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Archive for April, 2008

TACA Airlines - One of the Worst Airlines I have done business with

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

I’ve traveled extensively in my life but never had to deal with an airline like TACA. The typical experience with TACA is unintelligible customer support (in their own language), a phone system that drops your calls when on hold or transferring at nearly a 50% rate and simply lazy incompetent staff.

Last trip I took with them (to Nicaragua) involved a checkin time of nearly an hour. That wasn’t an hour waiting in line or anything. It was nearly an hour at the desk waiting for them to get their asses out of their hands and get a simple, baggage-free checkin done. During that time the other 4 members of the staff huddled around one of their cell phones leaving the growing line behind us waiting the whole time as well.

Today I am calling TACA to pay for my tickets tomorrow. They tell me that I should pay over the phone because doing so at the airport would require arrival 4 hours before the flight. Now I’ve been calling them for about a week trying to pay them, but their credit card processing service is invariably off line and every time I’ve called so far they have dropped the call while transfering or holding, requiring me to start all over again.

This is the most ridiculous level of competence I’ve seen in an airline in all my life. A damn shame they don’t have enough competition in the region to make this change.

But if you can, avoid TACA!

Steven King’s Dreamcatcher

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

I don’t have a lot of options in way of reading material here in Costa Rica. The English-language literature sections usually comprise one or two shelves in the biggest bookstore chains. So I picked a familiar name in Steven King. I’m not a big King fan. I think he’s underestimated as a writer often but the typical King fare isn’t my bag. I liked the books I read in his Dark Tower series a lot and The Shining well enough and figured I’d give this Dreamcatcher a try. That it was long was part of the appeal, given that paperbacks are almost double the price here and at the rate I was reading I was on track to spend a couple hundred in books a month. I figured a nice long one would keep me busy a while so I picked it up.

This may well be the worst book I’ve ever read. And at nearly 900 pages it may have actually made me dumber. He could have done so well with it, he had great touches and I still maintain he is a great writer. But the alien invasion plot was just so incredibly stupid that nothing could make it a good book.

King is a good writer who needs someone (Tabitha?) to smack him upside his head when he gets a ridiculous idea like the “shit weasels”.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Last night I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It was a short read and went quickly. I thought it was odd how well so many know the basics of the Jekyll/Hyde concept but not the story. Till last night, myself included I might add.

I had expected a more evil Hyde, but it’s a positively mild evil everyone in the story is up in arms about and I suppose most of the horror in the tale is lost over time as the novelty of the concept and the specter of medical miracles of that nature no longer holds sway.

In any case, it was an unremarkable story for the most part. I wondered how it might be different if I didn’t know of Dr. Jekyll’s alter ego but there is nothing I could do about that. I thought the ending, with Dr. Lanyon’s involvement was a nice little part of the plot but to me the story really boils down to Henry Jekyll’s Full Statement of the Case, the final chapter.

In it, Jekyll touches on the good and the evil within all, and puts a much more personal face on a psychological struggle within himself. The story is the better for it because it neither invoked horror nor excitement and the deeply tortured individual is the most interesting thing going.

Reading the final chapter I wondered if the book would have been better to have left the transformation the potion causes more ambiguous, leaving open the possibility of madness of a more clinical, and less supernatural, cause for his dual personalities. I also wondered if Stevenson had intended any parallels to alcohol in the transformative potion, whether he had himself put much importance in the philosophy or psychology behind his story or whether he was simply spinning a tale of terror.

In any case, the correspondence between the three friends, Utterson, Jekyll and Lanyon was ultimately the more interesting part of the book. The narrative was dull given the inadequacy of the plot to me but the personal letters opened much more personal worlds and put a much more human face on the story.

What spooked those of yesteryear may have changed, but putting a human face on a story seems to be eternal. I liked Jekyll’s tortured explanation for his plight and the rest worked well enough as backstory building up to it.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Yesterday, I finished The Da Vinci Code. Having had an inordinately religious Childhood replete with a lot of conspiracy theories and contrarian views on organized religion and the Catholic church I had been mildly interested in the story for some time.

Mildly because it’s all a bit boring to me now and because the time for me to take religion personally has long come and gone. That this book made such a stir on these old favorite themes of mine was enough for me to want to read it someday, but on the other hand I thought it was trying to debunk beliefs I no longer cared much about.  So I never paid much attention to the hype and only bought it because it was one of the only English-language novels in the bookstore I had shopped at.

It turns out that it was very different than I had imagined. I had imagined a more antagonistic view of religion and didn’t know it also purported to be a thriller.  On the former I think it is for the better and as to the latter it reduced it to cheap Hollywood-esque fare for me.

I admired the very rich work with riddles, puzzles, twists and wordplay. I enjoyed the art and the history details, with all their embellishments, and I enjoyed the core concept of the Holy Grail and Mary Magdalene.

What ruined it for me was the modern setting for the conspiracy and the modern “fugitive movie” genre it reduced itself to. At no point in the plot could I stop questioning it’s idiocy and enjoy a decent suspension of disbelief. And as the plot unfolded it got progressively weaker.

I think the author might have known as much as well, he added backstory of the grandfather loving to play treasure hunts and riddles in what I see as pre-empting the readers’ notion that the novel’s plot is a childlike easter egg hunt trying to take itself seriously as an edge-of-your-seat thriller. But the twists he added at the end made it even weaker and the ending was anti-climatic and did more to simply tie down the ends of the plot than provide any climax.

The last novel I read, Michael Crichton’s State of Fear also couldn’t suspend disbelief for me in its own silly race around the globe. I wonder if my imagination has become old and brittle….

Spent the night with an old flame….

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

I just did something I haven’t done in ages. I read a book cover-to-cover last night. I grew up on books and read voraciously most of my life and I’m giddy because it’s like a long-lost love has returned.

My brother and I were taught to read as toddlers using flashcards, and then the “Peter and Jane” series of Ladybird books. We never stopped and the next thing we both devoured was the “Picture Bible”, the Bible in comic book format. By five and six we were reading newspaper articles without difficulty and moving on to literature.

We weren’t allowed to watch TV so reading was our only entertainment other than one movie a week. I’d usually read three or four books in a week, but sometimes as much as five or six. We weren’t allowed to have most books but we’d smuggle them around and read them as fast as we could before they were confiscated from us.

Some of my fondest memories are our secret book club. Until adulthood there might be a grand total of a dozen books that we didn’t both read within a week. Every book he read I read. It was my our TV, our school and our lives. My brother and I would read everywhere. In the bathroom, before bed, even when walking down the street.

Then came computers. I got my first computer around the year 2000, and was instantly addicted to all the instant information available online. I taught myself various web development technologies, and began to study academic subjects with the same voracity I had once had for literature.

This enlightened me on all sorts of subjects from technology and science to political science and law. I spent a lot of my time reading things like Able2Know and Wikipedia and for a short time I was even following every known online newspaper on a daily or weekly basis. I began to contribute information and publish websites and my reading of literature, and all “hardcopy” books, virtually ceased. I’d read at least 2 books a week from 2 till 20 but might have read 3 books in the following 8 years, and only because someone send me those books and I would have been terribly rude not to have read them.

But I decided to start reading before bed again. I don’t allow TV or computers in the bedroom and thought reading would be a nice way to fall asleep again. So I started with James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I didn’t choose the book, it was left in my apartment by a friend and it was the only book I had around.

I happened by a bookstore and picked up a novel by one of my favorite contemporary authors from my childhood, Michael Crichton. And I sat down and read it overnight. It’s not that good of a book (State of Fear), but I simply missed reading that much and I’ve already bought four more books: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a collection of Aesop’s Fables (I remember them all so I won’t read it, and it’s for my brand-new book collection), Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

State of Fear felt dated, and the suspension of disbelief was difficult at times but I’ll have more to say about it later (and it’s two core concepts). Right now, I am just happy to be back in love with books, I’ve missed them!