adrian is rad


oh yeah, people read this

Filed under: — adrian @ 6:37 am

Running into the rad Tarky on Monday reminded me that people read this and that there’s been a lot that’s happened since I really updated.


  • I live in one now, having moved in last week. It’s a 1 bedroom in an old building. I found a promotional book about it written in 1899. I believe the building is on the National Registry of Historic Places.


  • I wear jeans now. Weird, right?

Some things I like about Boston:

  • Friends. I have them here.
  • Beer bars. There are some great ones. The bar across the street (warning: link has autoplay music) has 31 beers on tap.
  • Walking. I walked over five miles yesterday just running errands. And I can walk around at night.


  • Since I got back to the US America, my route has been something like: Charlotte->DC->Philadelphia[1]->DC->Charlotte->Boston->New Hampshire->Boston->Philadelphia->New York City->Boston->New Orleans->Boston->Charlotte->Boston (via Philadelphia and New Haven)
  • I went to New Orleans for Gumbeaux’s wedding. It was a grand time. The wedding and the reception were in an old jazz hall. Fantastic food, good people, the whole lot. I wore my new suit (see below) and read Seamus Heaney’s “Scaffolding” at the request of the couple.
  • wedding suit

rural alberta advantage @ the middle east

  • Rural Alberta Advantage @ the Middle East 3/9–It was really great to see these guys again. They put on a super energetic set of their trademark earnest fuzz-folk. This is the sort of show that reminds me why I like live music.
  • Amiina @ the Middle East 3/19–Sigur Ros’ string section has their own band, called Amiina. They make really pretty music in their own right. The only problem was there was a loud show going on either at the Middle East Upstairs or TT’s so it disrupted the quiet music Downstairs a bit.
  • Matt Pond PA @ the Middle East 3/20–I hadn’t seen this band in 8 years but I went because my friend Shawn now plays cello in the band. And they were really great. Great mix. Great song selection. Just a show I was really glad to be at overall. And it’s also a thrill to see your friend play all these songs you know and love.


  • Blood Sweat and Chalk by Tim Layden — Basically a book about the development of modern football strategy. I haven’t read many books about football but I really thought this one was interesting. Chapters cover things like Cover 2 and Zone Blitz and really explains both how they work and how they came about. A worthwhile read for anyone who spends a lot of their time in the fall watching football on TV.
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen — Time’s “Great American Novelist” has gotten quite a lot of hype about this book. I liked Corrections so I wanted to read this one. It’s a very good book. Very good character development and it weaves together many different stories without making any of them seem superfluous. I wouldn’t call it amazing, but it’s worth a read.
  • I’m now reading Garry Wills’ Lincoln at Gettysburg and Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Both are good so far.


  • True Grit — A very well put together film. I loved the acting, particularly by Jeff Bridge and Hailee Steinfeld.
  • Social Network — I finally saw it. Very interesting film. I know it’s not exactly true, but still gives some insight into how the whole thing came about.

[1] Philadelphia and Wilmington, DE in most cases


how to write about africa

Filed under: — adrian @ 11:35 am

In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn’t care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

I’ve seen this piece a few times now. Some of it definitely rings true.


that’s a good piece of writing

Filed under: — adrian @ 7:41 am

Leopards? – Oom[1] Schalk Lourens said – Oh, yes, there are two varieties on this side of the Limpopo[2]. The chief difference between them is that the one kind of leopard has got a few more spots on it than the other kind. But when you meet a leopard in the veld[3], unexpectedly, you seldom trouble to count his spots to find what kind he belongs to. That is unnecessary. Because, whatever kind of leopard it is that you come across in this way, you only do one kind of running. And that is the fastest kind.

–The opening paragraph of “In the Withaak’s Shade”, Herman Charles Bosman

[1] literally “Uncle”, but often used as a form of address for older males.

[2] a river in north-eastern South Africa

[3] grassy plane


mini-reviews of every book I’ve read since coming to south africa

Filed under: — adrian @ 6:42 am

in a different time by peter harris
In A Different Time, by Peter Harris, one of the best books I’ve read recently

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
I started this back in SF and I really wanted to finish it before I came here but things got really busy before I left. Mandela is one of the most inspiring figures of modern times. Everyone focuses on the post-prison Reconciler, but seeing the young, brash, successful Mandela is interesting, as is his reasoning behind various decisions in his life (like starting the military wing of the ANC). Though not faultless, it’s well told and I’d thoroughly recommend it.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
I flew through this book. It’s an addicting book and I had time on my hands. I saw the ending coming from miles off and the narrators political rants get old, but I still couldn’t put it down.

The Plains of Camdeboo by Eve Palmer
A book about an area of the country that I love (but hadn’t seen at that stage), the Karoo. A mix of family and regional history, plus discussions of the plants, animals and fossils of the area, it wasn’t very interesting at a time—though parts of it came back to me during trips through the area—and unless you’re intensely interested in the area, I’d give it a skip.

New Writing from Africa 2009, editted by JM Coetzee
The first book I bought in South Africa, it’s collection of new writing from Africa with 34 stories from 12 different countries. The quality is pretty hit-or-miss with the best being quite good but many boring stories are contained within as well. Read the prize winning stories in a book store and skip the rest, I’d say.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
As you probably know, this is a novel about a brash, subversive patient at a mental institution which has thus-far been run with an iron fist by the head nurse. It’s definitely worthwhile if you haven’t read it yet.

Playing the Enemy by John Carlin
This is the book that got turned into the movie Invictus. It’s both better researched and better presented than the movie, with both more depth and breadth about the lead-up and triumph of the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. Quite moving in the end.

Chuck Klosterman IV by Chuck Klosterman
This is a series of essays in Klosterman’s trademark snide, often sidetracking style. I love Klosterman’s writing and I tore through this book which includes interviews, essays and general pop culture pronouncements. I might start with Killing Yourself to Live if you haven’t read anything by him, but if you like his writing already, you’ll like this.

The Blind Side by Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis is a fantastic writer. I enjoyed Moneyball and various essays he’s written for the New Yorker or Vanity Fair and I enjoyed this story of the rise of the left tackle in football and the rise of one player, Michael Oher, through life. Even if you marginally enjoy football, you might like this.

Previous Convictions by A.A. Gill
Various travel stories written by the highly sarcastic British writer. He can be funny but offensive, eg. “Do you think that when the Berlin Wall came down the East Germans were disappointed that there was just more Germany on the other side?” Overall, it was pretty good.

In a Different Time by Peter Harris
Possibly the best book I’ve written this year. Harris was the defense attorney for many cases involving the ANC and this book chronicles the case of the Delmar Four, MK operatives who were tried for a series of crimes including assassination, bombing, etc. Very well told and very thought-provoking.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
My dad gave me this book about behavior economics, as some call it. Basically, in various situations, people regularly act in ways that aren’t described by classical economics. Ariely has done a lot of studies about this and found fascinating things. (Eg make something FREE! and people go nuts, or people judge such things as value of items and attractiveness of people relatively rather than absolutely.) It’s not the sort of book I normally read, but I found it very interesting.

An Anthropologist On Mars by Oliver Sacks
I really enjoyed Sacks’ Musicophilia so my parents got me this book (autographed, nogal!). It’s a series of case studies on a variety of neurological conditions and disorders. Sacks looks at the artist that perfectly replicates the village of his youth, which he hasn’t visited in 30 years. And the Tourettic surgeon and autistic professor. It’s more in depth about the neurology than Musicophilia which makes it a slower read but also more informative in some ways. I still liked it.

The Girl on the Fridge by Etgar Keret
I just finished this book of short (often 2-4 pages) stories by this Israel author. He uses very concise writing in his often surreal stories; he can say a lot in two pages. A lot of it is set in modern Israel so there are some pretty heavy topics within. Overall, I really liked it.

I recently joined Goodreads. You can see what I books I’ve read/ am reading and whether I like them there.


“the actual kicking tee used by the player…”

Filed under: — adrian @ 8:48 am

I quite enjoyed Invictus, though it was a bit sentimental and sappy. I found the book better in the end.

The list of goofs in the movie is quite entertaining, though, particularly the level of detail of the errors noted.

  • Factual errors: The rugby balls used in the Springboks matches are the current generic Gilbert Barbarian match balls with dark blue and green oval trims. The actual match balls used in 1995 World Cup were in fact grass green and sky blue and they all had a Rugby World Cup logo and the year 1995 printed on them. Also the kicking tee used by the All Blacks goal kicker in the film was a Gilbert Blue Tee; the actual kicking tee used by the player Andrew Mehrtens in the 1995 final was a yellow Simpkin Kicking Tee.

    I’m sure many people were appalled by the latter inaccuracy.


    two months

    Filed under: — adrian @ 8:51 am

    Yesterday marked two months since I arrived here. Someone asked the best and worst parts so far and both of those are pretty easy. Best: my time in Ingwavuma. Worst: there have been some lonely times.

    I took some short videos in Ingwavuma and I was going through them today and what strikes me about them is that they’re so quiet. I commented on the stillness at the time, but I’m struck by how quiet the area is.

    I found a German deli here. I’m pretty happy about that. I had a bauernbratwurst with kraut for lunch for pretty cheap. I also grabbed some spaetzle*, kielbasi (“colbassa”) and Bavarian sweet mustard to take home. Some meal later this week is going to be great.

    clifton 4
    Clifton beach, #4

    The weather has been quite inconsistent. One day may be almost summer-like, the next rainy and cool. I guess that’s autumn spring for you.

    Today is one of the cool and rainy days, but Saturday was the first full on summer day. Everyone flocked to the beaches and I chose Clifton Beach #4, which is nestled between some boulders on the Atlantic coast side. I’d been to some around there before but never to that one and it’s quite a well known one. It was gorgeous and I spent a couple hours reading and people watching.

    I found out today that the pool I’ve been swimming in is closed to men on Tuesdays from 10a to 2p. It didn’t take long for it to occur to me why: there’s a significant Muslim population in the area and customs dictate women shouldn’t show skin to strange men.

    I got to watch my first Steelers game of the season yesterday, on tape delay from Sunday night. It was a good game (they won) but it was a bit too exciting with a close-to-comeback by the wrong team. But it was good to see a game again–I’ve been reading recaps and looking at stats after each game, but something like Mendenhall 165 yards on 29 carries, 2 TDs is a lot different from seeing how he cuts and how the line is playing and all that.

    I’ve been devouring books since I got here. I think I’ve finished four: Long Walk to Freedom, Prayer for Owen Meany, Plains of Camdeboo, and Playing the Enemy and now I’m a chunk into One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest.

    *Yay for Schwabens.


    two views of the South: Jean Ritchie’s Singing Family of the Cumberlands and Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories

    Filed under: — adrian @ 7:00 am

    A couple months ago I read two books in a row with different views of the American South and I’ve been meaning to review them together.

    The first was Singing Family of the Cumberlands by Jean Ritchie. It was a recommended book for a class I took in the fall of 2002 and I’m glad I finally decided to read it.

    Jean Ritchie was the youngest of thirteen children, growing up in Viper, Kentucky, in the Appalachian Mountains. Her family was well known–and well documented–for singing ballads, in the Anglo-American folk tradition. That is to say, they sang ballads that came over with English, Scottish and Irish settlers and could still be found on both sides of the Atlantic. The best documented of these were the Child Ballads, but that could take up a whole lot more space if I decided to talk about those.

    Written in 1955, the book is a memoir of her childhood. As fascinating as her descriptions of growing up in the early part of the 20th century in an isolated part of the Appalachians are–and they are–what really makes this book special is the songs. Interspersed in the book are transcriptions of the ballads. Say there’s a vignette about learning a particular song around a fireplace on Christmas. Well, the song is there in the book, both music and words, if you want to sing along.

    The writing is wonderful and evocative, too. She immediately sets quite conversational tone and it feels like she’s telling you her family stories from the armchair next to you. In that sense, it reminds me a lot of Cash by Johnny Cash. The stories of her childhood, drenched in music, of course, cover the gambit: the rough times, the hard work, and the good times. Overall there is a bit of rose-colored glasses for the simple old times, but she also doesn’t the reader from hearing about the hard times.

    If you have any interest in Appalachian music or culture, I’d recommend this book. You can pick it up at amazon.

    After having some of my favorite songwriters refer to Flannery O’Connor–particularly Sufjan Stevens and David Bazan–I decided I’d read some of her works.

    If you’re unfamiliar with her writing, she was a classic Southern Gothic writer, writing stories of the South with dark, twisted characters and plots. The stories are written in a dense prose and some take quite a bit of effort to wade through, but the best among them are quite amazing stories. She really sucked me in to the lives and worlds of her characters and even when I saw a hint of the outcome, I still enjoyed reading it.

    She’s also known as a Catholic writer, but more often than not, if religion enters the story at all, it’s much more ambiguous or complex than one might expect from someone so well known to be writing from a religious point of view.

    She died quite young and the complete short stories covers a lot of her output. Besides the stories, she only wrote two novels. And with anything complete you get not only the greatest hits, but the stuff in between and the warm-up in the beginning. If I had to do it over, I might start with a selection of her short stories, but if you’re a completest, this is for you.

    You can also pick this one up from amazon.


    The require readings of 21L.002

    Filed under: — adrian @ 11:43 am

    I was thinking about this yesterday. The require readings for 21L.002: Foundations of Western Culture II were pretty tremendously varied and interesting.

    When I took it, they were:

    • Bernardino, Fray The War of Conquest: How It Was Waged Here in Mexico
    • Blake, William Songs of Innocence and Experience
    • Card, Orson Scott Ender’s Game
    • Card, Orson Scott Speaker for the Dead
    • Machiavelli, Nicolo The Prince
    • Ondaatje, Michael Anil’s Ghost
    • Stowe, Harriet Beecher Uncle Tom’s Cabin
    • Voltaire, Francois-Marie Candide
    • Whitman, Walt Civil War Poetry and Prose
    • Williams, Helen Maria Letters Written in France

    And selected parts of:

    • Cortes, Hernan Letters from Mexico
    • Levinson, Sanford Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies
    • Lowell, Robert “For the Union Dead”
    • Walcott, Derek “A Far Cry from Africa,” “Ruins of a Great House,” and “Season of Phantasmal Peace”

    What a ridiculous range of stuff! I’m glad I took it.



    Filed under: — adrian @ 10:52 am

    So there are books that are made into movies. Quite often the original book is worth reading (though not always–Forest Gump the book isn’t great).

    Then there are novelizations of movies. These are cheap and basically involve someone watching the movie and writing down what happens. For some reason my brother and I used to get a fair number of these things when we were young. I remember Back to the Future (and perhaps the sequels). They were not very good.


    the mythical expanse of the karoo

    Filed under: — adrian @ 9:07 pm

    I’ve been reading the Africa is a Country blog recently. Honestly, it’s too frequently updated to really read most of it and some of the stuff is not particularly engaging, but there have been some interesting things on there as well.

    The most recent thing of interest is this Guardian travelog across the Karoo, a pretty sparsely inhabited dry region of South Africa. Having heard descriptions from family friends and a book I read once, I’d already wanted to go there, but the article’s description is even more alluring:

    We pulled up beside the church and the owner of the Die Rooi Granaat cafe, a smiling matronly Afrikaner, looked astonished that we might want food, but quickly prepared a delicious lunch of boerewors, literally “farm sausage”, and pumpkin cakes topped with brown sugar. Children circled the church on bright yellow bicycles. Loxton had almost died out before people in search of solitude turned up and remade it, apparently casting off the stresses that trouble other parts of the country. It was lovely.

    We headed north to Carnavon, the very heart of the Karoo. Chris was driving, enjoying this last trip in a car he loves, while I gazed over plains of sweet thorn trees and aloe, spiny shrubs and fleshy succulents. Dassies – ground squirrels – bolted across the road and I searched for the heads of meerkats as the blades of the water pumps glinted under a sky awash with the colours of the dissipating storm.

    It sounds almost mythical. Can it possibly live up to the description? I’d say it can’t, but my time in Blyde River Canyon, another mythical-sounding area of SA, proved that such areas can live up to promises.

    Who knows? Maybe I’ll have to go see for myself.


    books: Summerland, What Jesus Meant, Brainiac

    Filed under: — adrian @ 11:13 pm

    I’ve been on a bit of a reading bent recently. Here are a few of the books I’ve finished recently. Here are my okay reviews of them.

    Summerland by Michael Chabon
    Andy recommended this to me after I read Mysteries of Pittsburgh. I finally got around to reading it. It’s the sort of book I don’t think I’d normally read; it’s about baseball–which I would read–but it’s also a fantasy story with multiple worlds and many non-human characters.

    But it is an engaging story. Once I got a chunk into the book I couldn’t read it fast enough. One thing is that it falls into science fiction trap that has been joked about a little too much.

    What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills
    Some people will dismiss this just because of the title. That’s fine. While I think this book could have some non-religious audience, it’s written from a religious point of view. Wills is a Catholic and Greek scholar and historian. Part of what he’s doing is quite literal: all the new testament passages in this book are of his own translation, so he’s saying what Jesus literally said. But there’s also some interpretation and contextualization.

    The main thrusts of the book are that Jesus was apolitical at every turn (so people talking of Jesus’ politics are wrong) and that in Jesus coming all the old Law was changed or destroyed. There’s a lot more to it that just that. I found it quite interesting and insightful.

    Brainiac by Ken Jennings
    I’m not even a closet trivia nerd. I just like it. I watch Jeopardy and I was pretty excited during Ken Jennings’ historic run on the show. That I knew he was a good writer via his blog was only added incentive to get the book.

    It’s about his run on Jeopardy along with the history, characters and development of trivia as a pastime. It’s a lot nerdy, but it’s pretty well-written and interesting.


    Thirteen Days by RFK

    Filed under: — adrian @ 11:08 pm

    I read RFK’s[1] Thirteen Days today [2].

    This is RFK’s memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Note: that’s different than the Bay of Pigs.) Basically the USSR put nuclear-equipped missiles in Cuba while publicly claiming they weren’t. There was a period of thirteen days between when the intelligence regarding the presence of missiles and the Soviet’s agreement to withdraw them. People often say this is the closest the world came to nuclear war (so far).

    It’s pretty dryly written, but still very interesting. There’s something really fascinating about how people act and react under intense pressure and stress. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there was a happy ending.

    One thing that I found pretty interesting was the role the Guns of August played in the whole situation. It’s a book about the time and decisions leading up to World War I. Apparently JFK and other took this book under special consideration in how they made their decisions regarding the Cuban situation. Imagine how cool it would be to be Barbara Tuchman–you would have helped prevent nuclear war. Not a bad thing to put on a gravestone.

    [1] The more I read about RFK, the more I like. There’s something about his radical Catholicism that makes me think that if I was a more charismatic and better person I could be like him. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened had he not been assassinated.

    [2] Yeah, I read the entire thing today. Granted, it clocks in at 100 pages including forward, but it felt good to read a whole book in a day. It don’t do that much. The last time I did it was the Perks of Being a Wallflower (and the one previous to that was my second reading of Ender’s Game).

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