Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Tolkien

I find it fitting to put a plug in for the defining epic tale of the fantasy genre. I first read the Lord of the Rings when I was in eighth grade, still a year or two before the Peter Jackson movies came about. It started with my friend, William, buying the trilogy from the monthly Scholastic book club. The books were passed among William, Adam, and me, and soon we had all read them. I remember loving the story, excitedly reading through the books. I remember it taking a few months to get through all of them, as they were thick, intense novels for a young, busy lad.

There are so many reasons why the Lord of the Rings is amazing. Originally coming out in the mid 1950’s, Tolkien was one of the pioneer fantasy authors. His work has inspired so many writers that it is impossible to list them. His creatures and their stereotypes have been used as gospel, and many subsequent fantasy authors have borrowed from this. The themes explored in the trilogy—friendship, trust, love—are universal themes that everyone can relate to. The development of several intricate languages shows Tolkien’s genius of linguistics, not to mention the countless fans that have learned one of the languages.

I loved the books as a youngster, and I intend on reading them again. Likewise, The Hobbit is equally compelling, though I typically include it when I refer to the saga.

Tolkien undoubtedly influenced the types of books I read. For instance, parallels to the Lord of the Rings can easily be seen in Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara. However, I really like reading Terry Brooks novels, and I’ve read everyone except for Hook . It was Terry Brooks I read after finishing LOTR , and I fell deeper and deeper in love with fantasy fiction.

The reason I bring up the topic of Tolkien is the music came on shuffle today on my iPod. I have all three soundtracks, you see, and listening to the music fills my mind with scenes from the movies. Peter Jackson’s rendition of the movies was beautiful. The books I so loved were brought to life on a giant screen with fitting accompanying music! So I’m sitting at work, listening to my iPod, and a song from Fellowship comes on. I decide to listen to the soundtracks for the rest of the day, which in turn makes me want to watch the movies and read the books again. This cycle seems to repeat itself quite often.

With the publication of the Lord of the Rings , J.R.R. Tolkien changed the world of fantasy, and subsequently (and cheesily), my reading life. Thank you, Mr. Tolkien.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Break Time

It's break time here at work. That's right, that says what you thought it said. Break Time. This is a perk I failed to mention about my new job at the MLC. Every morning at 9:45 and every afternoon at 2:45 is the company break time. To my understanding, back in the day when there were around 150 folken working here, break time was mandated. Now, tradition carries on, and I get to take a break twice a day.

What do I do during this time of forced un-labor? It depends. This morning, I sat at the Table of Knowledge and worked on a crossword puzzle. (That crossword was finished at lunch, by the way, and would not have been possible without the assistance of two lunch pals. If you want to work an electronic version of the paper crossword that I solved, click here.) This afternoon, I decided to post a snippet on my blog. Last week I gobbled up the time by reading Mistborn.

So, where does that put me now? It's break time here at work. After finishing Mistborn I bought another Brandon Sanderson novel, Elantris, but I chose not to read it today during break. But I do think I'll go and fill me up a cup of coffee here pretty soon.

It's a tough job here, with everyone being so nice and me getting two mandatory break times during the day. It's almost like I'm not even at work during those break times. Almost.

Leadbelly keeps coming on the radio, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

On Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a special holiday here in the States. It basically began as a day set aside to remember those who died in the Civil War, and through progression, it was eventually made into a national holiday.

To me, Memorial Day is a bittersweet holiday. My brother is currently in the ARMY, and has been for five or six years now. He served almost a year in Iraq, and thankfully God saw him safely back home. However, thousands of other soldiers have not been so blessed. Americans, Iraqis, Britons, and many other countries have lost civilians to the War, and I want to acknowledge them here. The line defining enemy and comrade is only relative. Death, however, is absolute. So, this is my statement:

Soldiers from all over the world, may God bless and keep you. May your country respect you. May you always stand up for your beliefs. May you make it home to your family and friends.

As for the War, I will not advocate my opinion of that here. I am not in favor of a totalitarian regime, nor am I a proponent of human suffering, be it oppression or hunger. For some problems, war may be the answer, and I take this belief from Scriptures. For most problems, however, I think love and respect work better. If we love everybody and respect their culture, life would be much better. Through understanding would come peace.

Oh, and another thing typically associated with Memorial Day is the BBQ grill. For instance, today for lunch (and tonight for supper) we grilled out BBQ pork-chops and chicken tenders. Grilled food, especially on a charcoal grill, is simply amazing.

Finally, I want to acknowledge and say thank you to a blog reader. Sailor Matt, thanks for doing your service to the military. I'm not sure what all you did while in the Navy, but thanks for doing it.

Happy Memorial Day everyone.

Blogmasters Note: After re-reading this, it seems like I am a crazy, hippy liberal. This is a skewed (and flawed) view of me. Really, I'm mostly conservative, but with a large heart. I don't like to see people in pain or suffering. And if there's something I can do to help, then I want to do it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mistborn, A Review (Spoiler Free!)

I do not remember who recommended the Mistborn series to me, but I am glad they did. After finishing the third and final volume of the series, The Hero of Ages, I feel the urge to recommend this series.

Mistborn was written by Brandon Sanderson, a relatively new author to the fantasy world. Sanderson’s series received wonderful praise by many colleagues and reviewers, and I want to join my voice with them. Mistborn was a powerful story, one I could visualize with every paragraph. Sanderson’s portrayal of the world and its workings is completely believable, and I found myself riveted by the story.

The series begins with Mistborn: The Final Empire. In this book the world is ruled by a cruel emperor called the Lord Ruler. He is the God of the people and of the lands. He is the result of what happens when a Hero takes the power at the Well of Ascension and uses it for himself. The world is eradicated of culture, religion, happiness, and basic humanity.

In the Final Empire, there are two classes of people: nobility and skaa. Skaa live lives worse than slaves of old, and they are the ones that do the daily labor of cleaning the Empire.

In the Final Empire, ash falls continually, piling onto the streets and fields daily. Skaa must clean the ash before they can begin their work. And then at night, the mists come out. There are things in the mists that skaa and nobility fear, and so no one goes out into them. No one, that is, except for Kelsier, the Survivor of Hathsin.

Kelsier’s fame spreads throughout the skaa, and he preaches a message of rebellion. He hates the Lord Ruler and wishes to free the skaa. And the things he can do is supernatural. He can fly through the sky, play on people’s emotions, move with incredible speed and resilience, and many other things. Kelsier is Mistborn.

The system of “magic” developed for this series is very well thought out, and quite simple to understand rather quickly. I’ll admit, at first I was slightly confused about what was going on (and even a little unsure whether or not I liked it), but I overcame those thoughts rapidly.

The story, beginning with The Final Empire, becomes more and more exciting with each passage. I found myself reading whenever I had the opportunity.

To keep this simple, I will say nothing of books two or three, save that they were phenomenal. After finishing the first volume, I immediately bought the second, Mistborn: The Well of Ascension, and started on it; and, hungrily I moved on to the concluding work, Mistborn: The Hero of Ages, after finishing book two.

The story is interwoven and grandiose. Themes of love and trust and betrayal dominate the characters.

My final offering of praise and recommendation goes like this: if you enjoyed The Name of the Wind by Pat Rothfuss, then you will love Mistborn. Both of these authors have found a way to transcend the typical fantasy mold and create a masterpiece. In fact, Pat put in a word for it back when he was doing the Heifer Project.

Finally, after finishing the series, I started thinking about a movie. Wow, this series would make for an excellent movie, be it Hollywood or the Sci-Fi channel.

So, friends, take this series and read it when you get a chance. It ranks as one of the best series’ I’ve read in a long time. Give it a try, you won't regret it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Some Catching Up (Part 2)

Well, when I started the "catching up" series, I intended to finish it the next day. Unfortunately, things got hectic and I didn't get to finish the catching up bit. And, after re-reading the last post, I realize that its brevity pretty much sums everything up.

Life's been very busy.

And still, it's busy. But there have been some pretty cool things to happen for me. For instance, our new home comes with all appliances except for the washer and dryer. As providence would have it, one of my friends called me up the other day and we were discussing things, and he happened to have an extra washer and dryer that I could have. Also, we need to buy a mower for the lawn, and my mother-in-law's boyfriend just happened to be a channel for getting a new mower absolutely free of charge. This frees up funds to put into something else, possibly paying on student loans or something.

And then there's work. My job is to design culverts, channels, and such systems, but this is all mostly new for me professionally speaking. So, I've been learning by doing and reading design manuals.

A few more points to make:

1. Wasn't the finale of LOST tremendous?
2. If you've not read the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson, I highly recommend it. So much so that, once I finish the series (I'm on the concluding volume) I intend to put a plug in here.
3. Heath bars are good, eh?

It's time for church. Farewell now. And I promise, once things settle down, I'll be back regularly. Thanks!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Some Catching Up (Part 1)

You may be aware that things have been happening very quickly for me. That's okay. I'm young. Presently I am sitting on my mother-in-law's bed, fighting to stay awake and write this post, enjoying the newly installed monstrous air conditioner.

First off, I must comment on my new job. As in the previous post, I'm working as a Highway Drainage Engineer for the Mexico Lightbulb Corporation. This job is what you would expect from the title: I design structures to drain highway systems, namely culverts and pipes. Starting a new job is a stressful, but fun, experience. This week I've been learning some new computer programs (HY8, MicroStation, InRoads) and reading design manuals. The difference between academia and professional life is design manuals. Design specifications change every few years, so keeping up with the current (or what was current when a project was going on) specs will be fun. I think I am really going to enjoy my career. I'm not sure if I'll be with MLC for life, but so far, I've really enjoyed what I've learned and done. Plus, my colleagues are a fun group, too.

On an equally important note, as of today I have an official closing date for my new house. Friday, May 29, 2009. This is when I can move into my new place.

And now I am very, very tired and must retire. This was going to be just one post, but I fear I must split it. I wish you all a wonderful evening/noon/night.

Monday, May 11, 2009

It All Happened So Fast

Really, really fast. Let's review everything that has been going on here within the past fortnight.

1. School ended. Thus, final exam period.
2. House searching. Thus, looking for the perfect home.
3. Graduation happened. Thus, I graduated with my Masters!
4. House purchased. Thus, I bought a house!!
5. Job started. Thus, I started my job (today, actually).
6. Interim housing. More later for this.
7. Paperwork Paperwork Paperwork...
8. GIS project finished. Mostly.

It's been really hectic. I cut off cable & internet back in my apartment in Louisville at some point in the past week, and so I've been unable to get online until yesterday (see #6), where I have been presently relocated with the folks until I get my new house (see #4). Technically, the closing date for my new home is scheduled around June 3, but no one is living in it, so it could be quicker. As a first time home buyer, it's been very stressful. And then there's the job. I've decided to leave my employer's name ambiguous for several reasons, so let's just call them something. Stanley? Nah. Eduardo? No. It is in engineering firm, so it shouldn't be too over the top. How about the Mexico Lightbulb Corporation, or MLC for short? Sounds good to me, too. Okay. So, anyway, I started working for MLC (ahem) today, and my boss told me I was already 3 weeks behind! This I take with a nod, all in a strong and certain stride, because I know it to be probably true. There is a lot of work to do. And what is it I do exactly? Well, since today was my first day, refer to #7 in the above list. My official job title is Highway Drainage Engineer, which means that I am in charge of ensuring that highway projects drain correctly. In that, I design pipes, culverts, channels, etc to fit the Kentucky design specs and regulations. Use of many computer programs is essential to the adequate design of the drainage structures. And to top everything off, while moving from Louisville to home, I left the book that I am reading in my apartment. Needless to say, this is very unfortunate. Even more needless to say, my mind is fracturing and things are blending together. I am very tired. You'll be informed as I am informed. Blackbird singing in the dead of night. Yes, I used fortnight in the introduction part of this post; don't be too jealous.

Monday, May 04, 2009

John Henry and the Old North Wind

This is my cover of "John Henry and the Old North Wind," from Joe Purdy's hauntingly beautiful album Canyon Joe. I don't give the original version any justice, but I like the song. Hope it works, and I hope you enjoy.


Friday, May 01, 2009

The Transition

I'm currently in between epochs in my life. The great era that was college is officially over, with finals finally out of the way. May 11, two Mondays from now, is my official start date at the engineering firm I'll be working at.

While in the transition, I have a few loose ends to wrap up (the GIS/Stream research project, packing, etc) and a few more friends to say farewell to. I've made some really good friends while being a student, but we must all go our separate ways now. I'm reminded of the concluding sentence of the Great Gatsby: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." We're all just boats, floating on the sea of life. Sometimes we cruise. Sometimes we trolley. Sometimes we even sink. But, typically, I think we just float. We float to the ebbs and wanes of life. When the wind blows, we're blown along with it.

And then, ultimately, the boat will reach the distant shore. We may think we landed in America, but ended up in Cuba. We may think the natives will be hostile, but they instead teach us to cultivate corn. We may think our friends will be there, to find that we are alone. The point is, the future is uncertain. We can plan for anything, but a kink can cause things to work differently.

For instance, I have a job on the horizon now. I have a house in the future to get into. Kids are to be expected in the next couple of years. I have plans, and I am excited about them. To be out on the open waters of life, floating towards my fate, is a thrilling mindset. Slightly anxious, but mostly hopeful and excited, I look forward to all that life brings me. I look forward to the new land I will find.

This frame of mind is one I am proud of. I am eternally an optimist. I see the sunshine on the horizon, even though it's currently storming. I may grapple with uncertainty for a small time, but once I make my mind up, I stick with it. I guess you could say that I'm loyal to what I get involved with. Nevertheless, I don't let the times of transition anchor me down.

In conclusion, the current phase of my life is an exciting one. I can see the smiling, curious faces of Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, Leif Ericson, or Neil Armstrong as they are going towards the unknown. They certainly must have faced fear and doubt, but they pressed on, becoming some of the world's most famous explorers. And I, too, travel down a new passage, looking forward to the approaching horizon. I'll treasure my memories and friends from college, but I am excited for my future, too.