Saturday, February 28, 2009

Amelie - 2001

Tonight, after we put Relia down to sleep we settled in on the couch and watched a movie. Instead of something new (and risky) we went with an old favorite, 'Amelie'. I've mentioned it here on the blog a couple of times but I don't think I've ever really reviewed it. So here goes...
Amelie is a waitress in the Paris neighborhood of Montmarte. Her parents were distant and she has great difficulty allowing anyone close to her. Her life has been taken over by quirks and stratagems. By chance she uncovers a long lost cache of childhood memories. She decides to return them to the long lost owner and see if she has an effect on his life. If it works out, she will become a hidden do-gooder.
This sets up a plot where this very clever (and adorable) young woman goes to further and more distant ends to help others. Add in a mysterious man who just might be quirkier enough to make a match with her. Do they share an affinity? And can she overcome her own barriers long enough to find out?
This is an incredibly charming film. It works on many levels as the audience is never sure where the action is going and the ride itself is always rewarding. The music is also special. It's a whimsical mix of accordion and magic. If I was making a list of the best movies of the 00's (and I'm sure I will at some point) this would certainly be on it. A true gem.

Unsold cars

(Via Megan McArdle) Here are some pictures of unsold cars from around the world. There are quite a few of them out there. I wonder when the prices come waaaay down?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

State of the House

When I came home last night I found that the FP Gal is missing her voice. She can only speak in a whisper. It's kind of like this. She says that she feels fine, maybe a little tired but there is no voice there. Maybe it will come back soon.
Our little girl is doing fine. She might be getting a little of the cold herself but nothing serious. Her only real problem is what seems to be more teething. This has meant that when she wakes up at night it's a little tough for her to get back to sleep. (That's what knocked out my blogging time last.) Today we colored and ran around the house. She played the piano for a good hour this morning. In all, it was a good day.
Me? Work has been busy and tiring. We're still shaking out the staffing levels. To make things 'shakier' they just announced that we're going to a 35 hour workweek in a month or so. When it's busy, they'll offer those five hours back. I'm confident that my department will have the 40 hour option for some time so I'm not worried. And...I'd much rather they do this than cut our hourly pay.
How are you guys?

Au revoir, french fries!

This year for lent, I'm giving up french fries (again). It's not so much a spiritual thing as I'm not donating McDonald's lost funds to the church or anything like that. It's more of a test of will. You should test that will every once in a while just to prove that you can, right?
Btw, my sister has been off of french fries for many years now. Because she's crazy.

More snow

We're in the midst of an eight inch snowstorm. Well, we'll see. I'm putting my guess right at five inches. Again, I don't mind the snow but I can't stand the cold.

Update: Just back in from shoveling and I was wrong. We're past five inches already. And it's a heart attack snow so be careful out there.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Musicals

During the Oscar broadcast the other night Hugh Jackman (who I liked) very proudly said that the musical is back. He said it in the conjunction of 'Mama Mia' setting some kind of box office record in the UK. While I think he might be overstating things (to put it lightly), I think it's interesting to look at the connection between musicals and movies today.
Now, I don't live in New York and I don't follow Broadway closely so I'm open to correction here, but my sense is that the creative well for musicals is kind of running dry. It seems that the high profile shows are all reworkings of other movies with a little song and dance thrown in. 'Legally Blond' was a fun little movie but who really thought it needed to be sung? The only way that musicals will really be 'back' is if they drive the process, not end up as a campy dumping ground for second hand stories.
Thinking about this made me wonder about the pipeline back during the golden age of the movie/musical combo, the 50's and 60's. I'm sure there are histories that have been written about this era but I just wanted to get a feel for the timeline. Here is a list of the musicals that were nominated for Best Picture along with their stage date, or at least when they were up for a Tony Award.
  • An American in Paris - film 1951, stage 1928
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers - film 1954, stage 1982
  • The King and I - film 1956, stage 1952
  • Gigi - film 1958, stage 1973
  • West Side Story - film 1961, stage 1958
  • The Music Man - film 1962, stage 1958
  • My Fair Lady - film 1964, stage 1957
  • The Sound of Music - film 1965, stage 1960
  • Oliver - film 1968, stage 1963
  • Funny Girl - film 1968, stage 1964
  • Hello Dolly - film 1969, stage 1964
  • Fiddler on the Roof - film 1971, stage 1965
  • Cabaret - film 1972, stage 1967
Look at how many of those went from the toast of Broadway to the Oscars in six years or less. Now look at the list of Tony winners over the last ten years. Lots of 'revivals' and movie remakes. None were made into movies that got serious Oscar consideration. I don't know if that's because the quality is lower or because musicals are more truly a niche genre of movies but something has certainly changed.
Also note that there have only been three musicals nominated for Best Picture over the last twenty years, 'Beauty and the Beast', 'Moulin Rouge' and 'Chicago'. Of those, only 'Chicago' (which I hated) came fromt the stage (1976 if you're curious). I can't help but wonder why some of the really popular musicals out there haven't been made into big epic Oscar worthy pictures. Where is 'Les Miserables', tony winner of 1987, for instance?
I don't think that the musical is back. I'd like it to be and I'm not sure what needs to happen to change that.

Our Budding Mozart

Just pulled herself up on the piano bench so she could play some more music. Mom, how soon before you can start giving her lessons?

Monday, February 23, 2009

French

So I finally decided that I'd go with French. I'm just working with so many French speakers that it makes more sense to brush up on my skills so that I can keep up with them. Not that I have any real hope of being able to take complicated phone reservations or anything, my language ear is just not that good. Still, it will help with hotels in Quebec and that type of thing.
The site that I'm working with is here, and it's free. As a bonus, the FP Gal kind of seems excited to do this too. She took the appraisal test and did much better than I did. Apparently Mme Asper taught us some 'regionalisms' or something. (Meigan, you could use this to keep up with your daughter if you'd like.)
Wish me bon chance!

Ozzie's contractual obligations

Are to appear at least once in every Relia video.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Light posting (and a little Oscar stuff)

Sorry, the internet was down most of the day as we rewired our home entertainment pieces again. I'll let the FP Gal explain but one day into going 'live' and we discovered some flaws in our plan. In short, we've officially joined the Tivo world.
I'll put up an Amazing Race recap at some point. Now I'm watching the Oscars and following Carries liveblog.

Update: Man, Kate Winslet gets me every time. That was a speech that they'll cut excepts from for years.

Update again: Yay, Slumdog! It's nice to see a movie that you have some emotional investment in win the prize.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sailing Alone Around the World - Slocum

In the spring of 1895 a man named Joshua Slocum decided to sail all the way around the world by himself. He was a man in his early fifties who had worked as a sailor for most of his life. While looking for a job on a ship a captain offered him the remains of a small boat that he could fix up if he wanted to. Over the next thirteen months or so he worked on it until it was was seaworthy. He named it 'the Spray'. After a season of fishing he decided that he would try the longer voyage. Most everyone thought he was crazy but he trusted the ship and decided to go any way.
This book is the memoir that he wrote of the entire voyage. He stopped often for supplies and the story of his voyage began to precede him, giving him social connections and allowing him to lecture for money. He writes about each stop and the long sailing legs between them. The entire book is very entertaining.
One of my favorite episodes of the book takes place early, just after sailing from the Azores. Slocum ate some bad plums and became feverish. In the middle of his fever he was surprised to wake up and find someone at the wheel of 'the Spray'. The man introduced himself as the pilot of 'the Pinta', one of Columbus's ships. The pilot asked him if he could journey with him and in his fever he agreed.
In fact, Slocum writes of very long stretches where he just let the ship sail without adjusting the wheel. This included some 2000 miles of the Pacific where he simply trusted the trade winds to keep him on course. In later ports he allowed the officials to inspect his entire ship to prove that no one else was on board with him.
This was a great book and I wish I'd read it years ago. Thanks to Project Gutenberg, it's now completely available online here. The book was a best seller when it came out and Slocum became something of a celebrity. He was the first to sail solo around the world and history should be thankful that he was such an able to writer to record the whole trip.

More snow

I should mention that we got about four inches of snow overnight. For the first time this winter I was able to shove the steps before anyone walked on them. This means that the dreaded ice patches won't be there. Temps are in the high teens and it really only feels cold during wind gusts. We're almost to March and even though there will be more snow, it won't be so cruelly cold. Only six more weeks until Opening Day and all the other signs of spring. Today it feels like the end is in sight!

Last Day of Cable

Or at least of an expanded cable package. If you've been reading the FP Gal you know that we're downgrading to basic cable. This has been in discussion for a long time and I'm fine with it, though I'll some of the channels. My TV watching revolves around four or five network shows, baseball and football. Add in 'The Soup' and 'Doctor Who' and I'm pretty well covered. The rest is mostly filler (old sit-coms, some documentaries, movies and the music channels).
To watch the cable shows we're paying something like $65 extra dollars a month. That's a pretty high price and not one that we're willing to pay anymore. I bet this same type of calculation is going on all over the country. I wonder what a comparison of Comcast customers between June 2008 and June 2009 would look like.
Watching sports is a biggie for me and we'll no longer have ESPN. I haven't watched as much of them in the past few years because I get usually get much better analysis somewhere online. I'll miss the Sunday night baseball games and the Monday night football games. MNF has kind of been a casualty of CBS's Monday night line-up. Sunday nights in the summer are pretty much a graveyard of television and I'll simply have to spend that time doing something else.
One big casualty for me is the MLB network. They just started up on Jan 1 of this year and they've become something of a favorite of mine. During the offseason they play a ton of random 'great games' from the past. (Currently they're showing Tom Seaver's 300th win, a White Sox/Yankees game from '85.) The network has given me tons of baseball to watch during what is normally a very dead month. I'll be sorry to miss their in-season stuff as I bet it's very good.
We'll still have WGN which gives me 25 or so White Sox games this year. We're talking about getting MLB.tv which lets me watch out of market games on the computer for about $110 per year. Interestingly, I won't be able to watch many Twins games as we won't have them on basic cable and they'll be blacked out even if we do the computer thing. That means I've been saved from Dick and Bert!
One big plus from the downgrade is that we'll be getting rid of some stuff that we want to keep away from Relia. That means no celebrity nonsense or MTV. One of my jobs as a Dad is to teach Relia (and any future children) that image isn't nearly as important as substance and that will be easier without her watching shows that scream the exact opposite.
Both the FP Gal and I lived for at least a year without TV in the past. Coincedentally, we both did it in 1997. We'll probably read more, use the Wii more and of course, play with Relia. All while saving money. Right now that sounds pretty good. Let's hope it still does a month from now...

Friday, February 20, 2009

Oh, if I had the money...

I'm drooling over this house.

Have a great Friday

Early morning

Relia was up around 430a this morning. Which is at least an hour earlier than normal. She didn't eat many fish sticks last night and was probably hungry. I gave her some animal crackers and rocked her for awhile but as soon as it came time to lay down in the crib, she woke back up and started yelling. Then the FP Gal took over and rocked her for awhile before taking her down for breakfast. (In retrospect, I probably should have just brought her into bed with us...)
This morning she has responded by walking around putting all of her dolls to bed. That means laying them down (sometimes gently, other times...) and saying 'night-night' while smothering them a blanket. I wonder if she's regretting that early morning.

Have a great Friday

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Interesting rugs, doormats, etc.

Cool gallery here. For the record, I think Ozzie would love the 'Field of Flowers' rug but it would become a pain to deal with. The FP Gal would like the 'Black River Stone Doormat'. Sadly, I'd have to look at this store. My favorite rug description:
Following the age-old tradition of using rugs as a means for communication and a cultural record, this rug is portraying global warming in a scene that invites us to reflect on our impact on today’s world. [link]
When was the last time you saw a rug that meant as commuication or a cultural record? I've seen that with tapestries and (in our culture) quilts but never with rugs. And holy cats, what a pretentious bit of cloth! It says, "Come on over and now that you're here, just remember that your car is killing Mother Earth". I bet the owners are a real riot at parties. (The same company makes this rug, and it would be the second favorite of the cats. I have no doubt they would demilitarize it in a week.)
Frankly, I think I would go with this look.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Highlights of my day

  • Well, there was the hat thing from this morning, that was a definite highlight. A minor highlight that followed was that her overnight diaper was only wet.
  • First highlight at work, I had to call Bearskin Airlines. They might be the only commercial air carrier to service Flin Flon. Who knew?
  • Second highlight, I found the book I'm reading online and was able to finish it between calls and while on hold. The link is to a project that is putting old books online so that everyone can read them. It's a different feel but there are times when it really makes sense.
  • Third work highlight? Someone on the phone called me 'doc'. I wasn't sure if it was more of a Bugs Bunny thing or possibly little Danny from 'The Shining'. Either way it was, well, different.
  • And final highlight, I got to watch another new episode of 'Lost'.
Soon, off to bed.

A Hat

Either Relia wanted to look like the FP Gal this morning or we're keeping the house too cold. She found her hat and (after a few minutes of fiddling around) got it on her head. She looks good in big hats doesn't she? We'll have to remember that come Derby time.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pretty snow

As much as I complain about winter, I do need to admit that it can have it's own beauty. Tonight we're enjoying some big fat fluffy wet snowflakes gently floating down from the sky. And it's very beautiful.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I'm a heel!


Well, kind of. It did totally slip my mind that my adorable niece Annika's birthday was yesterday. I wish you would have gotten a cake like this (but with a different message). Cake picture found here. And Hans and Rachel, if you add to your brood, this is totally the way you should go.

And yesterday was the fifth anniversary of my first meeting with the FP Gal. We talked about it and hugged and smooched and everything but I didn't mention it here on the blog and somehow that makes it seem like it went unacknowledged. Even worse, I missed that she posted about it until I did my morning blog jog today. Whoops!

A Lesson Learned?

Relia just discovered that if she leaves her waffles unattended that the kitties go after them. She wasn't happy about that. I wonder if she'll protect them better from now on?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Amazing Race

So we just got done watching the first episode of the latest season of Amazing Race and I thought I'd share my thoughts. (This might become a regular feature if it's popular.)
  • Introducing the pairs and it's obvious that they look for certain types. They always have a pair of blondes that say something like 'our looks will help us overseas'. These girls always struggle and are quickly eliminated.
  • The first race to the airport always seems overhyped. This time they did the clever thing by making the two plane choices a true toss-up because of the train time on the European end. That's right, the first leg involved flying to either Zurich or Milan and then taking a train further into the Alps. Who wouldn't want to do this?
  • First challenge is a bungee jump. The FP Gal said she wouldn't do it. Might not even let me do it. Second biggest jump in Europe? No problem.
  • Another stereotypical pairing is the 'couple destined for Dr Phil'. These are two 'adults' who play stupid games with each other and think any kind of delay is the other person's fault. Around episode five you pray that one of them breaks their leg/jaw.
  • The second challenge has them carrying heavy cheesewheels down a steep and slippery hill. "Don't let any of that cheese hit me!", might be the funniest line in the history of this show.
  • Another couple features a deaf man and his mother. He has a severe persecution complex over his disability and frankly, it doesn't make for good TV. If he is going to go around the world while continuing to talk about how no one thinks deaf people can do anything, we will have to start rooting against him. As they finished the cheese challenge I said, "No one thought that a deaf man could carry cheese!". No lightning has hit the house yet.
  • Another pair that we get each season are the back-country hicks. They impressed with the cheese as they were the only one to make the flimsy cheese carriers into a sled and drag the wheels down. Good for them!
  • And then they give it right back by not being able to find the finish line.
  • I mentioned a blog from Phil and this appears to be it. This one is basically a video commercial for Air New Zealand, so skip it if you want something about the first real episode.
  • Man I missed this show. Most of the couples sound good and I'm looking forward to meeting them more. They've upped the production level a bit and the graphics look very nice. We have faith in their choosing nice spots to stop at. What more could you ask for?

The Demolished Man - Bester

This was the first novel awarded a Hugo award (the past two being retroactively awarded). Alfred Bester is a writer I'd never even heard of much less read before. The whole point of this project was to read some books that were new to me and stretch my horizons a bit. This was my first chance to actually do so and man did I enjoy it!
Bester has created a world some few hundred years in the future in which a small portion of mankind has varying degrees of telepathy. They are called 'espers' or 'peepers'. Premeditated murder is a thing of the past. Not only could the peepers sense the murderous intent beforehand but no one could possibly get away with the crime afterwards.
Or could they? One of the richest men on the planet is being haunted in his dreams and he thinks his only solution is to kill one of his rivals. But how can he possibly get away with it? That's the riddle that Bester creates and the whole thing is rather clever.
This book is written in a similar style to Raymond Chandler's hardboiled detective books. I loved those for the sheer style of the characters and 'The Demolished Man' was much the same. The entire book fairly screams to be made into a movie. It would look something like a cross between 'Bladerunner' and 'The Maltese Falcon'.
One other notable aspect of the book is the way it treats the telepaths. Early on it portrays a party of peepers. They play games with their minds in way that crosses a smyphony orchestra with a set of word puzzles. It's unique to say the least, and very effective.
A very good book and if you've been looking for something new to read this should be on your list.

Weird interconnected world...

Jorge Garcia, better known as Hurley on 'Lost' has a blog. I had no idea. Also, Probst sighting, he's recapping the shows again this season starting here. Now I just need Phil from 'Amazing Race' and I'll have the whole set...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Rose Ensemble


A friend of mine posted this on his Facebook page. It's quite beautiful and I thought I'd share it here.

The Notebook - 2004

I'm a big fan of a good love story. I've heard gobs of praise for this movie, the Notebook. People talked about crying and crying. We settled in with anticipation to watch a nice romantic movie on Valentines day. Holy cats, what a stinker!
(Spoilers follow.) The story flips back and forth in time between an older couple and a younger one. The older couple features James Garner, who is virtually the only bright spot in the movie. The young couple is Ryan Gosling (moonface) and Rachael McAdams (the B from 'Meangirls'). Frankly, they're terrible. Neither one acts like they know that their part of the movie takes place in the 40's. At no point did we care about their characters.
Maybe even worse than the bad acting was the poor movie design. Every plot surprise is telegraphed well before it arrives. Once it arrives, they find a way to reinforce what happened in case the slowest member of the audience somehow missed it. At the end we felt not only disappointed but also insulted.
As I said, I'm a big fan of a good love story. It's a shame that this didn't qualify.

Quiet Weekend

My dear mother gave us a wonderful Valentines treat this weekend. She took Relia overnight on Friday and most of today. I had the day off yesterday so the FP Gal and I loaded up Relia and took her over when Mom was done with work. We showed her how to install the car seat and helped her put away her snowman.
And then we were off! Off for a night of adventure, the kind of night that only two suddenly free parents can really enjoy! A night without responsibility or restraint! That's right, we got two orders of Noodles Inc and settled down in front of the TV. The FP Gal went to bed before ten and I only made it until eleven or so.
But today was the real treat. We could get up when we wanted without Relia calling the shots. That's right, sleep in as late as we could. For the FP Gal that was almost seven am. For me, it was closer to eight. Unfortunately for both of us, for the cats it was closer to five. They caused such a ruckus trying to get us up to feed them that at some point I asked the FP Gal if her parents would like to babysit them.
The FP Gal had an incredibly productive day. She worked on rewiring our entire entertainment system. She made the DVD area childproof. She and her dad fixed the overhead light in the kitchen. My day was tiring if not that productive. I watched her doing all of those things. Finally I went up to the bedroom and took a nap.
About six o'clock, Mom brought Relia back with a whole gang of ladies. They filled our house like a sudden storm, all saying nice things and complimenting our house. It was great to see them. Also, a little breath-taking.
Relia is now in bed and seems to be giving Bear a talking to. We have hopes that she'll sleep soon. And deeply. And quietly. And at least as long as the cats.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Overheard

While I was picking out a black shirt for Relia:

Me: You look like a litte existentialist. Do you want to be an existentialist?
Relia: No!

Take that Sartre.

Have a great Friday

Girona Baths, Spain

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"Tee-tee"

That's the baby word for 'baby'. And no I don't understand it, but I've heard it from more than just my child. Today for instance. My dad was up from Austin to spend some time with Relia and I. We took her out to the MOA so that she could run around and see some of the outside world.
Longtime readers might remember that a trip to the Mall was a mainstay of Thursdays with dad last year. I'd strap her into her stroller and do the three main levels. Most times she'd conk out by the third one. Not anymore. Now when we go she wants to run and run. And then stop outside of various stores and look at things through the window. (Fortunately, she rarely wants to go inside and pull things off of shelves. I'm not sure that she understands that she can yet. Please let that day not come soon!)
When the FP Gal and I go there on Sunday mornings it's not a problem because there aren't many people in the place and we outnumber her. Someone pushes the stroller while the other one keeps her out of trouble. It works well (even though it can be quite a workout).
Last Thursday I tried taking her there on my own. We didn't bring the stroller in, I just carried the diaper bag and followed close behind her. She wandered and wandered and the only real problem I had was keeping her away from the escalators, which I don't think she's old enough to try yet. It took almost an hour and a half to do one level but she enjoyed it and it tired both of us out.
Fast forward one week to today. Dad and I took her out there and let her run. She was her usual charming self. Even went into the kittie and doggie store, her new favorite for obvious reasons. She ran and ran and ran.
We got to the second floor and ran into a family all wearing Wisconsin red. There was a little girl a touch taller than Relia. They looked at each other, pointed and in unison said, "Tee-tee!". All of us adults laughed and then we parted ways.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Exhausted

Sorry folks, the blog quality has been low lately and I don't know when it's going to improve. Work has been very tiring. There is some free time coming up this weekend, hopefully I'll have some vim after that.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Programming Note

For all of those who care:

'Survivor' starts again this Thursday.

New 'Amazing Race' starts this Sunday.

Pitchers and catchers report on the 15th.

And today, for the first time in many long months, we had some drizzly rain. Ahhhhh.

Back to work

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Como Conservatory

We went out today and the FP Gal blogged about it here (with pictures). It was fun watching her looking for fish and other animals. But again the real treat for me was watching her with other children. We ran into at least two other little girls that were also right around a year and a half old. They regard each other intently, sizing each other up. Then one of them tries out the word 'hi' and the other one responds...eventually. They have some inkling of personal space but it's not quite the same rules that adults use.
The science part of parenthood shouldn't be underestimated.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Heinlein's Juveniles

I mentioned this series of books the other day and I thought I'd review them with a little more depth. As I mentioned, Heinlein wrote one of these books every year from '47 to '58. The books were very popular and had a huge influence on a generation of sci-fi readers. Most of the men involved in NASA in the '60's had been turned onto rocket science after reading Heinlein. He was so well respected there that he was invited to join them in Houston during the Apollo 11 moonwalk.
The books are all stand alone stories and can be read in any order. The characters don't overlap although the universe they inhabit has a consistent logic to it. There are common characteristics involved in most of the books:
  • Each one is about a boy in his mid to late teens. They come from different types of families, many of them broken due to losing a parent. Most of them come from poorer families and the need to work to succeed is there for all of them.
  • Most of them struggle with the idea of continued education. Sometimes it is a financial decision. Sometimes it has to do with the idea of more school or other difficulties in the way. Heinlein shows that school (or equivalent experience) is worth it.
  • The boys are all self-reliant, most out of necessity. Each book is filled with a 'can-do' type spirit.
  • All of the boys are put into situations that would be difficult for adults to deal with. They are forced to grow up. In some cases the only other option is death.
I stumbled upon the books in junior high so I'm not sure what the best age for readers is. Certainly the level was fine for me in my early teens. If I'd known about them at ten, I think I would have liked them just as much. I'd freely recommend them to anyone who is looking for books for young boys or girls.

Rocket Ship Galileo (1947) This book is about three boys who decide to build a rocket ship and go to the moon. Their uncle is an actual rocket scientist and he's gotten hold of a surplus 'mail rocket'. They retrofit it for the trip, all the while dodging shady inspectors. Later on they face a distinctly post WW2 threat. Not one of my favorites, but not a bad book at all.
Space Cadet (1948) The story of a young man who joins a planetary version of the military. Very strong on duty and correct behavior. The only one of these I don't own. Haven't read it in many years.
Red Planet (1949) Details two young men who live on Mars. One of them has made a pet out of a martian rounder, a small animal that has learned English. While at school they uncover a plot that puts their families at risk. They must cover many miles by skating over the frozen canals of Mars. This book discusses revolution and responsibility. Very good.
Farmer in the Sky (1950) Reviewed here.
Between Planets (1951) A young man is pulled from school by an urgent message from his parents, calling him to join them on Mars. On his way there he becomes enmeshed in the martian revolt and ends up on Venus. Little does he know that he holds the key to the war. If only he can somehow find his folks... Another very good book.
The Rolling Stones (1952) One of the lightest-hearted of the series. This book is about a family that decides to travel from their home on the moon and see some of the rest of the solar system. The Stone family has a set of twins and they and their grandmother quickly become mixed up in various business schemes. One episode from this book was the inspiration for 'The Trouble with Tribbles'. A very fun book.
Starman Jones (1953) Max has a perfect memory and an intolerable home situation. He dreams of going to the stars and with the help of a rascal he makes it. Unfortunatley, his ship becomes hopelessly lost and his special skills become very important for everyone. One of my favorites.
The Star Beast (1954) Another fun one. This one involves a teen boy who has a pet named Lummox. Lummox is something like a friendly dinosaur and proves to be beyond the control of his owner. A court order to destroy him is issued but they can't figure out how to do it. How can they possibly save him? Another very fun book.
Tunnel in the Sky (1955) If I had the money, I'd turn this one into a movie. It involves a group of teens who are studying to be planetary explorers. Their final test involves being teleported to an unknown planet. They must survive for a week or so. But something goes wrong and the entire bunch is stranded. What can they do as a group to survive? And how can they overcome the unexpected? A great book.
Time for the Stars (1956) A study of identical twins discovers a way to tap into telepathy. It also shows that telepathy happens instantaneously, making twins the perfect communication systems for exploration ships. One twin goes with the ship and the other one stays home. Many dangers are faced, not the least is that the twins grow very far apart. Another great book.
Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) Maybe the best of the lot. Thorby is a slave who, as a joke, is sold to a beggar. The beggar is more than he appears to be and he raises and educates Thorby well. Then catastrophe strikes and Thorby finds out that his 'father' was more than he thought. And he might be as well. This book deals directly with the evil of slavery, not in racial terms but in how it degrades people. There are similiarities between this book and Kipling's 'Kim'. A great book.
Have Space Suit - Will Travel (1958) Kip is a high school student who has won a real space suit through a contest. He works very hard to get it in working order even though he has no real use for it. Or at least that's what he thinks. He soon gets mixed up in an interstellar plot and the fate of humanity itself may be in danger. A very good book.

In 1959 Heinlein wrote 'Starship Troopers' and his publisher turned it down. That ended his relationship with them and kind of ended the series as well.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Farmer in the Sky - Heinlein

The next entry in the Hugo award series is one of Robert Heinlein's juvenile series. It was another one of the retro-Hugos and wasn't awarded until 50 years after it was published. Much like I thought 'The Mule' was awarded a Hugo more for it's series than for it as an individual story, I think this book was awarded for Heinlein's juveniles. Every year from '47 to '58 he wrote a book that was pitched at young readers. Someone asked me for a suggestion for a series of books for 10 year old boys (don't remember who) and I wish I'd remembered this set. Each story is a stand alone, without overlapping characters or anything like that, but their is a uniform style that ties them together. (Er, I should probably just do a blog post on the series and get on with the review for this one.)
'Farmer in the Sky' was serialized for the Boy Scouts and the entire book is peppered liberally with scouting and and the way that scouts should act. The story is about a teenage boy who emigrates with his family to Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter, as part of the effort to make it habitable for humans. He faces difficulties from both man and nature and grows to be a better person.
The story was written nearly 30 years before we got a close up of the moon so some of the details are off but the attention to the sheer scale of the project is very well done. The entire book is filled with the pioneer spirit that Heinlein always respected so much. It's not the best of the series but it's interesting enough as a book. Certainly it's better for young boys than adults but it's worth reading.

Paging Sandra Boynton...

Overheard at the house:

Me: What does the cow say?
Relia: Moooo!
Me: What does the sheep say?
Relia: Baaaa!
Me: What does a pig say?
Relia: La la la!

Link.

Relatedly, if you start this series of questions and ask what mommy or daddy says, you often get "Neigh!".

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Romance languages (again)

Ok, so tallying up the comments from yesterday...
  • Here's an online Hittite course. Hans, I think you should test-drive it for me. Also here is a YouTube clip I love that it's a response video to 'The Amorites Part1: From Hejaz to the Levant 2500BC-1200BC'. Isn't the internet fun?
  • Tagalog? Hmmm, not tempting. Sorry. And now I'm thinking maybe I should run a poll on which language is sexier... FP Gal? Can you set that up for me?
  • I've thought of Latin and I even have some of the materials, but I need a little bit of structure and I haven't found any good courses. True story, I signed up for Latin in high school and they never had enough people to justify the class. Kate, you must have gotten it right at the end.
  • For those wondering about the Italian word for spoon, it looks like 'cucchiaio'. Isn't that fun?
  • Carrie, I want to hear if your Swedish studies help you with the Swedish chef.
  • After watching tonight's episode of 'Lost', I'm wondering if I should study Cryptic instead.
So that's one vote for French and one for Italian. Anyone else have some thoughts?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Romance Languages

You might remember that one of my New Year's resolutions was to learn Italian this year. The BBC has an online course that will teach you conversational Italian in six weeks. I haven't started yet and now I'm wondering if Italian is really the way to go. They also offer a course on French and I'm trying to decide if that would be better. I thought I'd offer a list of pros and cons and open the comments to suggestions.
Italian pros and cons:
  • The pronunciation rules are simple to understand and to hear.
  • It is closer to classical Latin, making it an easier crossover.
  • It would make traveling in Italy (a dream of mine) easier.
  • It's one of the sexier languages and I think the FP gal would agree.
  • I can teach Relia and then she and I will have a 'private' language.
French:
  • I took it in high school some twenty years ago. So did the FP Gal, so we could speak with each other to some extent. Maybe it would be our private language from Relia.
  • It's spoken by about four times as many people as Italian so it would be more useful worldwide. (Including travel in France, also a dream.)
  • A new segment of my job has me working with some French-Canadians and it could be useful.
  • I've got a fine eye for languages but a terrible ear. I always had trouble hearing the silent letters and contractions that are common in French.
I've got materials for learning both of them (years of scouting used bookstores has paid off). I'm just not sure which way to go. Any suggestions?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Horrifying



I did find this analysis interesting about the difference between Coke advertising and Pepsi:
A Coca-Cola spot shows a young man walking through a town populated solely by online avatars. These fantastical creatures, taking over the real world, represent the idea that people now conduct much of their social interaction over the Internet. At the end of the spot, a shared bottle of Coke helps a young gentleman realize that the jumbo-sized ogre sitting next to him is actually the avatar of a cute girl. This is the eternal message of the Coke brand: Pausing for a moment to enjoy our fizzy beverage will help you remember the simple, classic pleasures of life. Two thoughts: 1) I like online avatars and hope one day to achieve immortality by downloading my brain into the body of a computer-generated elf character. 2) This is the opposite of Pepsi's branding approach, which always rushes to embrace the newest fad (see, e.g., will.i.am). Pepsi would have happily shown two avatars enjoying a virtual cola together, somewhere out there in the cyber-ether.
I wonder if the Coca-Cola/Pepsi divide falls into the same pattern as the PC/Mac one. Someone should do a study.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Super Bowl picks

This is one of those David and Goliath type games. The Steelers are one of the NFL's best franchises. The Cardinals are one of the worst. The Steelers were a better team in the regular season, and beat better teams in the playoffs. Their fans travel well. In fact, the total number of Steelers fans probably outnumber the total Cardinals fanbase by a factor of 20. The fans at the game will be heavily pro-Pittsburgh.
All that Arizona has going for it is the natural love that America has for an underdog. Well, that and the best WR in the game. I don't think that's enough. The line on this game is 7 points. I think this will be more of a breakout game where one team gets up big and the scoring just keeps going. Something like Steelers 44-17.
I'll cheer for Arizona but I don't have any confidence in them.