Monday, February 19, 2018

A Movie Shorts Trifecta

Every two or three years I go to see the Oscar nominated short films at the local art house theater (Film Streams' Ruth Sokolof Theater).  This year I saw them at the newly refurbished Dundee theater which is now owned by Film Streams.

There are three categories of short films with five nominees per category.  The categories are Live Action, Documentary, and Animation.

I watched the Live Action shorts last Thursday.  In the past there were a good mix of serious and funny movies.  This year four of five were serious and a bit depressing.  To give you an idea, the first one was about a shooter breaking into a school.  I was watching this the day after the Parkland school shooting.  It made me cringe even though it had a happy ending.  My choice for the best live action shorts is "Watu Wote" a story based on an actual event in Kenya.  A group of Islamic bus riders defend a christian woman from Al-Shabaab terrorists.  Both heartwarming and sad at once.

The Wife joined me on Friday to watch the Documentary shorts.  A couple years ago we left depressed after seeing the gloomy documentary nominees.  This year they were a bit more uplifting and positive.   Our favorite was "Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405", a documentary about Mindy Alper, an artist living a rough, troubled life but still finds joy in her art.  This one made us smile.

Today I watch the Animated shorts.  As I entered the theater I was surprised to see some elementary aged girls from Girls, Inc.  The reason I was surprised is just because a film is animated does not mean the topics are appropriate for children.  This year three films included death, murder, and stealing.  One included a photorealistic picture of a bloated dead body floating in a hot tub.  Another had Little Red Riding Hood killing two anthropomorphic wolves and an anthropomorphic pig with a handgun (and stealing money from the dead pig).  Not good for small children.  My favorite was the photorealistic "Garden Party".  It was done so well it didn't look animated.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Not Even An Ember

Last November I signed up for Trek up the Tower.  I mention it in a post called "Light That Fire".  I hoped that preparing for Trek up the Tower would motivate me.

It didn't.

Today was Trek up the Tower and I stayed home.  My hiking and biking plan faded to nothingness.


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Escaping To Trivia

It's been a while since I've posted.  Just haven't been interested in writing much.  Things have also been fairly quiet here.  This weekend turned out to be busier and full of blog-worthy activities.

It started Thursday evening when the Matron of Honor (MoH) and the Best Man (BM) came down to visit.  We celebrated their arrival with a delicious burger dinner at Stella's and a visit to a tap room (Kros Strain Brewing).

On Friday The Wife and MoH went to a spa for facials in the late morning.  In the afternoon we had a leisurely lunch at Blatt Beer & Table across from the College World Series stadium in the north downtown area of Omaha.  The restaurant is named after Rosenblatt the former College World Series stadium.  The Beer Nuts enjoyed the beer and I enjoyed the chicken and waffles.

After our lazy lunch we went to the House of Conundrum (HoC).  HoC is an escape room.  You can enter one of seven rooms and you have an hour to solve puzzles to get out.  We ended up doing the 20,000 Leaks Under the Sea room.  This was our first escape room but the MoH and I have both played online room escape games so we had some idea of what needs to be done (my favorite online escape rooms games are those by Rusty Lake and Forgotten Hill).  We ended up needing only one clue from the HoC employee and we ended up solving everything with a short minute to spare.  We all left the House of Conundrum thoroughly entertained.

Friday ended with some Winter Olympic open ceremonies, snacks, and lots of good conversation.

On Saturday, after clearing away the two to three inches of snow we had overnight, we tried to go the the Early Bird for a late brunch but the wait was too long so we ended up at the 11-Worth cafe instead.  After a hearty brunch we spent some time at another tap room in the Blackstone district called the Scriptown Brewery.  The MoH and BM had three tap rooms/bars on their list to visit and we successfully hit all three.

The main event for Saturday, and the whole weekend frankly, was the charity trivia contest at the Wife's school.  The Wife and I were joined by the MoH, BM, the Brother-in-Law, his wife, their three daughters and two boyfriends.  They had changed the rules of the trivia game since we participated a couple years ago.  The changes (No buying of answers. No jail) were all improvements.  The questions were challenging.  After winning the first trivia in 2014, coming in second in 2015, and not doing well at all in 2016, we ended up in sixth (out of twenty) which we consider an improvement.  If we'd just gone with our guts more we would have ended in the top three at least.  We all had a good time and I'm sure we will be participating again next year.

As an added bonus, the Wife won the fifty-fifty game which paid out some good cash - More than the second place trivia team won and more than enough to pay for the today's breakfast.

Today we went to mass at a nice chapel at the Poor Clare Monastery before heading to Le Peep for breakfast.  Unfortunately there are more than one Le Peep and some went to the one off Dodge while the Wife and I went to the one off of West Center.  We realized the error and we joined the others for a good breakfast.

After breakfast we all scattered heading home in a several directions.  The Wife and I promptly took naps as we don't have the stamina we used to have.  The last four days wore me out but the trivia contest, escape room, and all the good food (and way too much caffeine) made for a great time with family.

Time to recuperate and catch up on some Winter Olympic sport.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Book: Kameron Hurley's "The Stars Are Legion"

Book number three of the year was an interesting read.  Kameron Hurley's "The Stars are Legion" is very different from most Sci-Fi I've read while being similar in other ways.

There are two things that stand out in the book.  The first is the world built by Hurley.  The book takes place on world-ships, large self contained biotech ships.  By biotech I mean that the ships, and most technology in the ships, are living organisms.  There are multiple worlds who are part of the legion.

The second thing is all characters in the book are female.  There are no males anywhere in the book.  This gives everything a different perspective.  To make things weird, the women inhabitants of the world spontaneously become pregnant, often carrying living biotech parts that the ship needs to repair itself.  It is confusing if the women are inhabitants of the ship or are they just components of the world-ships.

Part of the book has one of the main characters climbing up from the core of the world-ship facing obstacles with a team of women she picks up along the way - a very common theme of fantasy novels.  This felt very familiar to me and not very original.

I liked this book but there are holes in the world building.  I kept trying to wrap my mind around the universe created by Hurley but I just couldn't figure out the basic structures outside of the world-ships.  I was confused to the end.  I liked what I read but I needed a little more information.  What was the purpose of the legion?  Where was it located?  Were they in space or in a larger structure?  So many questions.

I gave this book four out of five stars on Goodreads because, while it felt original while having parts that weren't original or were missing altogether, I kept wanting to read more.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Cord Cutting Disconnect

I've been thinking about getting rid of cable TV for awhile.  I wanted a more on-demand experience with, hopefully, a reduced cost.  The one roadblock in the way was Sports.  I am not a sports fan but the Wife is and any replacement for our cable TV had to satisfy her sports habit.  Until recently, there was no such replacement.

Last year Hulu announce the launch of Hulu with Live TV (HLTV).  It would take the on-demand Hulu service and add fifty channels of live television.  Looking at the initial network lineup I saw that it provided most of the networks that we watch regularly and, notably, more sports networks than we get now on our basic cable package.  It came with fifty hours of cloud DVR service, more than the thirty-seven hours out current cable DVR provides.  Its was exactly what I'd been looking for.  An added bonus: HLTV was about forty dollars a month cheaper than cable TV.

I would have tried it out last year but they did not have a Roku app that supported HLTV yet so I waited.  The updated Roku app was released last September but I didn't realize it was available until a couple weeks ago.  A week ago we started the free trial and began watching live TV on Hulu.

At first everything seem awesome but over the first forty-eight hours a couple things became apparent.  The first was there was no grid guide for the live TV.  We soon discovered that it was hard to figure out what was on TV without a guide.  While a grid guide was not necessary for on-demand shows it is a necessity for live TV.  NOTE: after the Wife pointed out this issue I Googled around and, by coincidence, found an article published two day before.  The article was an interview of a Hulu honcho announcing that Hulu was developing a guide for their live TV service.  Seems we weren't the only ones wondering where the guide was.

The second issue was the occasional stuttering/freezing/buffering of live TV.  On-demand shows played fine.  By occasional I mean four or five times in a half hour maybe.  Sometimes it was worse ... sometimes it didn't happen at all.  The killer was when you watched sports.  A two to three second freeze means you miss an entire play on the field - unacceptable.  I thought it might be a slow internet connection but, after some more Googling around I found some people with internet connection speeds up to twenty times faster than ours were having the same issues.  It looks like the issue is on Hulu's end when they encode the live TV.

So, after watching a few Hulu exclusive shows (the incredible "The Handmaid's Tale" and, for my Marvel fix, "Runaways") I canceled the service before the free trial period ended.  HLTV is not quite ready for prime time yet.  It is still considered a beta service so it is still having some growing pains.  We will try again in six months or so to see if things improve.

Someday we will cut the cord but not quite yet.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Book: Andy Weir's "Artemis"

Andy Weir's first book, "The Martian" (which I reviewed in this post) was awesome.  I gave it five stars on Goodreads, something I rarely do.  When I saw that Weir had written another book - "Artemis" - I was excited.

"Artemis" takes place on a moon base at some unspecified future date.  It follows a smuggler who lives in Artemis and smuggles things like cigars and exotic foods onto the base.  Along the way we learn about the corruption and organized crime in Artemis.

It's a good book.  There are interesting characters and some interesting science.  The science is not as 'dense' as that of "The Martian".  I expected a bit more.  It was good ... But it did not live up to his first book.  I expected more.  I feel sorry for Weir.  It will be hard to live up to his first book.

I gave this book four stars out of five on Goodreads for being good enough ...almost.

Monday, January 15, 2018

"I Still Do"

Years ago, on a flight from Los Angeles to New York for work, I had this song stuck in my head the entire way.  There are worse things to have stuck in your head.

"I Still Do"
by The Cranberries

Last summer I bought a ticket to see the Cranberries (Their official site had been taken down) at the Stir Cove in Council Bluffs, IA.  I was looking forward to seeing them live.  Unfortunately the concert was cancelled a month or so before the show.  They said Dolores O'Riordan, the lead singer of the Cranberries, was suffering from back issues.

Today it was announce that O'Riordan passed away suddenly during a recording session.  She was forty-six.  She was taken from her children and her fans too soon.

Rest in peace, Dolores O'Riordan.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Book Suzy Hansen's "Notes On A Foreign Country"

My first book of 2018 was Suzy Hansen's "Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World".  A mixture of travelogue and personal commentary on American meddling, Hansen's book discusses her move from New Jersey/New York to Istanbul where she has lived for some ten years.  Her experience in this, the first foreign country she had ever lived in for any amount of time, enlightens her to just how ill informed she (and most Americans) was concerning the world outside of America' borders.

Istanbul opened her eyes and dispels many of the stereotypes and misconceptions the typical American has nurtured, fed by a shallow education of history and a government that works to keep its citizens uninformed.  Providing examples (many first hand) of Turkey, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guatemala, Hansen explores how post-world-war American colonialism, often in the guise of modernization, has wreaked havoc on the governments, societies, and people of the developing world, especially the Middle East and the Muslim world.

Hansen learns just how ill informed the average American is.  I have thought this for many years.  If I were in control I would have every American live in a 'developing' country for at least a couple years early in their lives so they can really and truly learn about America and American influence outside her borders.  Needless to say my nine years in Guatemala opened my eyes but I still have to be careful not to fall into the America-can-do-no-wrong trap.  With recent events, it is becoming easier to avoid being swayed by the propaganda.

I gave this book four stars out of five on Goodreads.  Unfortunately the people who need to read it won't.  *sigh*

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Snow Day For The Birds

Today we were supposed to get 2 - 4 inches (5 - 10 cm) of snow over ice.  As a result the Wife had a snow day and had a delicious morning sleeping in and catching up of her TV shows.

My job today was to go out to clear off the snow which was not bad at all since we received only about an inch or so of snow.  The wind blew most of it off the driveway.  It also turns out that we had little or no rain after midnight unlike what the forecast had predicted.  There was still some ice under the snow but much less than I expected to see.  There was enough that I spread deicer on our driveway, our neighbour's driveway and the sidewalks.  I'm also grateful for the spiked slip-ons I wore to keep me from slipping around.

The little snow we had did provide a nice backdrop for the cardinals eating out of our backyard bird feeder.

A cardinal taking a break from stuffing its beak in our bird feeder.
I've seen cardinals in our backyard before but it's rare.  I recently changed the mix of bird seed in the feeder to see if I could attract different birds.  Sure enough, today, I saw three cardinals around the feeder.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Mental Overload

I went for a walk today.  When I walk I often think about my Caminos or the Appalachian Trail but today my thoughts often strayed to the state of the world.

I have confessed that I am a news junky many times in the past and I have even tried to reduce the amount of news I have consumed but the past two years have changed things.  You can no longer ignore the news.  The past two years have emphasized just how important it is to follow what is happening around us.

The state of our union ... and my mental state while reading the news.
I am very likely consuming more news per day than anytime in my past.  Tell-All books, FBI investigations, Incoherent Tweets, #MeToo, #TimesUp, Brexit, F-ing UFOs - mental overload.  This has not been a good thing for my mental health as my anxiety levels have been elevated for awhile now.  However, I cannot turn away from the slow motion (and often not so slow motion) train wreck our country is going through.

Hopefully things will turn around.  I only want one thing.  One very simple thing.  I want a return to an Ordinary World.

"Ordinary World"
Duran Duran

P.S.  Happy Birthday, Gv.