Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Blink and it's Wednesday

Seriously.  I sometimes can't even believe how little time I feel I have during the first half of the week.

There's a bit in Cerebus where someone explains the secret of existence: 'as you get older, time goes by faster and faster.'  Yep.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Rambler

Once again, it feels like time to futz with the look of the Rambler.  There are, of course, about 15 more valuable things I could and/or should be doing with my time right now - but their assertiveness merely tires me, and the Rambler just looks at me with those big sad eyes, and, well...

Anyway, consider this particular look a placeholder while I toy around.  The fonts, I think, are good, now.  In fact, it was the readability of the post font (the smallish font that you're looking at right now) on Yesenia's Dell laptop that made me want to revise the template.  This new font is certainly much more readable, and I think the new header fonts is also more readable and more stylish.

Now it's just a matter of choosing color and background.  That will probably be happening later this week.  Right now, a temporary image from my sketchbook, a comic called 'Renunciation.'  Do I need to mention that the comic itself is unfinished?  Because it is.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

2012: A Year in No Movies

Looking over the list of films coming out in 2012, the fact that there's only one film I'd really like to see and a smattering of others that I'd be willing to see either speaks to it being a particularly weak year for film, or I've just gotten to a point in my life where I just can't work up the enthusiasm for much of anything diverting.  Let alone some movie.

The aforementioned film that I'd actually like to see is (no surprise, here) The Avengers, although I don't have the raging nerd hard-on for it that the 12-year-old Marvel Comics fan in me would have under other circumstances.  I'm sure it will be very fun, don't get me wrong, but the fact that Yesenia is looking forward to it more than I am says something about the way my interests - or is it interest, singular? - have changed.

But it's also highly possible that it's just a band slate of films, this year.  Even this Summer's Pixar film, Brave, seems like kind of a drag.  Now, I know that I'm still a hardcore animation fan - Yesenia and I have rewatched a few Disney movies from the 40's and the 90's over the last month, and if anything, I've my my love of the art form renewed.  But it's a love of the lost art of the hand-animated feature.  Even more specifically, the love of the Disney film, a very specific mix of music, drama and character acting that no-one else has ever been able to duplicate - even Pixar.

And as incredible (no pun intended) as Pixar's run has been, I've just worn out of enthusiasm for computer animation.  It's everywhere.  Computers themselves are everywhere.  Again, if you told the 12-year-old Tron fan in me that I'd eventually just be exhausted by omnipresent CGI, he'd be dumbfounded.  I was at one point probably only third behind George Lucas and James Cameron in my fervor for the new worlds that computer graphics could explore.  But what those two gentlemen have proven is that the best tools for exploration are only as good as the people planning the expeditions, as it were.  And, let's face it, what CGI has ultimately done, rather than freeing up filmmakers to tell the stories they always wanted to tell (as the line goes), is to make every single goddamn film look the same.  And who could be enthusiastic for that?



Okay, just decided that the Rambler will see its 1000th post this year - seeing as this is post #841, that gives me ten months to write one hundred and fifty-nine entires.  Not so bad when you break it down; that's 16 entries a month.  Or maybe it is bad - back in my Rambling heyday, when the world was new and bright, the entries poured out of me.  2008 was the peak, with 297 entries.  2011 was twenty.  Which is quite the nadir.  I'm already ahead of the count with 30 so far in 2012, but still, that's not enough to stay on pace.

Strange thing to obsess about, I guess, but - hey.  Everyone should have a hobby.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Treading Lightly

Poster for the 2010 film.

How do people feel about film adaptations of iconic genre novels or other properties?  I'm normally fairly immune to the nerd rage that seems to prevent those who have on some level waited their entire lives for the things they loved since they were kids to become massive film properties - furiously avoiding the 'Captain America' movie because the costume is the wrong shade of blue, or because some story or character detail or other was changed.

I'm not even particularly bothered when things are changed wholesale if the spirit of the original is retained.  Obviously, this works better when you're dealing with ongoing serialized properties - like 'Captain America' again, where there's no single canon or author.  It gets a bit thornier when properties are adapted that are the work of a single creative team - 'V for Vendetta' or 'Watchmen' for example, or the recent 'Tintin' movie.  I'm not enough of an expert on Hergé to say whether or not the latter was  successful as an adaptation, but on the former two, I think 'Watchmen' was a hollow son et lumière as an adaptation, while 'V' actually improved upon the source material.

I've thought long and hard about it, and realized that while I don't mind changes to a story, I really don't like changes to theme or meaning that end up completely bowdlerizing authorial intent.

The Book as I knew it, 70's style
The film that really started this train of thought for me was 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,' which I finally watched last night.  The Narnia books are pretty sacred to me and 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe' was such a misjudged misfire of a movie that I didn't even bother with the second film, 'Prince Caspian.'  But 'Dawn Treader' is among my favorite books of all time, and I pretty much had to see the film - dreading in advance that it would just be another bad adaptation along the lines of 'Lion,' which stuck very close to the story but was so off in tone and intent that it just depressed me.

The main thing that was wrong with 'Lion' was in the tweaking of the spirituality of the stories to move it away from Lewis' personal faith to a bigger, louder American version.  Lewis saw in Christianity the need for the good to act to protect the world from evil, yes, but he also saw in it light, love and joy - actual goodness, in other words.  For the film version, being Christian means just to fight evil, and that's it.  No fun, no happiness, no joy.

Santa Claus does show up in the film, but instead of providing a joyful feast for a long-delayed Christmas as in the book, they edit that out and move right on to him giving the kids their Christian Soldier weapons and solemnly instructing them to do their duty.  Ditto, the central scene of Aslan's sacrifice.  In the book, he is resurrected in front of the two young Pevensie girls, and he romps with them in joy 'like a kitten' at returning to life before he instructs them to climb on his back and they race across the countryside to turn the tide in the battle with the forces of the evil White Witch.  In the film?  Fuck the joy, just get to the battle.  So damn dour.

Again, no changes to affect the story, but the theme of the story is completely eviscerated.

'Dawn Treader,' on the other hand, futzed the story eight ways to Sunday and still managed to work for me, which surprised me, because my personal stakes were higher.  Certainly, part of it is just having a more competent director at the helm (Michael Apted, this time around), but they actually managed to capture much more of Lewis' spirit and faith than the sad first film.  There's joy!  There's (holy shit) fun!  So now I find myself hoping they manage to continue to make the series.

Lord knows what the seven-year-old in me would make of this.  I didn't even know that my favorite books were Christian allegories at that age.  Heck, I didn't even know what 'theme' was, then.  So I'd probably have loved it all.  That's the real pain of growing up and having your generation's taste dominate the market - you can get the films you wanted all along, only it turns out that the popcorn tastes funny.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Cat Safari

It's late - Yesenia's asleep and I'd also like to call it a night, but the cats have pointedly refused to come back inside and I just can't leave them out tonight.  Were it Spring or Summer, sure - I wouldn't have much choice, as Frida is one of those cats that disappears for three days at a time and then turns up and random on the afternoon of the fourth day, with no clue as to where she's been hanging.  But Winter - even one as mild as this one - I just don't have it in me to let them stay out.  So I'll keep going downstairs to check the door every fifteen minutes.

Damn cats,


Thursday, February 16, 2012

In Preparation for Preparing

Spending a good portion of my time over the last couple of days gearing up for a big life change.  I don't want to call down the Curse of the Don't Blog About It Gods, so I'll just apologize here for not telling you about it, and I promise that I will tell you all about it when the time is right.  That is to say, when the coin spins off its edge and lands heads or tails.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Tortilla'd In

These winter nights, I'm apparently the human water bottle, with Yesenia along my back and one or the other cat pinning me down on the other side.

Of course, I love it all.  Except when I have to pee.  Odd to feel guilty about needing to move and spoil everyone's comfort.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Liberal Media, Part III

Continuing my thoughts from a few months back about online forums...

Participating in a message board discussion (argument, depending on your POV) earlier today that started with the original poster saying that vegans annoyed them, and then other posters expanding on that to basically say  that everyone annoys them.  One poster was particularly annoyed by people who call themselves 'vegetarian' but still eat chicken and fish.  I chimed in with a thought on that, then went somewhere else that struck me interesting:

They call that 'pescetarian,' but the sheer number of terms to describe people's dietary choices is on the exasperating side of exhausting.  I've been thinking about it a little bit since this thread went up, and it actually has a lot in common with [what another thread on the board had to say about] rejecting labels.  

I completely understand the confusion and annoyance about what people call themselves versus what they'll actually eat.  I can only say it's cultural-specific and it runs both ways, much like sexuality and religious choice or any other thing that people do that's either a little or a lot different than the majority of people around them.  We've all met people who call themselves 'vegetarian' and have only really eschewed red meat.  There are also plenty who look at you blankly when you say you don't eat meat and then offer you pork instead.  Easy enough - for a lot of people, the only reason they could conceive of not eating meat is religious.  Since I'm Jewish and my wife is Catholic (and Puerto Rican to boot), I have that particular conversation a lot.

My sister has been various points along the vegetarian to vegan spectrum over the last twenty-five years, and I learned a lot about how not to handle dealing with it, particularly at social or family occasions.  The goal on my end is not to be a drag on people or make them put in ridiculous effort just to satisfy my particular choice.

For the record, the way it feels sometimes when I talk about being vegetarian with people reminds me a lot of when I'd be in a group of Christians growing up and get called out as a Jew.  People's reactions run the gamut from curiosity to barely veiled hostility, like 'how dare you be something other than what's normal?'  There's a great episode of '30 Days' where an atheist and an Evangelical woman switch families for a month, and the husband of the Evangelical woman simply cannot wrap his head around the concept of there not being some other kind of overarching pseudo-religious belief system that fills the presumed void left by turning away from religion proper.  He presses the atheist woman on what book she reads to base her life on.

What replaces the Bible when there's no bible?

Someone replied 'corn liquor' to the open-ended question, which I thought was funny.  The other poster - the one who was fuming at people mislabeling themselves - chimed in again and deepened their stance on it, to which I responded:

I don't disagree with you - words have a specific meaning and they're definitely not using this term correctly. Vegetarian means no animal flesh at all.  I have a friend who insists and persists on calling himself an anarchist, but his definition of the term is so far from what most people think of when then think of anarchy as to be useless.  Which may be part of his point, but I find conversations with him on the issue deeply frustrating.
It's just a lot easier to not worry about what other people call themselves or call you.

When message boards really do their work on me is when they force me to see all sides of an argument.  Maybe there is something to the idea that shared dialogue online can bring greater understanding.  Even if it just does it for me, I'll be satisfied.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Economics of Time Travel

Doc Brown's Secret Stash
A little side bit in Back to the Future Part II always fascinated me - just before 1985 Doc sends Marty out into the streets of Hill Valley circa 1955, he whips out a briefcase full of American currency from various periods and hands Marty a stack appropriate to the era.

For the sake of the film, we don't need to wonder how Doc got that money - he's from a wealthy family and can easily afford to pay the prices money collectors pay.  Plus, he's been preparing for it for 30 years.

But for the sake of argument - the only sake there is! - let's suppose that you are the inventor of a time machine and you have no large financial resources at your disposal and don't feel like waiting decades to accrue when you want to travel into the past.  The problem you encounter if you try to get all the period-specific currency you need by purchasing it from a dealer of antique money is that you pay vast current sums to get even one dollar.  I see that ebay has silver dollars from 1885 going for upwards of $350.  Highly expensive and inefficient way to fund your time travel safari.

Since the value for each dollar bill gets higher the older it is, inflation doesn't work in your favor.  That is, a street dollar has much more purchase power in 1955 than in 1985 - and even more in 1885.  But fat good that does you - unless you want to take advantage of time travel to make money as a currency exchanger.

Strikes me that the method of getting the period specific currency you need would be tedious and methodical.  You'd have to patiently spend time in the present day gathering enough paper money (let's ignore coins to start) that's still in circulation from a previous minting.  Say, 1977 bills in 1985.  The problem is that dollar bills generally wear out and are taken out of circulation by banks and destroyed after roughly 22 months.  This is a case where inflation works in your favor, because the higher the denomination (over $20), the less wear it gets and the longer it stays in circulation.  So you can grab just a few reasonably crisp $100's from the 1977 minting and then travel back to 1978 (say), walk into a bank and exchange them for $50s from a late 1960's-era minting.

Keep doing this in approximately six-year increments, always being careful to exchange denominations back and forth - simply because why would anyone walk into a bank and swap a newer $100 dollar bill for an older one?  Eventually, you'll end up in the target era with the legal money you need - and a vastly increased purchasing power without having to spend a cent.  In fact, you've made a serious profit.  A quick check of the old currency calculator shows that the value of a dollar in 1885 was at least $11.50 compared to 1985 - or a percent increase of %1150.

Obviously, it gets more difficult to casually exchange the larger denominations the further back you go - banks get fewer and further apart, you can't just drive your time machine to Chicago and you can't walk into a five and dime with a $100 bill in 1885 to buy some flour and then lay down the equivalent of $1,150 and expect change.  It's best to start caching $50's and $100's as you go, and occasionally grabbing a $20 or a $10.  That way, when you get to your target era, your supply of legal currency is flexible enough to use on the fly.

So in this way, you can live like a king for only a few hundred dollars a century ago.

In theory, you should also be able to make money moving forward in time by selling collectors your period money back in the present day, but I'm not so sure that works as easily as we'd like.  For starters, the money you have would be in suspiciously good condition if you just grabbed some 1885 money off the street of the Wild West era Hill Valley, hopped in the time machine and walked into Ray Marello's.  You'd also have the issue of it not being traceable by ever having traded hands from one collector to another, so on both counts you'd likely be either thought of as an idiot for trying to sell what's so obviously a forgery - or worse, arrested for forgery.

I guess the way around this would be to research a banking institution that's going to be around for long enough to allow you to open a safety deposit box in 1885, make your deposit and then come back to 1985, collect your antique money and then sell.  Two birds with one stone - properly aged with rock-solid bona-fides.

OR, you could cut to the chase and just invest your money and leave it to yourself.  And there's always the proven Tannen Method of betting on sporting events, but the true Tannen Method actually requires living through the entire period back to the present day to accrue your fortune.  Plus, it means you have to either spend a lot of time going to a bookie or, even worse, to the game itself - which, if you know the outcome, strikes me as even more tedious than the Super Bowl usually is.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fresh from the Subconscious

Part II of this morning's between-alarms dream.  Part I is a little too Freudian & obvious to write about here.  Suffice it to say that the crew of Terok Nor made an appearance.

In the surf with my (fictional) cousin at some gray, cold and dreary northeastern beach.  The water is crowded and there are other sorts of obstructions right along the water's edge - odd smallish rock formations.

Paddling in the shallows, I move down the beach to a place where it's less crowded.  My cousin prefers to stay where he is.  The coarse sand ends and I start to feel slimy stuff under my feet.  Like when awake, I'm repulsed and I try to pull myself tighter, both feet away from the bottom.  Then I feel what I presume to be a jellyfish next to me, and I start to worry about getting stung.

The tide pulls out and I see single shoots of some ivy-like green plant all over the exposed wet sand.  I can't float any longer, and where my feet and arms touch these plants, they sting badly.  I'm now fully down on my back and the plants start to grow and grab at me.  I tear them when I yank my arms forcibly, but there are many and they're growing faster.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Crunch & Plunge

Forgive me for being too lazy to post photos - there are images and they will be posted at some point - but the basement of Beadboard Manor has just undergone the most radical modification in its 90-year history (that I know of, at any rate).  The dry basement team came in and spent three days digging a deep trench all the way around the interior wall, then laid in gravel, slotted pipe, some military grade pumps, and fresh concrete to top it all off.

The foreman complained to me - contractors always seem to be the kvetchy type - that he pulled more soil out of here than on any other basement job he's ever done.  Thinking that's because they have to dig down to a certain depth, but our floor (having been poured in 1925) is a little thinner than most.

Anyway, one of the major side benefits of this is that the house no longer smells like cat pee, and now I have to figure out how to prevent the cats from rescenting the perimeter.