Archive for the ‘For Fun’ Category

Three Publishers, Three Books, One Cover


Five Essential Books for Christians?

I’m trying to get some thoughts going for a little thingy I’m working on, and it involves this question: What five books, besides the Bible, do you think every Christian ought to have on his or her bookshelf (and to have read, not just to look smart). I have my starting points, but I want to know what others think they should be. Naturally, it could be anything, but try to be realistic, so try to choose books that are comprehensible to the ordinary layperson (which isn’t to say they can’t be challenging).

So. Five essential books for the Christian. Go.

My Scale Model of the Sears Tower (With Pictures!)


Ever since I went up the Sears Tower two summers ago, I’ve been fascinated by the architectural design of the thing. It’s built with what is called a bundled-tube structure, and consequently it usually appears asymmetrical when you look at it from the side. But it’s built in a series of phases that are all perfectly symmetrical, except for the very top and narrowest phase (which, I learned on the Wikipedia page, causes it to lean 10 cm from vertical).

So ever since we got Charlie some Duplo Lego blocks for his birthday, I’ve often tried to hurriedly make a model of the Sears Tower before he can knock it over or start adding blocks that made it look like abstract art. But it never looked quite right, and I wasn’t sure why. It bothered me more and more; I would even think about it lying in bed at night. How did all those bundled tubes fit together? How many were there? Which ones went how high? Finally I’d had enough and resolved one afternoon to do it right. A quick Google search quickly turned up this extremely helpful schematic.


As you can see from the A-A, B-B, C-C, and D-D grids down the left-hand side, it turns out to be somewhat simple to build with Duplo Lego building blocks, each of the nine squares being composed of one two-by-two Duplo block. But then I was sure we wouldn’t have enough blocks to finish a three-dimensional scale model, so after supper Jess and I took Charlie for a surprise visit to Toys R Us to buy “him” some new Legos. Then we got home and put Charlie to bed so I could commence playing with his toys for the rest of the evening.

I decided to build each phase with a different color, which solved the problem of not having enough of one color to make it look uniform, and it highlighted the four phases, making it easier to see how the tower is actually built. So what follows is a stage-by-stage pictorial, with my comments along the way.

Phase 1 (A-A in the schematic above):


Not very exciting, I know, but there you go. Even with the extra Legos, I didn’t have enough regular greens. All the middle pieces (not visible) are orange and black, and as you can see there are some blocks mixed in that we call “puke green.” (Charlie has picked up on this, calling them “poo gee”).

Phases 1 & 2 (A-A + B-B):img_0014 Phases two and three (B-B and C-C) are actually a little more complicated to build than it looks, but I’m not going to bother explaining why.

Phases 1, 2, & 3 (A-A + B-B + C-C):


Then it’s just a matter of plunking on four blue bricks, and voila! Sears Tower.

Phases 1, 2, 3, & 4 (A-A + B-B + C-C + D-D):


The colors in the final product are a little misleading in terms of design, because each of the nine squares is built as a single tube that goes all the way to the ground, but this at least highlights the various shapes that emerge out of the whole and makes clear why its shape is somewhat disorienting when looked at from the ground. The proportions of each stage (i.e., the “number of floors”) are also a little off because of block shortages and the fact that Duplo blocks are so large. But hey, Sears Tower.

It lasted three days before Charlie destroyed it.

Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

I reproduce these here for your enjoyment:

Dad always thought laughter was the best medicine, which I guess is why
several of us died of tuberculosis.

Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself:
"Mankind." Basically it's made of two seperate words-"mank" and "ind." What
do these words mean? It's a mystery, and that's why so is mankind.

I hope if dogs ever take over the world, and they choose a king, they don't
just go by size, because I bet there are some Chiuahuas with good ideas.

It takes a big man to cry, but a bigger man to laugh at that man.

I guess we were all guilty, in a way. We all shot him. We all skinned him. We
all got a complimentary bumper sticker that said,"I helped skin Bob."

I bet the main reason the police keep people away from a plane crash is they
don't want anybody walking in and lying down in the crash stuff, then, when
somebody comes by, act like they just woke up and go,"What was THAT?!"

The face of a child says it all, especially the mouth part of the face.

Ambition is like a frog sitting on Venus FlyTrap. The flytrap can bite and
bite, but it won't bother the frog because it only has little tiny plant
teeth. But some other stuff could happen and it could be like ambition.

I'd rather be rich than stupid.

If you were a poor Indian with no weapons, and a bunch of Conquistadors came
up to you and asked where the gold was, I don't think it would be a good idea
to say, "I swallowed it. So sue me."

If you define cowardice as running away at the the first sight of danger,
screaming and tripping and begging for mercy, then yes, Mr.Brave man, I guess
I'm a coward.

I bet one legend that keeps returning throughout history, in every culture,
is the story of Popeye.

When you go to a job interview, I think it's a good idea to ask if they ever
press charges.

To me, boxing is like a ballet, except there is no music, no choreography,
and the dancers hit each other.

What is it that makes a complete stranger dive into an icy river and save a 
solid gold baby? Maybe we'll never know.

We tend to scoff at the beliefs of the ancients. But we can't scoff at them
personally, to their faces, and this is what annoys me.

Probably the earliest flyswatters were nothing more than some sort of
striking surface attached to the end of a long stick.

I think someone should have had the decency to tell me the luncheon was free.
To make someone run out with potato salad in his hand, pretending he's
throwing up, is not what I call hospitality.

To me, clowns aren't funny. In fact they're kind of scary. I've wondered
where this started and I think it goes back to the time I went to the circus,
and a clown killed my dad.

As I bit into the nectarine, it had a crisp juiciness about it that was very
pleasurable--until I realized that it wasn't a nectarine at all, but

Most people don't realize that large pieces of coral, which have been painted
brown and attached to the skull by common screws can make a child look like a

If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We 
might, if they screamed all the time for no good reason.

Better not take a dog on the space shuttle, because if he sticks his head out
when you're coming home his face might burn up.

You know what would make a good story? Something about a clown who makes
people happy, but inside he's real sad. Also he has severe diarrhea.

Sometimes, when I feel like killing someone, I do a little trick to calm
myself down. I'll go over to the person's house and ring the doorbell. When
the person comes to the door, I'm gone, but you know what I've left on the
porch? A jack-o-lantern with a knife stuck in the side of it's head with a
note that says,"you". After that I usually feel a lot better, and no harm

If you ever teach yodeling class, probably the hardest thing is to keep
students from just trying to yodel right off. You see, we build to that.

If you ever fall off the Sears Tower, just go real limp, because maybe you'll
look like a dummy and people will try to catch you because, hey, free dummy.

Anytime I see something screech across a room and latch onto someone's neck,
and the guy screams and tries to get it off, I have to laugh because-
What IS that thing?

The memories of my family outings are still a source of strength to me. I
remember we'd all pile into the car--I forgot what kind it was--and drive and
drive. I'm not sure where we'd go, but I think there were some trees there.
The smell of something was strong as we played whatever sport we played. I
remember a bigger, older guy we called "Dad". We'd eat some stuff, or not,
and then I think we went home. I guess some things never leave you.

If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is "God
is crying." And if he asks why he is crying, another cute thing to tell him 
is "probably something you did."

Contrary to what most people say, the most dangerous animal in the world is
not the lion or the tiger or even the elephant. It's a shark riding on the 
elephant's back, just trampling and eating everything they see.

As we were driving, we saw a sign that said "Watch for Rocks." Marta said it
should read "Watch for Pretty Rocks." I told her she should write in her 
suggestion to the highway department, but she started saying it was a joke-
just to get out of writing a simple letter! And I thought I was lazy!

One thing kids like is to be tricked. For instance, I was going to take my
little nephew to Disneyland, but instead I drove him to an old burned-out
warehouse. "Oh no," I said, "Disneyland burned down." He cried, and cried,
but I think deep down, he thought it was a good pretty good joke. I started
to drive to the real Disneyland, but it was getting pretty late.

If you saw two guys named Hambone and Flippy, which one would you think liked
dolphins the most? I'd say Flippy, wouldn't you? You'd be wrong though it's 

Laurie got offended when I'd used the word "puke". But to me, that's what her
dinner tasted like.

We used to laugh at Grandpa when he'd head off and go fishing. But we wouldn't 
be laughing when he'd come back with some whore he picked up in town.

I wish a robot would get elected president. That way, when he came to town,
we could all take a shot at him and not feel too bad.

As the evening sky faded from a salmon color to a sort of a flint gray, I 
thought back to the salmon I had caught that morining, and how gray he was,
and how I named him Flint.

If you're a young mafia gangster out on your first date, I bet it's real 
embarrassing if someone tries to kill you.

Whenever I see an old lady slip and fall on a wet sidewalk, my first instinct
is to laugh. But then I think, what if I was an ant, and she fell on me? Then
I wouldn't think it was so funny.

If you go parachuting, and your parachute won't open, and your friends are
all watching you fall, I think a funny gag would be to pretend you were 

When I was a kid, our favorite relative was Uncle Caveman. After school we'd
all go play in his cave, and every once in a while, he'd eat one of us. It
wasn't until later that we found out that Uncle Caveman was a bear.

That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, the happy highways where I went and cannot come again.


Taken Saturday in Vancouver. Now I am in back in Starbuckia. The title of this post is a quote from A. E. Housman.

Dear Awesome Levi, You Are Awesome. Thank You for Being Awesome.

Yesterday I received in the mail a very fun surprise indeed. A package from my friend Levi Simpson showed up in our mailbox. When I opened it I found, tightly shrink wrapped, the book Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon. Levi has known of my lurve for Chabon for awhile, and he had found it on sale and thought of me.

Let me enumerate the ways in which Levi has—in an act of almost sheer clairvoyance—anticipated my very thoughts:

  1. I have given a heavy, wistful sigh many times with this very book in mind since writing this post (about deciding not to buy any books for a year) .
  2. I have checked it out twice from the library but have only read snatches of it here and there. I actually had it checked out the day Levi’s copy came in the mail. Every snatch I had read left me aching with desire to read more (when I had more time to digest it), and I had resolved to own it some day.
  3. But the paperback is coming out soon, and I was afraid the beautiful hardcover editions would disappear from shelves and become more and more difficult to find as my year sans book-buying wore on.
  4. This book been at the top of my Amazon wishlist for quite some time.
  5. It is one of the handsomest books ever. It’s published by McSweeney’s, a company that almost always makes very nice books. As I was looking for photos of the book to share on this blog, I stumbled across this blog, which describes the book as follows (I swiped the nice three-part photo from the same place):

The treatment [of the book’s design] is really elaborate and luscious, an object lesson in making the physical book into a piece of genuine desiderata, an artifact you want to own as well as read. The black cloth wraps around the hardcover jacket with debossing and foil. Then there are three bellybands with Jordan Crane’s illustrations.

The fact that there are three fully illustrated layers, two of which will never see the light of day unless somebody takes time to peel each layer off, speaks volumes about the artistry that went into it. It’s hard to imagine the motivation for designing and illustrating the jacket was to sell books. It’s simply there to make a beautiful object.

So thanks, Levi! I doubt you knew how much you’d be doing with one little gesture, but it meant a lot. Cheers, my friend!


Heavy Metal Band Name Flow Chart, or, The Coolest Thing I Have Seen This Year So Far


From here via here. (Click image for full size.)

My Year in Books

About a week ago I did something unprecedented in my life. I instituted for myself a one-year book-buying moratorium.

I told myself I would never do this.

But for several reasons it seemed like the best thing to do. For one, I’ve bought many books in the past year that were both very expensive and that I want very much to read. And even with my extremely limited book-buying budget, I can still buy much faster than I can read them. For two, every time I passed the section of my bookshelves that housed all my recently purchased to-read books, I wanted to read them all at once. But as the year wore on, the larger that section of the shelf got. (This of course is the perennial problem for any book lover and one that I myself have actually refused to acknowledge as a problem in the past, but read on, dear friends, read on!) The tipping point came this Christmas when I glutted myself at Eighth Day Books, as I often do when I visit my home in Kansas. Now the section of my shelf that I wanted to get to immediately was simply overwhelming; the very top, the burning edge, of my to-read list kept getting larger and larger. The books I had bought over a year ago and simply just meant to get to some time I would never get to at the rate I was going. I had reached a sort of critical mass, if you will. (Actually, that is exactly what I had reached: a critical mass. That is the perfect term for it.) I needed a plan.

Hence the book-buying moratorium. Not only did I now have in my possession every book that I really wanted to read, I felt I also needed to prove to myself that I did indeed want to read books more than I wanted to buy them. And for me that meant hunkering down for at least a year and tucking in.

So a week or so ago I pulled off all the books on my bookshelves that I had bought and not read in the past five or so years, piled them in front of the couch, and opened an Excel spreadsheet.

By far the three categories that I read the most are: fiction, historical or patristic theology, and dogmatic or culturally oriented theology. (There are others, but these form the backbone.) So throughout 2009 I will generally be cycling through three books per month, one from each category. This is soothing to me, as writing down lists of overwhelming things often is. The void has been circumscribed, the unnecessary cordoned into oblivion. (I’ve been reading Cormac McCarthy lately.) I typically just read whatever suits my whimsy at the time, but as I’ve pointed out, that was resulting in a lot of bucks spent at the bookstore and a lot of unread books. So now when my recently purchased books call out to me from the shelf, I say to them, “Don’t worry! You are scheduled for March. Not too long!”

Not that whimsy is all bad, mind you. Whimsy got me through all the major works of Dostoevsky in 2008, so I’m not complaining. But this is what the moment calls for. So in the fiction deparment this year I’ll be reading a lot of Michael Chabon, among others. And in the theology department I’ll be spending most of my time in the fourth century with Nicene theologians, a good bit with the Byzantines in the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries, and then on to some Thomists near the end of the year.

Of course none of it will work out like this, but it feels good at least to have a plan.

The Best Book Title of the Year

Goes to

Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics, and Essences; With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory

by Roy Blount Jr.

from the fine folks at FSG

What I Want to Be Like When I Grow Up

Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading (pic from here)