespass

Book challenge continued. 

Trespass was either the fifth or sixth Rose Tremain book I’ve read. I don’t often reread authors but her work tends to be beautiful, melancholy, and powerful, which leaves me always coming back for more.

I obtained this book a little over three years ago when it first came out in the UK in hardcover. My mom took me to some sort of women’s luncheon where Ms. Tremain happened to be speaking and signing autographs. I stumbled up to her with my copy, told her that I really respected her and admired her work, and she looked a bit uncomfortable in response. Not exactly what I was hoping for – somehow I imagined she’d smile and chat with me a bit, give me her personal e-mail and the two of us would become penpals or something. I suppose considering how often she writes about solitary characters who wind up in isolating situations, I should’ve known that her ideal afternoon did not involve engaging with an overly eager and nervous twenty-something.

I wound up chatting with an older woman instead, who worked for one of the major British news publications, and she recommended I get into Edith Wharton and Henry James instead of reading the same old stuff. So, after my mild rejection (which wasn’t really a rejection) and upon taking this woman’s advice, I dived into 19th and 20th century American literature and left Trespass to collect dust on my shelf.

At some point in July I decided it was time to give Ms. Tremain another go.

The book follows the viewpoints of two different sets of elderly siblings. One pair is a brother and sister who have always lived in the same rural part of France, one in the main family house and the other in an ugly little cottage on the family land. The other are a British pair, the sister living in France with her partner and the brother living in London where he realizes his once famous antiquing business is no longer profitable. The British brother (I’ve forgotten all names) decides the only way to move on is to move to France to be near his sister. The French brother wants to sell his house, make a lot of money, and move far away. His sister has other plans and begins to plot against him. At the beginning of the book, we learn that a murder has taken place but it is not revealed until much later in the book who’s dead and who’s done the killing (although we have quite a few ideas).

Although the book isn’t my favorite of her works, it is still miles better than a lot of other books I’ve read in recent years. The manner in which the lives of the two pairs of siblings parallel each other is fantastic  - and of course, how they converge is what makes the plot interesting. Both siblings deal with some sort of parental abuse, although very different in nature. Their interests and needs are simultaneously conflicting and complementary. Overall, it was a pleasant, if not somewhat sad, read.

#12 What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Still so far behind in my 30book2013 challenge. 

Haruki Murakami is one of my absolute favorite authors. I’d read pretty much every thing he’s ever written that’s been published and easily available in English, with the exception of one non-fiction book, besides this one. Why did I avoid it? Well, I used to hate running. Then I started to enjoy it but I pushed myself too hard and injured myself pretty badly. Despite close to a year of physical therapy, having expensive orthotics made for my shoes, and doing everything I could to make my legs happy, I still couldn’t run more than a mile or two at a time. So reading a whole book about running? It didn’t sound like something that would put me in a good mood. But lately I’ve come to terms with the fact that I might not be able to run all that far. I’ve started going to the gym regularly, go to yoga once or twice a week, and think I’m finally strong enough to push myself to run a mile or two at a time. It seemed like a good time to give this book a go.

It wasn’t my favorite Murakami book and I think I might actually forget about it within a couple more months. But there’s something so easy about everything HM writes. I love it. The book primarily focuses on his efforts training for a marathon, his writing habits, and dealing with the aging process. He accepts things for what they are and that’s so satisfying. He admits that he struggled with getting older and not having as good of a race time as he once would have had but he eventually accepts it and states that he doesn’t care; he’s going to keep pushing himself and racing every year.

He also talks about what he had to do to get good at running in the first place. He would run every day and keep himself going, even when it hurt. He talks about how he pushed past the pain until the correct muscles grew and he didn’t struggle anymore. Even though I have far more injuries than he’s ever seemed to have had, I find inspiration in what he says and think that if he can do it, so can I. I might not be able to run every day, but I can run a little bit every week and do what else I need to do to get strong. I think that although I may forget this book, it may be worth revisiting in a few years when the aging process is really getting me down.