Friday 5: Minding Your Peeves and Qs

Loco moco and garlic fries from Ono in Waimanalo. This joint closed the next day with no announcement. 2/1/13.

From here.

  1. What’s one of your language-related (that is, something people say or write) pet peeves?
    Chicken loco moco from Downbeat Diner. 3/13/15.

    Because I listen to a lot of sports talk, I become sensitive to whatever the athletes and their pundits say.  What miffs me lately is “at the end of the day…” which isn’t really bad.  It’s just that they all say it now, all the time, sometimes multiple times in one conversation.  Please just gouge my eyeballs out with a dull spoon instead.

  2. What’s one of your dining-out-related pet peeves?
    You know, I’ve learned to be pretty easygoing when it comes to eating out.  I’ll admit to a half-second of peevishness when at a fast food place I ask for my order to dine in and they pack it to go, but it’s fleeting, because I realize I’m not paying enough for my food and that kind of pickiness.  If it’s fast food, I want it quick, predictable, and tasty (enough), so whatever.

    Prime rib loco moco from Yogurstory when that joint was still good. 4/16/11 (Foursquare Day).

    Oh, I just thought of a good one.  There are places around here that won’t serve an egg sunny-side up, ostensibly for health reasons.  You know, we who enjoy a runny (or even raw) egg know what we’re getting into.  If we order it anyway, just give it to us.  At the campus where I work, you can’t get a sunny-side-up egg, but nine feet away in a chill case is ready-to-go poke.  Cubes of raw fish are okay but a sunny-side-up egg isn’t?  Who makes these rules?

  3. What’s one of your technology-related pet peeves?
    Korean-influenced loco moco from Red Pepper on Fort St. Mall. 1/20/15.

    It honestly shouldn’t bother me, and maybe this goes under language rather than tech, but the mass media have a way of misusing tech terminology.  They do it so often that their misunderstanding of the term becomes the commonplace usage.  One (dated) example is the flash mob.  A flash mob used to be a nearly spontaneous group behavior where “organizers” (such as this could be called organized) sent out text messages with simple instructions, such as “Walk into the Pali Highway Safeway at exactly 10:00 a.m. today and purchase exactly one orange.  Pay for it at register 1.  Pass it on!”  You never knew how many people were going to show up or if there would be some rebel who’d show up and buy an apple instead, but there was a spontaneity combined with surrealism that was magical.

    Loco moco from Candi’s Catering and Cafe. Over easy instead of sunny-side up. Irritating! This joint closed shortly after I took this photo. Serves it right for serving it wrong. 4/16/15.

    How “flash mob” became the name of a rehearsed performance in a public space (sometimes even promoted ahead of time! “Food truck rally with flash mob performance by Flash Mobb Kreww!”) is a mystery to me, but I know the mass media played a part in the devolution of the terminology.  And this kind of thing happens all the time, with terms like “sexting,” “home page,” and even (many many many years ago) “blog.”

    And if you’ve missed my saying it before, here it is again: Chalkdust is not a blog.

    Am I a tech/language snob?  Only if you consider my usual, insistent position snobby: if language changes because we’re using it creatively, the language becomes richer and more dynamic.  If it changes because we’re too lazy to use it specifically or correctly, the language becomes dingy and dull.

  4. What’s one of your television-watching pet peeves?
    Super-loud commercials.
  5. What’s something you do that you know peeves others?
    I move pretty slowly through crosswalks.  I’m old and often injured, and often am in the middle of a ten-mile walk.  Cut me some slack, please.

Review: The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle (2017)
Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts. Written by Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham, and Marti Noxon (based on the memoir by Jeannete Walls). Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.

I admired Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12, largely for its character-driven approach, realistic portrayal of life in a juvenile care home, and excellent acting by Brie Larson. Something about the director’s style appeals to me, and I’ve since become an even greater admirer of Larson, who won a Best Actress Oscar for her excellent performance in Room.

The Glass Castle reunites Larson with Cretton, and it’s a good pairing. Larson is very good as Jeannette Walls, a twenty-something society columnist for a New York magazine. Told in flashback, her story of growing up in extreme poverty with an artist mother and alcoholic father is heartbreaking and somewhat inspiring. Jeannette and her three siblings understand that they don’t have money, but while they’re still very young, they seem to appreciate that they’re blessed in other ways.

More than anything, Rex Walls (Woody Harrelson) cherishes his freedom. While he’s more than capable of earning an honest living, he and his wife Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) love being able to get into a car and go anywhere, whenever they want, and set up temporary homes wherever they can find some space. Sure, these moves are often spurred by mounting debts the family has no hope of repaying, but they do a good job of communicating to their kids that as long as they have the stars at night, each other all the time, and freedom from obligations, they’re pretty wealthy.

It might have worked out, if Rex weren’t an alcoholic and a dreamer of impossible dreams. He’s a good man in the complicated way that most good men are, and he has demons his children only become aware of as they grow old enough to understand them. For many reasons, they’re willing to write him a pass, sort of, but there comes a point at which negligence becomes malice, and malice against children is abuse.

This is really the story of how Jeannette—clearly her father’s favorite, at least as this story is told—grows through stages of relating to and understanding her father. I find it a satisfying arc, although whether you will find it satisfying probably depends on how strongly you condemn Rex. Many critics seem to believe that Rex’s offenses are too great for any kind of redemption, let alone the weakly granted redemption he’s given. Since the film is told through Jeannette’s eyes, I say there’s a place where maybe we don’t feel at all satisfied for Jeannette and her siblings but can accept that they’re satisfied themselves. This is their father, and what good will it do any of them not to forgive?

This is not a great film, but the acting is solid. In addition to the leads, the two actresses who play eight-year-old Jeannette and eleven-year-old Jeannette (Chandler Head and Ella Anderson, respectively) are pretty wonderful. Larson and Harrelson do a very nice job of developing the daughter-father relationship so that the end feels like the right end, whether it’s what we wish for or not.

This may be something of a spoiler, but viewers sensitive to themes of sexual abuse should probably stay away.

73/100
7/10

Review: Nim’s Island

Nim’s Island (2008)
Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler. Written by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, based on the novel by Wendy Orr. Directed by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett.

Nim is an eleven-year-old girl living alone with her father on a tiny, remote island in the Pacific. Her father Jack is a marine biologist searching for a new species of protozoa. Jack’s boat is hit by a huge storm while on a short expedition, and Nim is left to wonder what’s happened to him. With help from her pets on the island (a bearded dragon and a sea lion), she fends off an Australian tour company looking to turn her island into a resort, but when things get rough, she reaches out to her favorite author, an adventurer named Alex Rover, for help.

What nobody knows except Rover’s publisher and assistant is that Alex Rover is actually Alexandra Rover (played wonderfully by Jodie Foster), a germophobic agoraphobe who hasn’t ventured outside her house in San Francisco for years. But heck: Nim is a little girl all alone on an island, so Alexandra screws her courage to the sticking place and ventures out to save her.

This kids movie is too cutesy by about half, but this can be forgiven because of the filmmakers’ creativity and conscience in telling an interesting story about a tweener who’s neither a helpless baby nor a grownup in a kid’s body. Yes, she’s smart because she has been raised by a smart father, and yes she’s tough because she’s lived her whole life doing things for herself. But she’s also scared, not because she can’t take care of herself, but because where the heck is her father?

Parents are unlikely to love the story as much as their kids love it, but they may (as I) find the storytelling creative and thoughtful. Gerard Butler as Jack plays two roles in a way that’s far from gimmicky. Rather, this casting decision holds the entire film together for each of its three principal characters. Other technical decisions, such as the way Nim immerses herself in the stories she reads, and a considered but fairly indistinguishable reliance on CGI make this almost a great movie.

Where it falls short for me are where Levin and Flackett go to moviemaking shorthand in places where it’s senseless and unnecessary. I’m no vulcanologist, but I suspect the volcano on Nim’s island behaves in a decidely unrealistic way, which perhaps I wouldn’t mind so much if it weren’t a movie about a girl whose parents are scientists. And there is a scene at what is supposed to be the airport on Rarotonga that is straight out of movies from a less enlightened time, including chickens in bamboo cages and a gate attendant with a heavy Asian accent.

I wouldn’t mind the Asian woman with the Asian accent, because if the gate attendants in Honolulu can be accented Asian women, why not the attendants in Rarotonga? By itself it doesn’t bother me, but combined with the other silly (and frankly uneducational and unhelpful) stereotype-preserving decisions in this section of the film, it feels like nothing more than a device to give the illusion of being somewhere foreign. Writers like Levin and Flackett are smart enough to have thought of a better way, and it’s the kind of thing they generally avoid in their films. In the directors’ commentary on the DVD, they even say right up front at the beginning of the scene, “This is not what the airport in Rarotonga looks like! It’s actually lovely.” A huge disappointment.

One neat trick the directors employ is to let us see what the world looks and feels like to Alexandra, then to show us what it’s like to everyone else. Why not frame the silly exaggerated primitiveness of the Rarotonga airport as Alexandra’s perception, then show us what it really looks like?

If it seems I’m going on at excessive length about one semi-insignificant portion of the film, it’s because it’s the most representative of a few craw-sticking flaws. I expect this from lesser artist. Levin and Flackett have already demonstrated that they are not lesser artists.

Still, this is a film I would gladly watch with my kids, if they weren’t as imaginary as Alex Rover. Butler, Foster, and Breslin are perfectly cast, and there’s a commentary track on the DVD by Foster and Breslin that’s actually aimed at a young audience, with the actors talking about how much fun it was to make a movie, and some of the amazing things they learned about animals and islands during the film’s production. Another great idea.

71/100 but could have been a lot higher.
7/10

Metal Health’ll Drive You Crazy

We have this policy where I work that says if I’m out sick for three days, I have to get a note from a doctor saying I’m okay to come to work.  I had a cold.  I missed three days.  I made an appointment to see a doctor.

They took some vitals.  I was fine, cold-wise, but my BP was off the chart.  We’re talking in the 210s.  The doctor asked me a bunch of questions.  Do I drink? Yes, but not more than a couple of beers per week; usually a couple of beers every other week.  Do I exercise?  Yes, but not very strenuously.  I walk about 40 miles per week (81,500 steps per week back then).  History of high BP in my family?  Yes.  But no history myself.  I’ve never hit numbers above normal.

She ordered some bloodwork.  There was nothing to indicate I should have high BP, although my LDLs were high normal and my HDL low normal, and my blood sugar was “pre diabetic.”

I was immediately put on medication to manage the blood sugar.  I immediately modified my diet to get rid of most of my empty carbs, mostly rice and bread.  I got some BP meds, and orders to come back every X weeks until I got it down to acceptable.

How well do you sleep? my doctor asked. I’ve had sleep issues all my life. How many hours do you usually get? Um.  Five and a half to six? Why so few? Because I’m immature and irresponsible. Do you snore? Like a madman, although that wasn’t always the case. Do you wake up gasping for air? Yes, pretty often. Do you wake up with headaches? Frequently.

She set up an appointment for a sleep study.  I knew it already; had suspected it for years.  Sleep apnea.

I slept in a sleep lab at the hospital.  First for a few hours for observations, to see if I had sleep apnea.  Then for a few hours more with a CPAP machine attached to my face, so they could try different levels of air pressure to see what worked best for me.

A few days later, I had a machine, a small thing you plug into the wall, about the size and shape of a loaf of pumpernickel.  Connecting the device to a mask covering my face and mouth, a long plastic tube.  There’s a reservoir for water, so the air going into my lungs is humid enough not to dry me out.

This is my life now.  A friend tells me something about the construction of Asian men’s skulls and throats makes us more likely to have sleep apnea.  I admit that while there’s no Mrs. in my life right now, I’m a little worried about the sexiness of this if there should ever be one.

My boss says you never know.  There’s surely a woman out there with a Darth Vader fetish; she’s waiting for me to find her.

A friend assures me that Bane is sexier in bed than a snorer.

My BP was coming down, but during the holidays I kinda let everything go, diet-wise.  So I haven’t been back to check my numbers, despite calls from the HMO to make appointments.  One reason I’m typing this up now is to remind myself that I need to do it already.

First thing Thursday.  Or Friday.

Stephen King on Reading

As part of Camp NaNoWriMo I’m finally reading Stephen King’s On Writing.  I don’t read many books about writing because I don’t want to be one of those people who reads about writing and talks about writing more than he actually writes.  But I do need a spark lately, and this has been good for it.

More notes and a complete review next month, when I’ve finished it.  This past week, though, a few things King writes have reminded me of something I’ve been keenly aware of for at least a year: I’m not reading enough, and reading is a huge part of the job of writing. My writing partner reminds me of this all the time, but for some reason we don’t talk about it much and it hasn’t been sticking.

My problem is (as it always is) time. I try to read the news (I subscribe to the Washington Post and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser) every day, at least some of it. And I do a lot of reading for my jobs. But none of that is really the reading I’m supposed to be doing in service to my writing, so I’ve made some adjustments.

Now, if I’m on the bus or waiting for a bus, that’s time for pleasure reading. It means less podcast-listening, probably, and less music-listening, because for some reason I can’t read if music is coming through the earbuds. I mean I can’t read for pleasure. I work-read with music in the earbuds all the time.

Also because of Stephen King, I was reminded of how much I enjoy Sixties-era science fiction, so with refreshed resolve (and not a small amount of liberation, permitted — nay, directed — by Stephen King himself to indulge my escapism because it’s part of the craft, I remembered an anthology of Harry Harrison stories I purchased a couple of years ago but never read. Perfect for bus stops.

The anthology is published by Wildside Press, a legit publishing company that makes an effort to keep older material in print. It has a “Megapacks” series, a series of anthologies (like the one I’m reading) that it sells for very cheap, giving a lot of the content away free on its website. This collection of Harry Harrison stories and novels appeared in the SF periodicals of the day, such as Analog. Wildside either purchased the entire back-catalogue of these magazines or worked out an agreement with the publishers, and it’s a really nice thing, because the stories can be difficult for the enthusiast to track down if they only exist in pulp magazines from 60 years ago, you know?

I paid $.99 for this Harry Harrison Megapack (I hate that name, but whatever; the price is right). So far I’ve read a short story called “Arm of the Law,” which could have been an early inspiration for Robocop, and am halfway through a novel called Deathworld, about a planet so hostile to its own inhabitants that every form of plant and animal life seems to have evolved with the sole purpose of killing its humans. Like many classic SF novels of the time, it was first serialized in these magazines before being published in novel form, so what I’m reading is different from the novel Harrison fans know as Deathworld; I’m reading the earliest version before it was ever a book.

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Harrison’s prose. His action narrative is just right, and I think I may subconsciously have learned a lot of my own action narrative (such as it exists) from his Stainless Steel Rat novels. The Stainless Steel Rat stories aren’t included in this collection, but I’m okay with that since I’m enjoying what’s here. Also, $.99.

I just looked it up on Amazon and the Kindle edition is now priced at $.55.  Recommended if you want some good escapism with a bit of pacifist worldview thrown in.

Friday 5: Vive la Différence

From here.

  1. What’s a food that tastes completely unlike anything else you can think of?
    I suspect that one reason truffles are so dang expensive is that nothing tastes anything like them.  There aren’t any cheaper taste-alikes, so if you want that flavor, you have to pay whatever they’re asking.  I don’t even know if I really like them: all I taste is expensive, you know?
  2. What’s a movie that’s completely unlike any movie you can think of?
    Bubba Ho-Tep, a movie I hate.  Bruce Campbell is Elvis Presley living in a nursing home.  I know people who are crazy about this movie, and they’re the kind of people who would normally make me want to reconsider my response, but that would mean watching this again and I simply can’t imagine myself doing so.
  3. Who’s a musician or band you consider completely unoriginal but whom you still like?
    Well, I’m a big fan of 80s hair metal, so that’s almost a whole genre of unoriginal bands.  For me, the most emblematic of the talented no-talent bands is Poison, whom I really dig.
  4. Who or what are two people or things you keep mixing up with one another?
    For the longest time, despite having seen a bunch of each of their films, I couldn’t keep Ryan Reynolds, Ryan Gosling, and Bradley Cooper straight.  Now I’ve sorta got Reynolds separated out, but I don’t think I can say with any confidence which of Gosling and Cooper I’m looking at if I haven’t looked at the credits first.
  5. What’s something you’ll do this weekend that’s different from your normal weekend activity?
    I might see a movie in a theater, something I think I’ve done once in the past three years or so.  I’m annoyed that I haven’t made time to see more films this year, but I’ve been so danged busy.  I’m even planning to put myself to bed before 10:30 this evening so I might be able to sleep in AND catch an early matinee.

April Drudgery

I’ve been working through April Camp NaNoWriMo.  It’s like NaNoWriMo but (supposedly) mellow.  You set your own goal, and the concept is much more flexible.

My project this month is four short stories in four long weeks.  It’s been horrible five days out of seven, but kind of awesome the other two.

Story one is about a freelance editor and a freelance writer who flirt with each other only through their prose and edits.  It has potential, but it’s suuuuper challenging to write.  He edits her prose and by his sheer understanding of her intentions and work, he brings out the best in her writing, and she’s attracted only to his competence.  They will break up similarly.  If I decide to finish this one.

Story two is about a teenaged girl who volunteers at a National Wildlife Refuge.  She meets a tourist boy who’s allergic to sunlight and they spend the day together while the boy’s family is outdoors.  It’s really a story about the girl’s first kiss, which isn’t as romantic as first kisses are supposed to be.

Story three, which I just started last night, is about a middle school boy who finds a library card.  He uses it to borrow books at the library (he’s lost his card and doesn’t want to spend $12 to replace it, since he never reads anyway).  When the owner of the card sees that whoever has her card is reading through a fantasy series, one book at a time, she leaves a note in one of the books telling him to give her back her card.  My concept is kind of a Nick Hornby for kids, although this description sounds more like a Nicholas Sparks for kids.

No idea what story four will be.  I meet on Skype IM chats with other Hawaii people working through Camp NaNo, and one of them suggests “Nick Hornby for kids” would be a great brand for me.  I haven’t read any Hornby books, so maybe that’ll be my next project.  I like the concept!

 

 

Breathe

Still alive.  Just been swamped with a bunch of stuff, some professional and some personal.  I’m thinking I should commit to making myself put something here every day or two, whether or not I have time to write something of the length and substance that satisfies me.

Just to remind myself that I do this.

There’s a bus coming in 15 minutes and I want to be on it, so here we go.

Friday 5 for March 23: The Shine of a Thousand Spotlights

From here.  Questions inspired by The Greatest Showman which I recommend highly.

  1. What physical trait are you (or have you been) self-conscious about?
    It’s changed over the years.  In recent years it’s this gap between my front teeth.  It’s not quite the size of Dave Letterman’s old gap or Michael Strahan’s, but it’s noticeable.  I try not to think about it, especially since Letterman and Strahan rocked theirs so well, but I can’t help feeling everyone is staring at it even when I know nobody is staring at it.  Although now that my wonderfully long hair is thinning at a heartbreaking rate, I have a feeling my answer’s going to change soon.
  2. When did you last do something risking injury?
    We’ve been having a bit of a gecko problem at the office, and while I don’t have a problem with geckos, I do not need their poop on my computer mouse.  The problem got pretty bad, so I came in one weekend with a plan for repelling (not killing) the little grey reptiles.  I can coexist with them.  I just don’t want them in certain areas above my desk.  So I did a little bit of research and brought in some garlic, which I hung from the ceiling.  I will not share how I got the garlic up there, since I’m sure it would be prohibited by my employer, but I could really have hurt myself had I not been so nimble.
  3. Why do critics and the general movie-going public never seem to agree?
    It’s because critics see thousands of movies.  If you eat a thousand chicken parmesans all over the country, you get pretty good at telling the better from the worse, as Brian Windhorst will tell you.  Critics see so many movies that they actually know more than the rest of us about what’s good and what’s not.   They don’t know more than we do about what we’ll like, and that’s where people get all huffy when critics hate the movies they love, or love movies they don’t get.  This is why the good critics tell you why they dislike or like a movie, and we decide for ourselves if those are the reasons we would also dislike or like a movie.
  4. How do you feel about Hugh Jackman as an actor?
    He’s good.  I have always liked him as Wolverine, and I thought he was a good Jean Valjean.  As P. T. Barnum, he plays a kind of Disneyfied version of the Greatest Showman, and while that disturbs me a bit, the product is too good not to be forgiving.  I’m not sure he’s a very good singer, though.
  5. Who is the best singer you’ve seen in live performance?
    This would have to be Renee Fleming, whom I saw in performance with the Honolulu Symphony in March 2006.  It was amazing.  And I do not mind admitting that I was totally, completely in love, and if she had somehow asked me after the show to leave everything behind and come be her servant, I would have done it in a second.

Friday 5: Mist It by That Much

Don’t worry.  I do plan to put up something interesting (at least interesting to me) besides these Friday memes.  Just finding my groove while still trying to address the malware on my other WordPress sites.  It’s not just cleaning up the mess, but doing what I can to prevent this kind of thing later.

From here.

  1. What did you most recently spray out of a can?
    Shaving cream, and that was last Sunday, although I’m seeing  a concert this evening so I’ll be cleaning myself up sometime before I go to town.  I like shaving gels, actually, something I originally picked up because it’s what my dad mostly used when I was growing up.  But I’ve tried various options over the years and keep coming back to the gels.  My favorite was a medicated (not aloe, but something else) Edge that really made my skin feel good.  It was discontinued by the time I got through the first can.  Nowadays, I shave in three different places (home, my folks’ place, and the office) and I have a different gel in each place.  So I’m kind of picky, but there’s a bit of range to my pickiness.
  2. What’s your favorite food (or food product) that’s sprayed from a can?
    I have to admit I really love (‘though almost never indulge in) that spray cheese you supposedly put on crackers.  Still, what’s better than whipped cream?
  3. When did you last spray-paint something?
    I think it was five years ago when I was the publications advisor at the community college.  We cleaned up and painted the old newspaper boxes around campus.  Took a lot of ridiculous energy but they looked nice.
  4. What’s something that’s not sprayed from a can but would be pretty cool if it were?
    I really think we haven’t explored far enough the possibilities of better ways to use butter.  Real butter.  Spreading it on stuff that’s not hot can be a real pain, and while the butter stick incarnation is great for most cooking uses, it fares poorly as a condiment.  What about softened or whipped butter out of a can like with spray cheese or whipped cream?  As long as you didn’t have to add too much to it, and if you could maintain all the wonderful qualities that make butter butter, I’d be down to give it a try.
  5. What’s conceptually the oddest thing sprayed from a can?
    I know everyone’s probably going to say fake hair from a can, and that’s certainly a worthy contender, but as an island boy for most of my life, I have to say spray can snow for Christmas trees.  I especially don’t get it for people who live here.  Other contenders: spray air (like for cleaning computer stuff) and spray noise.