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|Monday, December 11th, 2017|
|Justice, Bird, Jessi, Critters
Movies and miscellany:
"Justice League" is the best movie so far in which Henry Cavill plays Superman. Of course, the bar for that was REALLY low... The villain is lame, and the movie fails to build suspense at the various cliffhanger points. On the other hand, the cast is good, and there are moments of character interaction that are positively brilliant, and pretty much worth the price of admission.
"Lady Bird" is a slice of life centered on a moderately eccentric teenage girl who is utterly self obsessed and also utterly lacking in self awareness. She shows a small amount of growth of the course of the story, but being trapped in the company of a fundamentally unpleasant person is just as uncomforatable when that person is on the screen as when they are in the same room.
In other news... I missed the December poker game due to a cold, but then barely got myself together the next day to have a long conversational meal with adopted niece Jessi, whom I had not seen in over a decade.
On the home front, the critters have been trying to get back into the attic. They punched a hole about the size of a mail slot through the roof, but do not seem to have actually gotten inside. I have installed a temporary patch that may do the job; we shall see.
|Thursday, November 30th, 2017|
|Random Bits from Facebook
Said in my household:
"Ultimately, the core argument against atheism is the same as the one against strict heterosexuality: Why limit yourself?" --Julia Haynie
This afternoon, for reasons that don't matter much, I had occasion to ask five different theater employees if they had ever heard of Charles Lindbergh. None of them had.
I don't know how to react to that...
I can deal with cold. I am not fond of it, but I can deal with it. But I HATE snow.
Life in my household:
Hyena: A router can only see the networks it is directly connected to, so you set up a routing protocol so that it tells its neighbors what it can see, and asks them what THEY can see...
Dementia: So it's all about gossip.
Hyena (laughing): Pretty much, yeah.
Life in my household:
Dementia was wearing a tee shirt emblazoned with a list of names, white on black, in a vertical column. "Hurt" was listed between "McGann" and "Eccleston", and at the bottom, "Whittaker" followed "Capaldi." Hyena said, "That's a NEW shirt." Dementia just grinned. So did Hyena.
After 25 years of home ownership, I have come a little bit closer to the US tradition of grilling in the back yard by cooking steak, in small pieces, on a hotdog fork, over an open fire in the living room fireplace. It was an extremely successful experiment, and will likely be tried again, particularly since we ate only half of the steak.
I still maintain that cooking is pointless unless you enjoy it, but I enjoy sitting in front of an open fire, and holding the hotdog fork doesn't diminish that. And the result was tasty...
It occurs to me that Chris Hemsworth is growing up to be his generation's version of John Wayne. Except... he can ACT.
Life in my household:
Reactions to TV viewing, without references in the name of avoiding spoilers.
Hyena: C'mon, guys, how many psychokinetics do you know? (There is a pause; a character comes through a door, and Hyena started to chant.) On Venus I learned the art of war; in this age will Lurga descend; I am the Pendragon.
One episode later:
Hyena: And Gordon sings the Stalker Song, and everybody gets to be happy.
For serious gold plated geek cred, identigy the "Pendragon" quote (which has nothing whatsoever to do with the show, other than invoking a similar scene).
(These are both references to "Stranger Things"; the literary reference is to "That Hideous Strength" by C.S. Lewis.)
Today's earworm, courtesy of "Stranger Things", is, "You Don't Mess Around With Jim", by Jim Croce. I have made no effort at all to get rid of it...
And with that, I have 101 km logged on the rowing machine for November (first time since February). Go, me.
"It's a fighting machine that happens to be a work of art. It will become outmoded as the former, but never the latter. One day, it will be only a work of art. If we are lucky, one that can be appreciated by civilized men in a world without fighting machines." --Garth Ennis in the character of a British fighter pilot, "War Stories" #25
, of the Supermarine Spitfire Mark VIII.
Ennis is one of my favorite writers in any medium; he certainly gets into my soul farther and more often than anyone else in his chosen medium (comic books).
As to the Spitfire... I wanted a photo of one in flight, couldn't find one, and had to settle for a painting. More than 20,000 were made (all variations, over ten years); fewer than 60 are still airworthy. But they ARE beautiful.
Foolishness. In theory, every time you hack a portal in Ingress, it resets a 24 hour countdown timer, and as long as that timer never expires, the "Sojourner" counter keeps counting up. In practice, I am pretty sure I let it get to 26 or 27 hours a time or two. Still... a thousand consecutive days of Ingress. It means some infinitessimal amount more than absolutely nothing. (It actually ticked over yesterday, on Dementia's birthday.)
You know that feeling you get when you are looking through the docs of a device that you don't actually have and you find a sketchy implication of something cool that might just work on a device that you DO have, and you extrapolate the missing bits and try it and it works PERFECTLY? Yeah, that feeling.
Or, as Victor Frankenstein once said, "It is... ALIVE!"
(In reference to tricking a router into behaving as a level 3 switch.)
|Sunday, November 19th, 2017|
|Marshall, Service, Thor, Orient
"Marshall" is a sort of biopic. That is, it is based on a single incident in the life of Thurgood Marshall, from his days as an NAACP lawyer. It is very well done, and we enjoyed it a great deal.
"Thank You For Your Service" is a movie about PTSD. It follows four men who have recently returned from sharp edge duty in Iraq. All are damaged in one way or another. It is a well done film, and I am glad that I saw it, but it is not intended in any way to be enjoyable.
"Thor: Ragnarok" is one of the sillier offerings from the Marvel movie machine, in spite of having an extremely strong villain in Cate Blanchett's Hela. Marvel's cinematic Thor seems to be migrating somewhat toward the character of the sagas, as least as far as his intelligence goes. It is a pleasant enough movie, but a bit strange at points. Most tellingly, if you have established a background of Norse saga, and have a major character lose an eye, is should MEAN something.
"Murder on the Orient Express" approaches its subject matter as if it were repertory theater. That is, the audience is expected to KNOW the story, and is in the theater for the sake of nuances of design and performance rather than for the plot. The result is a film that is beautiful, and that draws excellent performances from a stellar cast, but that feels disjointed and a bit shapeless. We liked it well enough, but I came away feeling that there had been an even better film in the material that just barely failed to materialize.
|Thursday, November 16th, 2017|
|Random Bits from Facebook
So this afternoon I realized that my deep and abiding hatred of winter has bled over into an intense dislike of autumn, though I can get past it occasionally.
In the meantime, and possibly related, strange filky things have been happening in my head today. The tunes should be pretty obvious.
This one started out this "Cthulhu" instead of "Dagon", but "Dagon" just sounds better:
Dagon loves the little children,
All the children of the world:
Broiled or battered and deep fried,
With live puppies on the side,
Dagon loves the little children of the world.
And then there is this one, parts of which have been kicking around for a long time:
All the trees are dead,
And the sky is black;
The sun has gone away,
And it's not coming back.
Any hope of meaning
Is a thing we lack;
Life's a rocket railway
Running on a dead end track.
Wasn't that fun? (I'm not any crazier than usual today, really I'm not. But gray skies bring out the poetry...)
Went into Cryptic Legends comics yesterday, was told there was nothing new on my pull list for the week. And then the proprietor handed me a back issue with a 20 cent cover price, meaning it was from the early 70s. "This came in, and I thought it was your kind of thing," he said.
"Swords of Sorcery" #1
from DC, featuring Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I smiled and bought it. Turns out the book only ran five issues, Denny O'Neil adapting Fritz Leiber. As it turns out, SoS #1
was also the first full length story pencilled by a guy named Howard Chaykin. Yeah, definitely my kind of thing.
So there's a new housing development going up in the Felstead Way neighborhood in the town of Luton, Bedfordshire, in the UK. Steve Dillon lived in the area at the time of his death. There will be 36 new houses along two new streets. The streets are called, "Preacher Close" and "Cassidy Close".
Kind of rips my heart out, that does...
Strange and obscure geekery:
Once upon a long ago, John Tenniel drew Lewis Carroll's Mad Hatter for the first time with a price card in his hat band that read "In this Style 10/6". That price card, and that specific price, have been part of the Hatter's image ever since. This evening, an unrelated item in a completely different context had a price card that read "10/6", and a voice in the back of my head said, "That's a half guinea," and the world shifted ever so slightly on its axis.
Quick show of hands: Did you know that a guinea was 21 shillings? Now that you do, do you care at all? Yeah. That.
And yet, I am grinning like a fool over it. My mind is a peculiar place.
Saw "Thor: Ragnarok" yesterday, liked it, mostly. More detailed comments to follow. But...
It's common knowlege that Jack Kirby inspired the cityscape of Asgard; did anyone else see Moebius inspiration in the Junk World, and in the big space ship at the end? I sure did.
The problem with exercising in the morning is that it gives you a sense of accomplishment... that is more than sufficient to kill any ambition or sense of urgency about anything else for the rest of the day.
Had an experience last evening that reminded me why I am not a working writer. It involved carpentry, and it came out well enough in the end, but that isn't the point. I got it in my head to get a job done, hit a setback, decided to power through anyway, and hit a wall fairly hard. The details don't matter. The point is that there is a time to trudge ahead blindly, and there is a time to step back and walk away, at least for a while. Knowing when to do which is critical, and you will usually have to make the decision when you are tired, angry, sick, or otherwise impaired.
One of the consistent bits of writing advice that I hear over and over is to write EVERY day. I have experimented with this, and have learned that when I attempt to write by discipline the product makes me want to quit writing forever, or kill myself, or at the very least destroy all trace of the result so that no else reads it and decides that I have to die for the good of humanity. I have learned, in fact, that I really shouldn't try to write fiction until the pressure against the inside of my fingertips gets pretty intense. So I am not, and never will be, a commercial writer.
I do OK with Trudge Mode, usually, as long as I have some kind of goal in sight, and there is no creativity involved. I have lived in that mode for years at a time, actually. But creativity on demand? Nope. Not going to happen.
My personal Veteran's Day ritual has been, for the last several years, to find an audience somewhere public and read Kipling's "Tommy" out loud, to the best of my acting ability. I don't always manage it; I don't have a venue in mind for today, yet.
In the meantime, my thanks and appreciation to all those who have served, or are serving.
Dragged out to McHenry for a Bounding Main house concert tonight. REALLY good times.
Game geekery: I was looking through the weapons list for D&D 5e today, and stumbled across the fact that scimitars and short swords have exactly the same stats. That is, the are "finesse" weapons, suitable for characters with more dexterity than strength, and they are "light" weapons, suitable for off-hand or dual weapon use. This makes sense for the short sword; the twin gladius style is well documented. The scimitar, though, is primarily a cavalry weapon, intended for chopping and slashing from horseback. They are blade-heavy and poorly balanced for thrusting, which makes them mediocre or worse fencing weapons.
The obvious source of this significant contrast between history and game rules would seem to be writer R.A, Salvatore, and his "white sheep" dark elf, Drizzt Do'Urden, who is hugely popular among readers of D&D fiction, and fights with a pair of magic scimitars. And since it is assumed that many players will want their characters to resemble Drizzt (and they do; "white sheep" dark elves have become something of a joke), history loses out.
There is an epistemological lesson to be learned in there, somewhere...
|Wednesday, November 1st, 2017|
|Random Bits from Facebook
I am significantly amused that we live in a culture where it is possible to buy an extended warranty on an extruded aluminum heat sink.
So there's a new hashtag meme out there, "I will" as a sympathetic male response to the (generally) female "Me, too." Now, I don't DO hashtag memes, I just DON'T. But if I did, I would do this one...
Life in my household:
Hyena suggested something improbable. Dementia said, "That will never work."
Hyena shrugged and said, "Optimism frees a Major."
Dementia stared at Hyena; he stared back. Dementia blinked; Hyena lost control of his grin...
Dementia blinked again. Somewhere in the depths of her brain, a connection was made to an episode of "Boston Legal" in which Denny argued, with utter sincerity, that he thought the phrase "hope springs eternal" was a misapprehension of a story about a woman named Hope who liberated an army officer in a 1940s espionage movie. Dementia started to laugh.
So did Hyena.
We were waiting for take-out food, and an elderly gentleman in a veteran's unit cap sat down next to me while his son went for their car. I asked him if he had been in WWII, or Korea. He said WWII, and I said he must be just a bit older than my father, who had been in boot on VE Day, and in an advanced school on VJ Day, and had then served with the Japan Occupation force.
He said that he had been in the Pacific, training for the invasion of the Japanese mainland, in August of 1945, and that the atomic bombs and subsequent Japanese surrender were the best news he had ever gotten. I told him he wasn't the first person I had heard that from, that everyone I had ever met who had been there agreed with him. He nodded.
I said, "That's not what they are teaching these days, you know. The newer history books are saying that Japan was already beaten, and that we dropped the bombs to scare the Soviets." He shook his head.
"You will never hear that from anyone who was there," he said. I said I didn't imagine that I would.
His son returned, he stood, I stood, I shook his hand, and wished him well.
We went out to Geneva, IL, this afternoon to visit a dragon. Her name is "Viking", and she is a replica of the Gokstad ship, built in Norway in 1893, and sailed across the Atlantic (proving conclusively that it was possible) to participate in Chicago's Columbian Exhibition, and then spent nearly a hundred years being neglected by the City of Chicago.
These days, she is finally in the custody of people who care about her, and appreciate the treasure that she is. For the time being, the project is much, much bigger than the resources that are available, but progress is being made, anyway.
Here there be dragons.
Went up to Racine last night for a game of "This House is Haunted" under the auspices of Joe Fromm and Robie Moore, who incidentally got engaged to each other over the course of the game. VERY good times. (Thanks much, Joe and Robie, for sharing with us.)
Life in my household:
Dementia: I guess I shouldn't try to play barre chords while wearing fingerless gloves...
|Tuesday, October 31st, 2017|
|Death, Runner, Marsden, Foreigner, Jigsaw, Hoopla, Viking, Haunted
Movies, and a few other things.
"Happy Death Day" is pretty much exactly what is described in the trailers, which is to say, "Groundhog Day" told as a horror story. The early sequences, as the protagonist figures out what is going on, are well done and creepy. The story gets a bit lost as it progresses, but the star is decorative, and the movie lives up to its fairly low expectations.
"Blade Runner 2049" is exactly what you would expect in a sequel to "Blade Runner": It's beautiful, pompous, and kind of dumb, but once you get past that, there is a pretty good bit of film noir under it all. (Oh, and while I am at it, the much maligned theatrical release is my favorite version of the original movie; it NEEDS the voice overs to sort out the plot, if you come into it cold.)
"Professor Marsden and the Wonder Women" is fairly straightforward, given how convoluted the subject matter is. It's well done, though I came away with the impression that the actual story was rather different than was presented in the film. I strongly suspect Marsden was basically a hand puppet for his admittedly smarter and more talented wife. This would make the Wonder Woman character even more culturally significant (though, unfortunately, no less lame).
"The Foreigner" is an oddity. It seems to have been tailor made for a Chinese martial artist, but it contains WAY too much detail about Irish politics for a typical martial arts movie. It turns out to have been based on a 25 year old novel. It works well, even though it seems a shame to have Jackie Chan in a movie where he only gets to smile once.
"Jigsaw" is essentially the eighth entry in the "Saw" franchise, even though the title character was killed off decisively two movies previously. This is really difficult in a horror franchise that has been pointedly non-supernatural from the very beginning. Over the course of the movie, there are a number of small things that seem to make no sense, but they all pay off in the end, which is a neat trick.
Odds and ends: On the 20th, I trekked up to Johnstown Center, WI, and did a short visit to Mini-Hoopla, a charity driven gaming con. I have done fly-bys of the main (spring) Gaming Hoopla two or three times, and have never managed to play a game before. This time, I played something called "Stone Garden" which had fairly simple gameplay and an incredibly complex scoring system. Not really my cup of tea.
On the 21st, Dementia and I took a different trek to Geneva, IL, to visit "Viking", a full size replica of the Gokstad ship that crossed the Atlantic, 2500 miles in 28 days, under sail and oars back in 1893. Then she spent a hundred years rotting in the care of the Chicago Park District. She is beautiful and sad.
On the 27th I went up to Racine for my third game of "This House is Haunted", this time in a private house. Our host managed to work a marriage proposal into the fabric of the game, which was both charming and logistiaclly impressive. (The lady in question said yes.) Good times.
|Sunday, October 15th, 2017|
|Random Bits from Facebook
Circumstances have caused this idiocy to bubble into my brain, lately...
Identify the obnoxious fictional multimedia character. If the last clue doesn't give it away, you have been living under a rock.
1) He believes he is a fundamentally good person, but is actually so self-centered that he doesn't realize that he is emotionally abusive.
2) He is immortal and eternally youthful, and has superhuman strength and speed, but feels the universe has done him a bad turn because he has an extremely restricted (but quite manageable) diet.
3) He is in love with a rather dim woman who suffers from a world-class martyr complex.
4) He sparkles in the sunlight.
(Dementia got it on the first clue...)
Pokego foolishness: Last weekend in Michigan, I managed to take over a gym (and an Ingress portal) at an out of the way location marker. No one has knocked it down yet, and I had enough gold berries that my critter is still there. So I have managed to single-handedly hold a gym from a hundred miles away for a full week. Go me.
Suchia and I took on Nippersink Creek today, 6.2 miles worth. I tagged Pistakee Lake for the first time, and managed to get lost once (there was no current to speak of, and the residential canal on the right was twice the size of the actual channel on the left). The boat ramp lets out into a shallow, weed choked bay more suited to poling than to rowing or paddling. Once out into the creek proper, things went pretty well, though I did run aground once. There was a significant south wind, which didn't matter most of the time, but made the short run across the south side of the island in Pistakee Lake INTERESTING; there was enough chop that I splashed water into the boat with the starboard oar on every stroke.
Damon Runyon was born on this day in 1884. He told stories of warriors and tricksters in language that seemed so commonplace that it was easy to miss its beauty and poetry.
“One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come up to you and show you a nice brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is not yet broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that he can make the Jack of Spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son, do not bet this man, for as sure as you are standing there, you are going to end up with an earful of cider.”
I had a lot of boating goals at the beginning of this season, and failed to meet almost all of them (though I did manage to get out at least once a month for May, June, July, August, September, and October). I needed to close out the season, because there are home maintenance chores that need to be done, and complete for the same time. But I refused to close things out without visiting the Lady Geneva at least once.
Geneva is ALWAYS beautiful, unless she is angry, but today she was PERFECT. No wind, almost no traffic, good temperatures, amazing partial cloud cover. Of course I forgot my camera.
Done for the year, now (though I reserve the right to pull the boat out for one more day if we have perfect weather in November). Suchia gets put away for the season in the next few days. Total milage for the year was only 32, but that beats 2013 (1.5) and 2015 (0) by quite a bit.
Brother Rat is once again proven to have spoken the truth.
A relationship paradox: It is a fine thing to lay the keys to your soul on the table in front of another person and say, "I belong to you." HOWEVER... If you are the person on the other side of the table, it is an act of unmitigated evil to pick those keys up.
Courtesy of Dan Schwartz:
There was a young man
From Cork who got limericks
And haikus confused.
Thirty-three years ago today, in an office containing (among other things) an authentic Stateville Prison leg iron and a tank full of piranha....
33rd anniversary, day two. Both feeling kind of ill, Dementia had a dental appointment; I mowed the front lawn for the last time this year. Life is exciting!
Took advantage of the weather to sneak around the crowds and get my 2018 Great America season pass validated. (Once you have a season pass, getting the next year's, including parking, is cheaper than one day admission without parking.) The overhead was playing "Tubular Bells" at the security kiosk, and "Night on Bald Mountain" once I was inside. They have been doing Fright Fest for a long time, and they seem to have the details down cold...
Life in my household:
Dementia: So how was the buffet?
Hyena: OK. They had fried chicken.
Dementia (rolling eyes): And you ate a whole chicken.
Hyena (sheepishly): A big chicken. It had six legs.
Dementia: That's a big chicken.
Hyena: When mad scientists get involved in cock fighting, strange things happen.
|American, Flatliners, Mountain, Battle
"American Made" is a significantly fictionalized treatment of the story of Barry Seal, an extremely talented pilot who supplemented his income by smuggling cocaine and taking pictures for the CIA. It's highly entertaining, though (predictably) it does not end well. We enjoyed it a great deal.
"Flatliners" follows the usual patterns for sequel/remakes, in that it fails to match the quality of the original. It also cheats. The original set up tension between psychological and supernatural solutions with a series of ambiguous clues; the current version provides incontrovertible clues for both solutions, some of which turn out to be unexplainably false. The result is decidedly lackluster.
"The Mountain Between Us" is a weird mutant of a survival adventure and a love story. It doesn't work well on either path, except the stars bring so much to the material that the whole thing almost gels, anyway. It isn't unwatchable, but you will definitely lose some brain cells along the way.
"Battle of the Sexes" is an apparently accurate and highly entertaining telling of a bizarre and surprisingly far-reaching sideshow from the early 70s. Everything about the movie is first rate, and it is fun to watch on top of that. We enjoyed it a great deal.
|Saturday, September 30th, 2017|
|Random Bits from Facebook
Someone (I don't remember who, and don't care) is using a mangled remix of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" to sell something or other. This led us, as a matter of moral obligation, to listen to the original as soon as the program was over. Damn, that's a good song...
I can deal with being an "it". I will never, ever be happy with being a "they" when I am alone. If we must abolish gendered pronouns (and the time for that is certainly coming, if it isn't already here), the path should be to de-stigmatize "it", not to corrupt "they" (and thereby eliminate not only gender but also number in pronouns). Singular "they" makes my teeth hurt.
I am it. You are it. We are, individually, it. Really.
(Update: The pushback on this was furious, passionate, and often kind of weird. I did not expect this to be a "minefield" topic, but it very much is one.)
Three times in the last five weeks I have driven the fifty miles to Lake Geneva, intending to play in a scheduled Dungeons & Dragons game, and then turned around and come home without throwing a single die. I know I have occasional issues with threshold anxiety, but I can almost always power through them. Not this time, though. This afternoon (iteration three) I figured out what was going on.
Games have been going flat for me, lately. This is disturbing, but I have been mostly ascribing it to the general purpose anxiety and depression I have been dealing with lately. But this... I realized that I am significantly afraid that I will sit down to play an RPG and not be able to enjoy it. Given the significance of RPGs in my life, this is a piece of information I simply can not afford to have. The suspicion is not a good thing, but the reality would be devastating. So until things change, I am not going to try again. The stakes are too high, and the odds are too bad.
Overheard from Dementia's current audio book:
"I love you, but when you lie to me, could you at least be believable? I always try to be believable when I lie to you." --Seanan McGuire in the character of Alexander Price, "Pocket Apocalypse"
Life in my household:
Dementia: What are you doing?
Hyena: Building a support structure under my desk.
Dementia: I don't suppose you considered actually dealing with the stuff on top of the desk as an alternative?
Hyena: That's just crazy talk.
Life in my household:
Watching "The Orville":
Seth (Capt. Ed Mercer) MacFarlane: You mean this thing (28 km diameter generation ship) has a sunroof?
Dementia: Can you say, "Screaming agoraphobia"?
Extreme Geekery: I have been aware, pretty much from the time I knew what "Standard Distribution" was, that dice don't quite fit the curve. This is apparently because die rolls are so strongly quantized. I have long suspected that, as the number of dice rolled increases, the shape of the result curve gets squarer and squarer. Over the last week or two, in the spirit of "looking busy when I should really being doing something else", I have done some actual research.
To begin, I generated the result curves for sets of up to ten dice, which is pretty trivial with a spreadsheet (it takes about five minutes per set). Then I started trying to make sense of the data without doing too much actual work. Stuff I have found that seems to support the "increasingly square" hypothesis:
The greatest slope of the curve is a higher value (correcting for scaling) with each additional die.
The center N+1 vaules of the curve consume a greater percentage of the results with each additional die, ranging from 33% for the central 2 values of a single die to 69% for the central eleven values of the ten die set.
Being lazy, I am inclined to accept this as proof of the original hypothesis. (The shape of the result curve for N similar dice approaches a square wave shape as N increases.)
So now we now how "Inhumans" is going deal with Medusa's hair on a television budget.
|Friday, September 29th, 2017|
|Assassin, Ninjago, Request, Home, Kingsman, Defenders, Orville, Discovery
Movies and television:
"American Assassin" is a decent by the numbers thriller. It is somewhat hampered by the fact that both the protagonist and the antagonist are very physically similar, and are essentially interchangeable in low light, high speed sequences. There are a LOT of low light, high speed sequences. We liked it well enough anyway.
"Ninjago" begins and ends with a live action framing story featuring Jackie Chan as the Old Chinese Shopkeeper. That ten minutes is ALMOST worth the price of admission. Almost. The rest of the movie fails to make up the difference, though.
"Friend Request" is a "vengeful ghost" horror movie with a few interesting ideas, but not really enough of them.
"Home Again" is a slice of life dramedy. It's a lot of fun. We enjoyed it a great deal.
"Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is very much of a piece with the first "Kingsman" movie. Given that that is exactly what most people want out of sequels, this is fine. We enjoyed it.
We have recently worked our way through all of the Marvel-Netflix street level hero shows: "Daredevil", "Jessica Jones", "Luke Cage", "Iron Fist", and "The Defenders". They are all good, and a lot of fun. "Luke Cage" is the best of the lot, and "Iron Fist" the worst, but still quite watchable. "Iron Fist" suffers from being furthest from the "street level" theme of these shows; much of the action takes place in corporate boardrooms, and apparently no one on the staff knows how to write boardroom drama. Still, the supporting cast in all of the shows is simply stellar, and more than makes up for the occasional lapses at the top of the ticket.
"The Orville" is for the most part a "Star Trek" homage show, with occasional minor injections of Seth MacFarlane's lame and vulgar humor. After the first episode, I said, "We'll give it three," and so far it has been just good enough for us to watch one more episode. So far.
"Star Trek: Discovery" is a train wreck. We might have given it the same three chances we gave "The Orville" (even though it was significantly less fun to watch), but for cash up front? Nope.
|Friday, September 15th, 2017|
|Random Bits from Facebook
So suppose that you had this idea for a movie: A humanoid amphibian creature has been captured in the Amazon and is being held in a lab in the US. The creature develops a relationship with one of the housekeepers, and eventually there is screaming and bloodshed and hats are lost. It's sort of a retro-sci-fi romance thriller, but it is done with ZERO schlock, first class all the way. You'd expect that there would be SOME mention of the Black Lagoon, wouldn't you?
Apparently not. Guillermo Del Toro is calling it, "The Shape of Water", and I am REALLY looking forward to it, Black Lagoon or no.
That was harder than I expected it to be. And I expected it to be hard.
I spent Thursday in bed with a fever, spent Friday on restricted activity. I felt OK when I got up today, still had a slight fever, but I had PLANS. By the time I was showered and dressed, the fever was back, and it was clear that the plans were a REALLY bad idea. But I didn't want to blow off Ernie's birthday, did I? An hour plus to get there, then two or three or four hours of table games, and then an hour plus home... No. Didn't have it. Did did I have the trip there and back in me? Yes, but that meant walking in, saying hello and congratulations, and then walking out again. That was a STOOPID idea.
Friendship and honor are a fierce combination...
So I pulled myself together, made the trip, said hello to everyone, congratulated Ernie on another trip around the sun, played with the dog briefly, and went home.
Three good friends, three amiable strangers, table games, grilled hamburgers, grilled sweet corn. I clenched my teeth and walked away.
It was the right decision. Doesn't make it hurt less.
Abdul, the new clerk at the local convenience store, is from Saudi Arabia. We have had enough conversation for him to know that I am a bit different from his usual customers...
Today, I was buying lottery tickets, and he asked me if I knew the mechanism for determining winners in the multi-state lotteries; he had never seen a drawing. I described the machines, and we fell to a discussion of probability. He is a programmer, and knew a few things, though he said he was trying to figure a loophole in the lotteries; I wished him luck.
"There is no such thing as luck," he said. "It is all algorithms."
I shrugged. "You throw a thousand dice," I said, "You expect 167 ones. That's probability." I made a gun of my left hand, pointed it at the ceiling. "You throw ONE die," I continued, swiping my right hand across my left as if spinning a revolver cylinder, and then pointed my finger at him. "THAT is luck."
His eyes got huge, and then his face lit up. His world view had just shifted. It was a small shift, but palpable nonetheless. I smiled and went on my way.
I used to love talking to my friends on the phone, but somewhere along the line something has shifted; I have a list of people to whom I owe phone calls, and occasionally I stare at it as if it were an angry rattlesnake. I still love to TALK, of course, to friends, and to strangers, and occasionally even to inanimate objects, but I have come to pretty much hate phones. Looking back, I remember that my first reaction to the smart phone was one of revulsion (it didn't help that the supplier was the much-hated Apple, but that is a different neurosis).
So what changed? It has occurred to me that for about two decades, my main interaction with telephones was at work, where the telephone ALWAYS represented an onerous duty. So the revulsion can be explained as a long term condidtioned response. Knowing that doesn't help solve the problem, though.
Life goes on.
Life in my household:
I get up well before Dementia does, and am usually in the living room playing with my computer when she comes down for the first time. This morning she came down and immediately started rummaging in the freezer.
Dementia: No one else will believe me, but you KNOW you didn't hit me...
Hyena: That's an ominous opening...
She managed to bash her left cheekbone into a bedside chair. Gods only know how; she is talented. It looks like there will be an impressive bruise. Apparently this is some kind of once a decade ritual; this is the third time in 33 years of marriage.
I was driving east on Grand Avenue yesterday when I had a new-to-me experience: I recognized a face on a billboard. Not in the sense of, "I know that person's name", that is just a matter of recognizing celebrities. No, this was a, "I know his phone number and where he lives and he's married to my niece," kind of recognition. Mark Lancaster is playing Nox the Demonlord, figurehead character for Fright Fest at Great America, for the third time this year, and his (heavily made up and unrecognizable if you don't know it's him) face dominates the billboard on the entry sign.
VERY cool, Mark. Way to go!
Facebook reminds me Stephen L. Lortz was born on this day in 1949. This is the first time, since then, that he hasn't been among the living on the day.
Fare thee well where ever you fare, Steve. Open roads, fair winds, calm seas, and warm fires.
It occurred to me that, given a good audio book and no particular time pressure, rush hour traffic isn't really that bad. There is always the Chicago mantra: Anything is better than the CTA.
Why, oh WHY, would anyone shell out an evil amount of money for a Lamborghini, and then paint it like an emasculated school bus? Faded pumpkin? Salmon? It's like owning a starship and only using it to go to the corner convenience store.
Linguistic horror of the day: "Mentee" is an anathematic neologism which was apparently coined by someone who did not know that the reciprocal of "mentor" was "protege."
(Edited to "correct" the spelling of "anathematic" (which I fully acknowldge to be an anathematic neologism in its own right) at the prompting of Tom Murphy.)
I am reluctant to share this, but I am going to because it seems to be gnawing on me, and I need to let it out. My apologies.
Conversation with my father, yesterday, triggered by mention of hurricane Irma:
Me: How many times did you go to the DR?
DVH: Fifteen. Twice by myself, and thirteen times with... that woman... that woman who was my wife.
Me: You mean Frannie? My mother?
My dad forgot my mother's name. He didn't forget HER, he just spaced her name, and it bothered him. You could see it on his face, hear it in his voice. It was not a good moment.
My father is still very much himself, but that self is getting smaller and smaller all the time.
The wheel turns.
Character bits for an RPG character under construction:
"I admit it, I have a gambling problem. It's not that I'm a BAD gambler; I don't waste my money on bad bets. The problem is that I can't seem to walk away from good bets that I can't afford to lose. It's like my problem with women. It's not that I waste my time on women I can't get, it's that I can't seem to walk away from available women that I can't afford to win."
More geekery, at the interstice between RPG and philosophy:
I stumbled across an on-line discussion of methods to achieve corporeal immortality under the rules of the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons. All of the presented solutions involved either divine intervention, or top level (9th) spells. This intrigued me, because there is a 7th level full body regeneration spell in the lists that will, among other things, regrow severed limbs. No one seemed to realize that a side effect of this spell would be to restore the entire body to the cusp of maturity (somewhere between 17 and 35, depending on the specific sub-system being discussed), so casting the spell every decade or so would achieve immortality nicely.
There are a few minor hints in the rules that aging is some kind of metaphysical burden, and the gallery seemed to be buying that idea whole-heartedly. This strikes me as strange. Aging is exactly equal to the progressive failure of the body's self repair mechanisms. If only those systems were fully redundant, we would live forever (or at least until there was a simultaneous double failure...).
Reply from Kevin Price:
Well, if the telomere theory of aging is accurate, then Regeneration could regrow limbs that have the same telomere chain length as the parts they regrew from. And as such, the 'age' of your body wouldn't change at all.
Life in my household:
Dementia: There is no way that the Marvel Cinematic Universe would have Danny Rand (Iron Fist, of the Marvel-Netflix series) EAT his parents.
Hyena: They would if *I* were editor...
Life in my household (more "Iron Fist" foolishness):
Danny Rand: It's a complicated story. Every time I try to tell someone, they freak out.
Dementia: Have you ever heard of "Brigadoon"?
Life in my household:
Dementia: There's really only one good joke in "Spaceballs"...
Hyena: (quoting): "Funny..."
Dementia: (laughing) Yep, that's the one.
This is what happens after 33 years...
(The complete line is, "Funny, you don't look Druish...")
First rule of honest fantasy writing: Commonplace reality is assumed to apply, unless explicityly stated otherwise, or when revelation of the differences is integral to the plot.
|Thursday, September 14th, 2017|
"Birth of the Dragon" is a movie about the legendary version of Bruce Lee. That is, there is an historical Bruce Lee, and a legendary Bruce Lee, and this movie about the latter version. Once you step away from the history... The impression of Lee that is given by Philip Ng is pretty much perfect; the martial arts sequences are excellent, and the philosophy presented is satisfying. All told, we enjoyed this one a great deal.
"Wind River" is a well constructed police procedural with a great cast and a setting that is both physically and politically fascinating. It's a very dark story, but we enjoyed it.
|Thursday, August 31st, 2017|
|Random Bits from Facebook
Nothing is EVER simple.
I suspect that hatred is impossible if you really embrace the complexity.
I am nearly certain that personal peace is impossible if you do so.
"Mage", volume 3, number 1, has been in the house since yesterday. Dementia gets to read it first. She showed me a back cover ad for Mage swag, including tee shirts. We need a few; my original Mage tee shirt is over 30 years old. Dementia had some difficulty with the tee shirt vendor's web site, and I decided to try my hand. Think an indirect approach might be best, I asked, "Who's the publisher?"
Dementia replied, "Image."
"IMAGE?!?" I said incredulously; Dementia held up the book, showed me the logo. "Damn, Matt," I said, "You done good."
(Those who have followed the saga of Matt Wagner's Mage for the last three decades will understand. The rest of you should find out.)
Finally caught up on recorded TV, and watching the third season of "The Musketeers" for the first time on disc. Life is good. I LOVE this show...
I've been thinking lately that it might be fun to join the Flat Earth Society. There is something really liberating about the idea of getting into arguments, knowing from the start that you are utterly and completely wrong, and never having to worry about the truth, just about winning.
It turns out that it was perfectly safe to watch the eclipse with the naked eye here in Waukegan... (Celestial events follow a schedule. Weather, not so much.)
In my experience, it only takes a few iterations of being coerced to do something I love to turn that thing into something I USED to love.
A moral quandary: I just finished reading a very short small press book that was so amazingly bad that it inspired a REALLY amusing review. I normally have no compunctions about abusing commercially successful creators, but this is VERY small press, and the author is a friend (or at least an acquaintance) of friends of mine. and the review is BRUTAL. Do I post it, or keep it to myself?
(Update: The review is out there, but unless you know the exact terms to search for, you won't find it.)
Yesterday, I posted a single paragraph of a book review that I have decided to otherwise leave buried in my archives. It caused a few people (who are not familiar with my problematic relationship to my muse) to make, "You should write more," noises. I am not going to respond to that in detail; the story is both boring and painful. I am, however, going to trot out a piece of my fiction. This is a favorite; it is probably the sweetest story I have ever written. I have just re-read it, and five years after the fact, it makes ME cry. It is, for my work, unusually non-violent, and has the distinction of having been read by a father to his children as a bedtime story (in New Zealand, no less!)
(See "The Oakbridge Oak", elsewhere.)
Currently wearing a brand new, old stock "Mage" tee shirt from 1997. I still have, and have recently worn, a once identical shirt that I bought back in the day.
Best laid plans department:
Yesterday, I was supposed to get out of the house early, be in Libertyville when the comic shop opened at 11:00, then head out to Rockford, row the perimeter of Pierce Lake, then get to Lake Geneva Games in time for RPG night at 6:00.
In reality, I didn't get out of the house until 1:00, didn't get to Pirece Lake until 4:15, and decided I just didn't have the energy to unlimber the canoe. I didn't actually bail on Lake Geneva until I got to the fork in the road at Harvard, which was the go/no go point. I continue to hate making adult decisions...
My brain is not what it once was; most obviously, my memory doesn't cling to things as easily as it once did, and while everything seems to still be in there, sometimes the retrieval times are measured in hours or even days. This is not worrisome; incremental cognitive decline is just another inevitable part of aging (and yet ANOTHER reason to scream in horror when I look in the mirror every morning). On the other hand, my mother was an Alzheimer's victim, and if I follow her trajectory, I only have 15 or 16 years of personality left.
On the other hand... I slept in this morning. I have been feeling ill, and needed some extra sleep. I wasn't comfortable, and wasn't sleeping soundly. I decided that it was time to face the day when I realized I had been working on a probability problem, including reconstructing half-remembered theorems, on the backs of my eyelids. It was time to get up, find some scratch paper, and check my work.
How does the song go? "As good once as I ever was..."
There are a lot of Zen parables that end with minor variations on the phrase, "And then he became enlightened." Being a trickster at heart, I see these as, "And then he realized that it was all a scam, there was not really any such thing as Enlightenment, and all that was really necessary was to put in enough time seeking that people believed you when you claimed to be enlightened, and then you could begin to reap the benefits of being perceived as a bodhisattva." But even then, it's not EXACTLY fraud, because the Way that can be told is not the true Way, and the journey is the worthier part...
Life in my household:
Hyena (Addressing Dementia in her Mistress of the TV Screen mode): Could you find SOMETHING to play? I am literally sitting here watching batteries charge, and I need some kind of intellectual stimulation...
FINALLY watching the uncut version of "The Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King." It a 2004 version of "The Nibelungenlied." It was made by a German producition company, filmed in English, and shot in South Africa. Confused yet? It originally ran 177 minutes, but was cut to 134 for the US audience; most of what was cut was a subplot about the displacement of Odinism by Christianity. I finally managed to find a full version, and the time to watch it...
And today on Vocabulary Quest, our hero found himself learning to differentiate among "elipsoid" (very general), "oblate spheroid" (flying saucer), and "prolate spheroid" (blunted football).
Got the boat in the water for the first (and maybe last) time in August today; drove out to Pierce Lake, north of Rockford. In addition to the circuit shown, I rowed out almost across the center of the lake to offer a tow to a couple of becalmed and clueless sailors; they got in without my help.
Insert Water Rat quotation here...
(The becalmed sailors had a Butterfly, a fiberglass cat rigged scow.)
So... It turns out that what it takes to turn two weeks of intermittently sort-of sick into, "Get back into bed, Stupid," is a couple of hours of strenuous exercise. Maybe now all of the harbinger joint pain will retreat back to manageable levels.
In the book "Time Enough for Love", Robert A. Heinlein's characters discuss the idea of the Blind Man's Rainbow as an example of something that is generally regarded as wonderful that some people miss completely. I think we all have a few of them; one of mine is food.
It is a very rare day when at least one of my friends on Facebook doesn't lovingly describe a recent meal, or a forthcoming meal, and its preparation. I am empathetic enough to understand that this matters to them, that they take joy out of it, and I am happy for them, but as far as my visceral reaction goes, they might as well be comparison shopping for aquarium gravel.
On the other hand, if you put ketchup on a hotdog in my presence, I will still stop speaking to you, but that isn't really food, it's religion.
|Saturday, August 26th, 2017|
|Tower, Lucky, Bodyguard
"The Dark Tower" is based on Stephen King's odd and commercially successful foray into epic fantasy. It has some great moments, but it doesn't quite fit into the length of a single movie, and has significant pacing problems. Still, we enjoyed it. And I got a kick out of the fact that ".45 Long Colt" is apparently a cosmic specification.
"Logan Lucky" is a moderately deranged caper movie with a great cast. It has some pacing problems, and sometimes the stoopid is just too far over the top, but we still enjoyed it a great deal.
"The Hit Man's Bodyguard" is silly, violent, and a great deal of fun. It gives us two wonderful actors playing minor variations on their best characters in a nearly perfect blend of humor and bloodshed. And then it throws in the best three-minute love story in the history of cinema as a bonus. AND it uses one of my favorite songs as an end title. This movie is NOT for everyone, but if you like this kind of thing, you will LOVE this one. We did.
|Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017|
|Fare well, Little Gadget
In early 2014, my company Wellness Plan offered me a Fitbit. I got a red Fitbit One, made a lanyard for it, and wore it pretty much continally until tonight.
I had gotten into the habit of charging it on Tuesdays, charged it on August 8, tried to charge it on August 15, and it wouldn't acknowlege the charging cable. Since the device needs to be on the cable to reset, there was nothing for it except to let the battery discharge. Tonight, at 8:10 PM, it synced for the last time, and went dark. I have it sitting in a bottle full of desicators, and I will try to charge it again next Tuesday, but I am not hopeful.
It makes me a bit sad; for three and a half years, that thing was with more more than ANYTHING. And now it's gone, probably. Fitbit has given me a courtest 25% discount on a new device, and it is on order. Life goes on.
|Tuesday, August 15th, 2017|
|Random Bits from Facebook
Forcing customers to listen to repeated ads for on-line banking while on hold due a an on-line banking system crash is NOT a good strategic option.
Three hour conversatonal lunch with Douglas R Reno this afternoon. I have known him for more than half his life; this is the first significant one on one time we have had. There must be more.
People who fear strong AI are looking at the wrong problem. The greatest threat to the long term survival of humanity is, and always will be, humanity itself. And if our bequest to the universe, after we have destroyed ourselves, is a species of self-replicating, rapidly mutating, possibly hostile, probably aggressive robots that carries our memory to the stars, well...
That which is remembered, lives.
Currently consuming "Norse Mythology", by Neil Gaiman, as an audio book. I am almost certainly going to start over again from the beginning once I finish it.
My brother Pete has been running a monthly poker club for his friends and neighbors for about 15 years; I have been part of it, when I was available, for about eight of those. I quickly learned that playing the best game I could wasn't really any fun; it required too much concentration, and too much stress. Not caring at all is better, but not entirely satisfactory. Last night I tried a different approach; I added role play to the equation, and tried to act as if I cared, even if I didn't. I played better than I have in years, and had more fun that usual, too.
Sanity Optional R Us...
Steampunk day at Bristol today, also the last Bounding Main show of the year. We went, and managed to catch Bounding Main twice, and catch Dark Fairie Tales, and catch the Shanty Shipwreck Show. Along the way, I did hawks for all three pickle vendors, and told the story of Hob Gadling to a barmaid. A good day, but long and busy.
Let's hack the internet a bit, shall we? As of this moment, Google comes up wth NOTHING (of significance) if you search for "Palladian Owl". If you look for "Palladian", you find that the word means "related to the goddess Athena" (among other things). If you search on "Athena's Owl", you get pages of images. This is WRONG. So... The photo below, which is of an Athenian Tetradrachm (or more likely, a knock off), is titled, "Palladian Owl". So the phrase will now exist in at least one place associated with the appropriate image. If you share the image, with the title attached, there will two (or three, or four...) So... Let's fix the universerse a bit, shall we? There is so much that NEEDS to be done, and this is trivial, but we can DO it. And that is something.
The worry in repairing the raccoon hole is that one or more might have been hiding inside. 24 hours later, the motion sensors haven't tripped, and we haven't heard any scrabbling noises. So I think we are good.
Life in my household:
The recorded TV program ended, and the machine popped back to the "recorded program" menu, which was empty. And Dementia said, "There's nothing left to roll." And Hyena laughed long and loud. The phrase would NEVER be used around here literally, but it IS a very specific literary reference. The idea that anyone, ever, has used Shel Silverstein's "Great Smoke Off" as a literary source amuses me immensly. Even if it is entirely my fault.
There are few things that disturb me as much as having a person for whom I generally have intellectual respect zealously adopt a logically untenable concept. (If you think I am talking about you, you are probably wrong. If you think I am talking about you AND you know the topic in question, you might not be a zealot after all. And for the record, this is a generic response with a specific recent trigger.)
Life in my household:
Hyena (In response to a loud, THUMP! from the kitchen): What was that?
Dementia: Bambi versus Godzilla.
Hyena: Oh. (Dementia kills her own bugs...)
|Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017|
|Sick, Spider, Valerian, Apes, Blonde, Dunkirk, Jones, Daredevil, Love
More than two weeks since my last real update. Once again, the day to day stuff starts on Facebook and gets back posted here, so this is movies and TV series.
"The Big Sick" is a romantic comedy about a girl in a coma, based on reality, written and starring the person who really lived it. The movie is every bit as strange as that implies, but a LOT of fun. We liked it a lot.
"Spider-Man: Homecoming" is the most recent reboot of the Spider-Man franchise. This version is younger and slightly goofier than his predessors. Being the first movie of a new sequence, it doesn't suffer from the "bigger, better, more" mania that cripples most long running series. We enjoyed this one a great deal.
"Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" is pretty and kind of dumb. Cara Delevinge ALMOST carries the movie, but Dane Dehaan is too short and too baby-faced to have the gravitas that the title role calls for. To some extent, the time for this movie passed about a decage ago; we have seen so many awe-inspiring settings that we have run out of awe. It's adequate and enjoyable, but no more.
"War for the Planet of the Apes" is the third and presumably last episode of this rather amazing series that demonstrates that a 40 year old schlock series can be mined to create something that is truly epic. There is a beauty to this narrative that often makes me cry. We have loved the others, and we love this one as well.
"Atomic Blonde" might be the movie that people ought to be talking about when they are gushing over "Wonder Woman". It tries a little bit too hard to be cool and edgy, but Charlize Theron is amazing as the title character. We liked this one a great deal.
"Dunkirk" takes one of the most amazing events in history and manages to make it pointlessly confusing and kind of trite. There are still a few scenes where the magic of the event transcends the idiocy of the film making, but there aren't really enough of them. We were not impressed.
"Jessica Jones" has finally come out on DVD, and we got to watch it. The first episode gets lost in its efforts to be dark and cool and edgy, but then settles down and tells a good story well. We really enjoyed the comics this was based on, and this is a worthy re-imagining.
"Daredevil" is based on one of Marvel's most consistently interesting heroes, and does the source material justice.
"Big Love" has an interesting setting, but in the end it is just another soap opera of the "stupid people being unhappy" variety, and we barely made it through the first episode before we bailed. We are glad that we borrowed, rather than bought, this particular DVD set.
|Monday, July 31st, 2017|
|Random Bits from Facebook
Life in my household:
When we watch TV at home, I sit on the floor, with my back against the front of the couch. It's peculiar, but comfortable (for me). My computer sits on a small stool, which leaves me lots of options to shift my feet around and change positions. This time of year, I am usually in shorts and barefoot.
Yesterday, I was at the computer, and noticed something odd on the outside edge of my left foot. I did a minor contortion so that I could see the area, and found a staple driven neatly into my foot; if I were standing, it would have been parallel to, and about 20 mm above, the floor. I needed a tool to remove it, and it was NOT painless. No idea how it got there.
Maybe I was marked down for clearance, but the tag fell off.
Life in my household:
We frequently slide into "Calvin and Hobbes" parallels; you never know, around here, when a plush toy will come to life and hold a conversation with you. Of course, there isn't just one plush toy, there are... MANY. This morning, during a random speculation as to why there was no green faction in Pokemon Go, a grumpy faced green stegasaurus named McCoy offered (with some help from Dementia), "Don't ask me. I'm a dinosaur, not a philosopher."
I didn't QUITE collapse to the floor from laughter.
I love my wife...
Two things to say about the new Doctor Who that I haven't heard before: One, she will be the 14th Doctor, not the 13th. There is NO reason to omit John Hurt that still allows you to count Paul McGann. So 14, OK? Also... Check out the completely functional, real person in stressful situation shoes!
Life in my household:
Dementia (while practicing the ukulele): This can't be right!
Hyena: Say what?
Dementai: The head chart wants me to play an H7.
Hyena: Maybe it's a Red Dwarf reference? Nah...
And here we have the apparent source, and a cogent explanation, of a statement I have often heard and have heretofore never had context for. It would seem to have originally meant, "Consistency of tone is preferable to occasional flashes of brilliance."
"If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings." --Arthur Quiller-Couch, "On the Art of Writing"
Wikipedia tells me that Kenneth Grahame's "Water Rat" was based on Grahame's friend Arthur Quiller-Couch, a writer and critic who gave the world the phrase, "Murder your darlings." But there is another option. In his book "The Surgeon of Crowthorne" (more recently known as "The Professor and the Madman"), Simon Winchester proposes that Ratty was inspired by one of Grahame's mentors, one Frederick James Furnivall.
Furnivall was one of the co-founders, and a significant contributor, to the project that became "The Oxford English Dictionary". He was also an incorrigible flirt and an avid oarsman, and (combining those two things) the founder of the world's first female rowing team.
As an oarsman and an incorrigible flirt, I tend to prefer the latter explanation...
48 years ago tonight, I was at a church run summer camp about five miles west of Iron River, Michigan, along with my brother Tim J Haynie, our friend Mitch Cooley, and pretty much every other camper and member of the camp staff, gathered in a partially refinished barn, watching history on a 12 inch (or so) portable black and white television. All of the REALLY dramatic stuff that was behind the scenes never made it onto the news, of course, but, well, it happened. I didn't actually care a great deal at the time; I was a pretty clueless kid...
In December of 1977, Clueless Tom was in Lincoln Park Chess and Games, looking at RPGs. He came upon a black six by nine box with no illustrations, only the text of a distress call from the free trader "Beowulf" and the name of the game: "Traveller (Science Fiction Adventure in the Far Future)." He would have pawned his mother to buy it.
It was over his head; he gave the box to me, I learned the game, taught it to him. He gave me that box, bought another for himself. Even though many of the game's systems remained over his head, it remained one of his favorite for the rest of his life (and the only competition for that title was the unpublished Lortzian "Dark Worlds").
Today (July 22) is the 40th anniversary of the release of "Traveller" at Origins in 1977. I have that same black box next to me right now, and I am about to relive one of the strangest experiences in the world or RPGs, generating a Traveller character. The process is simple but occasionally lengthy, and is one of Traveller's odder claims to fame: Your characters can DIE in the generation process, before you get a chance to play them.
Here's to Marc Miller and the people of Game Designers Workshop, who produced the thing, and to Clueless Tom, who dragged me into it.
On Friday, two different people went out of their way to compliment me on my wheel covers. I have had the them for most of a year, and this has never happened before (at least not with strangers; people who know me have asked me about the frequently). Don't know what to make of that.
I've been working my way through an audio version of, "The Professor and the Madman", by Simon Winchester. It often makes me cry in second (or maybe third) differential wonder. That is, there is nothing special about Winchester's prose, of the structure that he imposes on the story, but the material underneath it... Just WOW. In the late 1850s, a group of smug and over-educated Englishmen decided that it would be a good idea to create a definitive portrait and history of the English language. All of it. They had only the vaguest idea of what they were getting themselves into, and yet they, or rather their successors, because the project ultimately took 70 years, more or less succeeded. If they had not been arrogant idiots, they would not have tried, because the project should have been impossible. And yet...
The history of the Oxford English Dictionary is so improbable, so frequently absurd, that it staggers the imagination. I listen, and am awe stricken, and I cry for the beauty of it all. Grand adventures don't need deadly danger, just unimaginably long odds.
"I was pretty sure it was going to work out when I realized that we each had our own personal copy of the OED." ---Julia (Dementia) Haynie, once upon a time.
"A man is a very small thing, and the night is very large and full of wonders." --Edward Plunkett, Baron Dunsany
It's Lord Dunsany's birthday. Among MANY other things, he was to English language fantasy literature in the first half of the 20th century pretty much what Tolkien was in the second half. He was also, according to the White Box edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the creator of the gnoll.
Here's to his Lordship, who told the stories to the storytellers who told the stories to us.
Dementia: If there's any justice in the world, Hillary Clinton has a portrait of Theodora up on her wall, somewhere...
I got out my "Traveller" collection last weekend in honor of the game's 40th anniversary, and have been toying with it on and off for the last several days. It remains, as ever, deeply flawed but often brilliant. I am enjoying the experience for the same reason I enjoy the TV show, "The Expanse". That is, it makes me remember what it felt like to see space travel as exciting and hopeful, and NOT as a depressing impossibility. I miss that...
When it comes to matters of refit, repair, and replacement, achaeological truth and magical truth are diametrically opposed. Oddly, in this case Llyod's of London is squarely on the side of the magicians.
July 29 (today, as it happens) is the International Day of the Tyger, which led to William Blake's "The Tyger", which led to some grammatical foolishness. Note the first stanza:
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
Say what? FEARFUL symmetry? How have I never noticed that before? The word should be FEARSOME (or possibly frightful). The Tyger is frightening, not afraid. OK, I acknowlege that one has to make allowances for linguistic drift, but in modern terms, "fearful" is offensive. All of the local tigers (there are four) certainly think so.
I was out Pokemongering this afternoon at about 1:00 PM, walking east on the south side of Grand Avenue approaching Powell Park. I saw a young couple coming up the hill through the park from the river. They were twentyish, and oddly well dressed. He was wearing a short sleeved white dress shirt, black pants, and black shoes; she was wearing a short but otherwise demure dress and rhinestone flip-flops. They got to the corner, turned right, and kept walking about ten feet in front of me. He was carrying a folder of some kind.
We all stopped at the same time; they were right next to the park sign, I was still ten feet away; the sign is a Pokestop, and an Ingress portal. The man looked at his folder, and I asked if they were doing the jigsaw (This is a reference to a current "Tour the Parks" game from the Waukegan Park Distict.). He said no, his surname was Powell, and he wanted a picture with the park sign. They asked me if I would snap it, and I did. They went back west, and I played my game for a minute or two.
They were waiting on Uber at the corner of Ash Street. I asked for permission to be nosy, got it, and commented that they seemed over dressed for a walk in the park. They replied that they had just gotten married. I congratulated them and asked if they were hiding from the crowd, and they said, no, it had been a very small, informal ceremony. Ne had just completed boot at Great Lakes, and was bound for another school in South Carolina, and they had decided it was time to tie the knot; the family could catch up later. I spoke up in favor of small, informal weddings, told them Dementia and I had been married on consecutive days two hundred miles apart.
Uber arrived, I congratulated them again, and we went on our respective ways.
Met nephew Jake and his lady Grace on their way home from their first ever trip to the Ren Faire for a couple of hours of conversation. Much fun.
|Thursday, July 27th, 2017|
Today I went to a birthday party for someone who has been dead for nine years. It was a pretty good party, and I think everyone (else) had a good time. Me, I had a minor (and I think pretty well hidden) freak out, and spent most of my time feeling sorry for myself.
I hate being crazy.
Lake Geneva Games hosted a "Gary Day" today, to celebrate Gary Gygax's birthday. Thursday is always board game day at LGG, so there are usually people anyway, but today was more crowded than usual. I came in, said hello to friends in the retail area, said hello to friends in the north room, wandered into the south room and found that it had been completely taken over by Ernie Gygax and ten or twelve people playing AD&D 1st Ed in Ernie's legendary Hobby Shop Dungeon.
Ernie has been my friend pretty much from the day I met him in 2003, when my office got moved into the building where he already worked. He has been running the HSD at conventions for several years, and I have always wanted to sit in on a session, but have never managed to make the connection. And here was Ernie telling me they were going to need a new character in a few minutes, and the chair at his left hand was open, and I was welcome to sit in if I wanted to. I agreed and took my seat; Ernie handed me a character sheet and said, "It's all filled out, just roll the hit points and fill out the spell list." And reality, which has been fraying around me lately anyway, started to tear.
I have never gotten along with the D&D magic system, for many reasons. The details don't matter. What does matter is that something I had been wanting to do for several years, and was close enough to touch, had just landed on top of one of my crazy buttons.
I hate being crazy.
Usually when this kind of thing happens, I need to get away for half an hour or so, get my head into the proper survivalist mode, and then come back and get the job done. Except... This wasn't something I HAD to do, this was something that I was supposed to enjoy, something that I had been looking forward to for YEARS, and I didn't HAVE half an hour to walk away, I had to get the job done and be functional in about five minutes.
And then another friend came in from the other room and said that they had a spot open in a game I had asked about a few minutes earlier when I was still sane, and I mumbled something along the lines of, "I can't do this now," and I got up and left.
The other game was a brand new, complex board game from a family of games that I enjoy but usually don't figure out until the second run through. This time I didn't even try, just made random choices and muddled through. I learned a few things, came in dead last. But the company was good, and I don't think my companions had an idea of how much pain I was in.
I REALLY hate being crazy.
|Monday, July 17th, 2017|
All the daily stuff is showing up on Facebook first and then back-copied here, these days, so we have movies:
"Transformers: The Last Knight" is a toy based effects extravanga, just like all of its predescessors. Except... This one manages to pull some interesting Arthurian wrinkles into the mess, and there is about a television show's worth of plot and dialog in between the pointless giant robot foolishness, and in the end I was actually glad I saw it.
"Baby Driver" is caper movie with a LOT of stunt driving that, for once, managed to find sponsorship from a car company that sells vehicles with manual transmissions, so there is actually something going on in the footwell when they use one of those shots. The movie is tense, interesting, entertaining, and only a little non-sensical. And the soundtrack is REALLY good.