That Darn Kat

curiouser and curiouser


A review of Armada by Ernest Cline

I really loved Cline’s Ready Player One, but I had some reservations about his latest release, Armada. As opposed to writing a sequel, which wouldn’t have made much sense, I think Cline decided to try to cram everything people loved about it into another standalone. The closest analogy I can make would be Pretty Woman and The Runaway Bride. Or basically every Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie.

armada-coverArmada is trying, maybe a little too hard, to recapture the magic of Ready Player One by repeating a lot of the same elements. A slew of 80s pop culture references, a snarky teen protagonist surrounded by an Amblin-esque crew of fellow nerds-at-arms, and an epic quest hindered by inept-yet-still-menacing adults.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure it really succeeds.

What’s missing? The sense of over-the-top, batshit-crazy, teenage-wish-fulfillment fun. Without that, despite a much less dystopian initial setting than RP1, Armada ends up a much darker and more depressing book.

Even the moments where we’re supposed to be oohing and aahing in gleeful nostalgia end up painted black by the unrelentingly grim premise. No matter what teen protagonist Zack Lightman does, Cline refuses to let any real glimmer of hope shine through. Even if any of the various plans to rescue humanity from the alien menace succeed, massive numbers of Earth’s population are going to die. Oh, and we’ve probably run the planet out of resources in an interplanetary arms race for nothing.

Ernest Cline is clearly a huge fan of 80s sci-fi and space opera. I’m hoping Armada is just his Empire Strikes Back, a bleak middle chapter to be followed by a more optimistic finale. Ready Player One was a nostalgic guilty pleasure. For me at least, Armada was a lot of guilt, and not much pleasure.


Creative types: You do not need a nanny

Over the years, I’ve noticed a lot of creative workers are Enneagram Type Fours. Which makes sense; the type tends to rally around aesthetics and self-expression. I’ve also noticed that Four artists and creatives also often get sucked into unhealthy, dependent professional relationships.

When a Four is stressed, he or she goes to the low side of Type Two and starts looking for a Rescuer.  In the workplace, this translates into the creative or artist becoming overly reliant on some sort of caretaker. Maybe it’s a Type One project manager, who makes sure you have a clear to-do lists and don’t spend all day ruminating on the meaning of life. Maybe it’s a Type Three manager, who tells you whether your work has broad, commercial appeal. (Fours are good at creating subjectively appealing and interesting work, but we sometimes balk at creating accessible and popular work).


img courtesy Lars Gunderson

This isn’t to say that working with other types, and leaning into their natural strengths, is a bad thing. It can help cultivate healthy interdependence. But many Fours need to realize they aren’t hopelessly dependent on someone else to manage the practical logistics of their work.

Our security point is Type One, which means when we’re in a healthy place, we’re quite capable of managing our time and following a logical process. Type Three is one of our wings, which means that if we can get over our own snobbery, we can figure out what work has popular appeal.

If you’re lucky enough to find people with complementary skills to partner with, and it’s a true partnership, that’s fantastic. Collaboration can be magic; it’s one of the true joys of creative work. But don’t get stuck in a controlling “parent/child” relationship because you’re convinced you need a “work nanny.” You’re a grown up, and if necessary, you can take care of yourself.


Into the woods (and off the script)

I took my daughter camping over the weekend at Hardy Lake State Reservoir near Scottsburg, Indiana. We originally planned to visit Clifty Falls State Park in Madison, but by the time we arrived their campground was full. The park ranger recommended Hardy Lake, and it turned out to be an even better trip than the one we planned. Hardy Lake is a smaller park, but they were having their annual Raptor Days event, so in addition to getting a cheaper campsite, we got to see some cool wildlife.


Josh does not like camping much, and Chris was working over the weekend, so it seemed like a good opportunity to get in some Mom and Maddie bonding.


20150926_114842Indiana DNR has a great state park system, and we try to take advantage of it as much as we can. We snagged a campsite in Wooster Campground, which is the primitive “angler’s” campground. But our site was right next to a wooded path that lead to the modern campground — and came out right next to the “comfort station” bathrooms and showers. So we ended up with the best of both worlds.

After setting up camp, we did a little exploring and then got the campfire started. Because it was just a one night trip, I tried to keep things simple. We brought toasting forks, and cooked cheddar pork wieners over the fire for dinner. We also made some s’mores.

20150926_10222220150926_102159One important lesson: our huge air mattress did not fit through the tent door when fully inflated. We’ve got a small pump that runs off the car battery, but I had to partially deflate the mattress, and then re-inflate it with my breath after I got it inside. So for next time, I’m definitely getting a small foot pump!

Saturday morning, we warmed up by the fire before heading out to enjoy Raptor Days. Maddie’s favorite animal is the owl, so she was thrilled to see a live barn owl up close. There were other exhibits, including live snakes (eek!) and taxidermy. We signed up for a pontoon boat tour of the lake, where we watched an osprey dive into the water to catch fish. It was pretty amazing.

After the boat tour, we did a short 2 mile hike before packing up and heading home. The camping trip may not have gone exactly to plan, but life rarely does. We had great weather, and a great time. I’m hoping to sneak a couple more quick camping trips in this year before the cold hits.



Coming clean about eating clean

I participated in the 10 Day Clean Eating Challenge from MyFitnessPal this last week. You could choose to commit to one, two or three “clean” meals per day. I committed to two meals per day, which felt like it would be a legitimate challenge, but not impossible considering my schedule.

I stuck to the challenge pretty well, although I did have a half a funnel cake for my one “dirty meal” on Saturday. I didn’t start any crazy exercise programs, but I did get a few good walks in at the park. The net result was that I lost about 4.5 pounds during the challenge. Most of that was in the first three or four days, then I gained a pound or two back, then started dropping again.

Here are a few things I learned in doing the challenge.

  1. The toughest part wasn’t cooking. It was doing the dishes. I was expecting the need to cook food from scratch to be the hardest part, but I stuck to pretty simple foods. Especially one-pot meals.I actually enjoy cooking, so I didn’t mind it. But there’s nothing fun about washing dishes, so that was a bummer.
  2. I am just not a breakfast person. My plan going in was to eat something simple, like steel-cut oats, for breakfast, and then I would only have to really figure out lunch OR dinner. I did that for several days, but the truth is I am just not a three meals a day person. I have a tough time facing food right after I wake up. I found that if I ate “brunch” around 10-11  and an early dinner, I was pretty satisfied for the day.
  3. You feel better when you eat better. I had some fairly stressful stuff come up over the past ten days. But none of it threw me into a tailspin, and my moods stayed a lot more level. Which is always an important consideration for me.

The challenge is officially over, but I think I’m going to keep going with it. It’s not terribly difficult, and I’m all about making small, sustainable changes right now.

What small change have you made lately that made a big difference?


Dealing with the giant Facebook-shaped hole in my life

Quitting Facebook (or at least deactivating my account for a month) has already much been harder, and much more rewarding, than I expected.  The obvious tricky part is that I use my personal Facebook profile to administer and run ad campaigns for a couple of Pages. But I have a solution for that.

The less obvious hard part is that I drastically underestimated how much of a habit checking Facebook had become, and the extent to which I was using it as a distraction when I didn’t want to think. Of course, you can always find another distraction. I’ve gotten a lot of reading done on my Kindle the past few days. But reading books as a distraction is a lot healthier than staring through a heavily-edited peephole at the digital ephemera of other people’s lives.

The rewarding part is that I also drastically underestimated how much time and energy I was losing to Facebook. Getting it back has been a little crazy, because I honestly didn’t go into this with a well-thought-out plan.  It was more like “I think this is a good idea, let’s see what happens.” What happens, it turns out, is that I spend a couple of days floundering and not knowing what the heck to do with myself now that I’m unplugged from the Matrix. And then I realize I have a slightly-insane amount of available time and emotional energy, and no idea what to do with it.

Seriously. It took me 2-3 days to start doing things, because my Facebook habit was so ingrained that I was almost physically disoriented without it. Yikes.

In the meantime, I’ve knocked out three months of social and email promotion work for Per Bastet, gotten a few thousand words drafted for my various WIPs, and lost three pounds doing a Clean Eating Challenge, because I have time to cook real food. Not too bad, considering.

How about you? Have you ever been surprised how much something affected you after it was gone? Spent some time examining a habit that had become unhealthy? What was the best thing about giving it up? The worst?

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