Monday, February 26, 2024

Books: The Measure

One of fiction's oldest tropes is arcane foreknowledge of the time of a person's death - from Julius Caesar and the Ides of March, all the way to Justin Timberlake in In Time. Nikki Erlick's novel, The Measure, takes this idea to its logical extreme: in the book, everyone on Earth magically receives an indestructible piece of string that indicates when they are going to die with perfect accuracy, down to the month and year.

I read The Measure for my book club (the cover quote literally says it's "perfect for book clubs") and I liked it okay. The novel is relatively short yet has an ensemble cast of eight characters, so they all feel like sketches rather than fully realized people. 

On the plus side, the story moves briskly and Erlick does a decent job of imagining the societal effects if everyone knew "the measure" of their lives.  Some people with "short strings" become hedonistic travelers, others become depressed, and a tiny minority become violent, which is all woven through the plot.  It's a relatively thought-provoking, breezy read that is...perfect for book clubs.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Miscellany: The Rosenberg Railroad Museum

Like many kids, my nephew is absolutely crazy about trains, so we took him to the Rosenberg Railroad Museum in the city of Rosenberg, Texas.

As far as railway museums go, this is one of the best ones I've been to, mostly thanks to the friendly and knowledgeable staff, and the cool restored railroad cars (there's a MoPac caboose and a railcar from 1879).

Admission was cheap, the tour was truly excellent, and my nephew absolutely loved the model trains and the playroom. If you're in the Fort Bend area and you have any interest in trains whatsoever, the Rosenberg Railroad Museum is well worth a visit.

Music: Schoolgirl

It's spring cleaning time here at Shangrila Towers, and that means a whole lot of rock music playing in the background as I excavate all the bric-a-brac in my house.

One obscure band that I just discovered is Annie Taylor, named after someone similarly obscure - a schoolteacher who was the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. They're a Swiss band that sounds like a cross between Wolf Alice and Hole, with some killer grunge/punk riffs that could have come from your best friend's garage.  If you need an example, here's their track "Schoolgirl":

Friday, January 26, 2024

Miscellany: Mulliga Runs a Marathon, Part 3 - The Gear

I'm planning some serious training runs this year to prepare for my December marathon, so I'm making upgrades to my old running setup:

Hydration Pack - Hooking water bottles on a waistbelt just doesn't cut it when you're out for a 20-mile run, so I decided to pick up a "hydration pack" (essentially a form-fitting vest with onboard water). Lots of companies make good packs, so you'll have to narrow down your choices with some questions. How far are you running? Are you running on the road or on a trail? Do you prefer using water bottles or a water bladder (or both)? Ultimately, I went with the Nathan VaporAir 3.0 7L - it's lighter than it looks and can hold a full 2L bladder, plus two more soft water flasks in the front shoulder pockets.

GPS-Enabled Fitness Tracker - When I was starting out, I ran all my training runs the same - at a steady pace that was somewhat slower than what I could do in a 5k.  Now though, I am doing all sorts of runs - long distance stuff, speedwork, and everything in between, along with "easy" recovery runs to add time on my feet. To track all that, I use my Apple Watch, but really any GPS smartwatch or wearable would be fine - Garmin has plenty to choose from.

Chafing Protection - For any run over 5 to 6 miles, I watch out for chafing and blisters.  That means wearing synthetic or "technical" shirts and socks, lubing up any high friction areas with a Vaseline stick, and perhaps most importantly, protecting myself from bloody nipples (NipGuards - a very silly name, but they work).

Nutrition - For any run over 10 miles, I like to fuel with some in-run nutrition (you know, what normal people call "food"). There are a host of products out there designed for long-distance runners, most of them pretty artificial and processed, but I am usually so hungry during and after a run that I just don't care. If you don't want to break the bank, you could probably get away with stuff like raisins or gummy bears - anything small, self-contained, and sweet.

Medical/Emergency - I have never run over 13 miles, but the training runs on my plan go way over that distance. That seems like a long time to me, so I plan on taking some basic lightweight first aid and emergency items (cash, etc.), just so I can get myself back home safe.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Tech: Counter-Strike 2 review

I'm an old man in "gamer years," a geezer who can remember when Wolfenstein and Doom were state of the art. That's why it was a bit surprising that I got positively bodied in my first few rounds of Counter-Strike 2, the latest version of Valve's tactical multiplayer action game:

Like prior versions of CS, CS2 pits terrorists against counter-terrorists in a variety of scenarios: bomb defusal, hostage rescue, etc. Damage is fairly realistic; a single headshot from any of the assault rifles is usually enough to kill you, and once you die, you don't respawn until the next round. CS2 adds in a variety of fancy graphical effects and some subtle gameplay tweaks (the cloud from a smoke grenade can be displaced with gunfire and frag grenades), but it's still basically the same game I was playing on a dial-up modem in high school 20-odd years ago.

Unfortunately, this latest iteration appears to be chock full of cheaters. Wallhacks, aimbots, and the like are everywhere on the Valve servers, and the game just isn't fun when you're guaranteed to lose the vast majority of the firefights. If you can find a trusted group to play with, go for it, but otherwise, I think I might hang up my digital MP5 for good...

Rating: 80/100

Friday, January 19, 2024

Miscellany: Mulliga Runs a Marathon, Part 2 - The Plan

A big part of training for a marathon is planning.  Most first-timers have to block off a solid four to five months prior to the big race, in order to schedule dozens of types of running workouts - easy runs, long runs, tempo runs, interval runs, and everything in between.  It can get fairly complicated:

I am mostly sticking to Hal Higdon's "Novice 1" program, which boils down to three runs during the week (including 1 semi-long/speedy run), and one long run on the weekend. The name "Novice 1" might imply the plan is easy, but the peak weekly running mileage gets to a healthy 40 miles, which I suspect is more than the vast majority of the U.S. population runs in a week.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

TV: Delicious in Dungeon

If you enjoyed the post-battle cooking interludes in the Tales videogame series, you'll love Delicious in Dungeon, an anime about a madcap adventuring party who learns to cook and eat strange monsters:

The show, produced by Studio Trigger (Cyberpunk: Edgerunners) and adapted from Ryōko Kui's longrunning manga, starts off when one of the party members is unceremoniously eaten by a dragon.  To resurrect her, the rest of the party will have to fight their way back through the dungeon and kill the dragon before its monthlong digestion cycle finishes. The problem? They're all completely broke, with not even enough money for food, so they'll have to live off of whatever they find in the dungeon...

The premise isn't groundbreaking (heck, there's even another culinary-themed fantasy anime on Netflix, Drifting Dragons), but Delicious in Dungeon stands out from the pack thanks to its lighthearted tone and heavy emphasis on cooking techniques. New episodes are coming out each week in Japan and on Netflix, so it'll be interesting to see where the series goes.

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Miscellany: Mulliga Runs a Marathon, Part 1 - The Resolution

I've completed several half-marathons, so it's time for the next logical step - my New Year's resolution for 2024 is to run a marathon.  26 miles and 385 yards.  The big kahuna (well, except for ultramarathons and multiday races, which can get positively absurd).  

I'm not sure I'll run more than one marathon in my lifetime, but I want to try it at least once:

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Miscellany: Microtech Makora review (2022 release)

I like my Combat Troodon just fine, but it's turned out to be an impractical knife to haul around everyday. Enter the Microtech Makora, rejiggered for the 2020s with a smaller size and higher price:

If you're at all familiar with Microtech's top selling model, the Ultratech, the Makora should look very familiar. They're both double-action OTF automatic knives with 3.3ish-inch blades, side-firing switches, and tungsten carbide glass breakers. In short, they're super similar, so much so that the gun store I bought my Makora from actually had it mislabeled as an Ultratech in the display case.

So why does the Makora retail for north of $400 as part of Microtech's "Signature Series"? Well, the Makora has two nice upgrades from the work-a-day Ultratech: nickel boron internals for a slightly smoother action, and a grippy traction inlay on the handle. Not exactly earthshattering improvements, but for an EDC blade, if you're going to have one or the other, you might as well go big.

Books: Tolkien Illustrated Editions

The holiday season has brought the usual onslaught of deals, sales, and discounts, most of them for disposable tchotchkes that will be forgotten by next year. There are some interesting gifts to be given, however, like the "Tolkien Illustrated Editions" of The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings featuring color illustrations from the author himself:

I was previously familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien's cartographic skill (it's almost impossible to imagine The Hobbit without its famous map of Mirkwood), but I didn't know that he was also a fair painter.  These nice hardcover editions collect the often-dreamy landscapes and sketches Tolkien created to accompany his works, and I imagine they'd be well-received by any fantasy fan.