Robert Gentel’s Blog

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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

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….

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!

Jazz Café in San Pedro, Costa Rica

March 12th, 2008

After dinner with friends last night we stopped for a drink at Jazz Café in San Pedro. It’s the only spot in San Jose to listen to Jazz that I know of, and the only Jazz bar I know of in Costa Rica to be honest.

In any case, Tuesday nights are their “Jam Session” nights and some locals were playing when we arrived. There was a drummer (whose drums were too loud) and a bassist (whose bass was too quiet), a pianist (who played clumsily) and a saxophonist (whose sax looked like a child’s sax and who had no lungs).

It was amateur hour but still fun, they were jamming away and their enthusiasm was fun to watch and the moment I wondered if they’d play my favorite (’Round Midnight) they started playing it. They butchered it, playing it too slowly, too soft and with bad timing on all parts but I was happy to hear someone play it live for the first time in ages and ages.

I sense an hour of ‘Round Midnight renditions coming on….

CNN: Spitzer used used call girls 8 times

March 12th, 2008

And the outrage continues as many wonder why he didn’t buy new….

This has to be the worst typo I’ve seen on CNN.

CNN: Spitzer used used call girls 8 times

Two Betta fish in the same tank

March 11th, 2008

Ok, so I have two “Siamese Fighting Fish” (a.k.a. “Betta” fish) at the moment, and I had one in a community tank and the other in a large vase. The community tank is a bit aggressive, there is a Red-finned shark that harasses a lot of the other fish. He hasn’t injured any fish that I know of, but he chases them when they come near the bottom of the tank.

With a large Angelfish keeping the fish at the top of the tank in check I figured I may have the right kind of crowd to make for a tank that can house two Betas in one tank. See, everyone “knows” that you can’t do this. The conventional wisdom is that they will “fight to the death. But in the wild, that is just not true, the weaker fish will usually flee. However in a small tank there is no opportunity to flee so the Bettas can actually kill each other.

In any case, the experiment seems to be working. They have both been in the community tank for a week now and the larger one only chases the smaller one for a second or two and they’ve not even touched. It’s a tentative peace, based on the smaller one being afraid enough and the larger one being uncomfortable enough around the red-finned shark and the angelfish. I don’t recommend it for novice aquarium keepers but for those with experience with difficult fish pairings and with a large tank with the right crowding and enough places to hide this can be done. They will chase each other briefly at most and have not fought.

Manuel Antonio (Quepos), Costa Rica

March 2nd, 2008

Ok, so on Friday we decided to go to the beach (Manuel Antonio, in Quepos)  on a whim and took our dog Harry.  He vomited a bit on the way (he gets motion sickness) but he enjoyed the trip and eagerly took in the sights.

It’s a long drive, several hours, and we left pretty late so we got to the beach at around 11 and started looking for a hotel. Luckily, one of the first hotels with vacancies said having a dog would be no problem so we checked in and all headed out to dinner.

Dinner proved to be more challenging, as it was now past midnight and most kitchens were closed. But we found a restaurant/bar whose kitchen was still open and their food was not bad at all. They had no problem with Harry (the tables are on a covered, but open, deck) so he joined us for dinner (from under the table).

Harry woke us up early the next day, and we checked out and headed for the beach. We had a quick breakfast at a beach side restaurant and then hit the sand. We rented some chairs and a big beach umbrella that were setup all across the beach and took orders from the various waiters serving drinks across the beach (that’s alone is one reason I prefer living outside the States) and drank beer while Harry discovered digging. He’d tried digging at home on a tiled surface but at the beach it actually worked and he frantically dug a fairly impressive hole. This kept him busy enough for us to relax until he saw a large rottweiler run into the surf and roll around in the water. Harry went nuts and challenged the dog to a duel. We had to hold him back as he barked and thrashed and tried to get loose to quote “kick the dogs ugly ass”.  He’s a Maltese and loses his fights with our not-yet-fully-grown cat so I played it safe and held him off the ground.

I rented a jet ski for an hour and spent some time circling some islands right outside of the national park (where I was not allowed to go) which was a lot of fun, and then we headed back. The trip back was in the daylight, and the two narrow rusting metal bridges you need to cross to get to Quepos looked even more derelict than at night. Thankfully, they are being replaced with new bridges and it shouldn’t take the 15 to 20 minutes it sometimes does to get across in the future.

In San Jose, I had a bit of bad luck and was stopped by a traffic police. I hadn’t renewed the “right to circulate” (kinda like registration) for the car yet and the cop played hardball saying he may have to take my license plates. He was, of course, expecting a bribe but I would rather not pay into their corruption (I think tolerance for corruption is a huge impediment to economic progress in developing countries) and he took them away and ticketed me. Now I’ll have to go through a lot of hoops and pay a lot of fines to get them back and since I don’t have time or patience to do so I’ll end up paying someone else to do it. He would have let me walk for 10 to 20 dollars, but now I’ll end up paying a couple hundred and not being able to drive my car a week or two and paying a lot in taxis. The good angel on my shoulder (as opposed to the lil’ demon who gives the bad advice)  is avoiding me because he knows I want to kill him right now.

But in any case, we got home and the cat hadn’t partied too hard in our absence so all is well.

P.S No, we didn’t go to the national park. I’ve already been several times and we’ll be back soon enough so we didn’t bother walking over to ask if Harry could go. Given his enthusiasm to confront the dogs, horses, and cows he saw it would have been funny to see his reaction to monkeys but that will have to wait till next time.

My kid brother had a baby!

February 24th, 2008

Or rather, his wife did. It’s small (hand-held) and stuff.


Mr Brooks and Shoes for Dogs

February 10th, 2008

The girl and I went to the mall today and saw Mr. Brooks. It was only marginally interesting in that it is a decidedly different moral perspective on serial killers than usual Hollywood fare. They usually don’t portray a nuanced serial killer and it’s the first film I recall in which the serial killer’s struggle to control his urges are center stage. But enough about that, I have something more interesting: dog shoes.

My girlfriend bought shoes for Harry. They are little blue sneakers that lace up and I was sure he’d kill himself if he had to wear them. But he didn’t mind them much and ran around sounding like a horse. I’ll post a video of him and his new kicks when I get around to it but he’s more comfortable than I imagined he would be.

But as I expected, he’s too boisterous to keep them on, if he’s energetic he’ll run till one falls off and if not he’ll untie them all and knaw on them. My girlfriend says they are for his weekly outings to the park but I think I’d be mortified to walk a dog with shoes on in public, even if I think it’s very funny in private.

How to reduce your smoking

February 8th, 2008

Ok, so working in my own company, Horizontal Verticals, means I get to smoke when I feel like. Since you can smoke in any bar and restaurant in Costa Rica and I can now smoke at work that has led me to smoke too much.

So here’s the plan (and I’m writing it here as much to remind myself to stick to it over the next few days as much as anything else):

- I am allowed to smoke only 5 minutes before or after the top or bottom of the hour. If I miss a window I am not allowed to make up for it.

Pretty easy. It keeps nicotine levels while separating smoking from other triggers and is an easy rule to keep. Later I’ll reduce it to the top of the hour only and from there I can get to the right number of cigarettes I want a day (not yet interested in quitting).