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We spent a week in Berlin visiting the city, restaurants, bars, and friends. [Full album]

We went to Maui! Okay we went to Maui like, kind of a while ago. Like almost a year ago now. But I took pictures! Here they are. [Full album]

Mexico City
We went to Mexico City for the weekend. Not what I expected! Lovely city, huge and bustling, with lots of great food and drinks. We also put on our tourist hats and visited the pyramids for one of the days. [Full album]

Zion & Bryce National Parks
We went to Utah last week and I got some photos of Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. (Shawn hastens to point out that Bryce is not actually a canyon!) Anyway.

One Doctor

I just finished reading One Doctor: Close Calls, Cold Cases, and the Mysteries of Medicine by Brendan Reilly, M.D. I realize a book by a doctor sounds boring, but it was actually quite a page turner! It was very easy to read and I found it hard to put it down.

Dr. Reilly writes in the first person, describing his extensive experience as a "generalist" primary care physician, both decades ago and today. Each story is intensely personal, describing specific patients and their stories, including those of his own parents. These stories illustrate how we think about health and treatment, and how healthcare has changed over the years. Not all for the better.

This book also made me consider more deeply how I think about disease treatment and death. Doctors have an unusual perspective on death that seems strange at first: the fact that we all will die. The fact that we have choices to make about how we die. That there may be worse things than dying, and that it's important to know what that means for yourself.

These ideas are so matter-of-factly obvious to a doctor, but are things that many people never think about. But it's relevant to all of us, especially since we will increasingly face these issues at the end of our lives.

Low flying rocks

This week was the Persied meteor shower, which we watched this week after moonset and, to a vastly lesser degree, photographed. A couple of shots:

And I even got a rather underwhelming meteor!


Last month I visited the shores and redwoods of Mendocino with my mom. I didn't get very many good shots, so these are the ones that came out least badly.

First, a weird lighthouse that they let you climb around in:

Next, some ferns in a redwood grove:

There was also moss.

And some vines.

The end.

Security guard

I found this not-so-little guy hanging out on our screen door. He's about 4 inches long. I guess our moths are delicious?

The Martian

I just finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir. In a word, this was a fantastic book which I would recommend to nearly anyone.

Page one finds our hero, a NASA astronaut named Mark Watney, accidentally left behind on Mars after his mission goes wrong. Unconscious and bleeding, he is the now the only living thing on the entire planet. He can be rescued if he can find a way to survive for two years using 30 days worth of leftover supplies, making his way over 2000 kilometers to the next mission site. Without running out of air. Or food. Or water. Or shelter. And establishing communications somehow. Other than that, he's fine.

The most important thing you need to know about the book is that it is really funny! I was laughing with almost every page, and could not stop reading. The narrative is comprised mostly of written diary entries from Mark, and he handles the impossible odds he faces with liberal gallows humor. I giggled more or less constantly at his funny layman's explanations of all the crazy jury-rigging he does to stay alive.

Despite the high drama, the diary entry format lightens the mood of the book considerably. Since the main character is telling you what happened each day, you know that he must have lived through it or else he wouldn't still be writing diary entries. That alleviates some of the nail-biting tension you might otherwise feel as you read.

Also: having worked with an astronaut I can tell you that the NASA characters seem realistic; they are smart, funny, practical people with a wry outlook on life-threatening situations. If a NASA austronaut ever really were stranded on Mars, this is probably how they would act.

The book's only downside is that the premise that strands Mark in the first place is a touch improbable, but otherwise the science seems very thoroughly researched. It certainly passed my "Wired Magazine" level understanding of physics, chemistry, computers, telecommunications, botany, and orbital mechanics.

Highly recommended!

Daemon and Freedom

Wow, reading up a storm this summer. I just finished Daemon by Daniel Suarez, and its sequel, Freedom.

Nominally set in the present day, Daemon opens as a who-dun-it and then evolves into a thought-provoking techno-thriller. There's nearly nothing spoiler-free I can say about the plot... the main characters include a detective, a reporter, a thief, an ex-KGB software engineer, an NSA codebreaker, and some military guys, all pitting their wits against an ace video game programmer who dies of cancer on page 2 of the book. So that's interesting.

The action and plot are well developed and made me want to stay up late to keep reading and find out what happens next. The computerized arch-enemy of the book is genuinely intriguing. And much of the computer tech is well researched and plausible; if the author isn't a network programmer, he certainly interviewed one extensively.

On the downside, there are some fancy tech-feats later in the book that are a bit beyond present-day technology, so the skeptical reader will need to suspend disbelief by reading the book as set in the "near future" rather than literally the present day. And there is some mass social engineering portrayed in the book that is a touch far-fetched.

Overall an enjoyable read even if you're a computer professional. And then, on to the sequel:

If Daemon is a techno-thriller, Freedom is an economics thriller. It portrays an interesting unfolding of world political and economic events that, while not necessarily plausible, are certainly very interesting to think about.

As the action-packed plot unfolded, I found myself rooting for some antagonists from the previous book, and disliking some of the protagonists as well, all clearly the author's well-crafted intent. The book has a good arc and never bores.

Unfortunately the second book has a pretty heavy-handed political message about the perils of modern society that had me rolling my eyes a few times. Demands on the reader's skepticism become more severe in the sequel, since extreme world events are portrayed that forced me to ask myself, "oh come on, that probably wouldn't really happen". Some of the computer-augmented combat scenes in the sequel are also a bit implausible compared to the first book. So not perfect.

Overall, Freedom is well written and provides a satisfying conclusion to the two-book story with only minimal eye-rolling. It's not high literature but it has some ideas that are worth thinking about. A cautious thumbs up to the pair if you're looking for a fun action read.

The views expressed on this site are mine personally, and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.