Book review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

This is a classic that I should have read before now. It took me a while, both to actually start reading the book and to finish it once I had begun, and it was well worth it.

The book’s premise should be familiar to almost everyone. Count Dracula is a vampire. He terrorizes people. The people try to kill him. Van Helsing is involved. Vampires don’t like the light. Or garlic. Or crosses. They can’t get inside a home unless invited.

You get the picture.

I probably put off reading the book for so long because I’m irrationally wary of stilted, “old” language. The book didn’t deliver on that front, and was actually quite easy and enjoyable to read. One of my favorite passages:

The tomb in the daytime, and when wreathed with fresh flowers, had looked grim and gruesome enough, but now, some days afterwards, when the flowers hung lank and dead, their whites turning to rust and their greens to browns, when the spider and the beetle had resumed their accustomed dominance, when the time-discolored stone and dust-encrusted mortar and rusty, dank iron, and tarnished brass, and clouded silver-plating gave back the feeble glimmer of a candle, the effect was more miserable and sordid than could have been imagined. It conveyed irresistibly the idea that life, animal life, was not the only thing that could pass away.

I think the most enjoyment I found in the book came from all the wonderful vampire lore that ended up in more modern books. I love knowing that Stoker was breaking new ground with his ideas. And we’ve been using them ever since.

Dracula ranks 4 out of 5 stars. You can buy Dracula on Amazon if you want to support my reading habits.

Alternatives to iA Writer 3

I was once a daily user of iA Writer. They just released the latest version of their app, iA Writer 3. I tried it out and the experience is gorgeous. 

I still won’t end up using the text editor because it doesn’t support exporting to WordPress or Evernote. I’m using the Byword App instead. It’s great, but I prefer the aesthetics of iA Writer. 

So tell me: What are my alternatives if I want these features/characteristics:

  • Export to WordPress and Evernote
  • Markdown
  • Minimalistic 

Let me know if the comments if you have any suggestions!

Movie review: Meru directed by Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi


I am not afraid of heights. I’ve always had a hard time understanding what skeeves people out about being up high, or seeing things from a tall perspective. Sometimes I take my ability to deal with heights to the next level and think about what it would be like to be a mountain climber. Meru proved to me that I probably don’t have what it takes.

The film follows Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk as they attempt to be the first to reach the Shark’s Fin peak of Meru, a 21,850-foot mountain in the Gharwal Himalayas of India. It’s not the tallest mountain in the world by a long shot, but the Shark Fin is one of the most difficult peaks to summit.

The first part of the film covers their first attempt in 2008. A storm kept them off the top of the mountain, and they decided to go back again years later. A series of accidents before the second attempt even started almost derailed the entire thing. I don’t want to give away too many details to ruin the story so I’ll just say that it’s amazing they even made a second attempt after what happened.

The most wonderful part of the movie was its discussion of death and the risks these climbers take. They are out there in some of the harshest and most unforgiving places in the world — day in and day out. And they love it. There was no shying away from reality during the interview scenes of the documentary: They knew death was always just above the next handhold and they embraced it.

It takes a special kind of person to climb mountains, so I think I’ll just continue to enjoy from afar. The stunning imagery and bravery on display vie for a spot in the place I keep my favorites, but in the end I think the terrible and wondrous hubris of the human race wins out.

Meru rates 8 out of 10 stars. You can see it in theaters now. If you don’t share a love of heights with me you might have to suffer through sweaty palms throughout (I’ve heard that’s a thing that happens to you other types). It will be well worth it.

Other movies I saw this week

Running from 9/7/15 to 9/13/15

I ran to two extremes this week. During the work week I felt slow, with leaden legs dragging me down. This weekend I decided to combine two days of running into one. The decision was partly to address my fatigued legs, and partly because of a hankering for a truly long run.

I ran for 4 hours today and it was glorious. The weather did me a favor and gave me a starting temperature in the 60s and and ending temperature in the low 80s. You can’t ask for much better than that in early September in Austin. I followed up the run with a proper ice bath consisting of about 40 pounds of ice and some cold water. It was painful at first but my legs feel great now. We’ll see if it helps stave off the DOMS any more than a “typical” ice bath, where I’m just using what’s in our freezer.

Here’s what my week of running looked like:

  • Monday: No run and 8,301 steps total.
  • Tuesday: 32-minute run after work in the neighborhood. I ran too fast but couldn’t seem to keep my pace down.
  • Wednesday: 34-minute run on Town Lake after work. I ran a bit too fast again and it felt rough the entire time.
  • Thursday: 31-minute run on Town Lake in the rain after work. The rain was great.
  • Friday: No run and 5,034 steps total.
  • Saturday: No run and 6,004 steps total.
  • Sunday: 240-minute run on Town Lake. I felt like I could have run another couple of hours, but that might have just been my desire talking instead of reality.
  • Total active time of 337 minutes with an average heart rate of 143.5 beats per minute. Total steps this week: ~97,000

Book review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I’m going to tell you something important up front: I rated Ready Player One a measly 2 out of 5 stars. I normally don’t review books with such a low rating, but there’s a method to my madness. I think a lot of people should read and enjoy this book. I’m just not one of them.

Ready Player One is the debut novel from Ernest Cline, a fellow Austinite. The book is about Wade Watts, a teenager in the not-so-distant future year of 2044. Wade jacks into the OASIS, a virtual world where reality can be anything you want, on a daily basis. The OASIS is the brainchild of a man obsessed with 1980’s pop culture and video games, and he has hidden an “easter egg” inside the simulation. Whoever finds the egg will inherit the creator’s massive fortune. Wade is on a quest to find the egg, and the story unfolding on the pages of the book is his.

There are a couple of quotes that illustrate the story well:

OASIS — It’s the greatest videogame ever created and it only costs a quarter.


It was the dawn of a new era, one where most of the human race now spent all of their free time inside a videogame.

I’ll get the bad stuff out of the way first. The plot is not great. I’m not going to ruin it in case you want to read it – and I really think many people should. Suffice it to say that everything to do with plot and characters was shrouded in a certain clunkiness. It wasn’t terrible by any means. It was just bad enough that my mind kept pulling itself out of the story to think about how the book was failing.

Now to the good stuff. The strengths of the book are absolutely featured in the pop culture references. If you grew up in the 80s, love videogames or even just enjoy nostalgic descriptions you’re going to love this book. I enjoyed exactly two of the references: Blade Runner and Johnny Five from Short Circuit. Everything else was lost on me.

This is where I have to imagine the great divide between people who love the book and those who merely tolerate it is defined. If you “get” the majority of the references, you’ll like the book. If not, you’re out of luck. Apparently many people, including Steven Spielberg, like the references just fine. The movie is slated for sometime in the next couple of years, and I’ll likely go see it just because of Spielberg alone.

I hope all of you who fit into the “read it” category can identify yourselves and get the book. You can buy Ready Player One on Amazon if you want to take the plunge and find out for yourself.

Other books I read this week

I’m making my way through Dracula and am enjoying it so far.

On breaking habits

Regular readers of the blog know that something has been amiss since Monday. That’s right, this is the first post since I wrote a review of Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita. So much for daily blogging…

I managed to write every single day for 48 days in a row. In my original blog post I said I was going to give it 3 months before I switched to anything other than a daily schedule. I missed that by almost half.

I’m still going to be writing daily, but I’ve decided not to publish everything like I have been. The reason I didn’t publish anything on Tuesday or Wednesday is because I wasn’t satisfied with what I wrote. So here’s the plan:

  • On the days when I have something ready to publish, I’ll publish it. I still plan on writing based on the daily categories, but I won’t necessarily have something for every day.
  • On the days when I don’t have something ready to publish, I’ll write a short post giving some stats about the writing I did that day. Nothing crazy, just what I worked on and how many words/pages/whatever I managed to drag out of my brain and onto the screen.

Sound like a plan? Well that’s what I’m doing, so it better. See you soon!

Movie review: Lolita directed by Stanley Kubrick


I love Stanley Kubrick. I’m sure that bias comes into play when rating/reviewing, but I don’t care. What’s not to love? Kubrick started out as a photographer, and it’s the visual splendor of his films I love so much. Couple that with his meticulous attention to detail in everything and you can see why so many consider him one of the best of all time.

I could go on, but we’re here to talk about Lolita. The movie follows Professor Humbert Humbert, played by James Mason, as he lives out his infatuation with the young woman Lolita, played by Sue Lyon.

The movie opens with a scene between Humbert and a man named Clare Quilty, played by Peter Sellers. Quilty is quite drunk, and keeps making light of the situation even when Humbert pulls out a gun. Humbert eventually accuses Quilty of corrupting Lolita and shoots him to death through a painting of a young woman. The film then moves to a flashback to four years earlier and tells the story from there.

Humbert first sees Lolita when he is considering renting a room from a widow named Charlotte Haze, played by Shelley Winters. It’s clear that Humbert is annoyed and isn’t interested in spending any more time with Charlotte than he has to — until he sees her young teenage daughter Lolita lounging in the garden in a swimsuit.

Even if you don’t know anything about the film or the book by Vladimir Nabokov it’s based on, you probably have an idea of where this is going. Humbert ends up taking the room and even marries Charlotte so he can be near Lolita. He suggests to Charlotte that she might be too liberal with Lolita when it comes to boys, which prompts the decision to send Lolita to Camp Climax for girls. The name is hilarious, and was one of my favorite comedic bits in the film.

Humbert finds himself forced to spend time alone with Charlotte, a task he can only manage with the help of a stiff drink. He is miserable without Lolita. Humbert is a professor of literature so he considers himself a writer, which all professors of literature are wont to do. Of course he can’t help but write about his fancies for Lolita. Charlotte finds his diary and runs into oncoming traffic — and her death — in her grief, just after Humbert considered murder by way of the late Mr. Haze’s pistol.

Humbert visits Camp Climax to pick up Lolita, telling her that mother is simply sick and they will go to the hospital to see her. They end up at a hotel in the same room with a single bed because of a police convention. Humbert goes off to see if he can find a cot to sleep on, even though it’s clear he would prefer not to. This is followed by one of the best scenes in the movie, where a untowardly stranger acts like he is a policeman and keeps bringing up how he considers Humbert to be “normal” in a way that makes Humbert nervous about what he is contemplating in his relationship with Lolita. We know the man from earlier in the movie: he is Quilty.

The scene is amazing because of it’s randomness, and because it sets up the relationship Humbert has with his eventual nemesis quite well. Humbert makes it back up to the room just as a cot is being delivered, so they don’t sleep in the same bed. It doesn’t take long for them to start their sexual relationship, however, as it is intimated that they have sex the next morning. This is one of the areas where I wish the film was more explicit because I think it would have been more striking. As it was the film was already dealing with censorship issues because it was shot in the early 60s and dealt with the touchy subject of a sexual relationship between a young teenager and a much older man, so that’s probably asking too much.

Humbert and Lolita continue the relationship, although it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The best scene in the film comes when Quilty shows up again, this time playing a German psychologist from the school. The scene foreshadow’s Sellers’ performance in the future Dr. Strangelove and it is wonderful for that alone. Quilty is there to convince Humbert to allow Lolita to perform in the school play as an extracurricular activity. He threatens to have a team of psychologists come to the home to address the “issues” that young Lolita is having, so Humbert acquiesces.

As it turns out, Quilty is producing the play and just wants to have time with Lolita so he can have his own tryst with her. The rest of the movie leads us back to the first scene, where Humbert murders Quilty because of the “improper” relationship he had with Lolita. It’s quite the sarcastic twist, considering the relationship between Humbert and Lolita.

Lolita is a hilarious and dark look at teenage sexuality and middle-age lust. I highly recommend it, especially if you enjoy Kubrick for his wonderful cinematography and photographic eye. Lolita rates 9 out of 10 stars. You can buy Lolita on Amazon if you want to start or add to your Kubrick collection.

Other movies I saw this week: