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Finished: Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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Just completed Lord of the Flies by William Golding which I vaguely remember reading when I was in high school.  My recollection was that I had found the book interesting, but not wildly so, and that I was a bit startled by the idea that supposedly civilized human beings would devolve into an anarchist, thrill-for-the moment state.

Now in my early 40s, I'm not quite so naive.

The theme itself was still fascinating.  I thought perhaps the execution was a bit heavy-handed, though.  Golding tries too hard to include symbols and metaphors rather than allowing them to more naturally and more subtly unfold.

I found the reading to be rather a difficult slog, perhaps due to my own reading laziness.  Too much description for me.  I also had a hard time trying to determine who was speaking in much of the dialogue.

While I'll never forget the last two or three pages, I found it strange that I completely mis-remember most of the events in the last half of the book.  I didn't recall Simon as a character at all and I seemed to have merged Simon's and Piggy's fate in my memory.

One poignant comment was made at the end of the novel where the naval officer mistakes the paint and the hunt for the more idyllic life in The Coral Island, a 19th Century novel by R.M. Ballantyne, which I loved as a kid.  (Ah, the breadfruit tree!)

I know. Jolly good show. Like The Coral Island.
2 1/2 out of 5 stars

Finished: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

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Benjamin Franklin's autobiography was an unusual treat; I really didn't know what to expect when I chose to read it next from the Essential Man's Library listing.

I found much of the work to be surprisingly folksy and witty in tone.  And, it is certainly different from biographies written today both in its relative informality and its more episodic nature, rather than attempting to fill in periods of Franklin's entire life.  In fact, some of the most "famous" stories today, such as flying the kite in a thunderstorm are merely glossed over.  Franklin's work on the formative documents of the American founding and the Revolution aren't even mentioned (it appears that the autobiographical work was left uncompleted).

Franklin was certainly a charismatic, creative, and energetic man.  In spite of his forethought (lending libraries, firefighter unions, scientific method, etc), he was also a product of his time.  For example, although he argues that women should be educated, he asserts that this would permit a widow to keep her husband's business running until her son could take over.  Becoming an abolitionist later in life, he repeats a bawdy joke about slavery and "blacking" the Quakers.

Perhaps the most insightful quote I read was:

"If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix'd in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error."


I am considering having this quotation printed up and posted near my computer at work to remind me not to be inflexible, but to consider openly and fully what others tell me, and then make an informed decision


For me, the earlier portions of the book were more interesting than the rather tedious legislative machinations and the building of a militia stockade in the third and fourth sections.

3 1/2 stars out of 5

Finished: The Odyssey by Homer

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I thought I had read The Odyssey when I was in high school.  Having just finished it, I realize that I knew the plot and the various exciting adventures of Odysseus from reading tons of mythology when I was a kid, but I had never actually read the epic itself.

The version I listened to was translated by Robert Fagles (who was the translator for the Aeneid we used in my Latin language class) and was read by Ian McKellen.  The translation was smooth and very readable, but yet still seemed to have the classical verse feel.  I generally dislike reading these classics in verse form since the line breaks interrupt the flow of the thought for me; it is intensely worse if in rhyming verse (which this was not).  But having GANDALF read the lines, easily tripping from his tongue, was wonderful.

Back to the content, a few thoughts:
  • The Telemachus' frame story was much more rich and lengthy than I had imagined.
  • Many times, Homer alludes to the actions of the gods and goddesses in ways that could easily be attributed to chance, to natural events, and to "inspiration".  I found this to be very charming.  I was also  intrigued by the repeated references to Athena transforming Odysseus, Laertes, and Telemachus into taller, more robust, more noble men.
  • One tiresome image was the repetition the break of day as "Dawn with her rosy fingers".  I suppose that this might be a literary devise when reciting the epic, but its unvarying wording became grating a bit.
  • The actual adventures were rather short episodes in the story:  Calypso, Circe, the Lotus-Eaters, the Cyclops Polyphemus, the winds of Aeolus, the Sirens, and Scylla and Charybdis.  The vast share of the story is about Telemachus's search for news of his father and the events after Odysseus lands on his home shores of Ithaca.
  • My image of Odysseus' vaunted loyalty to his wife and his neverending desire to return to her was a bit tarnished, since he clearly has a physical relationship with Calypso and Circe (albeit pressed to it by the power of these women) and his untrusting testing of Penelope.
  • I was enthralled by the cast of commoners (the pig herder, the housekeeper) who truly exemplify some of the most noble character in the book.  I wonder if this was unusual for the time period?

Complete: Build a regular team meeting schedule (6 months)

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As of the end of June, we've had a weekly standing meeting for more than 6 months, although I've had to cancel a few here and there.  Now just to make them even more effective!

Complete: Connect iPod directly to car stereo rather than FM frequency

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I love to listen to audio books in the car, even if it is just a short trip across town.  In the long ago past, I listened to audio cassettes and CD's which gave good quality through the stereo system.  With the advent of the iPod, I had a better method for transporting the audios, but the quality deteriorated.  Although I eventually found a good FM Transmitter, it was still a pain to have to constantly change the station even just driving across town.

So, I left this project rather vague, because there were a number of ways to handle it:  some new technology, replacing the stereo in my car, or buying a new car.

The latter turned out to happen first.  I purchased a new-to-me car that has an auxiliary output for the iPod.  Obviously didn't replace my car for the iPod, but it knocks off another item from my list.  Sweet!

Complete: Work as poll worker in an election

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This project turned out to be surprisingly easy, particularly since it seems that volunteers in my county are actively sought.  I think one of the largest drawbacks for getting volunteers is that it would require younger members of the electorate to take an entire day off work -- who wants to use up a vacation day to participate in the election process?  Um, me.

My first opportunity was the primary held on June 8th, 2010 which for my precinct had two major races:  the Republican selection for the gubernatorial candidate and the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Charles Grassley.

Some random comments about my experience:

  • Found it quite interesting (and gratifying) to find out that US election rules require precinct election officials (PEOs) to have training before each election.  I found that the two most important items were that (1) no person can be turned away if they insist on voting -- there's always the option to cast a provisional ballot which can be reviewed later by the county auditor's office and (2) once a ballot is in the hands of the voter, a PEO must avoid looking at or even touching it to preserve the privacy and validity of the vote.
  • The other PEOs were fun to work with, especially over the long day.  We were at the site at 6am and left about 10pm.
  • The election computer application was a new feature for a primary/general election.  I'm not sure how the precinct workers were able to effectively work through complicated registrations and check enrollment in the past.

The program was apparently designed by programmers in Cerro Gordo county and was built with every possible scenario.  This was key since we actually had virtually every scenario at our polling place:  inactive voter where we needed to validate residency, new voter registration, address changes, name changes, wrong polling locations, voter living in a car, etc.  Each situation was presented step-by-step to ensure that the proper procedures were followed, the right documentation was received and recorded, and that the voter him/herself was respected throughout.  The only situation that did not occur at our site was a convicted felon who had lost his/her voting rights.

Associated with the computer program was a labeler which printed out the required information which could be attached the various forms (voter registration, voter attestation, etc.) for record keeping and so that the voter did not have to write out the information themselves.  Very slick.

    •  Poll watchers -- this was a new concept for me, one which seemed a in some of their possible roles, but apparently normal and legal. 
    So apparently poll watchers can be appointed by a party or candidate to observe the election process (OK), challenge a voter's qualifications (OK), and look at eligibility slips and write down names of people who have or have not voted (Hmmm).  They can't interfere, provide candidate information, touch ballots, etc, which makes sense.

    As described to me, in our county, especially in the more rural areas for close elections, these poll watchers may want to get-out-the-vote for close elections.

    A new feature enabled by the computers this year was the ability for the county auditor to collect counts of registered voters who had and had not voted via a thumb-drive at each polling place (securely) and then provide that information to the poll workers back at the county auditor's office.  Providing this information in this fashion would limit the amount of "annoyance factor" of the poll watcher (who could legally be there) and, in fact, they wouldn't need to be at the polling place at all, unless challenges or general observation was required.

      •  It was amazing to me how many voters were registering to vote that day, had name changes, had just moved into the precinct, or had moved within the precinct.
      • I was surprised that several people really didn't understand the concept of the primary.  Yes, you only get a ballot for the party you declared.  Yes, you can declare a different party on the day of the primary.  No, you can't vote for both Republican and Democratic candidates on the same ballot.
      •  I was extremely disappointed in my precinct's turnout.  Only 234 registered voters out of approximately 3,300 voted.  Sigh. 

        I plan to work the general election in the fall.  Look forward to seeing the turnout.

        Current Status

        Start Date: July 11, 2009
        End Date:
        April 7, 2012

        16/101 completed