Monday, August 31, 2009

Life's Creed #1

My wife has an assignment to create a creed for one of her education classes on what she believes about the classroom. This got my mind going down its many paths, and one of those paths was that it would be a good idea to put a personal creed up here on Rememorandom. So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the first part of my life's creed.

I believe that Creed was really a craptastic band with few good songs, except for maybe "My Own Prison" and "Bullets."

I believe that I shouldn't have slept with the windows up last night, as now my nasal cavities and eyes have rebelled against their normal complacent disposition, instead vying for an unsteady life of dry and itchy and then suddenly runny and leaky.

I believe that I should put this bill in the mail today or risk the wrath of a late charge.

I believe that the cookies I made over the weekend, from scratch, were possibly the best cookies that have ever been made, and that you should go here and get the recipe and make them for yourselves.

I believe that my wife is one of the best cooks this world has to offer, especially after the feasts from yesterday.

I believe in the Bible and that it is God's Word, holy and true, and that we should live our lives by its principles.

I believe that Jesus was God and Man and that He died and rose again so that we could all have eternal life-- escaping the clutches of Hell, the agony of the torment, and the despair of being in the wrath of God--and that salvation comes truly and simply by confessing Christ as Lord.

I believe that many Christians of times past and now live lives that are ruthless and harsh, and that Christianity suffers from misconceptions.

I believe that we should love and respect everybody, everywhere, everyday and all the time, no matter how different they are.

I believe that bananas may be internally evil.

I believe that reading is one of the greatest pleasures in life.

I believe in being optimistic, always looking for the bright side in things, no matter how dark and uncertain they seem.

I believe in being tactful, always considering your words carefully before letting them spill out of your mouth.

I believe in bluegrass and folk music, man.

I believe in calculus and physics, art and music, science and faith and education all around.

I believe that Lost is going to have a killer final season, and that Heroes better do something or I'll quit watching it.

I believe that Arrested Development was the funniest television show ever created, followed by Malcolm in the Middle and Seinfield.

I believe in manipulating the rules of grammar for my own purposes and that it's okay to end a sentence with a preposition.

I believe in Kelsey Grammer.

I believe my addiction to crossword puzzles could potentially get way out of hand, as I now attempt three different puzzles nearly daily.

That's it for now, folks. Just a little window into my world. Sure, they're all my own personal beliefs, and I'm not in any way trying to force them upon you, but you really should watch Arrested Development if you've not ever seen it. You won't regret it. And if you do, then you're just lying to yourself.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Portrait of Death: Death

I’m not sure how long I’ve been doing this. Everything back then was so hazy. But we’re all created for a purpose, and it so happens that my purpose is to end life. At first I relished my task, back when the world was wicked, back when things weren’t so complicated. No one is innocent, that is true, and everyone must perish. That is the way of things. The way it was Ordained. And I can’t refuse. How can I say no? The song that burns within me compels me to do it, as does my devotion to the cause. Everyone must perish. It is the Law. It is the Curse. Still, sometimes I can’t help but feel a little sorrow where my heart would be.


Edit: This is a work of fiction, a short story interweaving journal articles from Death (like this post) and his many exploits.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The End of Reading Rainbow

Twenty-six years ago PBS launched a television show about why it's fun to read. It was hosted by LeVar Burton, where he would take kids on an adventure that was inspired by a selected book. Then, at the end of the show, different kids would recommend books to the audience, giving their own mini-reviews. This show was called Reading Rainbow.

Odds are, if you've grown up within the past twenty-six years and you went to a public American school, then you've probably watched this show at some point. I can vividly remember watching it in 3rd grade, enthralled at the world before me. Even back then I had a love for books. Ms Harrison would sit us all in a circle and read to us, titles like Sideways Stories from Wayside School, My Teacher is an Alien, and The Indian in the Cupboard. Then we would watch Reading Rainbow.

Part of the reason I love reading can be attributed to this show. My mom and mamaw both read a lot, and this also contributed to my passion for books. (It's odd, though, how mamaw and mom and I all have completely different tastes in the books we choose.)

Unfortunately, I heard on NPR this morning that Reading Rainbow is coming to an end today. You can read the article here. The reason the show is ending is rather interesting. Studies find that shows that teach kids how to read is more important than shows that teach kids why they should read. While I completely agree that knowing how to read is probably more important for life production, shouldn't a desire to read for pleasure be cultivated, too, though? Why not augment shows like Reading Rainbow with a section that is more devoted to instructing phonics, while still carrying on the love of a great book?

All in all, the end of Reading Rainbow is not really a surprise. The real surprise is shows like this are actually still on the air. Remember back when cartoons were cartoons, like The Flinstones, Scooby-Doo, and Loony Toons? Then shows shifted to shows like Rocco's Modern Life (which I loved), Ren & Stimpy (which I hated), and Doug (it was okay). Now we're stuck with Sponge-Bob and a million shows that aren't cartoons but real world (iCarly, Suite Life, etc.). Yes, I'm surprised that Reading Rainbow has lasted this long in our ADD-stricken world. I'm really surprised that PBS has lasted this long, come to think of it...

Say goodbye to an era gone, folks. And if you did watch the show growing up, keep it in mind when you're reading tonight, thinking back to sweeter and simpler times. I'll leave you with the amazingly addictive theme song.

Song Lyric: "Sometimes I wish the sun didn't come out at all, just the good days."--Joe Purdy, Good Days

Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Ode to Excel

I can't figure out Blogger and how to get this to show up nice and pristine to where you don't have to click the image to enlarge it. Everything I do blurs and distorts the image. If you can't read the image, I believe you can click on it to enlarge it.

Well, that's that. *Ahem*

Some updates it is then.

1. I've got just over 50 albums left to get through on my ipod journey. That's exciting.
2. It's hard to make myself stop reading Before They Are Hanged. So far, so good. Thanks once again David.

Sorry for the weak post today, folks. Life is catching up with me, if you can imagine. But I'll be back.

Song Lyric: "Adia I do believe I've failed you..."--Sarah McLachlan, Adia

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Terror, by Dan Simmons

I checked out Dan Simmons' The Terror from the library as an audio book. I had my hopes set on a story of intrigue and courage, with more than a splash of horror and the macabre. The cover to the book is beautiful and does so much for the imagination, and I confess that this was what initially attracted me to the book a few months ago.

The reader was British, which I thought was fitting for the setting of the novel. The Terror is based very loosely on Captain John Franklin's doomed expedition of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror into the Arctic. Technically, the book is classified as historical fiction with a tinge of fantasy/horror. The ships are searching for the Northwest Passage. While out at sea, their ships freeze up in the ice for an unusually long winter. No one is ever seen alive again. This ends the historicity of the book. Everything else is creative freedom. Soon superstitions are running wild on board the two ships. To add to their fear, some sort of monster always lurks out in the ice and snow.

Each chapter alternates between the present (1848) and the past, varying with different characters and giving some background to them. I suppose the reason for this is to build character, but I did not care much for this style.

It is the style that is the biggest problem with the book. Simmons dives in to a pit of historical research and bombards the reader with agonizing descriptions and details. Because of this, there doesn't seem to be much of anything happening, and the reader struggles to understand a time scheme. Thus, progress is painfully slow.

I was eager to hear about the struggles the crew faced, how they fought with scurvy and malnutrition. How they faced the brutal, freezing deathlands of the Arctic. Heck, I was even interested in the monster. Instead I felt that I was given brief samples of the struggles and an overwhelming amount of useless banter.

The Terror is the first book that I've put down in a long time. I made it over a third of the way through and didn't feel like there was any weight to it. Maybe the last two-thirds were great, but I just couldn't bring myself to go on anymore. I was minutely interested at the most, and so I decided to abandon the read. I'm not sure what became of the crew, but I'll wager that they sank into madness and turned on each other. Perhaps one day I'll grab an actual book and read it myself, but I wouldn't bet my life on it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Portrait of Death: Gabriel

Gabriel picked up his coffee mug, frowning as a bit of the tan liquid poured over the rim. As he brought the cup to his lips, he scalded himself on the burning hot drink. He wrinkled his nose and took a quick sip. He looked up and saw a man standing in front of his office door. “Hello, Gabriel. I’ve been waiting for you.” The man appeared young, his handsome face smooth and ageless. His silver eyes looked ancient, if that was possible. He was holding a katana in his left hand, a tall staff in his right. “Who are you?” he asked the stranger. “I am your destiny, Gabriel. I’m here to offer you a choice. Eternal Peace or Eternal Life?” Gabriel carefully placed his mug back on his desk. The two stared hard at each other for a while, Gabriel frowning and the stranger smiling with sincere joy. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave. As you can see, I’m really quite busy and don’t have time for this.” The stranger remained motionless, but his face hardened. “You know, Gabriel, you’re right. You, nor I, have time for this. Let me introduce myself. I am Grim the Almighty and Thanatos the Terrible. I am Azrael and Izanami, Lord of the Black and Father of Night. All men come to me, Gabriel, and now you are here. Now take your pick.” The stranger thrust out his hands, offering the sword and staff to Gabriel. The room grew suddenly cold, and Gabriel could feel his skin chill and harden. It seems, he thought, that in death we truly understand what cold is. “I will not choose,” he heard himself say defiantly. No! That’s not what I wanted to say. “Very well. I will choose for you.” Everything happened in a supernatural quickness. The man stepped forward. The katana was unsheathed. The cold, hard steel pierced through Gabriel’s chest, biting deep into his soul, spreading its destructive cold through his body. The blade was withdrawn, wiped clean, and sheathed in a matter of seconds. Gabriel stared in shock, unable to move, unable to speak, eyes wide and mouth open. As he felt the cold take him over, his dying thoughts were of the steaming cup of hot coffee sitting on his desk and the silver eyes of his killer.

A New Phase of Life

Today starts a new phase in my life. My wife begins her final semester of actual classes at UofL, as next semester she'll be student-teaching and won't be in lecture. Unfortunately, Stewartland is located 120 miles from Louisville, and Keisha will be commuting a few days per week to class. This is a two hour drive and a time change, meaning that if she leaves at 10 am she'll arrive in Louisville around 1 pm or so. Yuck. Neither Keisha or myself are thrilled about this, but it's what we have and we're confident this semester'll go by quickly.

I pray that she'll be safe on the roads and while in Louisville. There are aspects of city life that I like, like the conveniently located stores/attractions, and the many things to do. But there is the darker side of the city, too, that exists, where laws are broken and danger resides. I'm not worried that anything will happen, but just for some security, I plan on buying some mace for Keisha to carry with her.

The question arises, then, what will I do with myself without my best friend around?

1. Final Fantasy XII. I've had this game for about a year or so, but I've not played it yet. It got great reviews, and looks promising. Plus, I haven't played a FF game in a while (granted I did play FF7 last year some, finally getting around to beating Emerald and Ruby and maxing out some materia), so I'm looking forward to this. (This FF7 file that I worked on ages back to when I was a junior or sophomore in high school. That's about 8 years or so. Such an old game, but still so awesome.)

2. Avatar: The Last Airbender. This has been recommended to me, and my pal let me borrow Season 1, so I'll watch it.

3. Finish the table project. A few months ago, before we owned Stewartland, we knew that we'd need a kitchen table to match our new kitchen. The table we had was given to us from my parents, and we really liked it, but it was a white ash color and had many scratches and nicks from the years of use. So, being fans of HGTV, and being strapped for cash, we decided to refinish the table. This involved stripping off the layers of polyurethane, sanding down the table, staining the table a new dark mahogany color, and reapplying polyurethane. On HGTV this project can be done within an hour. In real life, after a month of working on it, we refinished the table and two chairs, and most of the table leaf. Then we moved in to our house and haven't worked on it since. There are still 4 chairs to finish and the leaf, so I'll have my hands busy with this.

4. Learning to cook better. I know how to cook, and I enjoy it (when I have nothing else to do), so I'm looking forward to this one a bit. I particularly want to master cheese cakes and soups.

5. Adam Graham. One of my best friends from high school may be spending some time with me this fall, and I'm looking forward to that.

6. Finish unpacking, etc. Aye, our house still is home to many unpacked boxes and various other things that need to be sorted/trashed. Hopefully I'll get this taken care of soon.

7. Write. This one may be one I'll have to find time for, but I'll definitely find time. I'm going to stick with the current story I'm working on and try to actually come up with a finished product.

There are many things that I'll have to occupy my time with, and hopefully this will be a productive semester for me while I'm without Keisha. She'll be driving on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, racking up around 500 miles or so per week. I know she'll be exhausted when she gets home, and she'll have homework to do, so I'll try to do as much as I can to help her.

It promises to be an interesting, eventful semester, most likely full and busy. Wish us luck, or, if you feel inclined, pray that we'll make it through with few problems and that Keisha'll stay safe on the roads.

Song Lyric: "I awake to find no peace of mind, I said how do you live as a fugitive?"--Coldplay, Spies

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Home Again

Wow, this trip was frantic, boring, low keyed, high strung, and very fun. I've also been without internet access for the past 3 days, so that was interesting, too. I checked my Gmail and Google Reader and was floored. So, I'm going through everyone's blogs and other things I follow, and it's a tedious task. But, I don't want to miss out on anything.

This post will be brief. While we were on our trip, I took Keisha to watch Julie & Julia. The film is based on two true stories, one of the famous cook Julia Child and the other of a normal, everyday woman, Julie Powell. Julie was having a mid-life crisis and found that cooking made her happy, so she decided to write a blog about her experiences of cooking. She decided to work through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, finishing 524 recipes in 365 days and blogging her progress.

While I'm not reviewing the film (it was okay, but definitely not horrible, but by no means absolutely amazing, either), it did inspire me to be a better blogger/writer. I tend to write a few different stories, some of which I'm proud of and think are halfway decent, but then I tend to stop writing them. I've got several different projects all saved on my computer, none of them complete, or even remotely close. Some of them are connected, and some are just a few paragraphs. However, I enjoy writing, and wish I spent more time doing it, developing my stories and getting something out there.

It's not that I long to be a famous, published author; it's that I truly enjoy reading and writing and want to share what I've got. That's one thing I like about Rememorandom. While I don't know any of you personally (at least here on the actual blog. On the Facebook mirror posting, well, I know most of you) I still respect your opinions and ideas.

That's it for now. I'm exhausted from the trip, and very glad to be back home. There truly is nothing like sleeping in your own bed. Farewell for now.

Song Lyric: "Oh me oh my oh. Look at Miss Ohio. She's a-running around with her rag-top down, she says 'I wanna do right but not right now.'"--Gillian Welch, Look At Miss Ohio

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

"Can a magician kill a man by magic?" Lord Welllington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. "I suppose a magician might," he admitted, "but a gentleman never could."
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a fantastic work of fiction, providing an alternate take on British history circa 1807-1820. To go with this time setting, the author, Susanna Clarke, writes in a style to fit the times, somewhat like blending Charles Dickens and Jane Austen together. The story is intricate and rich. The air of mystery hangs on every page, teasing the reader from the beginning to the very end. The sudden changes in the novel throw the reader down unforeseen paths, leaving his senses constantly on guard. The subtleness of magic permeates throughout England, though there are only two practical magicians. The backdrop of the French Revolution and England's war against Napoleon set the plot in an all-too-real world.

Yes, JS & MN is an amazing work of art. The characters are very well defined and extremely complex. Mr Norrell is England's only practical magician, and he spends all his time collecting books of magic and books on magic, as well as sending his servant Childermass out to persuade theoretical magicians to forsake their studies. Jonathan Strange finds that he can do magic, and he seeks the tutelage of Mr Norrell, quickly mastering technique and rising to become England's second practical magician. Each man is connected in an intricate web of nobility and other well-to-dos, as well as a few lesser men.

Clarke did wonders in her characterization, and there were qualities that I liked and disliked in many of the characters, especially with Strange and Norrell. Of course, Childermass was well defined, as well as Lady Pole and Stephen Black. Ah, there were many folks that I really liked.
The plot of the book is also compelling. The folks of England remember back when magic was more common, back in the times of the Raven King, back when magicians conversed with fairies and magic was not lost. The main plot of the book centers around Norrell and Strange deciding to try and return magic to England. Typically, the magic is not explosive and avant-garde, but instead subtle and simple, like making illusions in the rain against the Frenchmen.

Perhaps the most compelling mystery throughout the book is the many references to the Raven King. His character builds throughout the story, through footnotes and lowly folk gossiping. (Clarke uses many footnotes throughout the book to provide additional anecdotes and more info on certain subjects. This aspect seems almost like a history book, perhaps even one that Mr Norrell himself would read...) By the end of the novel, I was eager to learn all I could about the King.

I really cannot say enough about this book. It was funny, witty, suspenseful, exciting, and at times even mundane, but never really boring. There are few idle words in this tome, and I think Clarke knew exactly what she was doing when she was writing each and every part of the book. I savored every quirky story. There were many quotes that I would like to put here, but I feel that I would rob you of something if I did so.

I can't think of any negatives about this Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, besides the fact that it's so large that it's unwieldy and difficult to carry easily everywhere. I strongly urge you to read this book if you want to experience something unlike anything you've read before. While the novel does advance slowly at some points, it is not a boring read. No, it is a wonderful read. It's like taking a trip down an old familiar road, and remembering things sweetly passed. It's like eating chocolate ice cream for the first time. It is superb, and I praise Susanna Clarke for her brilliant debut.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

An Authentic English Pub

While here in Frankfort, we decided to drive down the road to Lexington. The trip is beautiful and scenic, plus it only takes around a half an hour to get there. Along the way there are many horse farms, homes to world famous steeds. There's also a castle. No joke, it's a real European style castle built in Woodford County. Here's a link with all kinds of information about it. Anyway, the trip is pleasant and pretty, especially when riding with beautiful company...

The purpose of our trip to Lexington was really just to get out of Frankfort for a bit and to eat Indian food. Keisha and I both love Indian food, and even my stomach sickness after the last trip to an Indian restaurant didn't stop my desire for chicken tikka masala and naan. The food was mediocre and definitely not the best Indian food I've had, but it was still worth the trip.

Next we decided to go to a place called the Pub. It's an authentic English pub located in Lexington, except that it's not in England. We went there and shared some chocolate cheesecake and a bottle of zinfandel, worked on a crossword puzzle, and enjoyed the atmosphere. Aye, there was even football on. (Of course I'm talking about soccer, but I have been trying to switch the term in my vernacular. See, the sport we American's call "football" is really pretty regionalized, while the sport the rest of the world calls "football" is soccer. So, in keeping up with the rest of the world's vocabulary, I started switching the words a few months ago.) After a while, we decided it was time to head back to Frankfort.

To top off the great night, I finished Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I'm not sure if I'll be able to write a review about it until next week, when things return a bit more back to normal, and I'm really not sure whether or not I'll be able to update my posts until next week, but suffice it to say that JS&MN was amazing. I hope my review can give it justice.

It's getting late, and I've been really tired from these classes, so I think I'm going to grab my Bible and hit the hay. It looks like I'll be starting Before They Are Hanged soon, by the way. Goodnight friends.

Random Song Lyric: "Y'know the nearer your destination the more you're slip-sliding away."--Paul Simon, Slip Sliding Away

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Return to Frankfort

I'm back in Frankfort again, this time until the end of the week, and actually up until Sunday. Thankfully, Keisha is with me, so it won't be as boring as it was last time.

I'm really quite tired, so I think I shall retire. As an ending note, I'm about 100 pages from the end of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and it has grown more and more amazing with each paragraph.

Monday, August 17, 2009

District 9 (review)

I was really excited to go see District 9 Saturday. The movie had a lot of hype, with the viral advertising and crazy-awesome website. The producer is also Peter Jackson, the genius behind the Lord of the Rings films. Plus, the story is about aliens and humans, and their interaction, which I thought sounded interesting.

Basically, twenty years ago the alien ship came to rest directly over the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. After some time, the human race decided to enter the vessel, thereupon discovering the malnourished alien specie. Thus, District 9 was established in the country, serving as a refugee camp for the stranded aliens.

As you can imagine, living conditions grew tense between the humans and the non-humans. The derogatory term "prawn" was given to the aliens, as they resembled the bottom-feeders of the fish aquarium in appearance and mannerisms. Often violence would erupt between humans and the prawns.

District 9 was a tremendous movie, and it is very easy to see the true theme of the film. It explores the issue of racism in an extreme, but still relevant, way. The unspoken question is should non-humans be treated the same as humans?

Naturally, I cannot answer this question for you. However, after watching the movie, I feel that anyone with a heart would answer the question with a vehement "YES". While on the surface this seems slightly silly, at a deeper level it mirrors apartheid racial struggle of South Africa, and more generally the racial issues of the world.

The special affects in the movie are beautiful, and I really could not get enough of the human body exploding into tiny bits and pieces. The aliens are remarkable, and their emotions are clearly portrayed on their face. The backdrop setting of Johannesburg and the refugee camp are completely believable.

Also, the filming style of this movie really pulls the audience in. It is shot like a documentary at times, and at other points like a traditional film. The documentary scenes look rather real, more so than Blair Witch or Cloverfield. The traditional filming style is also well shot.

The best thing about this movie is the plot. I barely scratched the surface of what's going on. On one of the trailers for the movie you can hear someone saying "There's a lot of secrets in District 9." Suffice it to say that this is true, and these secrets propel the movie at a fast and ruthless pace, toying with the audiences emotions. At times I felt disgusted, other times repulsed, and many times saddened.

I like a good movie that knows how to play with my emotions, making me uncertain what to believe and where things are going. I did not know what to expect for the conclusion of District 9, but I was thoroughly satisfied when the film went off. I can easily recommend this to anyone who wants to watch a different kind of movie and be taken along for a wild and crazy ride. This movie works on multiple levels, and I really enjoyed it quite a bit.

Note: If you are easily grossed out and the site of blood, vomit, torture, etc. makes you squirm, you may find it difficult to watch this film at some parts. But if you can get through it, you shouldn't be disappointed.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Weekend Special #4

Again, it's the Weekend Special blog post. If you don't know, this is just an open invitation for you to comment on what you're currently reading/watching/writing/etc. and let the rest of the world comment with you. And please include SPOILER warnings, if they should apply.

By the way, if you missed the Neil Diamond concert that was on CBS last night, you should be very sorry and disappointed in yourself. Possibly ashamed, even. Suffice it to say that it was beautiful.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Week's End Miscellany #4 (Ash nazg durbatuluk)

We're at the end of another week here at Rememorandom. It's been really a pretty bland week for the blog, in part due to the fact I've been sick at my stomach off and on for a week, in part from the aftermath of many shots in the mouth, and in part that my creative, blogging juices were/are on hiatus. Now for the miscellany.

1. I will be traveling to Frankfort again next week, this time taking a class in understanding and using MicroStation. I know very little about this software, so hopefully I learn a lot, as it will be very useful to my job.

2. I watched I Love You Man the other night. It does not warrant a full review, but only a few sentences. It is basically a chick-flick, but for guys. It's laughable and funny at times, but at other times it's a little vulgar. The story was mediocre, but the theme of exploring friendship was nice. I can only half-heartedly recommend this, as it wasn't anything spectacular.

3. One for sorrow/two for joy/three for girls/four for boys/five for silver/six for gold/seven for a secret never to be told.

4. I know I've mentioned this on a few different occasions, but I really love crossword puzzles. There's something supremely satisfying in successfully solving one. Daily I work on the USA Today puzzle, and almost daily I work on the LA Times, and frequently I work on the Yahoo Daily. I really wish I had access to the NY Times, but they are not free, and I can't justify spending the cash on the NYT puzzles (yet).

5. I'm going to watch District 9 tomorrow. Can't wait. Looks awesome. And viral advertisements are usually fun.

6. I'm hoping that by next week I'll be finished with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The book is enormous. I can't find an exact word count, but I estimate between 150,000 and 200,000 words, at ~800 pages. At times it is slow and uneventful, but there is always enough mystery and intrigue to pull me back. Plus, it's a nice break from what I've been reading of late. Expect a full review when I am finished.

7. The ipod quest is still going strong. I'm at almost 70% of the songs I've intended to listen to. Needless to say, this has been personally epic in my undertaking.

That's it for now, folken. Tomorrow will continue on with the Weekend Specials, if you so choose to opine on what you're currently reading/writing/watching/etc. Remember:

Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul
Ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul

Thursday, August 13, 2009

On Lando Calrissian

Lando Calrissian is quite possibly the baddest dude in the Star Wars universe. He's a smooth-talking hustler, gambling smuggler-entrepaneur. Lando's skill at gambling wins him the Millenium Falcon, which he ultimately loses at the sabacc tables to Han Solo. Soon, Lando and Han part ways. Eventually Solo, along with Chewie, Leia, Threepio, and Artoo, find their way to Bespin, where Lando is the Administrator of Cloud City. The gang seeks refuge from the Empire, and Han appeals to his old friend's morals to help hide them. Calrissian agrees, only to betray them later, delivering Han into the hands of Boba Fett and unknowingly Luke into the hands of Darth Vader.

This is all old news to you, most likely. If somehow you've not seen Empire Strikes Back, then it may be slightly confusing, but I'm hoping that's not the case. However, in the final installment of the movies, Lando redeems himself by helping Leia rescue the carbonite-frozen Solo from Jabba the Hutt. Furthermore, he joins the Rebel Alliance, piloting the Falcon during the war above Endor.

Lando is one of the most misunderstood characters in the Star Wars universe. Sure, he betrayed his friends, but it was acting out of personal safety. While this is viewed as a lapse in moral character and the actions of a scuzz-bucket, it is completely within Lando's character. He is, after all, a survivor, and his personal safety is more important than anyone elses. The only other thing that seems to drive this Lando is the prospect of making money.

If Lando were to stop there, his character would indeed be weak and poor. We American's would react with a "How could he do that?" attitude, wondering where his redemption was hiding. Thankfully, as previously mentioned, Lando does go on to redeem himself, numerous times. His change in character is dramatic. Sure, he's still the same smooth-talking son-of-a-gun he always was, but now he's got a moral compass that is sympathetic to the Alliance (and later the New Republic, etc.) Lando risks his life many times for his friends, and his trust is won very quickly by everyone.

Soon enough the "ladies-man" is settled down and in love with a pregnant wife. He's ready to retire and live out the rest of his years in peace, enjoying his fortune he's managed to amass.

Yes, I like Lando Calrissian. He's not one of the major Star Wars characters (that is he's not a Skywalker or Solo), but he's still very important and crucial. Plus, I like his smooth-talking, suave ways. And, he wore a cape for crying out loud. All of these things make Lando an entertaining, complex/simple character.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Trip To The Dentist

Yesterday I went to the dentist to get some fillings. Four, in fact. However, considering that I have not been to see a dentist in almost six years (for lack of insurance), I consider my teeth quite healthy. For a long time I flossed every night, but eventually I fell out of habit of doing it regularly, and so I developed the cavities. Plus, I really really like candy.

All in all, the experience was re-enlightening. I wasn't nervous going in, but soon my nerves got the better of me, especially after the first few bouts of pain after the numbing had been done. Yes, even though I had five shots of anaesthetic in my gums I still managed to feel the drilling and whatnot in two different teeth. So, I was given a few more localized shots, which helped for one of the teeth. Determined to get me numb, the dentist gave me something stronger, but I'm not sure what it was. After this, my entire left side of my face was numb, extending from my throat up to behind my left eye. I couldn't feel my nose, eyes, lips, and definitely not the stubborn tooth.

Finally the dentist was able to start the cavity removal and filling process. By this point I was nervous, my hands tightly clinched as they rested on my chest. At one point the dentist had to stop and go help someone else, which was fine with me. I tried talking to the nurse, but my tongue and mouth didn't want to work normally, so I said little. When the dentist returned he finished the process as quickly as he could. It was quite disconcerting to hear and feel the vibrations of the tools, but not feel the pain I should be feeling. Even worse was the stench/taste of burning tooth.

Eventually it was over. I had a throbbing headache and was very numb. I probably shouldn't have driven home, but I did (and made it there fine). Keisha spoiled me with some nice tuna casserole and delicious carrot cake, though it pains me to write that I couldn't really taste them very well. My face remained numb for about five hours or so, up until I was ready to go to bed.

The whole process was relatively smooth, despite the pain and numbing. It opened my eyes to how personal and intimate a dentist's job is. The relationship is strange, needless to say. It also served as a reminder that I should stick with flossing and taking better care of my teeth. I now brush, floss, and use mouthwash quite regularly, as opposed to simply brushing twice a day. Thankfully, it's easily becoming a habit.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Soloist Review + A Homeless Rant

I watched The Soloist last night, and I was intrigued enough to finish the film to the end. The movie depicts the true story of Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, Jr. (Jamie Foxx), a prodigious musician that attends Julliard, develops a mental disorder, drops out, and lives homeless on the streets of L.A. for years. He is befriended by Steve Lopez (Robert Downey, Jr.), a writer for the L.A. Times, after Lopez spots Ayers on the streets playing the violin. Ayers is looking for a story, and after learning that Ayers is a Julliard drop-out, he decides to write about Ayers.

The movie largely deals with homelessness, as well as the beauty of music and the power of friendship. Homelessness, a matter that is particularly touching to my heart (see here), is a gut-tugging lifestyle depicted in the movie. While this movie does not go into great detail of life on the streets, it still is eye-opening and relevant. I was reminded of John Grisham's The Street Lawyer, which is phenomenal if you haven't read it.

Another aspect of the movie that I enjoyed was the relationship Ayers had with music. He would seek out his refuge in the music he played, often finding his only solace in the comfort of the notes. You could see Ayer's relationship with music clearly on his face, the love he had was in his eyes, in the way his hands played. It was artistic, and I think artists can relate to the feelings Ayers exemplified.

The final thing that propelled the story was the development of Lopez. At first he just wants a story, but soon he has a friend that he begins to care about. His concern for Ayers is evident, and this relationship is touching to watch.

Even with all of these things, I can't say that the movie was wonderful. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be. What The Soloist is is a film that offers hope to the viewer by observing the courage of Ayers. It also is a window into homelessness, and in my book, anything that sheds light on this problem deserves a special sort of place. What kind of country are we if we can't take care of our own starving, hurting, homeless people? Are we too stiff-necked to give out some money to someone in need? Oh, if you give out your money then you won't be able to buy yourself something superfluous? Oh, okay, I'm sorry. You just go right ahead and buy that extra pair of pants you've been eyeballing. That's okay. You need fifty pair anyway, to help balance the economy, since the homeless man has only one pair, unless he's really lucky and has two.

I don't get it. I understand that some people make bad choices and are sentenced to a life on the streets. People who gamble away their money and can't afford to pay their rent, or who spend their cash on drugs and other fixes instead of paying their bills. That's all understood, but what about the majority of the people? The ones who try to live, who make a mistake or two, and who ultimately end out on the streets because of a few mistakes. In fact, the entire premise of not wanting to give to a homeless person based on "they've had their chance" seems unfair. I dare say, have you not made mistakes in life? Were you not given extra help along the way? If you're reading this blog, then you are magnitudes better than millions of others out there.

The problem with homelessness can't be that we don't have enough housing. In my community, there are hundreds of houses and condos and apts up for sale/rent. I'm willing to bet this is true across the country. No, the problem with homelessness is that our country depends too much on the Almighty Dollar. We're a cut-and-paste society, with clear-cut rules and a kill-or-be-killed attitude. There is no grace in our hearts; we're all every man for himself.

That's disgusting, unbecoming, and embarrassing. What is it about our society that compels us to be ahead, to be at the top of the ladder? We look and see things we want, which are too expensive, so we get a job to make money to buy things to only want more things. That implies that the problem is deeper than money. The problem is our insatiable desire.

Yes, Desire is the true evil here. In itself, desire is not a bad thing. It motivates us to achieve things, to help people, to create vessels capable of exploring the heavens. But where should we limit our desires? How selfish are we allowed to be before we are truly selfish? Friends, I'm sad to write it, but I don't have the answer. There is no harm in buying things for yourself, but how much can we afford while our other brothers and sisters can't even eat?

The whole point of this is sickening. I can't tell you how much is too much if I don't know myself. All I know is that when the opportunity arises for us to help someone in need, we should snap it up and help with all we can. Who knows, one day we could be just another beggar on the streets.

Coraline (A Review of the Film)

I recently rented and watched Coraline, the movie adapted from a Neil Gaiman novel by the same name. I was pretty impressed with the film, and it was quite pleasing to watch and experience.

The movie is about a young girl, Coraline, who moves into a new apartment-house. Her parents are both very busy working on their gardening catalog, which they hope to sell and make lots of money, so Coraline is left seeking parental love. She's also bored in her new place, surrounded by strange and quirky neighbors. A neighborhood kid gives her a doll that happens to look a lot like her, though it has buttons for eyes.

Things start getting strange for Coraline, and the line between reality and fantasy is blurred masterfully. The way the movie is filmed is aesthetically beautiful, yet slightly strange and twisted, reminiscent of Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride.

All in all, I liked the movie. The visual effects were amazing, the accompanying music fitting, and the story intriguing. It seems like a great movie for a child, as I imagine their eyes would be wide with wonder at what they are seeing. The movie is available in 3-d, if you happen to have glasses or something to watch it in, which could make it even more enjoyable. I can easily recommend this movie to you for a family film, or simply as a snuggle-up-and-watch-a-movie-together film, too.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I'm On Fire (Cover)

It was an interesting weekend, but I'm not feeling the greatest today, so I'm just going to post a video. It's a recording of me doing Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire." I've got a couple of different takes on this song, but this is the only video version (for now). Hope you enjoy.

If you're interesting in seeing the other covers I've done, just follow the music tag below the post. My favorite is "If Hollywood Don't Need You" by Don Williams.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Weekend Special #3

Discuss what you will, gentle and kind folk. Keep it appropriated with Spoiler warnings if it pleases ya.

Krista, I can't remember if I asked you if you liked The Strain by Del Toro, so if you'd like to comment on that I'd be interested to know your thoughts. I haven't read it, but it looks interesting. Dave, don't spoil Best Served Cold or I'll send an e-curse.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Why I Like Being A Nerd

I admit it, and I always have. I am a nerd. I'm a dork. I'm a geek. I'm even okay with calling myself weird. All of that is well and fine, and I take it as a compliment. You won't offend me calling me these things. In fact, I enjoy being the nerd that I am.

To begin, the definition of nerd should be addressed. Here are a three definitions found using Google's "define: nerd" function, though there were a few more results.
1. Nerd is a term often bearing a derogatory connotation or stereotype, that refers to a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities ...
2. A person who, although having good technical or scientific skills, is introspective and generally introverted
3. A form of candy currently sold by Nestlé under their Willy Wonka Candy Company brand.

In case you didn't know, I am not a form of candy sold by Willy Wonka. Nope, I'm more of a blend between the other two definitions. Basically, I really enjoy learning, reading things to improve my understanding of the physical, physiological, and psychological. I like learning about new technologies that are created to accomplish a certain task.

Pursuing knowledge is indeed a passion. It doesn't have to be scientific knowledge (though I find this branch of knowledge extremely interesting), as I enjoy pop culture, literature, and certain historical periods. Watching Jeopardy has always been fun, and I would love to get on the show some day. Indeed, playing Trivial Pursuit is always fun and challenging, and typically takes a few hours to complete.

Another thing that qualifies me as a nerd is the fact that I really love mathematics. I was a grader for two years or so during college, where I graded Engineering Calculus I, II, and III, and I also graded Differential Equations once or twice. This job was really fun, often humorous (it's amazing what struggling students will put on their papers to plea for help from the merciful/merciless graders), and educational. Working as a grader helped me keep calculus fresh, and it also sharpened my appreciation for math. You see, mathematics, be it algebra, arithmetic, or calculus, is beautiful. It is complete and perfect. Numbers are like a special type of magic that have to either work or fail. Once you understand the relationship or the theory behind something, it makes complete sense and it becomes obvious why a certain equation has to result in a certain answer.

Yes, friends, math is a beautiful and crazy thing. The field is always changing, redefining itself, questioning itself. This makes it exciting (and sometimes frustrating) to study and learn.

What else makes someone a nerd? Does the fact that I went to engineering school count? I think yes. Do conversations about technology and science fascinate me? Aye. Do I like playing around with computer programs, especially Excel, and see what I can do with them? Absolutely.

All in all, I am a unashamedly a nerd. I suppose that I always will be, even if it does occasionally drive Keisha crazy. Good luck, folks, and learn something today.

Random Exceptional Song Lyric: "I wanted to see you walking backwards to get the sensation of you coming home. I wanted to see you walking away from me without the sensation you're leaving me alone."--Time and Time Again, Counting Crows

Thursday, August 06, 2009

On Post-Apocalypse*

(I'm back to work in my office again, after a three day class affair in Frankfort. The trip was beneficial, despite the fact that there wasn't much going on in the city. I learned a bit more about the US Army Corps' HEC-RAS program, which is used to analyze river and stream flow. I have used the program a few times while I was a student, but this workshop was much more informative.)

Sixty-four years ago America dropped the nuke on Hiroshima. I have mixed feelings about this. While I believe it was vital to end the Great War, did instantaneously killing 140,000 people merit the use of the bomb? This is a classic example of the "What if..." or "If only..." scenario. Who knows what would have happened had we not bombed Japan. I don't want to think about it.

What I want to think about is the bomb itself. In high school I did a research paper on J.R. Oppenheimer, the "Father of the Atomic Bomb." He lived a depressed life after his work, plagued by guilt and horror of what he helped develop. Why was mankind driven to create such weapons? We were better off shooting everybody with rifles and pistols, but then the bomb comes along and threatens our way of life and understanding. Heck, it causes the whole world to gold Cold and wonder "What have we done?"

I like reading post-apocalyptic books. Cormac McCarthy's The Road was probably one of the best books I've read in a really long time, which I read about two years or so ago. The novel focuses on two un-named characters, a father and a son, and they are traversing the road seeking only to stay alive. It takes place in a post-apoc setting. There are scenes from the book that stick out in my mind that I can still remember, and if you have not read it, I would highly recommend you do so.

Still, the idea of a post-apocalyptic setting is intriguing. Earth is drastically different, ravaged and primitive. There is always some matter of Old Technology that hangs around, confounding the survivors. In Fallout3, Washington, DC is transformed to a wasteland, full of bandits, mutated insects, and other crazies. In the Mad Max, Australia is driven to a society that depends solely on gasoline. I Am Legend New York was crippled, killing most people, but turning the others into some sort of mutated-bloodthirsty-humanoids. The world is always barren, dark, and lonely. Society is a dual society: the scavengers and the survivors.

I'm not sure what it is I like in this seemingly depressing genre, but I do. Maybe it's the glimmer of hope man always seems to have. Maybe it's the macabre. Maybe it's the horror. Maybe it's the fun in exploring what the new world has to offer. Whatever the case is, post-apocalyptic stories are typically compelling and memorable.

In all of this, I still don't know what to make of the Bomb, only that I should try not to think about it too much. Kind of like the death penalty. I'm torn on that issue, too. How can I support killing someone, when it's wrong to do so? But how can I support providing money, food, and shelter to someone who commits those sorts of crimes? Life is too full of complex, convoluted issues. I'm glad I'm not the one that's in charge.

*The Apocalypse I am referring to is not to the Return of the King, but to the destruction of earth. It is entirely possible that these could be one in the same, but I believe it is also possible that mankind can destroy Earth before the Biblical Return.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Great Flood of 8/4/2009

While here in Frankfort, my wife called to let me know that the University of Louisville was closed due to severe flooding. This flooding happened to 31 counties, including Franklin, which just so happens to be where Frankfort is. Ironically, I am in Frankfort studying flood control methods.

Naturally, this appealed to me, and once I got home I looked up some pictures of the damage. It's amazing how destructively beautiful nature is. Fortunately, but sadly, I was not in Louisville, so I did not get to see the flooding first-hand, but I have found some pictures that show the results of a large rainfall event over a short period of time. One site I've read says there was 18-20 feet of water on campus, with the central region being under 4 feet of water. People had to be rescued by boats even. Tragically, the main public library was flooded, and tens-of-thousands of books were destroyed. Cost estimates are over a million dollars in damages.

I couldn't find the exact rainfall data, but somewhere around 5 to 7 inches of precipitation fell. Since Louisville is predominately impervious (lots of concrete and rooftops), stormwater mitigation is a serious thing in the city. There was so much standing water pressure that there are reports of manhole coverings exploding from the streets.
Finally, a word of advice to those of you that happen to ever come upon a flooded street. DO NOT attempt to cross it. I know you hear this all the time, but still people try, and people still die, too. Just a little bit of water on a roadway can move quickly and have enough momentum to turn dangerous.

By the way, the top picture is from UofL's campus, the second looks to be some road somewhere, and the bottom picture is of Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby. For more amazing pictures and info on this flood, check out the Weather Channel, or follow here. There are some pretty wild and crazy photos and videos out there.

A final thought. During my last semester at UofL, I took a Green Engineering course, where we discussed how poorly the campus drains and how much problems it has with a simple, low frequency rain event. In this class we came up with ideas for displacing some of the stormwater runoff. It would be nice if those methods were implemented, but I'm not sure how practical they would have stood up to this storm. My understanding is that the event was around a 40-year event, so I shudder to imagine what a 100-year flood would look like.

Sorry for the frenzy of writing this. It's terribly exciting, but I'm terribly exhausted. Thankfully, I found out this neat function in Blogger that allows you to specify a date and time for when to post, which I have implemented these past three days. In fact, if you read this between the hours of 8am and 4pm EST, then I will be in class and you will have experienced first-hand Google Robot Posting.

Stay warm, folks, and dry-ish. Remember, Don't drown, turn around.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Blogger's Block (Themed Trivia)

I'm running on fumes currently. It's not that I've nothing to write, it's that I've scattered my brains and don't know where to go with it from here. There're too many things I'm invested in; "The Curse of Daniel Stone" being one, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, work and things upcoming, understanding the Deeper Mysteries.

I recently heard an amazing lyric that I really liked, which got me thinking of contractions and how they can and should be used. It's from My Morning Jacket's Librarian.
"What is it inside our heads that makes us do the opposite
"Makes us do the opposite of what's right for us?
"Cause everything'd be great and everything'd be good
"If everybody gave like everybody could."

Isn't that an excellent contraction? Everything'd. I like it. Make's me glad I use the double contraction will'n't sometimes.

Today I officially become an uncle. My nephew is Jacob Ian Stewart, but I won't get to see him until the weekend, as I am away on a business trip learning the importance of HEC-RAS modeling and open channel flow concepts.

There's not much to report on other than that. I drove to the Capitol Building last night, but I did not have my camera on me, so I couldn't take a picture of it. Suffice it to say that it is quite impressive. (For those of you that don't know, Frankfort is the capital city of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the most noble and prestigious of states.)

I also drove by Kentucky State University, which got me thinking about colleges and universities. It is amazing how all the buildings on most campuses look state-of-the-art and cutting edge, though inside there are still chairs and tables from decades past. Heck, even carpet and tile from decades ago. But still, the buildings themselves look pretty cool, and they seem to have this air about them that lets everyone know that Higher Learning is going on inside of them. I particularly like college libraries and research facilities.

How about some random trivia for you? The picture to the left shows a controlled experiment in a sluice gate, which is a laboratory modeling method of a natural or artificial stream. This allows the engineer (or whoever is interested) to study and analyze the affects of a Water Surface Profile, or the line the top of the water makes. Notice the obstructing block in the gate. If you look to the left of the block you'll see very choppy water, but if you went even further left the water would eventually stabilize. If you look to the far right of the block, you'll see stabilized water, but at a higher elevation than that of the far left. These stabilized regions are flowing at subcritical flow and are very steady. The very choppy region is the supercritical flow. The point near the left-edge of the block is the critical region, where the water is flowing at critical flow and is unpredictable. All of these characteristics are indicative of the water discharge, roughness of the channel, cross-sectional area of the sluice gate, and the channel bottom's slope. If you change any of those four factors you will generate a different looking water surface profile. Experimenting with different shaped blocks, weirs, and orifices create many different profiles, many of which are rather cool to observe in the lab.

That, friends, is just a small snippet of what it is that I do and what my Formal Education was all about. I sometimes wish that I would have had the desire to continue on and get my PhD, but I did not, though I do fancy it now and then.

I guess I'll just have to settle for the title of Darth and be done with it.

Monday, August 03, 2009

From a Hotel in Frankfort

The Interweb's sketchy
and my laptop makes noises
like the scratchy-scratch scratch of a fountain head on parchment.

The Jayhawks play
and my stomach roars
as mighty and fierce as the kitty-kat kat of the Savannah.

Where have all my friends gone?
Where is my love?
Who knows the things I know?
Who can comprehend?


Splish-splash I just took a bath
and now I'm out to supper
like a simile stretching to make sense,
like a dollar looking to make cents,
the scratchy-scratch scratch is only the desk I'm at!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Read and Share Toddler Bible, written by Gwen Ellis, illustrated by Steve Smallman

This book is a Bible for young children, full of beautiful illustrations and wonderful stories. Created to share the Word of God with toddlers, it serves as a great tool for introducing many of the important stories from the Bible from an early age. This book is perfect for toddlers and young children just learning to read.

I found this children's Bible to be thorough and simple. Each story references the Scripture from which it was taken, and at the end of each section there is a special note for parents to use to connect the story to "real life". The use of onomatopoeia's, such as Clipety-Clop, allow the reader to animate the story vocally, which works well combined with the colorful illustrations. The illustrations were beautiful, fascinating, and fun to look at, and will surely interest the toddler's eyes and imagination.

I felt that the author captured the main themes of the Bible well and presented them in a fashion that toddler's would enjoy and learn from. By combining the illustrations, parent connections, and actual Scripture-based words, this toddler's Bible may work as a successful book, though with the temperamental attention spans of some toddlers, it may be tough to keep them focused.

In addition to the actual book, a bonus DVD is included, which contains an hour of fourteen Bible stories. This is great for children of all ages, even as young as infants.

Weekend Special #2

Weekend Special #1 was successful and enjoyable to read through, so we'll continue right along, shall we?

Comments are now open. Feel free to leave your thoughts on whatever your reading, writing, watching, playing, experimenting with, etc. in the comment section and share with all the rest of the world.

Remember, if you're going to reveal spoilers, please be sure to put a SPOILERS tag up before you go in to too much detail. Thanks, and have a great weekend.