Last week I finished reading The Da Vinci Code, the second story in the Robert Langdon series of novels by author Dan Brown. I finished reading it right before Easter.
Taking place about a year after the events in Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code begins with the sudden murder of a museum curator in Paris, France. Specifically, the man murdered was Jacques Sauniere, the curator of the Louvre. He was shot in the abdomen by Silas, an albino Catholic monk. Before succumbing to death, Jacques positioned himself in a unique position designed to get the right kind of attention. He also left behind a note that included the line, “P.S. find Robert Langdon.”
Dan Brown — The Da Vinci Code
Thankfully, art historian and religious expert Robert Langdon is in Paris on a speaking tour, and that very evening he was scheduled to meet with Jacques, although Langdon didn’t know the specific reason why Jacques wanted to meet with him. He presumed it had to do with a new book that he was getting ready to publish.
Anyway, the French police quickly locate Langdon in a nearby hotel, and he’s taken to the Louvre to help examine the uniquely positioned body of the late museum curator. The police show him that Jacques also left behind other notes as well as a sequence of numbers. What it all means though is rather puzzling.
Police cryptographer Sophie Neveu arrives and she secretly tells Langdon that his life is in danger. She helps him ditch the police and sends them on a wild goose chase, allowing Sophie and Langdon privacy to examine the crime scene. It turns out that not only is Jacques Sophie’s estranged grandfather, but he was also the leader of a secret society. On top of that, he was known for his puzzles and riddles, and he frequently used words and phrases with double meanings. Read more…
You don’t know stress until you’re the general manager of a fast food restaurant that continually earns several million dollars each year on revenue, but is desperately understaffed and operates with an unreliable skeleton crew.
Late last summer my wife was finally promoted to the position of general manager after being a restaurant manager (a.k.a. assistant manager) for several years with her current company. The promotion initially sent her to a store located fifty miles away from home (yes, that’s fifty miles in each direction).
While the drive to and from that store was literally a pain in the ass (the hour-long commute was making her back problem worse), and the store was not only ancient but also in a bad part of a poor town, and homeless people used it as a place to hang out each day, she made it work. She cleaned the store, managed to find and hire decent workers, and the place improved. The store always had enough inventory in stock, the speed of service times improved, and business increased. Of course, that’s the pattern that she had already been setting whenever she was transferred to a new store.
So how does the company reward my wife’s performance after turning around the worst store in the district?
Why, they sent her to another store, of course! Read more…
Last week there was a news story about people filing a lawsuit against Wise Foods, claiming that the company is basically being deceitful and tricking customers into purchasing what they think is a large amount of potato chips.
Perhaps the real question here is, How much empty space is acceptable in a bag of potato chips?
We all know that bags of potato chips are never filled to the top of the bag. First, the air in the bag acts as a cushion and helps prevent the chips from being crushed. And second, chips settle and sink to the bottom of the bag, whether it happens at the food production plant, or during any phase of transportation all the way to your home. The more that you move and shake the bag, the further that the chips will settle towards the bottom.
Still, despite knowing that, it’s disappointing opening a large bag of chips only to see that more than half of the bag appears to be empty. This is a common problem with almost all manufacturers of chips, though some companies are worse with this problem than others.
We, the consumers, want to have an amount of chips in the bag that clearly reflects the bag’s size. So why is this such a problem today? Read more…
Last week I finished reading Angels & Demons, the first book in the Robert Langdon series of books written by Dan Brown.
Over ten years ago I got caught up in the craze and read The Da Vinci Code right before Hollywood made it into a movie. While I don’t remember the details of the book, I do remember that it was an interesting story and that I enjoyed it. After waiting for too long, I finally decided to go back and read this series of books, starting with the first one, Angels & Demons.
Dan Brown — Angels & Demons
Angels & Demons begins with the murder of one of the top scientists at the CERN research facility in Europe. Physicist Leonardo Vetra was brutally murdered and his chest was branded by a symbol once used by the Illuminati, a secret organization that waged war against the Catholic Church hundreds of years ago. To help him investigate the murder, CERN director Maximilian Kohler flies in Robert Langdon, an expert on artwork as well as religion and secret societies such as the Illuminati.
Langdon quickly discovers that the symbol is authentic, and that it appears that the Illuminati are back. Leonardo’s daughter Vittoria was called back to CERN after the discovery of her father’s murder. She arrives just as Langdon and Kohler are analyzing the Illuminati symbol. When the three of them examine Leonardo’s office, nothing seems out of place. Vittoria informs them that her father had a second laboratory at CERN, a place where she was helping him research antimatter. They access the second lab and discover that a canister containing antimatter is missing. Read more…
Back in late February I finished reading Journey Into Darkness, another set of brutal and horrific true crime stories from famed FBI Special Agent John Douglas. This book goes along with his previous book, Mindhunter.
Just like Mindhunter, Journey Into Darkness takes a look at a few bloody and brutal cases that John Douglas either worked on personally, or that he had heard about during his time with the FBI.
John Douglas & Mark Olshaker — Journey Into Darkness
This time around, authors John Douglas and Mark Olshaker seem to be generally focused with sex crimes and the murders that accompanied them. The book begins with a short story of a man abducting and killing a young lady in the Marine Corps, told from his point-of-view. We later learn that the story is what Douglas believes happened as he helped investigate the crime and placed himself in the killer’s shoes, searching for his motive and methods in an effort to later capture him.
Like in Mindhunter, Journey Into Darkness has several true crime cases. Most of these tend to showcase the murders of women and young children, and most of them were sexually assaulted as well. Some of it is quite graphic as we read about what monsters can do when they strike and release their rage. Read more…
Right now almost all of my time has been dedicated to my eBay store.
I’d rather not post a link to it just yet, but I’ve been successfully doing business on there for over a year and a half. My techniques have continually been adjusted as I’ve been learning from mistakes and learning how to do business better.
My store is a cliche with used clothing and basically “thrift store flipping” that so many people jump to when it comes to online selling. Selling clothing is fiercely competitive. It’s also critical to get the items as clean as possible as well as having great photos and accurate measurements.
On top of that, you also need to have low enough prices to encourage people to purchase from you. I’m pretty sure that some of my prices were actually so low that people bought from me and then re-listed the items in their own eBay store for higher prices.
One of my problems is that I have a limited area where I can store my clothing once it’s been cleaned, photographed and measured. Because of that, I’m listing and selling items for extremely low prices to keep my inventory moving. This creates a high-volume but low-profit environment. But it’s still income, and my business model works as I’ve got a source where I can purchase my inventory for ridiculously low prices. I can still make profits selling items as low as $1.99, and that’s including deducting the item cost, the PayPal fee, and eBay’s fee at the end of the month. Read more…
Last week I finished reading Cemetery Dance, the ninth story in the Special Agent Pendergast series of books by authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. The events in this story take place in New York City.
Loosely following the events in The Wheel of Darkness, Cemetery Dance begins with one-year anniversary of the marriage between newspaper reporter William Smithback, Jr. and anthropologist Dr. Nora Kelly. When Nora steps out of their apartment for a moment to get an “anniversary surprise,” a neighbor, Colin Fearing, enters their apartment and uses a knife to brutally murder Bill.
It’s a horrific and bloody scene. When Nora returns a few minutes later, Colin attacks her as well. Her life is spared when her cries of help are heard by her neighbors. Colin flees the scene and escapes into the city.
The oddity is that Colin Fearing committed suicide two weeks ago. He’s supposed to be dead and buried in a graveyard.
Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child — Cemetery Dance
The NYPD immediately begins to investigate the murder. NYPD Lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta is examining the apartment when he discovers that FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast is also examining the scene of the crime. He’s collecting blood samples and has noticed that the “dead” murderer made it a point to clean himself and his knife before departing the apartment. It’s also quickly discovered that at no point did Colin Fearing attempt to hide his face from his neighbors or the building’s security cameras. Read more…
On the afternoon and evening of February 28, 2017, northern and southern Illinois saw numerous tornadoes touch down in the state.
storm reports – February 28, 2017
As a comparison, here’s the severe weather outlook that was issued by the Storm Prediction Center earlier that day.
severe weather outlook – February 28, 2017
Although western and southern Missouri didn’t see any tornadoes in this batch of severe weather, that region had plenty of wind and hail damage from those severe thunderstorms. The brunt of the tornado reports occurred in streaks across northern and southern Illinois.
A few weeks ago I finished reading The Wheel of Darkness, the eighth book in the Special Agent Pendergast series of books written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.
Following the events in The Book of the Dead, FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast and his ward, Constance Greene, have made their way to western Tibet. Their destination is the remote Gsalrig Chongg monastery, a place so distant in the mountains that very few people know of its very existence. This is the same monastery where Pendergast received his training many years ago.
Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child — The Wheel of Darkness
The two of them arrive at the monastery. At first the monks are reluctant to allow Constance inside to seek guidance and train in meditation because she’s a woman, but that changes when the leader of the monks sees Constance’s resemblance to Green Tara, allegedly the mother of all Buddhas. They accept her into the monastery and she begins her training.
While he’s in the monastery, Pendergast makes his way into a secretive inner monastery and learns of the Agozyen, an item so powerful that it can allegedly destroy the entire world. It’s been in the monks’ possession for hundreds of years. The problem is that it was recently stolen by a visitor. The monks ask Pendergast to track down the Agozyen and return it to the monastery. Read more…
Throughout most of the history of cinema, one film has consistently held the title for being simply one of the best films ever made —- Citizen Kane.
Released in 1941, Citizen Kane not only stars Hollywood legend Orson Welles, but he directed, produced, and co-wrote the film as well.
Citizen Kane (1941) — movie poster
Citizen Kane begins in the present year.
Citizen Kane (1941) – (c) RKO Radio Pictures
Inside of Xanadu, a vast and incredibly luxurious mansion in Florida, an elderly Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) is nearing his death. He holds a snow globe, says the word “rosebud,” and then dies. The snow globe falls to the floor and breaks, signaling the end to the legendary man. Read more…
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In June of 1944, Allied forces made their historic landing in Normandy, France, and the race was on to use ground forces to end the war in Europe. As forces continued to push back against the Germans, it was thought that a major operation could have enough of an impact to end the war by Christmas.
Released in 1977, A Bridge Too Far tells the tale of Operation Market Garden, a major Allied attempt to use paratroopers to go behind the German lines in the Netherlands and capture key bridges, trapping the German Fifteenth Army and allowing Allies to cross the Rhine River with tanks, artillery and necessary supplies.
A Bridge Too Far was directed by legendary English actor and film maker Richard Attenborough. The British-American war film features an impressive cast including James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford, and even a small role for Denholm Elliott (Dr. Marcus Brody from Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).
A Bridge Too Far (1977) – movie poster
A Bridge Too Far begins in Holland as the German army is low on supplies. Its morale is also low, and they’re waiting for the Allies to attack them at some point. Unless the Germans can reorganize, receive more supplies, and find a way to stop the Allies and push them off the continent again, then it’s just a matter of time until the war in Europe is finished.
A Bridge Too Far (1977) — (c) United Artists
In England, Lieutenant-General Browning (Dirk Bogarde) creates a plan to use airborne troops to land behind German lines in the Netherlands. It’s a major operation involving some 35,000 Allied soldiers. The plans call for the American 82nd & 101st Airborne soldiers to capture roads and bridges in Nijmegen, and the British 1st Airborne and Polish paratroopers to capture a major bridge in Arnhem. If all goes well, the British XXX Armoured Corps will arrive at Arnhem (a distance of over sixty miles) two days after the drop. Read more…
Around a month ago I finished reading Timeline, a thrilling time-travel adventure story written by Michael Crichton.
This was my second time reading this book as I once read it about ten years ago. I remembered it being interesting, but forgetting the details about how things worked in the story. After reading it again, I can certainly say that, along with Jurassic Park, Timeline might be one of Crichton’s *best* stories.
Michael Crichton — Timeline
Set in modern time (1999), Timeline begins with a couple traveling through the Southwest and discovering a man wandering around in a desert. There’s no explanation for him being there, and he’s dressed in Medieval clothes. The man is rambling and obviously injured, so the couple drives him to a nearby clinic. Unfortunately, he soon coughs up blood, goes into cardiac arrest, and then dies. What’s even more puzzling to the doctors is that the x-ray and CT scan show that basically all of the man’s organs, bones and blood vessels are slightly offset within his body.
It’s soon revealed that the man is an engineer for ITC, a high-tech company located in an isolated part of New Mexico. To make matters more interesting, the man had a diagram for an ancient French monastery that was destroyed hundreds of years ago.
Over in Dordogne, France, American professor Edward Johnson is leading a small team of archaeologists and historians in an excavation of two towns separated by a river — Castelgard and La Roque. The area being studied was known for being a battleground between English and French forces. Read more…
Following the previous posting, another book that I read within the past year was The Book of the Dead, the next novel in the Special Agent Pendergast series of thrillers written by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.
Set immediately after the events in Dance of Death, The Book of the Dead begins with a strange package arriving at the New York Museum of Natural History. The package contains not just ordinary dust (or anthrax as originally suspected), but rather the museum’s former diamond collection pulverized into grit. This was the work of Diogenes Pendergast.
The press quickly learns about the diamond dust, and the museum’s director needs to find a way to distract the public from this embarrassing moment. The answer quickly arrives in the form of a telegraph by a mysterious person named Comte Thierry de Cahors. In exchange for a donation of ten million euros, de Cahors wants the museum to renovate and reopen the Tomb of Senef, an old Egyptian exhibit that was part of the museum’s originally collection of exhibits. The director quickly agrees and anthropologist Dr. Nora Kelly is tasked with not only getting the old exhibit ready for the public in only six weeks, but making it a spectacular experience as well.
Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child — The Book of the Dead
Meanwhile, FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast is being held in the Heckmoor Federal Correctional and Holding Facility until being sent to trial for the murder of FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Mike Decker. He’s placed in solitary confinement and FBI Special Agent Spencer Coffey wants to make sure that Pendergast suffers, both physically and mentally. Coffey is also leading the charge to get Pendergast placed in a death penalty trial. Read more…
A while back (so long ago that I cannot remember) I read Dance of Death, the sixth book in the Special Agent Pendergast series of novels written by authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. The events in Dance of Death take place immediately after the previous book, Brimstone.
Set primarily in New York City, Dance of Death begins with a sudden and traumatic death of a college professor. One moment he’s well and lecturing to his students, and the next he’s violently ill and then dead, right there in front of his students.
Meanwhile, NYPD officer Vincent D’Agosta is one of many people dealing with the aftermath of FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast‘s apparent death at the end of Brimstone. Vincent and fellow NYPD captain Laura Hayward are officially a couple and now living together.
Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child — Dance of Death
Out of the blue, Vincent receives a note that instructs him to visit Pendergast’s mansion outside of the city. When he arrives there, Constance Green, Pendergast’s female companion and apprentice, gives him a note that Pendergast wrote shortly before he disappeared. In the note, Aloysius warns Vincent that his brother, Diogenes, is planning on committing a terrible crime on January 28 — about a week from that point in time. There’s no clue as to what Diogenes has planned, but Aloysius knows to take his estranged brother’s arrogant warning very seriously.
In order to attempt to stop Diogenes, Vincent takes a temporarily leave of absence from the NYPD. One of his first stops is to visit Pendergast’s great-aunt. The elderly lady tells Vincent about the early days of Aloysious and Diogenes, and that there was a turning point when Diogenes developed a deep hatred towards his brother. Read more…
Chances are likely that unless you’ve lived in or visited northern California, you’ve never heard of the Oroville Dam.
I’m one of those people. I’ve never been to that part of the country, and that dam never popped up in any of my geography or geosciences classes in high school or college.
My awareness of the dam changed last night when I began seeing news reports of mandatory evacuations as part of the dam was expected to collapse, jeopardizing the lives of over 100,000 people living immediately downstream. Needless to say, this grabbed my attention and I’ve been focusing on the dam’s situation, following streaming news stations along with people who live out there posting updates on Internet forums.
Located in the mountains about an hour north of Sacramento, California, the Oroville Dam is one of the biggest dams in the country. The dam is 770 feet tall and forms Lake Oroville. The dam and lake are situated on the Feather River. The Feather River is one of several sources of water that continually feed into the dam. Water flows through the hydroelectric power station and is released back into the Feather River where it flows downstream ultimately to the Sacramento River and all points beyond.
It’s an impressive structure located in an extremely scenic part of the country. You can read more about it on its Wikipedia page.
What brings us here today is the recent development of the mandatory evacuation of parts of the town of Oroville and other communities immediately downstream of the dam. Read more…
Today’s case of mind-boggling stupidity (and a blatant socialist agenda) comes from an opinion post courtesy of the Washington Post.
In her ranting, JoAnn Wise is heavily against Andrew Puzder (the CEO of CKE Restaurants) becoming the new Labor Secretary in President Trump’s administration. After all, Joann claims to have worked for Hardee’s for over twenty years, and her pay has basically been just above minimum wage the entire time.
She’s been there for over twenty years and hasn’t advanced further in the company? And we’re supposed to care about her obviously negative attitude towards the CEO of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., and Red Burrito?
In the Washington Post article, JoAnn says that she was initially hired as a cashier, and after a month she was promoted to a shift manager. And that’s basically it. Keep in mind that in the CKE Restaurants (my wife is the general manager of one of them), the shift managers (now called shift leaders) are NOT salaried positions. They are technically hourly workers who have management responsibilities when the general manager and assistant manager are not in the store. It’s a part-time position where the workers can easily quit and change jobs at the drop of a hat.
Despite the pay remaining low (shift managers are NOT entitled to any bonuses), she chose to remain at the job, and to continue working at that low rate of pay for what I’m guessing is the brunt of her working career. The decision to keep working there was on her, not the company. Read more…
Recently I finished reading Ark, an interesting science-fiction / space travel book written by Stephen Baxter. The book is a direct sequel to Flood.
In Flood, readers were introduced to a frightening vision of a near-future scenario where vast underground chambers of water stored in the Earth’s mantle were released, unleashing an unending surge of water that, over the course of many years, flooded the entire planet. As the waters continued to rise, countries were destroyed and people were forced to keep moving to higher ground and fighting to survive.
At one point in Flood, some of the characters witness a rocket launching into the sky, carrying what’s rumored to be the fate of humanity in search of a new home. That’s what brings us here today.
Stephen Baxter — Ark
Ark begins with rising flood waters and a partially flooded planet. There’s no end to the flooding in sight, and scientists are tasked with finding a way to ensure that at least part of Earth’s humanity will survive, should there be a worst-case scenario of the planet being completely submerged.
Ships and rafts are easy solutions, but maintaining them (and their occupants) years later could be a challenge. It’s not a permanent answer to humanity’s survival.
In Ark, it’s decided that humanity will have to find a new home in outer space. The only catch is that the closest planet that might be able to sustain human life is several light years away, a distance far too great for today’s conventional rockets.
Regardless, plans begin immediately for a rocket, an ark, to carry a small part of humanity off this planet and to a new home somewhere in the stars. Children of the scientists and engineers are selected to become part of a rigorous training program to prepare them for their destiny in space. These children are known as Candidates. Read more…
Have you ever come to realize that something you’ve always believed to have been true is actually false, like a verse in a song or the spelling of a name or product?
There’s a popular theory going around the Internet that when these realizations happen, it’s not because your memory is off, but that it’s the universe instead. Every once in a while there are these shifts in the universe where alternate versions are split apart or combined with one another, creating these situations where people seem to have incorrect memories of past events.
The Mandela Effect is the term given to this alleged shifting and realigning of the universe, or rather, this plane of existence in the universe. The multiverse theory argues that there are an infinite number of universes out there, all stacked next to each other. Each time a decision is made, then a new universe is created for the opposite side of the decision. This pattern goes on infinitely until the end of time.
What the Mandela Effect argues is that every once in a while these universes merge with each other, and people who may have been living in one universe are suddenly living in an alternate universe, a nearly identical universe where everything is almost exactly the same except for a minor detail that gives away the shift. Nobody can feel the shift, nor does anybody know exactly when it takes place. All people can do is take a look at their current world and see if anything is “off” or just not right according to their memory.
The Mandela Effect is named after Nelson Mandela, a member of the African National Congress who was arrested for being a terrorist back in 1962, he was released from prison in 1990, and then he became president of South Africa in 1994.
According to some people, it was impossible for Nelson Mandela to have become president as they are positive that they remember seeing news stories about how Mandela actually died in prison. How can somebody who had allegedly died later become the president of a country?
Enter the Mandela Effect. Read more…
Recently there have been some conspiracy theory news stories about how asteroid 2016 WF9 (or possibly a comet, astrologists are still trying to determine exactly *what* is flying through the solar system right now) may strike the Earth sometime in the next few weeks.
Asteroid 2016 WF9 on February 25, 2017.
Thankfully, an Earth impact will not happen (this time) as the asteroid’s orbit is only going to bring it to around 32 million miles from the Earth on February 25, 2017. A distance of 32 million miles is nothing to worry about. That’s roughly the same distance as the Earth to Mars when the two planets are at their closest (a term known as “opposition”).
But what about 2016 WF9’s return visit in 4.9 Earth years? What about the asteroid’s orbit after that? How about its path after that? And after that?
It stands to reason that if 2016 WF9’s orbit remains perfectly stable and consistent, then at some point in the future it’ll have an extremely close call or possibly impact with Earth, causing catastrophic damage. It’s just a question of when such an event occurs.
The million dollar question is, What would you do if you knew that an asteroid was going to strike the Earth in a couple of weeks? Read more…
Recently, an article discussed how Amazon (and other online companies) are going to basically destroy a large percentage of jobs in retail stores.
Sadly, shopping in retail brick and mortar stores (a physical store in your town) has been on a decline for decades. You can trace the start of its decline with the opening of shopping malls, and a steeper decline with the rise of all-in-one megastores like Walmart. As we advanced into the Internet Age, the shopping trend shifted that way as well, and retailers quickly learned that it’s a hell of a lot cheaper to simply list items on a website and then ship them to the customers, saving tremendous money by not needing a physical store.
Today, online shopping is more popular than ever thanks to reliable sellers, cheaper prices, and fast and reliable shipping through not only the USPS, but UPS and FedEx as well. It’s never been easier to order items and have them delivered to your address a few days later.
As companies such as Amazon and eBay continue to grow, just how much of a threat is that to the retail shopping world? Read more…