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Saturday, April 30, 2022

Spain 2022: Barcelona, Cadaques, and Girona

 For Spring break, 2022, we spent a week in Spain. It was too short a trip to bring bikes, so we did a bunch of walking in Barcelona, Cadaques, and Girona. This is the index page for the trip, with day by day report.

Trip Photos

Friday, April 29, 2022

Spain 2022: April 13th Cadaques to Girona


The hotel breakfast was scrumptious, filling, and generous, and the kids were finally done with jet lag, sleeping until 7:30am. After breakfast, we packed everything into the car, moved it into the requested hotel parking space, and then went to exchange our electronic coupon for tickets at the House Museum. The house museum opened at 10:00am, but if you were there early, they'd let you in 10 minutes early. They let you in in batches, so as to not crowd the space, and masks are required indoors.

I'm not usually a big fan of museums, since for paintings, etc., I rarely feel the need to see the original artwork, and virtual tours instituted since the pandemic seem to be pretty good. But Dali's house was an exception, left the way he had it was an artist's working studio and home, and the level of detail was really cool to see, such as the mirror that enabled him to claim to be the first man in Spain to see the sunrise from his bed, the hoist and rig that enabled him to paint huge canvases while sitting down, and even the gardens and grounds.

The outside laundry drying area was interesting, with view cutouts into the wall that provided glimpses of the sea. Even his swimming pool was unusual and different, decorated with a combination of the artist's taste and child's whimsy. It was definitely worth a visit, with us watching the video documentaries in the outdoor viewing area for far longer than I would have expected.

After the museum, I decided we had time to go visit Cap De Creus, the place we had attempted to hike to the day before. I noted from a display in the hotel that while it was forbidden to drive there during the summer months, it was perfectly fine to do so now, so we drove the scenic, rugged road to the lighthouse, making a note to myself that it would have made a perfectly nice bike ride. Once there, we took a hike, exploring the coast. It had been forecasted to rain, but it was doing so in a very vague way.

Boen started complaining about the amount of walking required, claiming that the museum tour qualified for exercise. We finished the hiking by 1:00pm, but no one was hungry, so I decided to show everyone Llanca on our way to Girona. The drive was as exciting as the bike ride had been 3 years ago, but I don't know if Xiaoqin saw much of it as she fell asleep in the car. Bowen thought the coast view was impressive, however, and Xiaoqin woke up as we got to Llanca in time to find us a restaurant.

Restaurant Miramar turned out to be a 2 star Michelin restaurant that uncharacteristically had room for us at lunch! The menu was crazy expensive, but heck, it was raining and we had no place to go in a hurry, so we signed up for the experience. Bowen was very impressed by the choreography, and the initial opening dishes where they told him what order to eat what in, but was unimpressed by the entree. I myself have never been impressed as far as how good the food tasted by any Michelin restaurants I'd ever been to with the exception of Funky Gourmet, which unfortunately was a victim of COVID19. For my money, Kebab & Curry in Santa Clara probably has better food than any of the 1 or 2 star Michelin restaurants in the Bay Area. (Kebab & Curry was so good that Michelin had create a special no-star category for it and other restaurants like it) I explained to Bowen that Rosenlaui and that magical day in Les Rauffes in France with Mike Samuel were excellent culinary experiences, but were inaccessible to most people. Xiaoqin, of course, begged to differ and accused me of brain-washing my kids into thinking that cycling was far better than eating.

After lunch, we drove to Girona, where I was led down a street blockaded for construction in order to pick up my keys for the AirBnB I'd rented. The rental management company gave me incredibly complex directions for getting into the apartment. I'd recalled that old town roads were blockaded by bollards so car drivers couldn't drive into old town Girona. It turned out that those bollards were controlled by a remote control that owners of those apartments had and could be lowered. You then had to drive around 5mph until you got to the garage and then drop your car (in a leap of faith) down a steep grade into the basement parking. It was terrifying doing this in a stick shift, but you know what, a Dad who agreed to take his kids up the Stelvio this summer cannot be faint of heart, so I did it without a hint to my kids that this was difficult.

We then walked around town and went to Volver first for Empanadas and then to El Carrito Barri for steak. We bought yogurt and other sundries at the local supermarket. The total price was less than 10% of what we paid for Miramar but was pretty satisfying. We went to bed at a reasonable hour and anticipated the Food Tour I had organized the next morning.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Review: How Science Shapes Science Fiction

 How Science Shapes Science Fiction is a great courses program about how science is used and abused in science fiction. Professor Charles Adler clearly loves science fiction and is widely read and up to date on the science, which I thought was great. I found myself placing holds on books he recommended, as well as following along each topic, even the ones where I thought I knew something about with enjoyment.

There's one section where he talks about flight dynamics. There's a graph in this section that I'd never seen before, plotting the logarithmic weight, wingspan, and power required to achieve flight. There's a clear straight line, though with exceptions, such as human powered flight. He uses this to explain the trade-offs required in designing a dragon, which I thought was an awesome exposition on what thought processes has to go through when a writer designs a world if he or she really wants the world to follow known laws of physics.

What I loved about the great courses series (as opposed to say, Masterclass) is that the lectures are never shallow, and the professors never talk down to you. For instance, his discussion of Dune doesn't just go into the ecology of the planet (and the ecology of the Oregon Dunes where Frank Herbert was inspired by) but also what happened in Herbert's life that caused him to write the novel. Similarly, his discussion of on designed languages explores the origin of Quenya in Tolkein, and brought many details to life.

I found myself listening to this series in preference to my usual diet of podcasts, etc. That makes this series recommended and well worth your audible credit.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Spain 2022: April 12th Barcelona to Cadaques

 I was in my nightmare: the car was stuck on the slight upslope from the garage, and kept stalling out whenever I tried to put it in gear. Nothing I did seemed to work, even the old trick of using the handbrake to keep the car from moving backwards while I put it into gear.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Spain 2022: April 11th - Barcelona, Mont Junc and the Beach


Of course we weren't granted an exception by the jet-lag gods, and all woke up at 2am, took more melatonin and tried to sleep more fatefully.  My own Garmin said that I slept for 7 hours, proving that Garmin's sleep tracking might as well be science fiction. We ate breakfast, and in the morning light walked up the pedestrain path to Mont Junc, for which I had bought the first entrance tickets (10:00am) because I was confident of our jet-lag.

With plenty of time ahead of us, we made progress slowly, exploring every playground and seeing what the Barcelona playgrounds were like, and still made it to the castle at 9:30am, well before opening time.

The views from the castle were great, and we walked about halfway around the castle grounds outside before we were let in. The place was isolated and uncrowded, alleviating any concerns I might have had about COVID, though masks were still required.

After we had our fill, we hailed a ride to Cerveceria Catalana for lunch, a tapas place Xiaoqin had found from WeChat. The place was pretty empty when we showed up, but soon Asian tourists showed upone after another.
Boen had been asking for Creme Brulee for his birthday, and I told him the Creme Catalan was pretty much the same thing, since the French border was less than 2 hours drive away. He and his brother ordered one each and we re quite happy.

The day was young and I wanted the kids to get more sunshine, so we walked to the beach. I had forgotten my belt at home, so I took the opportunity to buy an obvious fake belt from a street vendor for 10 EUR, overpaying. There was actually a nice shop selling genuine leather belts with spanish leather for 33 EUR. In retrospect that was a better buy, but I still much prefer the fabric money belts that I've been using and don't see myself wearing the expensive Spanish leather on my travels or on any other occasion.

Dinner that evening was at a tapas bar called Quimet & Quimet, which was kinda exotic but the kids were kinda bored with it, so we ate a very light dinner before absconding to the nice gelato shop we had found the day before. We took more melatonin pills in what I was sure would be a lousy night of sleep.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Review: The Wanderings of Odysseus

 After reading Black Ships Before Troy, I decided I liked it enough to checkout The Wanderings of Odysseus from the library. This retelling of the Odyssey feels to me a lot less insane the the story of the Iliad, where at least motivations are somewhat good, instead of the insanity that seems to be what ancient warfare was.

The writing style was fairly transparent, and a lot of characters from the prequel showed up in the sequel. It's a great way to learn the story of the odyssey without having to read a poem.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Spain 2022: April 10th San Francisco to Barcelona

 The ultra cheap flights from years past were gone, but I spotted an Iberia Airlines direct flight in the realm of $700 a person for Spring Break. Spring break is too short to bring the triplet, but it was sufficient for Bowen, Boen and Xiaoqin to get a feel for Barcelona and Girona. I also decided that since I didn't manage to make it to Cadaques last time to visit the Salvador Dali House Museum, I'd make up for it this time. The Costa Brava had impressed me the last time as well, so I'd show it to them as well.

Our flight was late by nearly two hours--I would later find out that this was par for the course for Iberia Airlines --- the airline company, LEVEL, serviced Iberia's San Francisco to Barcelona direct flight, and was famous online for a level of disorganization that led to frequent trip delays and vocal unhappy customers.

I'd discovered that now offered a taxi service, which for what my AirBnB host told me, was comparable to just showing up at the airport and booking a taxi, but the taxi driver would show up and greet us as we exited baggage claim! We cleared customs with astounding efficiency. To my surprise, our vaccination cards weren't even checked! Arriving at the AirBnB, we had been told that the host would greet us, but instead her cleaning crew was responsible for letting us in and giving us the keys. The cleaning person was an obvious immigrant, and she kindly let us know the wifi password, gave us the keys, and then left us to our own devices.

The kids were very excited about the balcony, but we were all very hungry, so we immediately absconded to buy some groceries for breakfast (I was pretty sure we would awake long before any grocery stores would open because of jet lag), and then walked over to La Tasqueta de Blai, and had what would turn out to be the best tapas of the entire trip!
Next to the restaurant was a gelato shop, that was similarly excellent. We walked back to the apartment, took showers, and took melatonin pills before going to bed, hoping that the jet-lag gods would grant us an exception.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Review: A Thousand Brains - A New Theory of Intelligence

 A Thousand Brains is Jeff Hawkins' book about the way the neocortex of the brain works, and the implication it has for building machine intelligences. The premise of his book is as follows:

  • The neocortex is uniform in structure and function, and under a microscope, no parts of the neocortex looks any different from other parts
  • We can abstract away the non-neocortex portion of the brain as being unimportant for the development of intelligence
  • The brain is a prediction machine (he previously covered this in an earlier book, On Intelligence), and is constantly predicting what will come next and comparing its predictions with the actual sensory input
  • The unit of cognitive function in the neocortex is the cortical column
  • All cortical columns behave the same way by learning and building a model of its inputs, but differ in function mainly in what inputs it is wired to. For instance, a cortical column wired to the eyes will be trying to recognize and build models based on vision, while a cortical column wired to more abstract thinking as input will be operating on abstract concepts
  • Learning is the process of building a model. The only way to build a model of a physical object is to move around and explore it from multiple perspective --- consider how we build a model of a building by walking through its rooms, and how when you see a novel object you'll turn it and look at it from different angles
  • Along with the model, there are reference frames, which tell you about the relationship between pieces of the model. You have a model of your own body, and the reference frames tell you about the relationship between your various body parts like fingers, which is how you can recognize a mug in the dark by touch or just by holding it, even without other inputs
  • Recognition of an object or where you are is done by a voting process, a multi-sensory associative schema where all the salient evidence from your senses is brought together and the models that most closely match that input triggers the recognition and the prediction.
  • The model of the world or object is what knowledge is, not words, not data structures or labels. When you're asked a question about an object, your model of that object is what you use in order to answer those questions
  • Consciousness is a portion of your neocortex wired up to examine its internal state, with the ability to playback and remember what has happened in the past.
Hawkins (perhaps arrogantly) claims that this is the overall framework theory of how intelligence works, and that while the details might have to be refined, this framework will prove to be true. (There's substantial controversy about this claim, so take it with a grain of salt)

There are a few implications of this:

The neocortex never stops learning models. Every shift of attention—whether you are looking at the dishes on the dining table, walking down the street, or noticing a logo on a coffee cup—is adding another item to a model of something. It is the same learning process if the models are ephemeral or long-lasting. (kindle loc 1566)

 In particular, Hawkins claims that today's neural network models do not hold reference frames, which are key to knowledge, and therefore cannot learn and build models:

Robot designers are accustomed to using reference frames. They use them to keep track of where a robot is in the world and to plan how it should move from one location to another. Most roboticists are not concerned about AGI, whereas most AI researchers are unaware of the importance of reference frames. Today, AI and robotics are largely separate fields of research, although the line is starting to blur. Once AI researchers understand the essential role of movement and reference frames for creating AGI, the separation between artificial intelligence and robotics will disappear completely...Today’s neural networks rely on ideas that Hinton developed in the 1980s. Recently, he has become critical of the field because deep learning networks lack any sense of location and, therefore, he argues, they can’t learn the structure of the world. In essence, this is the same criticism I am making, that AI needs reference frames. Hinton has proposed a solution to this problem that he calls “capsules.” Capsules promise dramatic improvements in neural networks, but so far they have not caught on in mainstream applications of AI. (kindle loc 1904-1909)

 The implications of this for human learning is also significant. For instance, a lot of child development specialists criticize schools for not being good for learning, mostly because childhood has been transformed from being largely spontaneous and exploratory into something where kids are effectively jailed in a building and supervised continuously:

 from when she was five years old, Lenore would walk out of her house and walk to school on her own. It was about 15 minutes away. When school ended, Lenore would leave and just wander around the neighborhood freely on her own. She’d play games with the other kids that the kids would spontaneously organize, they’d run around, and she would go home when she was hungry.

That was how all childhood was, essentially, in the world at that point with very few exceptions. Children played freely with other children without adult supervision for most of the time. This was crucial for them. By the time Lenore was the parent in the 1990s, that had ended. She was expected to walk her kids to school, wait and watch them go through the door — even when they got pretty old — and to be there waiting at the gate to collect them at the end of the day. By 2003, only 10 percent of any American children ever played outdoors. So it essentially ended.

Childhood became something that happened either behind closed doors under tight adult supervision. And it turns out there are loads of things in this enormous and unprecedented transformation in childhood that are important for attention. Let’s give you a real no shit, Sherlock one: exercise.

Kids who run around can pay attention much better. The evidence for this is overwhelming. One of the single best things you can do for kids who can’t pay attention is let them go and run around. We have stopped that, right? Even before Covid, we stopped that.

We imprisoned our children. In fact, the only place where our kids get to feel they’re roaming around at the moment is on Fortnite and on World of Warcraft. We can hardly be surprised that they’ve become so obsessed with them. There are lots of other changes. Children learn when they play freely what’s called intrinsic motivation. (Ezra Klein interview 2022 02 11, New York Times)

So Hawkin's advocacy of learning through movement for AI can be compared to free range parents' advocacy of freedom for children to explore.  I found that fascinating to think about.

The last part of the book describes the way religion, right-wing theory, and other institutions have been constructed to hack the neocortex and use that to spread false believes. He notes that that false believe memes have to have the following characteristics:

1. Cannot directly experience: False beliefs are almost always about things that we can’t directly experience. If we cannot observe something directly—if we can’t hear, touch, or see it ourselves—then we have to rely on what other people tell us. Who we listen to determines what we believe. 2. Ignore contrary evidence: To maintain a false belief, you have to dismiss evidence that contradicts it. Most false beliefs dictate behaviors and rationales for ignoring contrary evidence. 3. Viral spread: Viral false beliefs prescribe behaviors that encourage spreading the belief to other people. (kindle loc 2758)

He applies this to vaccine denial, climate change denial, and the flat earthers. The final part of the book is a plea to teach kids about false believes and innoculate our children about how such false beliefs are harmful. Looking at the state of the world, I definitely believe that he's on the right track.

In any case, the entire book is well worth reading, and very much worth your time. I devoured it in a few evenings and didn't regret any time spent reading it.


Monday, April 18, 2022

The Sandman: Act II

 After listening to The Sandman, I used one of my audible credits and downloaded The Sandman Act II. There are two long story arcs, Seasons of Mists and A Game of You, and a large number of standalone episodes. As with the original comics, the standalone episodes are far better than the long story arcs, where Gaiman has a tendency to write himself into a corner and then allow the plot to peter out.

The sound production is outstanding, even more so than in the first part. One of the most consistent improvements in the audio/visual arts over the past 20 years has been the steady improvements in the depiction of non-Western cultures in media. We've gone from incomprehensible pidgin Mandarin in Firefly to The Sandman, where a childbirth scene in a Hong Kong hospital is depicted in completely correct and unaccented Cantonese. Color me much impressed.

As with the previous audio production, the big benefit of the audio presentation (aside from the obvious ones --- for people who can't read comics or who are visually impaired) is that Gaiman has no choice but to draw your attention to important details. That makes it hard for you to miss details that might be skipped if you're the type of person to read just all the words of the page and just glance at the pictures.

I can assure you that I'll happily jump in and pay for a month of Audible when Act III shows up and will just use an audible credit to get a copy of it. That's how good this series was. Highly recommended.

Review: A Man Called Ove

 A Man Called Ove is a book about a grumpy old man. At the start of the novel you're given a poor impression of him, but as the book progresses, you get more back story about how he came to be the way he was, and he starts opening up to people in his life, including the immigrants who move in next door.

To some extent, the book plays into the stereotype of typical men:

Whatever the case, he had eaten in advance so he could afford to let her order whatever she wanted from the menu, while opting for the cheapest dish for himself. And at least if she asked him something he wouldn’t have his mouth full of food. To him it seemed like a good plan. (kindle loc 1646)

There's the constant obsession with cars:

 Three years later Sonja got a more modern wheelchair and Ove bought a hatchback, a Saab 900. Rune bought a Volvo 265 because Anita had started talking about having another child. Then Ove bought two more Saab 900s and after that his first Saab 9000. Rune bought a Volvo 265 and eventually a Volvo 745 station wagon. But no more children came. One evening Sonja came home and told Ove that Anita had been to the doctor. And a week later a Volvo 740 stood parked in Rune’s garage. The sedan model. Ove saw it when he washed his Saab. In the evening Rune found a half bottle of whiskey outside his door. They never spoke about it. (kindle loc 2949)

 As entertainment goes, the book is a little cliched, and grants everyone involved a happy ending, but once in a while there's a gem:

“Loving someone is like moving into a house,” Sonja used to say. “At first you fall in love with all the new things, amazed every morning that all this belongs to you, as if fearing that someone would suddenly come rushing in through the door to explain that a terrible mistake had been made, you weren’t actually supposed to live in a wonderful place like this. Then over the years the walls become weathered, the wood splinters here and there, and you start to love that house not so much because of all its perfection, but rather for its imperfections. You get to know all the nooks and crannies. How to avoid getting the key caught in the lock when it’s cold outside. Which of the floorboards flex slightly when one steps on them or exactly how to open the wardrobe doors without them creaking. These are the little secrets that make it your home.” (kindle loc 3639)

 The book is easy to read, with very short chapters, and I found it enjoyable light entertainment. Don't expect anything serious and you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Re-read: Exhalation

 When Ted Chiang's Exhalation came out on sale, I bought it. Re-reading the book, I found myself really enjoying The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, the title story, and The Truth of Fact, the story demonstrating how writing changes the way we think, and how an accurate lifelog would impact the way we think by forcing us to confront ourselves in truth, and not allowing our malleable memories to lie to ourselves about who we are.

It's a great book. If you haven't read it, you should. And if you read it a while back, you owe it to yourself to read it again.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Review: Amazon Unbound

 Amazon Unbound is Brad Stone's follow-on to The Everything Store. It starts off where the earlier book ended, with a focus on the development of Alexa/Echo, the introduction of AWS and its successful attack on the database market, and of course, Amazon Prime, and various other products. It also provides a deep look at the people who ran the logistics behind Amazon.

What I didn't realize was that Amazon spends way more than Google on R&D:

In 2017, Amazon spent $22.6 billion on R&D, compared to Alphabet ($16.6 billion), Intel ($13.1 billion), and Microsoft ($12.3 billion). The tax-savvy CEO likely understood that these significant R&D expenses for projects like the Go store and Alexa were not only helping to secure Amazon’s future but could generate tax credits or be written off, lowering Amazon’s overall tax bill (kindle loc 974)

This is astonishing, since Google prides itself on being a technology company, and has been able to attract (and retain) engineering talent, while Amazon has never been competitive, especially when you take into account its stingy benefits package and back-loaded stock compensation package.

What's more, the book revealed a major event in which Bezos decreed that managers should have no fewer than 6 direct reports. This resulted in many upper managers stealing groups from lower level managers, causing a cascading scramble down the chain and the departure of many managers who had few direct reports:

 “When most big companies go through this, they usually announce they are going to have layoffs,” he said. “You can stick around or get a severance. But Amazon to this day never announced how many people they were trying to get rid of, so it created a culture of fear, which they probably prefer.” The informal, musical chairs–style reorganization allowed Amazon to avoid the internal and external stigma of announcing layoffs. (Kindle loc 3817)

 Stone doesn't mention that by forcing people to depart voluntarily Amazon also doesn't have to pay severance packages. Even in the case where they famously raised wages to $15/hour, there was an ulterior motive:

Earnings in Amazon fulfillment centers varied by state, but some employees were making as little as $10.00 an hour, which was above the $7.25 federal minimum wage. The S-team weighed a number of proposals from operations chief Dave Clark, including incrementally raising wages to $12 or $13 an hour. Instead, Bezos opted for the most aggressive plan, raising the entry-level U.S. hourly rate across the board to $15. At the same time, he compensated for at least part of the additional expense by discarding supplemental sources of worker income, such as stock grants and collective bonuses that were awarded to employees based on the performance of their facility. The move was tactically brilliant. Amazon had surveyed its warehouse workers over the years and found a large majority were living paycheck to paycheck and would rather have the instant gratification of up-front pay than stock grants. By getting rid of the grants, Bezos not only helped to partially offset the pay increase but eliminated another incentive for unproductive or disgruntled low-level workers to stay at the company for more than a few years. (kindle loc 5164)

The book's at its best when it dives into Amazon's logistical push and stuff that while you know had to happen behind the scenes, isn't widely reported. It's at its worst when it discusses Blue Origin (which is unrelated to Amazon) or Jeff Bezos' affair and divorce (which is subject to a lot of attention). I found it enjoyable and a compelling read, with the boring stuff easily skipped one chapter at a time.

I think there are better books about Amazon (e.g., Working Backwards), but still found this one worth reading.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Review: Hades (PC)

 In 2019, some colleagues of mine were raving about Hades. Not being willing to pay full price, I waited for a sale, and when Epic Games offered it for $16.24 and stacked a $10 coupon to bring it down to $6.24, I decided to pay for it, since the Playstation version was unlikely to drop its pricing for Hades to that level for at least a few years.

Hades is touted as a rogue-like. Randomly generated dungeons, limited number of lives, and restricted saving to prevent save-scumming. You start out with one weapon type, and each time you go through the dungeon, you have the chance to grab power-ups that can be used to unlock weapon types, special abilities, and even add rooms to the dungeons that have a chance to aid you rather than hurt you. As you progress, you unlock conversations with various characters, eventually being able to stack special effects as favors from Gods, and tackling tougher and tougher levels until you manage to hit and beat the final boss.

I'm sure other people are better at the game: it took me 51 runs before I managed to beat the boss. As you play the game you learn which effects stack well with which other effects, and which choice of weapons (you're incentivized to change weapons through a mechanic that rewards you with more persistent reward bonuses) demand the selection of which abilities, and when to pick trade-offs like increased wealth vs better power-ups.

The reason this game drew me in while other rogue-likes didn't is the increasing impact of your power-ups over time. As you accumulate them, you make further progress, even if you're unskilled at controller movement and couldn't dodge an attack to save your life. This meant that I was more and more willing to do another run since I knew it wouldn't be wasted. Furthermore, the meta-game was deep enough that I started approaching it as a resource allocation problem.

The kids loved the story enough that they became more interested in Greek mythology as a result. So now they know the names of Poseidon, Hermes, Thanatos, Eurydice, Orpheus, and Demeter. Many people claim that video games have no educational value, but my guess is those people are also the same people who claimed that comic books have no value, yet I impressed my GP teacher first day at RJC by naming the president of the USA during WW2, something I learned by reading a Batman comic.

I did the game through 10 defeats of Hades, and I still found it fun enough to want to keep playing. That's rare! I hardly ever revisit games that I "finished".

The game was fun, and I hardly ever finish games, so that means I'll put a recommended tag on this.

Monday, April 04, 2022

Review: Black Ships Before Troy

 I read on some website that Black Ships Before Troy was a good retelling of The Iliad by Rosemary Sutcliff.  I checked it out of the library since the copy that was illustrated by Alan Lee was long out of print and it was listed as a children's book. My kids ignored it until they started playing Hades, whereupon they suddenly became interested in Achilles, Aphrodite, Zeus, and other members of the Greek mythology. They even started calling Black Ships Before Troy the Hades book.

The art was not up to the standard I expected from Alan Lee. The story is well written, if simplified, but the content of the Iliad was unabridged. That means it's all there, the adultery, the horrific violence, cruelty, and inexplicable behavior (some of which is attributed to the gods). I read a couple of chapters a day to the kids, sometimes wincing as I did so, but they took it all in with aplomb.

I have no patience for poetry, so am unlikely to ever read The Iliad. If you're like me, this is by far the most approachable version and it's uncensored. Enjoy!