Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Movie Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness

America, we've got to have a talk.

*turns chair around backwards*

So, you've made some pretty poor decisions lately. I'm not sure why. Maybe the Internet has melted your brain. Maybe public schools. But whatever the case, you keep missing the mark.

On May 24th, 2013, you allowed Star Trek: Into Darkness, to be surpassed at the box office by Fast and Furious 6 and The Hangover part III. And so I have to say that I would rather witness the descrution of Romulus 1,000 times over than live another day in a country in which Fast and Furious 6 and the Hangover part III overtake one of the greatest motion picture events ever put to film.

Have you no shame? Have you no dignity?

Think about that for a second. On one hand you have an incredible, stunning film, brilliantly acted, movingly scripted, expertly directed. On the other, you have Vin Diesel and the Rock driving cars around to save Michelle Rodriguez. Michelle. Rodriquez. And the Rock. And Vin Diesel. You thought that was better than the motion picture event of our lifetimes.

Think about what you've become. Think upon your sins.

If you haven't seen Star Trek: Into Darkness yet, you are not just a misinformed moviegover, you are a BAD HUMAN BEING. There is something that has gotten into your brain and died, turning you all hollow inside. Make no mistake: the armageddon is coming, and 90% of it is because you allowed Fast and Furious 6 and The Hangover Part III to overtake Star Trek: Into Darkness at the box office.

Perhaps you missed all the marketing. It would be difficult to, but I suppose it's possible. WHY DIDN'T YOU MARK IT ON YOUR CALENDARS? Why didn't you set an alarm?

Maybe you have an aversion to incredible movies that are insanely brilliant and entertaining. Maybe you're just not a fan of hilarious, cool, moving, action-packed, surpsising, exhilirating sci-fi cinema. Perhaps you prefer your movies in black and white with subtitles, and dialogue that reads like a redacted CIA document. And again, perhaps you have chosen evil and decided to align yourselves with Satan and all he stands for.

Because of this, there might not even be a Star Trek 3 now. The incredible future that was portrayed on screen at such a level of realism that it felt 100x more like real life than any documentary ever made could be snuffed out, replaced by The Rock making jokes about race cars, and whatever the Hangover is about. I assume, hangovers.

You have failed me for the last time, America. But more than that, you have failed yourselves. But even more than THAT, you have failed your children. But even more than that, you have failed me. And my children. And they possibly could have played with your children, but not any more because I'm not going to let them.

Instead, I'm going to curl up in bed with a receipt for the pre-ordered video of Star Trek: Into Darkness, and am going to weep softly.

For shame. For shame...

Friday, May 24, 2013

Book Review: "The Lonesome Gods" by Louis L'Amour

This was my first Louis L'Amour book, and my first Western book in about 20 years. I think the last one was "Shane." Somehow over the last several decades, I had managed to not pick up and read something from one of America's most prolific and popular authors, especially one widely regarded to be socially and politically Conservative. How did this happen?

Probably because I'm more of a sci-fi/supernatural/adventure kind of guy, and am averse to the outdoors, where most Westerns are set. As Woody Allen said, "I don't tan; I stroke."

Even so, my father-in-law Doug recommended it to me, and he tends to be right about many things, so I trusted him on 'The Lonesome Gods' and gave it a shot. How did it go? Well, let's see.


TLG is about a very young boy named Johannes Verne who is orphaned at the tender age of 7 and is  left to die in the desert by the person who murdered his Pa - namely, his evil Grandpa. Fortunately, he is rescued and spends the next 3 years operating his own home and ranch, and hanging out and learning things from local indians. Kids were different back then!

At age 10, a matronly friend of the family sends for him and decides to sponsor him, Miss Haversham-style, by putting him in school and letting him live with her.

Now, here's where things get interesting. Despite being born without a personality, he is widely known and respected. This wins him several friends but even more enemies. By the end of the book, I counted about 5 mortal enemies, plus several more hired guns. They hate him! For various and sundry reasons. The poor kid can't get a break.

After 6 months of school, Miss Nesselrode, his foster mother person, sends him away with some cowpokes to round up about 400 wild horses. They're going to sell them to people moving to L.A. (Oh yeah, the book is set in old west L.A.).

We follow him for 100 to 150 pages or so as he and his friends russle up the horses, eat beef jerky, and learn how to make and repair various ranch tools. Back at school, though, he had fallen in love with a girl named Megan, and when he starts missing her, they all decide to go back.

Unfortunately, they're not back for more than a week when someone runs off with about 40 of their horses, setting an obvious trap to lure Johannes away from the safety of Miss Nesselrode's plantation.

Spurned by Megan, who has somehow fallen in love with the bad guy, 'Hannes' says "screw it" and takes off after the horses, feeling he has little to lose. The bad guys attack and he is separated from his friends. He spends the next 100 pages or so on the run, but Megan comes after him, and all of the bad guys meet by chance at a bar in literally the last 2 pages of the book, decide they they should form a super villian super team, and ride out into the street to kill Johannes. On the last page he shoots all of them and in the last paragraph he shoos the guy who killed his Pa, The End.

Where to begin? I liked it, first of all. So thanks Doug for opening me up to the exciting world of Western fiction. But the editor in me found a few nits to pick. Namely:
  • The passage of time is unclear. By my count, Hannes was approximately 11 years old when he faced down all his enemies and [presumably] gets engaged to Megan. I assume he's older, since that's just weird, but if you add up all the events in the book as they're described, he's just barely a Blazer Scout when all of this goes down.
  • The ending is extremely sudden, considering the leisurely pace of the rest of the book. A nice 20-30 page wrap-up would have been good. Does he get back to civiliation? Does he get married? Does he turn 12?
  • The characterization is a little thin, and all of his friends are named something with a J. Jasper, Jimmy, Jeffy, something like that. So it's kind of tough to tell everyone apart.
  • He wasn't sad at all for his Dad dying. Also, he never buried his Dad. Apparently he either evaporated in the summer sun or his corpse just decayed in the front yard of the ranch for 3 years.
  • One of the main bad guys has an immediate change of heart and becomes a good guy at the end for no reason at all. He just says "I've decided to stop my career of being evil and get a job."
  • Finally, they make a really big deal about him going to learn karate from a Chinese guy. He studies it and studies it...and then never uses it even once. Maybe knowing karate gave him inner peace. 

With all these nits, am I sure I liked it? Sure, of course I did. It moved along extremely quickly. I almost missed my train stop a few times because I was engrossed in the book. And Jan will attest that I even read it at home, away from the train. L'Amour is a GOOD storyteller. He can write in a way that causes you to want to see what happens next, even if nothing does for several hundred pages. You always think...maybe on the next page something cool will happen.

I also found it a refreshing change of pace from my typical fare, and would read more of his stuff again. I also liked the subtle Conservative stuff that he worked into the book. Sometimes it was not so subtle. I was surprised it wasn't very religious, though, the way you'd think a Social Con would be. Maybe that comes through in some of his other books?

I read that there were several years where L'Amour was writing 3 novels a year, so the lack of characterization here and the odd pacing makes sense. I think he pretty likely just wrote and wrote and wrote without stopping until he thought the story had gone on long enough. So that's cool. I wish stories came to me that easily!

So thanks again Papa Doug, and be sure to save another one for me the next time we bump into each other.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Florida Keys

I should have mentioned in my first vacation wrap-up this week a little more about the Florida Keys. They're kind of interesting.

So what are the Keys? They are a series of little islands that extend south and west of Florida, starting at the southern tip of Miami, which is on the south-east most side of the state.

That little chain actually goes all the way up the state, but gets much closer and most of the time is connected right to the land except for a small channel.

Like this
And this.

Then you get down to the Keys, which are separated from the land part and are just small islands, barely above sea level. I'd guess that if the water level rose about 3 feet, the Keys would be under water. 

The Keys are famous. The Beach Boys sang about "Key Largo" in their laid back hit, "Kokomo," and Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made a decent movie called Key Largo as well, which also got turned into an OK-ish mellow top 40's song by a one hit wonder named Bertie Higgins.

Anyhoo, they're neat, and they're quite close by. Just an hour from my house or so and you're most of the way to Key Largo. I wish the actual islands themselves that I saw had more character, but it was just a highway and lots of homes and some gift shops and many resorts.

In Key Largo, one of the main draws is a large scuba diving area which was originally going to be a re-creation of Atlantis, fully submerged. When that proved too ambitious, they scaled it down a little, and now it's an underwater cemetery. It also has a famous (locally-known, at least) quite large statue called Christ of the Abyss:

Surreal, huh?

It's very large.

The cemetery
There's also an under water hotel! Hotel is kind of a fancy word for it; it was a submerged research lab, and now they rent it out. The accommodations are not as cool as you'd think, but it is indeed down there in the ocean.

Down in Key West there is a big shopping area called Mallory Square. If we ever get down there, I would want to go the shipwreck museum advertised on the main sign.

Plus, the beaches appear to be stereotypically tropically perfect. I suspect they draw the type of crowds, though, that give Key West its 'party' reputation. And reputation it has. It's apparently pretty trashy at New Year's and Halloween and tries to do a Mardi Gras kind of thing.

But the beaches really are gorgeous.

Also, famed terrible author Ernest Hemminway called Key West his home, and his house is still there for tours and such, if you're into that kind of thing.

"Say, catching this fish has inspired me to write the world's worst novel."
...Not a Hemingway fan, or a Steinbeck fan, if you can't tell. If I wanted to read fiction that caused me to want to blow my brains out, I would read my own stories from my blog.

Anyway, that's the Keys. You can drive to all of them-they're all connected by one big road (one way in either direction). One of these days, we'll see if we can make it to the very end!


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Louis L'Amour

"One day I was speeding along at the typewriter, and my daughter - who was a child at the time - asked me, "Daddy, why are you writing so fast?" And I replied, "Because I want to see how the story turns out!"

-Louis L'Amour

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tripologue: Various Places in Florida (pt 2)

 On the first day of our vacation with Jan's parents, Doug and Candis, we headed far a spot literally less than 10 minutes down the road. The Everglades! They're what Florida put in after the TemporaryGlades didn't work out.

We were there for an air boat tour. There are ones where it's just a 2-3 seater and there's the guy up on the top with the earmuffs on and you have a ginormous fan behind you. On our boat, it was the same thing except it was 1) covered, and 2) had 2 fans and sat about 35 people or so.

It was a nice clear day

Mads was stoked.

Still stoked with Grandpa Doug, whose head was bitten off by an alligator shortly before this was taken.

If this were at all legible you would be able to see several large vultures in those trees. 
Hey what's that thing

It appears to be...

It was a lot of fun, and definitely something that we will try to do with any subsequent visitors we get down this way. The captain was a very nice guy who told us all sorts of Everglades facts and even caught a fish for us right out of the water using a piece of popcorn for bait.

When we de-boated, we went to the 'Gator Boys' alligator show, which was on the premises. They apparently have a reality show, but we weren't aware of that. They actually do wrestle alligators, though.

We have several videos from this. I'll post some on our YouTube channel in the next few days.
 After that, we headed back up to Orlando, a short 3 1/2 hour drive (I had left my lucky pair of socks in the hotel). While there getting my socks, we decided to take 2 days and go to Walt Disney World!

Now, unlike the December trip, I didn't take many pictures there. With two kids to help wrangle, and with fairly large crowds to fight, I didn't find much time. But I did take a few pictures at Epcot.

Phineas, Ferb, Doug, Mads.

The Epcot Center's bum region

Gpa Doug, Gma Candis, Mads (apparently with headache)

Jan, Emme, me (after waiting in long lines)


She kept her arm on her bottle like that for a while.
 Next up was Captain E-O, the 3-D movie experience of 1986!

The kids were less than thrilled.
 The movie was awful and destroyed about a half hour of our lives. But we didn't think there was literally anything else to do at Epcot! We knew there was some 'row of restaurants' that we somehow thought was just a line of food tents? So we spent a lot of time on the lame 'educational' rides up in the first half of Epcot. As the night started to wind down, we headed to the 'food' part to get in place for the fireworks show...and found that the entire 2nd half of Epcot was flipping awesome.

Really cool lake. You can see the globe in the back there, and in the fireworks show that lights up with video and fireworks shoot over the lake, and large things of fire shoot up out of it.
The entire thing is like distinct 'lands' for different countries. Each thing had a really cool set of buildings. Each had a gift shop, a restaurant or two, a cultural attraction (ranging from a 'movie in the round' to duplicates of relics/artifacts, to rides!), and lots of scenery.

We felt really bad and increasingly stupid that we had missed out on all of this. So in the next 90 minutes we crammed an entire day's worth of Epcot's cool part in.
The Canada part

More Canada. The movie they had was really good.

Blurry landscape shot. We were in a hurry.

The cool Mexico pyramid, apparently filled with a boat ride and artifacts. We felt bad we missed this.
 We headed to the Norway part.

And rode on the strange boat ride, "Maelstrom." It was both really cool and incredibly stupid. It was like a combination of folk lore with trolls and wizards, and then a travel brochure of modern day Norway. It had a waterfall or two, and was really fun, but the last minute or so was odd where it sends you to a big oil rig in the middle of an ocean and you float through a Norweigan village. There were no robots or dialogue or sounds really in the last areas, and when it ends, a Viking-like voice says something like "The spirit of Norway is the spirit of fortitude" or something. It was delightfully odd.

And it had the best gift shop in the entire park.

The Italy part was cool, though it was mostly restaurants. This was a nice fountain.
The next day, we went to the Magic Kingdom. I'm not sure I have a single picture from that, but I do have a few pictures from the McDonalds we ate at that morning, which was a bizarre place that had 'the largest play place in the world' according to signage.

Instead of like a big ball room or something, though, it was just cram packed with bizarre stuff. Such as:



Yes. A raptor and an alligator stalking the McBird girl thing.
 We also went to the Orlando temple and took pictures. Except for me, apparently, because I didn't find any on my phone? Odd. I think Jan has several though and will post some on her blog.

After we were back for a week, we had one last stop: Jungle Island, in Biscayne Bay in Miami. It was my work's annual company picnic.

Jungle Island is an animal encounter zoo. So you can hold parrots and monkeys and snakes and even baby alligators.

...but it was flippin hot so we quickly went to a bird show (which was cool), ate lunch...

Not birds...
 And took some pictures in front of some flamingos.

Flamingos not pictured.
Whew! That's it! It's been a very exciting 3 weeks. For our next vacation, we will all go into comas, I think.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tripologue: Various places in Florida Pt 1

Alrighty then! Where to start? 

So first off: no, I'm not made of money. I am made of Mtn Dew and beef jerky. Most of what you'll see hereafter only *looks* expensive but was either free or wasn't as pricey as it looks. The fortunate thing about being in Miami is that there is quite a bit to do within 2-3 hours of home.

It all started around the end of April when Jan and Emmerson went up to Virginia to visit the Virginia McMurdies and to be there for our niece, Hallie's, baptism. While they were gone, it was just me and Madeleine. 

We woke up early in the day to take Mom and Emme to the airport, and after we went back home to sleep a little, we got up and I went to take Maddie to the library. The library was closed! I opened up my map app to see what else was in the area that we might consider doing. The map goofed and thought we were in the Florida Keys. With really no plan for the day and with the Keys only being an hour or so away, I made an uncharacteristically spontaneous decision and we headed down to the Keys.

Driving through town took a while but we eventually got to a 10-mile or so stretch of highway that went through some very low, very swampy looking scrub. Eventually we got to a medium-sized bridge and got a much better view of where we were. (Click on any pictures for a larger view or for a Gallery view.)

I got this picture from my helicopter.

It was getting much more 'oceany,' for sure. Now, we didn't go down as far as the Overseas Highway that you've seen in movies like Mission Impossible 3:

This is closer to Key West
But we did make it as far South as Plantation Key. Between Key Largo, Tavernier, and Plantation Key, we spent most of the day. 

There were many gift shops with fun stuff that Maddie and I like to check out:

And we had to take a quick picture of this sign to inform Mom and Emme where we had escaped away to:

I'd say 99% of the waterfront area in the places we went by were either owned privately or were part of a gov't park area. Was Key Largo beautiful? Well, the places where we could get to water were:

Everywhere we went, there were signs for scuba diving or snorkeling or parasailing or things like that. And we saw many hotels that looked like they had very pretty beach areas. However, you had to be staying at the hotels to be able to access all that. Key Largo itself seemed to me like a pretty normal Florida city. A bit older, with lots of trees, and roads not in great repair. But nice enough.

Some time later we found a public-accessible beach area. This was truthfully a lagoon with some beach sand where people could lay out. Maddie and I were not at all dressed for the beach-we were both wearing pants and dark shirts. But I got her there and rolled up our pants and we walked around in the water for a while. It was very nice but it was tough to keep her from wanting to jump in and swim with the small fish we found.

After a luxurious lunch at McDonalds-one of the only places where Maddie will eat, although there were 2 or 3 fairly cool looking local spots that I was tempted to try, we found an enormous gift shop that was full to the brim with sea shells and lots of fun stuff both inside an outside.

The little brother of my famous "Pirate's Pub" wooden sign that I bought in LA 11 years ago.

Heading back home, there was one spot where I found that the ocean came up to both sides of the road. But wanting to be safe, I only snapped several pictures of it.

That Sunday, Jan returned and we all headed up to Orlando for a business trip that I had. It was a convention at the Gaylord Palms, which is a sister hotel to the Gaylord Texan that we had near our home in Dallas. It was very nice and had many interesting features:

A large domed area

Very big atrium

This is a re-creation of the Castillo De San Marcos Spanish Fort from St. Augustine

Their very fancy steak house, the Old Hickory. I've eaten at the one in DFW before for work events and it is very very pricey but very good. This one in Orlando is done up to look like a bayou place.

Lots of plant life. These are all real.

The third area in the hotel was done up as Key West. 

Later in the conference I had lunch on that boat-the floor of the restaurant just extends onto the boat.

This is a duplicate apparently of a large shopping area in Key West called Mallory something or other.

Later in the week when I took Jan to the hotel (we were staying at a different one about a mile away from the conference) she arrived in time to see them feeding the alligators. I hadn't even noticed them during the conference, but there they were. They are all piled up on that rock in the pond int he below picture.

This was the cool wallpaper in the hotel bathroom.
A cool wall inside a restaurant in the hotel.
When we were done with the conference, we went back home to pick up Jan's parents: they had flown to Virginia for the baptism and had headed down to see us for the 2nd leg of the trip. I worked for just one day in that week and then we were back on vacation again!

To be continued...