Thursday, January 31, 2019

Book Review: Level Up by G. L. Yang et al.

Level Up written by Gene Luen Yang and art by Thien Pham

Dennis Ouyang grew up loving video games, but his dad wanted him to be a doctor when he grew up. Medical school isn't so interesting for Dennis but his dad died two weeks before the end of high school. Dennis feels obligated. College life is tough. Dennis drops out. Four kewpie doll angels show up and force him to seek his destiny. They take care of the small stuff (laundry and cooking) and help with studies (making flash cards and enforcing study time). At a new college, Dennis finds some friends whose attention competes with the angels. Dennis has a hard time with the school work/social life balance, leading to some interesting results. Dennis struggles through the early stages of his life, hoping to level up to being a happy man.

The story is both fantastical and rooted. The four doll angels are weird but Dennis and the reader are fully on board with them. The complicated relationships between the new friends is very realistic. Yang is a master storyteller and he weaves a great yarn here. Dennis is an interesting and sympathetic character. He has flaws and many ups and downs. The story mimics a multi-level video game, where Dennis has to progress or lose lives. The video game metaphor fits perfectly with the story arc and leads to a great conclusion.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Book Review: The History of Rasselas Prince of Abyssinia by Samuel Johnson

The History of Rasselas Prince of Abyssinia by Samuel Johnson

While living in the paradisiacal Happy Valley, Rasselas, son of the king of Abysinia, is dissatisfied. He has all material needs provided for and plenty of mild diversions. His restless curiosity makes him long for the outside world. He decides to leave the valley, which is easier said than done. The princes and princesses only get to leave if they have to take the throne. Otherwise they are locked away. Rasselas finds an ally in Imlac, a world traveler who came to the Happy Valley for solace from a hard world. But Imlac is also dissatisfied with the Happy Valley and helps Rasselas escape. One of Rasselas's sisters discovers their plan and goes with them. Out in the real world, they seek the ideal life. They visit many different people from many different classes and occupations, hoping to find someone truly content. The book becomes a long list of failures. Seemingly, everyone has some part of their life that is unhappy or tedious.

The book has plenty of little philosophical discussions in it, for example on the immateriality of the human soul or the value of a life lived according to nature. The main idea is the search for happiness, which is indeed a universal pursuit, from the beginning of mankind to today and into the future. Giving the text an adventure story (the royals escaping and then going incognito through Egypt to learn more about the world) cloaks the discursive nature with action and drama. Johnson even drifts into satire for parts of the story, which I found delightful.


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

National Aquarium, Baltimore Part II

A continuation of yesterpost...

Down below the tropical rainforest, we found a tank with divers inside! They were cleaning the windows and feeding the fish. Apparently, if they keep the sharks well-fed then they don't eat the other fish in the tank.

Weird shape

Diver fish

Cleaning up


Less pretty

One lettuce to feed them all

A favorite spot was Shark Alley, a large tank that encircles visitors and houses lots of predators and very little prey.

Great white spookiness

On a break

Sawtooth on a break 

You couldn't pay me enough to be in the shark tank

The Australia exhibit has a lot of cool animals on display, and not just fish.

A lizard from down under

Shrimpiest shrimp ever?

A bit of habitat

One fish (whose name I don't remember) would eat by creating a huge vacuum in the water, sucking in everything in front of it.

Feeding the suction fish

Here comes the food

Mass of bubbles as he sucks it in

Turtles (under water)


This poor guy was trying to feed some fish that would spit water into the air to knock bugs off of a branch. His jar had crickets in it but they were too woke to get on his stick and be dangled over water. He needs some more naive bugs.

Feeding some dramatic fish

We managed to visit before the dolphin shows. The next show was about an hour after we got to the dolphin tank and only one of us wanted to wait. Too bad we live in a democracy!

Dolphin visiting with people who paid extra for a private audience

The Jellies Invasion exhibit was both fascinating and creepy. The otherworldly look and movement of jellyfish are off-putting for me.

Display leading into the Jelly exhibit

Japanese Sea Nettles

Moon jellies?

Tiny mushroom-like jellies

Upside down jellies

More creepy upside down type jellies

We may go back to check out the dolphin show one day.

Monday, January 28, 2019

National Aquarium, Baltimore Part I

We visited the National Aquarium in Baltimore Harbor over the Christmas break. As is our habit, we arrived early enough that they were just opening. Even though it was the Christmas break, we didn't have to deal with a long line to get in. Maybe people didn't want to fight the cold or wanted to do something more Christmasy. We did plenty of Christmasy stuff, so this was a nice extra.

Ticket entrance for National Aquarium

The tanks by the entrance immediately caught our attention.

Checking out the first fish

Upstairs, we discovered a set of megalodon jaws. No one was brave enough to stand near them for a photo, so all we have is this less threatening side view.

Prehistoric jaws

The main tank at the aquarium is huge and has a nice variety of fish. The most popular for us were the rays, sharks, and turtles. Up above, a whale skeleton watches over visitors.

A ray big as a shark

Whale bones


Some other fish

Upstairs we found some interactive exhibits. One table is a gigantic tablet that lets visitors examine virtual items on a sea floor.

Looking at the ocean floor

Even more interactive are the touchpools, where visitors can touch the backs of horseshoe crabs and moon jellies.

Horseshoe crabs

Moon jellies

Touching the moon

The aquarium has lots of smaller tanks that show off fish from various oceans and fresh water sources.

Sleek swimmers

An octopus, or possibly a sea snake

A starfish

Sea horses

Little yellow and striped fishes

A good variety

More fish

One area simulates a more tropical environment.

Turtles hanging out

Turtle vs. shark?!?

See ya later, sucker!

At the top of the aquarium is a tropical rainforest that has birds and land animals. We were surprised and delighted to find a non-fishy area.

Can't find the birds for the trees


A land turtle!

More from the  Aquarium in our next post!