Friday 5: Pees

From here.

Young me do grow older, every day.
Young men do grow older, every day.
  1. What’s something that recently required perseverance?
    I have a lot of serious answers about this, but I’m opting for a non-serious answer because I’m just not in the mood. My iTunes library recently disappeared. The songs are still on my computer in their expected folders, but the library got rid of everything except purchases from the iTunes store, and those were only for cloud playback. Even iTunes songs I downloaded were gone from the library. So I’ve spent the past couple of months re-adding the songs, a few artists at a time, and taking the opportunity to check for accuracy on all the metadata. I want my song titles to be right, and I want the album years to be right, and I want genres to be as reasonable as I can get them. Then I listen to everything just because. It’s taking a lot of time, but I’m up to the Rs with Richie Havens, so the end is in sight.
  2. What’s something that’s been unpleasantly persistent?
    The landlord is pretty much having the yards deforested. It’s endless chainsaws and wood chippers all day, which would normally be fine if I didn’t sleep most days until noon, and work at home beginning at 1:00. Sleep has been impossible. Work has been only slightly less so. It’s 6:07 and they’re still at it, which I hope is an indication that they’re trying to finish up today so they don’t have to come back.
  3. When has practice not proven to make perfect?
    I can think of two things right off the top of my head: tennis and guitar. Both are pursuits I’ve spent a lot of time over a lot of years on, and I never seem to get better. I think it’s good for me. Maybe we all need stuff in our lives that we totally love but will never be any good at.
  4. Where were you last required to exercise patience?
    I stopped at McD’s for an inexpensive snack last night, on my way home from a long walk. There was a little girl who kept thinking of reasons to run to the counter, say “knock knock!” to get someone’s attention, and request something, like a napkin or a cup. She kept doing this while people were ordering or picking up their food, and it slowed everything down at a time when the line was already super long. I was displeased. She eventually settled down, and I tried not to think judgy things about her folks.
  5. How do you feel about peas?
    I’ve spent my whole life utterly detesting peas. Then one night, at a school function partially catered by a local restaurant known for great bar food, a student brought me a small plate of the only thing left after parents and guests had their shot: this restaurant’s rather famous pea salad. I was so hungry, I decided to eat it anyway, despite it being a salad made of peas. And it was really, really good. So then I found this recipe for a very close approximation of that salad (the key, you see, is that the peas are never actually cooked beyond whatever cooking they get in the bagging and freezing process, and that has made all the difference). I made one excellent addition to the recipe. I chop some raw snow peas (in their pods, of course) and add them to the other ingredients, and they add a very pleasing, tasty crunch. This salad has been a hit at potlucks (‘though I wouldn’t recommend it for picnics), where I am now sometimes asked to bring it.  Also, my people have a snack called “wasabi peas” which are basically dehydrated peas with a baked-on wasabi-flavored coating. Those are pretty dang good too.

Review: The Secret of Kells

The Secret of Kells (2009)
Voices of Evan McGuire, Brendan Gleeson, Christen Mooney, and Mick Lally. Directed by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey. Written by Fabrice Ziolkowski.

secret3“I have seen the book that turns darkness to light,” whispers a voice as The Secret of Kells opens. It’s a mysterious introduction to an eerie story about the origins of an awesome, beautiful book of the Gospels, illustrated (or “illuminated”) by the ninth century monks of the Abbey of Kells. The characters are people of faith, but they are worried about invasions by Vikings, so their Abbot is singularly focused on building a wall to protect his people and their holy work.

secret2The artwork in this myth-like tale is gorgeous, bringing to life the creative spirit of the Book of Kells, and the movie is worth seeing just for that. Told from a young boy’s point of view, the story is decidedly targeted at children: simple and linear in plot, with just enough mystery and darkness to impart the highest-stakes feeling appropriate a book that turns darkness to light.

secret4A couple more drafts of this script could have made it really something, if the writers had wished to make this also a story for grown-ups. Without proselytizing, the film doesn’t disguise the fact that it’s a story about a religious text, or that its characters have dedicated their lives to a religious cause. Here’s where some thoughtful, between-the-lines dialogue could have given grownup audiences more to chew on, particularly those with a casual interest in the book and its content. This is a selfish complaint, because I appreciate a recent wave of animated children’s movies that has made an effort to do something similar. As a movie for children, though, it’s more than adequate.

secret1While the art is its greatest strength, the film’s animation is only fair to middling. One gets the sense that the budget was restrictive, especially compared to the ridiculous costs of films put out by Pixar and Disney. It’s possible that this was a conscious decision, a rougher animation employed to emulate the feeling of the turning of pages, for example, because when the motion needs more fluidity, as when the book’s beautiful illuminations come to life, it’s much more elegant.

Voice acting by most of the principal cast, especially Brendan Gleeson as the Abbot, is quite good, but the decision to cast a very young actor as the voice of the main character is a misstep. Very few young actors can deliver the dramatic nuance animated films require, so young Evan McGuire does about what you’d expect from a competent young actor: two or three notes that work okay, but very little in between.

Still, give it plus points for good music, great art, and subject matter that stretches far beyond the content of most children’s films. Younger viewers will appreciate a rebellious but serious-minded protagonist with a mysterious friendship and a misunderstanding father figure. Older viewers will love the art, which really is unlike anything I’ve seen in a movie.  I kind of want to get several tattoos of scenes from the film.

7/10
77/100

Kevin Smith is on My List

This weekend

  • I’m really far behind on my step count so Saturday is all about the walking.
  • I recently re-watched Chasing Amy, and I want to watch it again Saturday with the director commentary, which I have also seen. But it’s been a long time, like ten years.
  • If I can squeeze them in, I also have something called Paris, Je T’aime and that Anne Hathaway flick from last year, The Intern. I probably won’t get to them.
  • Quite a bit of work. I have web content assignments to catch up from two clients and a one-off from a potential future client who actually agreed to my asking price. Need to crank the productivity up.
  • Our fantasy football draft is this weekend. Need to prepare for that, and then there’s the draft itself.
  • Gonna hang out with the folks a bit. Mom’s birthday was Thursday, but we’re getting together next weekend. Thought I’d spend some time there anyway.
  • The housecleaning continues with the laundry room, which I think is two weeks away from done. Well, two weeks to deal with the clutter and then one week to do the floors, windows, and walls. I’ve been spending a few hours every Monday night on this, something that works better than a little bit of time every day.
  • A little bit of reading. I’m in the middle of the second book in that library lover’s cozy mystery series, and I’m midway through a baseball book I read when I was in college. Not sure where I’ll squeeze that reading in, but I’m confident I will.
  • I’m watching a short documentary film for review on 8Asians. And listening to an interesting compilation album also for review. I meant to listen to that during my long walk this morning, but I totally forgot.
  • I really want to get through this backlog of film reviews.

It it looks like the second hurricane is going to skip us. We continue to be lucky. Still feeling it, though. It’s humid as heck.

I Got Numbers Comin’ Outta My Ears

I haven't seen Eat, Pray, Love yet, but there is something about Julia and polka-dots.
I haven’t seen Eat, Pray, Love yet, but there is something about Julia and polka-dots.

And now, an impromptu ranking of the Julia Roberts movies I’ve seen, from best to least-best. We’ll call this Draft 1, because I’m super super super tired and don’t have a lot of time to think about this with the kind of rigor it requires.

  1. Notting Hill
  2. Pretty Woman
  3. Mystic Pizza
  4. The Mexican
  5. Charlie Wilson’s War
  6. The Pelican Brief
  7. Erin Brockovich
  8. Mirror, Mirror
  9. August: Osage County
  10. Flatliners
  11. Ocean’s Eleven
  12. Ocean’s Twelve
  13. Mona Lisa Smile
  14. Steel Magnolias
  15. Larry Crowne
  16. Charlotte’s Web
  17. Something to Talk About
  18. Stepmom
  19. Money Monster
  20. Runaway Bride
  21. America’s Sweethearts
  22. Duplicity
  23. The Ant Bully
  24. Everyone Says I Love You
  25. My Best Friend’s Wedding
  26. Valentine’s Day
  27. Sleeping with the Enemy

Friday 5: Stop. Hey, What’s That Sound?

From here.

  1. What’s a sound you like falling asleep to?
    Definitely rain, like everyone else.  But also the sound of a baseball broadcast, preferably radio, but TV will also work.  The rhythm of a baseball game is one of life’s perfect sounds, and few things comfort me as effectively.
  2. What sounds do you hear right now?
    The landlord is having the trees trimmed, so I’ve been hearing the sound of a buzz saw all day.  I tried to listen to music, but the combination of the music and the saw was more displeasing than just the saw.  Between blasts from the power tool, though, I also hear the whirring of my fan and the clicking of the keys.
  3. What actor or actress has a speaking voice you especially like?
    Pretty much every answer to every question about an actress is Julia Roberts.  I love Julia’s voice.  She does those Nationwide commercials so well.  And her work in the live-action Charlotte’s Web film (as Charlotte) is sublime.  I also love the voices of Lauren Bacall, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scarlett Johansson, and Ben Kingsley.
  4. What musical instrument has a sound you find unpleasant?
    Symphony lovers are likely to hate me for this, but I really dislike the oboe.  That goose-honking sound doesn’t work for me, pretty much ever.  I’m not a fan of most electronic drums, either.  I do like the sounds of the vibraphone and steel drum, but a little of each really goes a long way.  Doesn’t take much to tilt them over into unpleasantness.
  5. What are some great songs about listening or hearing?
    “Rhythm of the Rain” (Dan Fogelberg version or Kaau Crater Boys version)
    “Do You Hear What I Hear?” (lately makes me cry)
    “Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel
    “Listen to the Music” by the Doobie Brothers

    I’m sure I’m missing some good ones.

I Am Here

That thing I said about Apple failing to deal with its two biggest design flaws?  Someone addresses the fragility here.  The writer makes a good case, and I like the tension between beauty and practicality, which is what I was trying to get at when I talked about Apple products being friends, and not merely tools.

you_are_here
The local paper is taking this seriously, but with a touch of humor. Great front page.

The eye of a low-level hurricane (but still a hurricane) is expected today to pass just south of Hilo, where I went to college.  It doesn’t look like it’s big enough to affect Oahu much except for the high-surf warnings which have been in effect since yesterday, but the thing about hurricanes is that they can be pretty unpredictable.  My first week in Hilo, an enormous hurricane was tracking right for Hilo before it swerved in the last hours impossibly north at almost a right angle (headed straight west and then headed straight north).  It was amazing.  The front-page headline on the local newspaper the next day was simply WHEW!

There’s another hurricane following almost the same path, just two days behind.  It’s a category 4, so it could be nasty.  And the predicted track is west, right for Hawaii island again, and then north west, which is exactly the direction of the rest of the chain.

I’m less prepared than usual.  Because of the leaner year I’ve been having, I’ve consumed my edible emergency supplies.  Still have a bunch of batteries for the flashlights, plus candles, matches, and a butane stove.  I’m not really worried, though.  My folks live about a three-hour walk from here, so if things get bad, I think I can just go there.

The important thing is that I have plenty of books.

The President is landing this evening, around sixish (they’re never very specific about these things, for obvious reasons), for an international conference on conservation or something.  Traffic is expected to be horrible.  It’s a convergence of superpowers on this tiny island state.

 

Review: I’m Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies

I’m Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies: Inside the Game We All Love by Tim Kurkjian (2016)

13475097_10155073767467818_1919828450667402095_oTim Kurkjian is my favorite person in baseball. There is nobody else in the wide landscape of sports commentary more knowledgeable, passionate, mystified, articulate, or amused by the game, and he is regularly cited as the person at ESPN most beloved by his colleagues. To hear him speak of the game, in either tree or forest view, is to be reminded of the boyish reverence many of us had as youngsters and to temper our sentimentality with the reality of millionaires playing a game in a park.

It’s far too easy to become cynical about professional sports, and baseball in particular, but Kurkjian refuses to go there, even while confronting the disheartening truths any honest fan faces. What I love most about him is the seriousness with which he talks about the game in its own context, while keeping the game in the larger context of real life. In I’m Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies, he begins with a treatise on why baseball is the best game, then follows it with chapters about how difficult it is, how tough the players are, the poetic and musical sounds of the game at the major league level, and other particular interests he has in the game’s deepest crevices.

Much of the book is delivered in quick hits of curious anecdotes: a quick item about a peculiar game’s finish, followed by something funny Buck Showalter once said, followed by a little-known fact about Fenway Park. Some of those quick hits are great:

The Phillies in the 1960s had shortstop Bobby Wine and second baseman Cookie Rojas, a period known as the Days of Wine and Rojas.

Infielder Craig Counsell played parts of sixteen years in the major leagues despite looking like a librarian.

To not look at the data is foolish, but to look at the data as having all the answers is even more foolish. It is a collision of new-school statistics and statisticians against old-school managers, coaches, and instructors. Neither side is right, neither is wrong; there is so much to be gained from listening to both sides.

However, it pains me to say this because there are few things I enjoy in my media consumption more than listening to Kurkjian talk about baseball, but while each little story is fascinating, as grouped together in this collection, they are not very good reading. They lack the rhythm and flow of good baseball writing, which at its best mimics the rising and receding action of a good baseball game. Sloppy editing exacerbates the problem.

There are exceptions. The chapters on superstition and baseball’s idiotic “unwritten rules” are much better structured, with nice progressions of thought and more reflective commentary. Especially strong is his “Obits” chapter, in which he pays tribute to the late Tony Gwynn, Don Zimmer, Earl Weaver, and Mike Flanagan, and I enjoyed an entire chapter about the inside look at the official scoring of baseball, an aspect of the game seldom covered in baseball books.

Tim Kurkjian is famous for being able to recite such painstakingly specific lists at his top ten shortstops in history, or his ten best Yankees of all time. I can relate to his geekiness, for I’ve spent quite a bit of time composing and revising my own lists. Alas, although this is a decent read with a plus fastball and a crippling curve, it has trouble establishing a rhythm and it gets too distracted by the runner at first. It won’t be cracking my list of top ten baseball books.

Three stars out of five.

By Hook or by Book

Some of the shots that pop up when you do a tag search for #bookstagram. It's bibliophile porn.

Some of the shots that pop up when you do a tag search for #bookstagram. It’s bibliophile porn.

And now, a few comments on something I know almost nothing about.  Reckless speculation alert.

I’m fond of taking photos of the books I’m reading and then sharing them on social media.  This is mostly because

  • I like books, and photos of them make me happy.
  • I like talking about books, and putting my current reading out there invites comment.
  • Social media, more than anything else except possibly engagement (and I mean possibly, because I think I might still participate even without it), is about presence.  The original Twitter prompt was “What are you doing?”  I still hold that as the thing I love most about the platforms.  And since books are such a big part of my life, of course my lifestream is going to have a lot of books in it.
  • I like having a photo of each book I review, so I can include the image with the review.  It helps me cement the titles and reviews in my mind.  And it looks cooler.

I often use hashtags like #bibliophile on my book photos.  This leads total strangers to my photos for likes, and occasional follows (my following them, and their following me).  I will occasionally do a tag search for book-related terms just to see what else is out there.

This has led me to an almost mind-boggling number of accounts who exist for the sole purpose of sharing book porn.  I mean, not pornography porn, but photos of books that make book lovers go “Ooooh.”  It’s definitely a kind of lasciviousness that bibliophiles will relate to.

I followed a few of these book-heavy accounts on IG (who call themselves bookstagrammers), but then I noticed some weird patterns.  First, some books find their way into a lot of photos.  I get that they’re popular titles, but I’m talking about across long periods of time within one bookstagrammer’s feed.  This kind of makes sense, if the titles are favorites, but the bookstagrammers are apparently reading so many books, it seems a little weird that a two-year-old title will keep finding itself in one person’s photos.

Second, a few of the popular bookstagrammers often get books from publishers.  In pretty wrapping.  And in the photo captions, there’s a note like, “Thanks to ______ Books for the loot!”  I also don’t have a problem with this, except the problem of occasional jealousy.  But heck, some of these bookstagrammers get a LOT of books this way, more than it seems they could possibly read.  I guess that’s not really the point anyway.  The books are finding their way into the hands of people who will take lovely photos of them, and then those photos will be seen by thousands (tens of thousands in a few cases) of book lovers.

Third.  Um.  Well.  It seems to me that almost all (like, we’re talking 90% or more) of the bookstagrammers are women, and about half of that 90% are youngish.  The ones who have tens of thousands of followers are youngish and pretty, and feature themselves in many of their book photos.  I actually think the selfie thing with the books is pretty great, and I may adopt the aesthetic in my own book photography.  But there’s so much similarity in these book selfies that I wonder if the really popular bookstagrammers aren’t receiving tips (or instructions) from marketers.

I have this weird feeling that the cute young women are being sought by the publishers, which I am also okay with, except.

I don’t begrudge anyone their audiences or sponsorships or whatever, but it does make me question some of the authenticity of these bookworms.  I guess that’s not fair, but there it is.  I just want to know that the book lovers in my world really, really love books.  I never thought I’d have to wonder this about people.  It makes me kind of sad.

 

Review: Kernel of Truth

Kernel of Truth by Kristi Abott (2015).

kernel of truthAs a teen, Rebecca Anderson was known in her small town of Grand Lake, Ohio as a rebel, never in enough trouble to be put away, but in enough to be suspicious just for hanging around. She’s back now, with a culinary degree and after a failed marriage to a celebrity chef, to run a gourmet popcorn shop in a tourist-friendly part of town, but she finds that earning the respect and trust of those who knew her when—and everyone knew her when—is difficult, if not impossible.

So when her mentor, a popular chocolatier, is found murdered, it’s not long before people are whispering about her possible involvement. The suspicion is preposterous, but Becca’s fierce independent streak and minimal respect for rules keeps putting her in bad places at bad times. The person who killed her dear friend—and it isn’t her—is still out there, and she’s determined to find out who it is, to protect herself and her reputation.

Author Kristi Abbot has all kinds of fun telling us Becca’s first story. Her playful dialogue and narration had me laughing aloud several times, adding an extra layer of enjoyment to an enjoyable genre:

”As for your latest lifesaving activities, I’m pretty sure you’re protected under the Good Samaritan law.” He looked up at me sharply. “Your actions weren’t willful or wanton, were they?”

“I wasn’t aware I could be wanton pulling someone out of a vehicle.” I hadn’t been wanton in a very long time. I wasn’t even sure I remembered what wanton felt like.

“I’ll take that as a no, then.” He marked something down on his legal pad while muttering, “Not wanton.”

The mystery itself is just north of average, but the character is likeable, and she is developed well enough to make her involvement in solving the mystery more believable than most in this genre. The strength of the writing boosts it an extra half star and makes me eager for a follow-up.

4 of 5 stars.

Steps Stories Scopes

Steps

aug 14
thirty four weeks.

I need to walk about 3.5 miles by the end of today to make my weekly stepcount goal. If I hit it, it’ll be 35 weeks (counting the last week of December, which concluded after the new year) of keeping my new year’s resolution intact. I’m frequently tempted to think my goal was too low, but then I remind myself that I’ve been tracking my steps since 2014, and the 75,000 weekly goal I set is far above an average week’s movement before this year. I’m going to stick to it until the end of the year, even if I blow it between now and then, and consider making the same resolution for next year.

I’ll probably need to add something else to it, but I’ll worry about that in December.

Stories

I have mixed feelings about the new Instagram Stories feature and how it affects Snapchat. I’d been a fan of both platforms, as sender and receiver, but they are two different things to me, with two (mostly) different uses. Now, with about half my SC follows moving entirely to IG, I’m already feeling the effects even while I haven’t decided for myself how I want to use each. It’s all a bit confusing.

I read a pretty good article somewhere (I honestly can’t remember where) about how IG Stories doesn’t have to be as good as SC, which of course it isn’t.  It just has to be good enough, since the user base is already there.  The day IG Stories went live, I wasn’t sure I agreed, but the article has proven to be prescient, at least on a practical level.

The thing is, I get why so many of the commenters (including my friends who host the local tech show on the local public radio station) say that SC is a horribly designed app, from a user experience perspective.  I actually disagree with that.  The fact that experienced (older) users had trouble with it at first doesn’t mean it’s poorly designed.  Young people picked it up quickly, and SC almost immediately resonated with them.  There’s something about the swipe-to-make-something-happen model that obviously works for younger people, and if older people are baffled by a lack of menus or verbal prompts, that’s only a problem if that’s who the app is trying to appeal to.

It took me forever to pick up a few of SC’s tricks (I used it for nearly a year before figuring out how to apply the animated filters), but I took that as a sign that I’m not the target user base, and why isn’t that okay?

I guess I’m commenting on this because it seems to me that far too often, the thing that comes along second is worse than the thing that it’s imitating, and it often nudges out the thing that was first.  SC’s user base is too big for things to just dry up overnight, but MySpace showed us all that nothing is forever, and in this case, I would be disappointed to see IG muscle its way into what has been a separate, different space just because FB (who owns IG) is greedy.

I’m not a huge SC fan, in case that’s unclear.  But I do get why it’s been so popular with younger users, and that’s something to pay attention to.  As I’ve told my ninth-grade computer students for a million years, they’re the ones who show us what to do with the technology once the older people put the technology out there.

What I see with my old friends on IG is a kind of, “Okay, this is more like it” with IG stories.  It has the displeasing scent of Get Off My Lawn, and I don’t like it.

Scopes

I finally decided that I can’t ignore live video anymore, as much as I would like to.  I finally downloaded Periscope, and I’m going to play around with Meerkat and FB Live, too.  Live video is not my thing, but FB Live is making it impossible to ignore.  Strangely, it wasn’t Chewbacca Mom or any of the citizen journalism stuff that pulled the trigger for me: it was the NFL’s selling live streaming rights for ten of its Thursday night games to Twitter.

There was a meaningless, stupid game last season streamed live on Yahoo last year, and it drew fifteen million viewers.  So there’s potential here.  With Twitter streaming ten (of sixteen) Thursday games, there are all kinds of possibilities for combining two things we’ve used Twitter for almost since it launched: live tweeting.  There’s speculation that Twitter will present the game with a curated stream of live tweets right alongside the streamed video.  If you can customize an additional column for your own curated stream (as Tweetdeck lets you do for your own saved lists or saved searches), this could be huge.

I mean huge.  Imagine similar experiences with the next NBC live stage play, or the presidential debates.  I know this concept doesn’t appeal to everyone, but this is how I want to watch certain kinds of TV.

So I’m on Periscope.  Feel free to add me.  No link, because if you’re inclined to do it, you already know how.  I just realized, though, as I was flipping through a few Hawaii scopes, that I have nothing to scope myself.  My life is utterly uninteresting right now.