September 2016 - Reading List

The year is coming to a close. We are now in the last quarter with fall quickly coming up upon us. For the past couple of years I have really enjoyed reading one of the Harry Potter books during the late fall, early holiday season. I have read the first four books, so I am just starting to now make the turn into the darker side of the series. That also means that the series starts to get a bit longer as we move on. 

I have had an opportunity to read a lot of books this year, especially since I have taken advantage of my library's audiobooks. I can't say though that anything has really captured me with the exception of Ancillary Justice. The collection of Nebula Award short stories was extremely good and I truly enjoyed the Last Wish, which I just finished a few weeks ago. 

I am currently reading an indie book called Render. It is the follow up with Shatter, which caught me by surprised a few years ago. I am hoping to wrap up some series that I have had hanging out there for a while now before diving deep into any new long standing series. I really want to get the Malayan series wrapped up soon as well, since that one only has a couple of books left in the main series. 

I am struggling so far with Render since I cannot remember pretty much who any of the characters are. One of the troubles of reading a follow up series so many months later. Since it is an indie book, I have also been unable to fins a synopsis online to refresh my memory. It has been a struggle thus far to get into the book. 

I am hoping I might be able to knock out two more books before the end of the year. 

New Album: Songs of the Solar Empire


I'm proud to announce the release of my latest album. It has been four years since I last released an album and a lot of work has gone into this latest work. The music here is once again an eclectic mix of tracks ranging from ambient to techno to even dance. The opening track, "Lowered Fog" was featured on the Ambient Collective vol. 5 compilation about a year ago. 

Once again, all of the songs were composed on this album utilizing only hardware. After taking some time off to look at new synthesizers I picked up a Waldorf Blofeld for leads and pads and also complemented by Korg EA-1 with a Tech 21 Flyrig 5 to give it a grittier sound. I think those new sounds come across nicely in the tracks.  

All of the tracks were recorded in 24-bit audio and you can download all of the tracks from bandcamp in lossless audio. This is the best sounding album I believe I have ever done. 

So please enjoy, and share. 

Ridelog: South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado

About two weeks ago I had the opportunity to do another great summer trip on my motorcycle with some friends from MEWS. Last year we went to the southeast and hit up the Tail of the Dragon, among other roads. This year we went west and went to the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Rocky Mountain National Park and more. The weather was unpredictable ranging from 102.2 degrees fahrenheit to 40 degrees and raining.

So, let's see how the trip went. 

Biking Barrington Hills

The weather was great this weekend and Megan and I took the opportunity to do another ride from our "Biking Illinois" book. This time we hit up Barrington Hills, which is a well known biking area in Illinois. Lots of really quiet country roads nestled in with horse farms. It is quite a picturesque area. 

The ride worked out that we were also heading up to the parents and in-laws places for an afternoon grill out so this was on the way. The ride was a ton of fun and I would love to head back to this area in the fall when the leaves change. Megan had some difficulties with the hills. We did end up cutting our ride a few miles short since she also got a flat tire near the southern end of the ride. We literally had just left a small ret area in the DuPage Forest Preserve when she got the flat. We were a mile away, but the road we were on had forest preserve on either side of us and almost no shoulder. We changed the flat there, but my small bike pump couldn't pump the tire back up to the 110 psi she needed for her bike. We got her back up to around 55 psi and worked our way back north on Old Sutton Road. 


Ridelog - August 6th, 2016: Wisconsin and Cave of the Mounds


I had an amazing ride this past Saturday with a group of friends. Celebrating one of the member's birthday we did a ride starting from Park Ridge going up into Wisconsin and seeing the Cave of the Mounds. It was a great route through Wisconsin country roads and the weather could not have been better in the low 80's. 

We took most of our morning ride up through Wisconsin and arrived at the Cave of the Mounds to check it out. It is a small cave located just west of Mt. Horeb. After getting there and seeing the price and how crowded the cave was we opted not to go in the cave itself. We enjoyed the grounds for about an hour before hopping back on the bikes for another ride before doing lunch at the Grumpy Troll.

The Grumpy Troll is pretty much as staple for lunch stops up in this area. It is a small brew pub that has all of your standard bar fare, including Wisconsin cheese. We left the area around 3:30 and made our way back home. 

I didn't get back in until close to 7:00. It was a long day. Close to 400 miles for me since I had to ride up from Bolingbrook. 

Writing Prompt: Your father left 20 years ago...Today he comes home...and the first thing he says to you is "You're never going to believe what happened."

Below is a short narrative I wrote from the sub-reddit "Writing Prompts". It is a sub where a topic is posted and users post a story that comes to their mind. This is what sprang to my mind. Below is the topic. 

[WP] Your father left 20 years ago the night before your birthday to get Cigarettes, Milk, and Bread. Today he comes home with long bedraggled hair, weather beaten skin, and a sword on his hip. The first thing he says to you is "You're never going to believe what happened."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"I’ll be right outside if you need me,” said Private first class Jennifer Mutin before she turned away from me. I turned my attention back to the room and the door slid closed behind me and I found myself alone. 

The air smelled stale and cold and the room had no furniture. The walls were sparse, only covered with the steel panels from the inner ship hull. The floor was a brushed steel plate and my freshly polished boots contrasted starkly against the stainless steel. I took a long deep breath before I had the courage to look up from the floor to the center of the room, where I knew I would fine him. When my eyes finally saw him I had to choke back the tears. I steadied myself, straightened my uniform and then stepped towards the center of the room. 

Cast in a single spot light lay my father. Dressed in his marine blues, his body was draped with the flag of the marine corps. His arms were folded across his chest with white gloves holding a silver ceremonial sword. My eyes moved from the flag up to his face. It was dark, tanned and he had long curls of hair cast around either side. He looked exactly how I remembered him all those years ago. Is that what faster than light travel did? 

From my uniform I pulled out an envelope with a wax seal and my name on it.  “Marcus” was written in pencil on one side and on the other was a green seal stamped with the letter “R” for Robert. I had received the letter just that morning. It was hand delivered to me with the instruction not to open it until I saw my father. 

I hesitated before opening the letter, but broke the wax seal and then unfolded the paper inside. 

Marcus, 

You are never going to believe what happened, but i need you to trust me. What I am about to tell you now will determine if you ever see me or anyone again. It must be close to twenty years in your time since you last saw me. For that I am sorry, but it has only been a few months since I have left you and your mother. I hope she is doing well. 

That night, on March 26th, when I left the house to get milk and bread, something extraordinary occurred. Humanity finally made contact, or rather contact finally touched humanity. I was there and I went with them. I am still with them. But there is something dangerous out here in the deep of space and it is coming. It has taken notice for humanity.

Please believe me that I need your help. From here on out you cannot trust anyone. They know that I am going to try and get in touch with you. I need you to follow my instructions precisely. 

After you read this letter proceed immediately to the spaceport at NYC13. I have made arrangements to get you more information there. 

Please be safe, and remember do not trust anyone. 

Love, 
Dad. 

I lowered my hands and stared in astonishment at his body lying on the table. Was this some sort of joke? Had my father gone mad before his death? The official report stated that his death was classified. I had not seen my father in twenty years and then suddenly two days ago I received communications from the naval intelligence office stating that he had been killed in the line of duty. Questions were swirling in my mind and I looked from the letter back to my father lying on the table in front of me. What did this letter even mean? What did he mean “if you ever see me again?"

Before I could even think, the door to the room opened and I turned to see Private First Class Mutin standing in the doorway, only this time she was accompanied by two military police. 

“Ensign Caldwell. You need to come with me."

Germany - Day 6

Alright, we are rested and refreshed any ready to take out a full day of Berlin. Breakfast at our hotel was nice and got us going for the day. 

Our first trip for the day was to walk the Eastside Gallerry, which is a section of the Berlin Wall, which was still up. From there we followed the wall route to the heart of the city where we checked out Check Point Charlie and some other attractions. Even by 9:00 am the heat was almost unbearable. I just couldn't believe how hot it was outside and being in the sun for any extended periods was really uncomfortable. 

It was on our walk of the wall that we came across a section of Berlin that we really felt uncomfortable in. I am unsure if it is a section of gypsies, refugees or just a poor area of foreigners, but we walked upon a two block area that appear to have some slum apartments. Lined up and down the street were RV's, just tons of them with people living in them. As we walked by there were two men on a bench who said "English". We continued on our way out of that area without lingering. 

We then made it to Check Point Charlie before continuing onto the Topographie des Terrors. I was surprised at how much a tourist trap the checkpoint was. The crowds were intense for a street that was still opened to traffic and there were actors dressed as American soldiers standing around the checkpoint who were willing to take a photo and "stamp your passport" for $5 or so. Sort of disappointed with that. 

The Topographie des Terrors though was something entirely different. A free museum, it is built upon the site where the SS headquarters used to be. A portion of the old foundation is excavated outside the building and with it were story boards explaining the rise of the Nazi party. Inside the museum there is a chronicle, in no hesitation, of the horrors that the Nazi party committed during their reign. It was an impressive museum and fairly sobering. 


After the downtown area we hopped on the subway and headed across the city to visit the Charlottenburg Palace. Another impressive estate from German royalty. Unfortunately our camera died part way through the tour. We hit up lunch across the street at an Italian cafe  for some pasta before heading back to explore the palace grounds. 

Our last major stop for the day was to head up to the Olympic stadium from the 1932 Olympics. It is the last major piece of Nazi architecture that has survived in the city. A major storm hit right when we arrived, but we were able to get some good photos in between the downpours. 
And that is it. We finished up the day back near our hotel. We grabbed some burgers on the street and watched one of the UEFA cup games on TV's set out on the sidewalk. Megan bailed on me when I needed her translation skills for the shop vendor. He was middle-eastern and was speaking german to me. My bill was $15.08 and I could not understand that I needed eight cents for him. 

There was also an uncomfortable incident next to us where a drunk man sat down next to some ladies on the sidewalk while watching the game and he was very loud. The staff pushed him away. Good burgers though. 

The next day we left Berlin. Our trip back to the US took almost 24 hours. Our flight to Newark was delayed five hours from Berlin. Our flight then from Newark to Chicago was also delayed almost two hours. We arrived back in Chicago at 1:30 AM the next day, which was Monday. Brutal couldn't even begin to describe that flight.  Overall a great trip though.  
 

 

Germany - Day 5

Alright, so we made it to Berlin. It was incredibly hot outside, around 95 degrees. Once getting out of the train station we took the subway to the east side where our hotel was. First impressions were not that great and we sort of found ourselves in a pretty rough neighborhood , while taking a wrong turn getting to the hotel. There was broken glass and graffiti strewn about everywhere in the city. It was tough to tell if it was part of the artist neighborhood we were staying in or just a poor section of town.

After settling into our hotel, taking another shower and decompressing we headed out for the day around noon. We hit up the Berliner Dom, which is perhaps the largest church I have ever seen. We walked up to the top of the dome for an impressive view of the surrounding city. 

Next stop was to the Pergamon Museum, which showcases some amazing antiquities from the middle east. The most impressive part of it is probably the reconstruction of the Ishtar gate from the city of Babylon. The stone tables that they had one display were also incredibly detailed and really impressive. By this point we were both pretty tied and I actually found myself nodding off a couple of times while sitting on a bench in the museum. 

Our last stop for the day was to hit up the Brandenburg Gate. Unfortunately there was a sort of summer festival being setup behind it so we couldn't get very close. The US Embassy is located right next to it as well and there were lots of flowers out front in response to the night club shooting that had occurred a few weeks earlier. 

 Dinner was at schlesisch blau, which was a nice restaurant. I had fish and I cannot remember what Megan had. There was a huge summer salad though that came with four or five vinaigrette options. 

Germany - Day 4

Day four had us saying goodbye to our awesome apartment in Munich and catching a train to Nuremberg. We left our photos on the travel wall and hopped on the high speed train for about an 90 minute ride up to Nuremberg. 

What makes Nuremberg so unique are primarily two things. 1) the medieval old town portion of the city, which includes Albrecht Durer's house and the castle and the court house where the Nuremberg trials were held. The old portion of the city is filled with old stone buildings, including some very old stone cathedrals. It was amazing that just a few city blocks held three very large catholic cathedrals. 

More cathedrals and some lunch before we headed off to the Albrecht Durer's house and the castle. 

Albrecht Durer's house was a highlight of the city. Very cool inside. 

Next up was the old royal castle. Great medieval   style here compared to the rocco style seen in the other royal palaces. This is actually what I was expected most of the castles to look like inside. the castle also had a great history of the royal families and the politics around the Holy Roman Empire. 

Next step was the court room where the Nuremberg trials were held. There was a a nice museum attached to the court room, but by this time of the day we were pretty fired. It was hot, in the 90's during the day. 

We finished off the day at a toy museum and some dinner, before we began our true adventure back at the train station. 

I'll let my videos describe our adventure in the Nuremberg train station, but I will add that we ran into a heartbreaking individual while waiting for our trains around midnight in the station. While sitting on some benches waiting for our trains there was a young man sitting across from us. He asked us if we were American and then proceeded to ask how he could get to America. Through our conversations we found out he is Iraqi and he showed us his Iraq passport. He had been living in Germany for eleven years and he was unable to make a living there. He wanted to literally try and achieve the "American Dream". I didn't know what to tell the guy. He seemed so hopeless . The only advice I could give to him was to go online and goto the US State Department website to looking into what the immigration process might be.