Saturday, December 19, 2009

Another Great Old Movie

The wonders of Netflix continue. This time I saw a creepy little movie from 1962 called Carnival of Souls. The movie starts out with a young college student named Mary and her friends drag racing another car. When the two cars find themselves on a too-narrow bridge, the unfortunate young women end up going over the side. The authorities quickly start their search, but the river's flooding and muddy waters prevent them from finding the car. However, after about three hours Mary is found crawling out of the river, unable to remember how she escaped the car.

Wanting to leave the tragedy behind, Mary takes a job as an organist in a Salt Lake City church (oddly enough, given the setting, it's not an LDS church). While driving to Utah, she sees a cadaverous-looking man standing next to her window. This is especially creepy considering that she's driving along the highway, while he appears to be standing immediately next to the window. The man disappears only to reappear in the middle of the highway later on in the drive. Mary swerves to miss him, just to find that he's disappeared again.

Mary arrives in Salt Lake City and begins her organist job. Not only does she keep having odd and disturbing visions of the man, but she also finds herself inexplicably drawn to an abandoned carnival (the real-life Saltair Palace, which had been in disuse for several years by this point). During one particularly memorable scene, Mary drifts off into a spell while practicing the organ. She has a vision of the man and multiple couples (none of which appear to be alive) dancing at the carnival. During this spell, the church music she had been playing drifts into a sinister carnival theme. It's clear that the carnival-and the man-are calling to her.

I won't give away the rest of the plot except to say that the movie's twist ending appears to have been inspired by "The Hitch-Hiker"; an episode of  The Twilight Zone from 1960. However, the titular Hitch-hiker didn't seem remotely threatening except for the fact that the woman making the drive can't seem to avoid him; no matter how far she drives, he's always a short distance down the road, trying to thumb a ride. The man in Carnival of Souls is most definitely frightening; his pale skin, darkened eyes, and black suit suggest nothing so much as a reanimated corpse.

Just like with the other classic films I've mentioned on this blog, most modern viewers will find the movie's pacing slow. For those who enjoy older movies, or the occasional episode of The Twilight Zone, Carnival of Souls is definitely one to see.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

They Left Me No Choice But To Eavesdrop

This past week I went to Pittsburgh for work-related training. It took two separate flights to get from here to there and three to get back. During the first flight of the return trip, I was treated to the continuation of an extended conversation between two young women that had started in the terminal.

Now, these two were five rows behind me. In an airliner, with its relatively high ambient noise and sound-absorbing furnishings, you should not be able to hear every single word in a conversation held five rows behind you. I know that I didn't care to hear their conversation, nor did the people around me. Yet, these two young women thought their conversation was so important, and were so oblivious to those around them, that they blissfully continued talking at such a high volume that people several rows away could hear every detail. The fact that it was a 6:00 AM flight and that most of us had been awake for at least two hours beforehand made it even more annoying.

I have to wonder; have people always been this self-centered and self-important, or is this behavior found mostly in younger generations? I could understand it if these were children and they didn't realize that an otherwise silent airplane at six in the morning is not the place to hold a loud conversation, but these two appeared to be in their twenties. Since I'm not of the disposition to shush a stranger, I didn't say anything and simply seethed over it. No one else said anything either, so I have to wonder if we were all suffering in silence or if I was the only one bothered by it. That may be the worst part of the whole incident; for all I know, no one else took notice of it and I'm just crazy.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Great Quotes: William F. Buckley, Jr.

I recently finished William F. Buckley, Jr.'s Up From Liberalism published in 1959. For those who may never have heard of Buckley; he was one of the most influential writers of the modern conservative movement.

The interesting thing about the book is that the political issues and liberal tactics Buckley described in 1959 are essentially the same as those found in 2009. Given the current health care bills in Congress, I had to laugh when Buckley discussed the issue of universal (i.e., socialized) health care in a 50 year-old book. Much of the book's focus was on how Americans didn't realize that financial freedom is a crucial component of liberty. Considering how many Americans seem ready to submit ever larger portions of their paychecks (and more often the paychecks of their fellow citizens) to support the Democrats' programs, it seems that 50 years later we still haven't gotten the message.

The saddest part is that, far from being an alarmist, Buckley underestimated how bad things would be in the future. His argument against programs such as Social Security are from a philosophical point of view, believing then that Social Security and other social programs would never become extensive enough to actually threaten the American economy. With social programs having run amok, and with the retirement of the Baby Boomers, we are far from the more ideal position in which Buckley's America found itself (a vigorous economy with a larger ratio of wage-earners to social program beneficiaries).

My favorite quote comes from the last page of the book:
"I will not cede more power to the state. I will not willingly cede more power to anyone, not to the state, not to General Motors, not to the CIO. I will hoard my power like a miser, resisting every effort to drain it away from me. I will then use my power, as I see fit. I mean to live my life an obedient man, but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Netflix: "Nosferatu" and "It! The Terror from Beyond Space"

Recently my wife signed us up for Netflix. Until then, we bought nearly all our movies rather than renting them. Well, that meant that a lot of movies that we weren't sure we wanted to buy got passed over. There were also a variety of TV shows we wanted to see from the beginning, but didn't want to invest in whole seasons if we didn't like them. Now that we've signed up for Netflix, my wife gets to watch those chick flicks that we aren't willing to buy. As for me, I get to take advantage of Netflix's enormous selection of movies to satisfy my eclectic taste in movies.

The first Netflix movie I watched was through their streaming service. It was the silent film Nosferatu (1922); a German film adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, except that the characters' names from the novel were changed to avoid copyright issues. The movie is relatively faithful to the first half of Stoker's book (except for the names, of course) while completely revising the end of the story. As much as I liked Tod Browning's more famous Dracula (1931) staring Bela Lugosi, Nosferatu was superior thanks to the use of actual castles and medieval villages rather than plywood sets, director Friedrich Murnau's genuinely creepy style, and Max Schreck's depiction of Count Orlok. Lugosi's slightly pale eastern European count isn't nearly as menacing as Schreck's vampire, whose pointed ears, inch-long claws, and mouth full of sharp teeth strongly indicate his inhuman status. Murnau's use of shadows to depict Orlok prior to his attacks (see the picture above) helps to enhance the effect. Caveat emptor: this is a silent film that runs about 80 minutes. In other words, unless you have an interest in old science fiction and horror movies, I would suggest you skip this film.

Last night I watched my first Netflix DVD: It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). In this film, a dangerous alien life form comes aboard a spaceship that landed to investigate another crashed ship. As the ship heads back to earth, the alien starts killing off the crew one by one. This movie is believed to be an uncredited inspiration for 1979's Alien. Although Alien is not a unabashed ripoff of It!, there are several interesting parallels. Both have scenes in which a crew member unexpectedly encounters the alien in an air shaft, both aliens will leave human victims alive for biological purposes (an unusual method of feeding in It! and egg-laying in Alien), both are sensitive to fire, and both are defeated in a similar manner.
It! is one of the better '50s sci-fi movies. It's not a classic like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) or Forbidden Planet (1956) (whose monster also has a creative way of killing its victims), and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) still features my favorite (non-Godzilla) monster, but the movie is genuinely entertaining. And the fact that the story foreshadows the plots of so many modern sci-fi/horror movies is of historical interest.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Monsters vs. Aliens

A few weeks ago we bought Monsters vs. Aliens on DVD. We hadn't seen it yet, but the trailers looked hilarious. Fortunately, the movie was not only as funny as the trailers made it out to be, but it was even more clever than I could have hoped.

What really made the movie for me was the number of homages to various sci-fi movies and cliches that they fit into it. And these homages weren't just limited to better known movies like Independence Day (which was mostly spoofed by perfectly recreating the force-field effect from that movie) or Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the famous five-note tune from that movie shows up). The movie also extensively spoofs classic sci-fi films that only nerds such as myself recognize. For example, in one scene a character grows to gigantic proportions and is subdued by the military, which injects her with a giant syringe of anesthesia. Before she passes out, she pulls out the syringe and throws it to the ground where it lands immediately at the feet of one of the soldiers. This is an homage to the Amazing Collosal Man [1957], in which the titular collosal man is also hit with a giant syringe. He also pulls it out and throws it to the ground, except the syringe impales a soldier rather than landing at his feet.

The monsters themselves are homages to classic '50s and '60s monsters: Bob (obviously "the Blob" [1958]), Dr. Cockroach ("The Fly" [1958]), The Missing Link (a more talkative version of "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" [1954]), Insectosaurus ("Mothra" [1961]), and Ginormica ("the Amazing Collosal Man" [1957]/"the 50 Foot Woman" [1958]). In at least one case, if you know the gimmick of the monster that's being spoofed (that is "Insectosaurs" as a "Mothra" analog) you can actually guess the nature of a certain surprise twist at the end of the movie. I thought the cleverest gag was the spoof of the old injured-ankle cliche, but with the male/female role reversed. I'm going to guess that about 5% or less of the movie's viewers got the joke.

Rarely am I pleasantly surprised by a movie; usually the best I can hope for is that my expectations are met. However, I enjoyed Monsters vs. Aliens much more than I expected I would. The best part is that the writers put in plenty of good stuff to entertain those who wouldn't recognize the movie references that I mentioned above. My kids, who aren't exactly classic sci-fi connoisseurs, loved the movie and have already watched it several times.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Long Day at Work

I worked a 12 hour shift today to witness the results of almost a year's worth of planning (not a whole year; the project was put on hold for a few months when other projects were re-prioritized). The project began in November 2008 when a major piece of equipment failed in a small but critical way. Shortly afterward, four other engineers and myself in our group were given the task of fixing the equipment. However, within a year three of the engineers were put on other tasks, leaving me as the sole engineer dedicated to the project with a second engineer helping out when he could.

Now the first and most grueling phase of the work is done, which has left me both relieved and a little disappointed. I'm relieved that the work went more smoothly than almost anything I've ever seen at our facility thanks to extensive preparation and training. I'm also relieved that all levels of our management seem very pleased with the results thus far. However, I'm disappointed that the bulk of the past year's efforts were spent in preparation for about 14 hours worth of work. Of course much of that preparation was in planning the process and designing the equipment that made those 14 hours of work possible. However, it just seems like that much effort should translate into more than a few hours of physical work.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Blogging Month

Once again it's National Blogging Month. It was during November of last year that I started this blog, which has suffered from a serious degree inattention lately. My wife has challenged me to blog every day this month, which I've already failed at since I didn't post anything yesterday. I think if I post 75% of the time this month, I'll consider myself successful.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Proper Role of Government

I recently read this quote from James Madison's Federalist #51 on American Thinker in reference to the proper role of government:

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."

I think most of us are well aware that our politicians aren't angels (although it seems that a few delusional people still think that the current president borders on superhuman). That's why it worries me that the government seems to be systematically growing its powers and authority. With Obama in the White House and liberal Democrats in positions of power in Congress there's been talk of a new "Fairness Doctrine" (mandating "fairness" and "balance" in political content on the radio), there have been intrusions by the government into the automotive and banking industries, the cap-and-trade bill has been introduced that would give the government extensive power over industry (all in an attempt to stop the fictional crisis of "man-made global warming"), and now there is the truly frightening attempt by government to further intrude into the healthcare industry. And don't try to convince me that the current healthcare bill isn't an attempt to gradually institute socialized medicine (a.k.a., single-payer healthcare). Congressman Barney Frank admitted on video that the "public option" plan inserted into the current bill is intended as a stepping stone to single-payer healthcare.

How is any of this a good idea? To what degree of cognitive dissonance does one have to suffer to think that it's a good idea to give government such control? Medicaid and Medicare are bankrupt and Social Security will be defunct in a couple of decades. Do you think that the government can manage health care? The Veteran's Administration proved itself incapable of running a decent hospital (remember the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal?).

We can consider ourselves lucky that, thus far, the government has been expanding its authority for "the public good". But once we've allowed the government to increase it's power to such a degree, what's to guarantee that it will continue to use it for benevolent purposes? How long does it take before a society devolves into something truly terrifying? Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Hitler all promised to use their power for "the public good" and ended up killing millions of people that didn't quite agree with their definition.

Madison and the other Founding Fathers knew that we would never be governed by angels, that's why they instituted a system of limited government. Unfortunately, it looks like our generation has decided to tear down the system that has kept America safe, prosperous, and free for two centuries.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Got Any More of that Snake Oil, Doctor?

A few months ago I started suffering from globus pharyngeus (the sensation of having a lump in your throat), which is often caused by muscles in your throat tensing up when they shouldn't. A very common cause of that is post-nasal drip, which I've had since allergy season started earlier this year. I finally got tired of it and went to the doctor.

My doctor said that he was certain the globus sensation was being caused by the post-nasal drip and asked if I had taken any allergy medicines. Now, I've taken various allergy medicines over the years, but nothing has been effective since I took Rhinocort as a teenager. In fact, with the sole exception of Prilosec (for heartburn), I have not had a positive experience with a prescription medication in over ten years. Prescription dose ibuprofin for that back pain a few years ago? Nothing. Muscle relaxants for the same problem? Drowsiness, but no relief. Allergy medicines? Again, drowsiness and the same stuffy nose. The inhalers, steroids, and nebulizer medications I was given for the allergy-related inflammation of my nose, throat, and lungs that left me gasping like a fish for a month back in 2007? Nothing but false hopes and a disorienting buzz from the steroids.

So I told the doctor the truth; i.e., I don't have any faith in the effectiveness of allergy medicines. Well, he told me he was certain that prescription Zyrtec for the allergies in general and Flonase for the nasal problem should take care of the congestion and, by extension, the globus sensation. Well, I recognize that I'm not a doctor and don't have my doctor's training or expertise, so I went along with it and took the medicines...

The Zyrtec made me drowsy in the morning and irritated my throat. Did it help my allergies? Not at all. When the bottle of pills finally ran out, the only change I noticed was that I wasn't drowsy anymore and that my throat wasn't as irritated. What about the Flonase? What did it do? Well, it didn't do much for the congestion. But it did do something: horrible, frequent, profuse nosebleeds. I have had the three or four worst bloody noses in my life in the past two weeks. Even when I'm not actively having a nosebleed, I keep finding a small amount of blood in my nose. The most irritating part is that I stopped taking the Flonase after several minor nosebleeds and one major one. The subsequent incidents occured shortly thereafter. I'm going to be seriously upset if this lousy medication did long-term damage to my nose.

You know, as an engineer I've learned to stop putting faith in equipment, designs, brands, and companies based on significantly less bad experiences than I've had with various medicines. Maybe I should just avoid them lest the next batch of snake oil I'm offered actually finishes me off.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Noise, Noise, NOISE!

Sometimes it's fun to find out about the quirks of people you know. Well, here's one of mine: I have a problem with noise.

I'm not the only noise-averse person in my family. My father has been known to wander around looking for the source of noises that bother him. Once he drove around town at 5 a.m. looking for the beeping that had woken him up. It turns out it was the sound of garbage trucks backing up several miles away. I've heard that my granddad is the same way.

Given the tendencies of the men in my family, I can only assume that my mother has been amused by the stories that my wife tells her about me.

My issues seem to come to the fore around this time of year. I like the 4th of July, or at least I like the patriotic part, but I dread its coming every year. It seems that a lot of people see Independence Day as the time to make noise: popping noises, banging noises, whistling noises, crackling noises... and I can't stand noise! I don't really blame my neighbors, nor am I upset with them. They're just doing normal, acceptable things for this time of year. Unfortunately, it just happens to drive me nuts.

I can't say when it started, but since childhood I've had a problem with noise. Whether it's an overly loud TV, the noise of a crowd, loud music, motorcycles, screaming children, or firecrackers, it all makes me anxious and irritable. The fight-or-flight instinct kicks in and all I want to do is get away from it. Part of this sensitivity may be due to fact that I have excellent hearing (which was recently reaffirmed during an employee physical). Of course, it's also possible that I have good hearing because I have an aversion to noise.

I'm extremely protective of my hearing. If I'm at an airshow, using a weed-eater, vacuuming, or working in a relatively loud environment, you can find me wearing earplugs. I have even worn earplugs to a movie theater. Recently a friend of mine in my company's safety department asked to check the decibel level at which I kept my mp3 player (it was out of curiosity, he wasn't auditing me or anything). He held an earphone up to his meter and said that he was impressed; I'm one of the few that maintain their music at a safe volume.

The horrible irony is that I can't enjoy a quiet environment either. Every creak, whisper of air, or distant sound grabs my attention and wrecks my concentration. That's why I'm constantly listening to music. I was relieved when I read on Orson Scott Card's blog (Card is one of my favorite authors) that he always listens to music while writing for this very same reason. It's comforting to know that I'm not the only nut out there.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Star Trek

This past Saturday my wife and I finally saw Star Trek. Now, I've been a fan of every incarnation of Star Trek since about 1990. I've seen every single episode of the five different series with the exception of a few Voyager episodes (I was on a mission in Mexico at the time). I own the two-disc special editions of all the previously released movies, all four seasons of Enterprise, and the last two seasons of Deep Space Nine. Unfortunately I'm not quite rich enough to own a whole lot more than those six seasons. I actively collect Star Trek novels. I own the official encyclopedia and the official chronology as well as the Original Series, Deeps Space Nine, and The Next Generation technical manuals. I have the Star Trek Star Charts. I even have the official blueprints of the Enterprise-D from The Next Generation. In other words, I think I'm fairly well qualified to judge J. J. Abrams' new Star Trek.

I thought it was the best Star Trek movie ever.

My wife, who didn't exactly grow up on Trek, was very impressed by it (and actually teared up during the first fifteen minutes).

The story was engaging, the characters were good (better than the originals, in fact), and the action was constant without ever dumbing down the movie. The cinematography was more dynamic than in any previous incarnation of Star Trek (this is particularly noticeable in a noteworthy scene in which the Enterprise swoops in with literally all phasers and torpedoes blazing). They even addressed the age-old complaint that all action in the Star Trek universe occurs in a single plane, with all the starships being presented as if they were sea vessels limited to the surface of the ocean rather than moving in the three dimensions of space. In one particular scene the Enterprise actually appears upside down with respect to the object on which the camera is focused. This may seem like a small detail, but it shows that the new caretakers of the franchise have been paying attention.

The film is also filled with minute details for the fans: various sound effects are cleverly modernized versions of their 1960s counterparts, quotes and paraphrases from the Original Series and its movie spinoffs can be found throughout, and there's even a reference to "Admiral Archer" and his beagle that viewers of Enterprise will find pretty funny. Since the movie was obviously designed to appeal to a larger audience than the typical Trek movie, I was pleasantly surprised to see how faithful they were to their source material.

In short, Star Trek was a great movie that seems to appeal both to Trek fans and non-fans alike, as indicated by its 95% on This compares pretty favorably with The Dark Knight's 94% (let's just ignore that in my last post I said I don't usually agree with the critics). Once the closing credits appeared, my wife and I agreed that we couldn't wait for the sequels. I'd give the new Star Trek a 4.5 out of 5:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Like any other self-respecting nerd [sic], there was a period in my youth when I collected comic books. While I collected far more Spiderman comics than any other particular series, I was also quite a fan of Wolverine. Years after I bought my last comic, I enjoyed the three X-Men movies and felt that the character was well-portrayed. I was therefore looking forward to the upcoming X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

My wife and I went to see it a few weeks ago, around the time of the Star Trek premiere. Now, I'm a Star Trek fan first and foremost, but I also hate crowds, so we decided to see the slightly older Wolverine. I had heard that Wolverine was getting some pretty lousy reviews (37% on, but I don't often agree with movie critics. After reading a few of those reviews, I thought it humorous that one of the critics' main complaints was that the movie spends much of its time showing Wolverine fight random mutants (Wolverine vs. Gambit, Wolverine vs. Blob, Wolverine vs. Sabertooth, etc.). All I can say about that criticism is what Microsoft may say about any number of its products; it's not a bug, it's a feature.

It turns out that the movie was pretty good (definitely better than 37%); I enjoyed it at least as much as the X-Men movies. The movie covers Wolverine's origins (who was born in the early 1800s as James Logan), and spends most of its time on his relationship with his brother (Victor Creed; better known as Sabertooth, although he's never called that in the movie) and the experiment that bonded the indestructible metal "adamantium" to his skeleton and claws. That's right, the movie is consistent with the 1990s X-Men comic that revealed that Wolverine has always had claws made of bone; his claws weren't implants but pre-existing claws bonded with adamantium. The movie also reveals that the experiment performed on Wolverine is merely one part of a program to create the ultimate mutant weapon.

For those who are bothered by it (as I sometimes am), the movie had a bit more profanity than most of the PG-13 Marvel Comics movies and was more violent than any of the Spider-Man or X-Men movies. However, the violence was of a highly exaggerated sort (which my wife and I perversely enjoyed) and wasn't nearly as disturbing as the violence in The Dark Knight (another movie we both enjoyed, but in spite of the violence).

For entertaining me for an hour and a half, for focusing on the most interesting of the X-Men, and for the shear magnitude of the property damage that occurs in the last twenty minutes, I give the movie a 4 out of 5.

Monday, May 4, 2009


My wife recently posted about family milestones, two of which were mine. First, I turned 30 years old this past April. Now, is there a point at which one is supposed to feel like an adult? Considering that my birthday presents consisted mostly of Star Wars Lego sets, I don't think I've reached that point yet. When I was younger I thought that there was an age at which you realized that you had finally reached maturity and that you knew what you were doing. Well, I hit 18, and that certainly wasn't it. I reached my 20s and it didn't happen then, either. I was married in 2001 and now have three kids; that didn't do it. I received a bachelor's degree in engineering in 2003, but I still felt like a kid. I earned a master's degree in engineering in 2005 and felt like an over-educated, heavily indebted kid. This year I turned 30 and will soon have spent four years at my current job. More than once I've wondered what my employers are doing allowing some dumb kid to work with nuclear technology. Maybe I'll reach maturity when I'm 40.

The second milestone has to do with my weight. Those who know me may have noticed that I've been on a diet recently. This past month, for the first time in quite a few years, the number on the scale started with a "1" rather than a "2". That's a loss of about 60 pounds since October, 2008. My goal is 170, which I haven't weighed since high school. I've been asked repeatedly how I've done it and the answer is simply that I eat less.

I've tried diets such as "South Beach" and "Slim-Fast" and have been unable to maintain them due to the limited food choices. I've done much better following the "Weight-Watchers" point system since it allows you to eat whatever you want; it just limits your portions. For the first few months I was closely following the system, but have since gotten a feel for how much I should be eating. It appears that I had to recalibrate my sense of hunger to more closely match my level of physical activity (i.e., cubicle dweller).

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Free At Last!

Around the time my wife and I were married, my parents sat us down for the talk... on credit card debt. I seem to remember them spending about an hour recounting the horrors of excess credit card debt and how it's easiest not to get into it in the first place.

Well, apparently we didn't remember that talk a few years later when our lifestyle cost slightly more than my salary. After a significant buildup of debt, and a couple of decent raises, we decided to finally start chipping away at the credit card. We spent quite a while trying to pay the debt off, but the ridiculous interest rate kept eating up much of our payments. Finally, someone suggested we transfer the balance to a credit card with 0% interest on balance transfers for one year.

We have sunk hundreds of dollars a month into that card for the past year, trying to pay it off before the 0% interest ended. We think the credit card company was well aware of what we were doing, since they kept raising our credit limit and encouraging us to actually use the card rather than just pay it off. On March 31st, my wife made the last payment on the credit card. And now we're free! Free! And given the current credit crisis in this country, it looks like we're just in time, too.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Movie Score Review: The Dark Knight (2 CD Special Edition)

When The Dark Knight came out, I bought the mp3 version of the one-disc score from Amazon. However, a short while ago it came to my attention that a 2 disc version of the score had been released. Oddly enough, the first disc was identical to the original release; the second disc had additional, unreleased music plus four "remixes". I absolutely had to have that additional music (except for the remixes; I hate remixes). Given the cost of the set (an outrageous $51.99) I was very grateful that Amazon allows you to buy individual tracks for $0.99. Thus, I spent an additional $10 and effectively ended up with the 2 disc score.

Although I enjoyed the Batman Begins score, The Dark Knight is substantially better. While it may not work as stand-alone music for some listeners (the music is closely tied to the tone and events in the movie), it is a fantastic work with a good balance of exciting, menacing, thoughtful, and tragic music.

The score is dominated by three musical cues: Batman's, the Joker's, and Harvey Dent's/Two-Face's. Batman's musical cue shows up from the first movie effectively unchanged. The Joker is given an atonal synthesizer score that is very appropriate for the portrayal of the character (throughout the movie I was able to predict when the Joker was about to appear since he is often preceded by his theme). Finally, Harvey Dent's/Two-Face's musical cue, like the character, depicts both dignity as well as tragedy.

My only complaint is that, like nearly all scores, the music is incomplete (about an hour or so of the music from the movie is missing). Nor is the music presented in the correct order. In fact, several individual tracks contain music from disparate parts of the movie. This is standard practice for movie scores, but it would have been nice to see The Dark Knight get the same treatment as Star Wars Episodes I, IV, V, and VI or the extended Lord of the Rings scores.

The music that's there is excellent, but the score's incompleteness and disorder earns the collection a 4 1/2 out of 5. By the way, if you intend to purchase the score, save yourself about $33 and buy the mp3 version of the collection.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Horrors of Collecting

Hi, my name is James and I'm a collector.
(support group) Hi, James.

Those who know me know that I collect a variety of things, all of them of a geeky nature: Godzilla movies, Star Wars books and comics, Star Wars Legos, etc. This is particularly difficult when the items you collect have limited availability. For example, any particular Star Wars Lego set is usually available for about a year to a year and a half. However, certain exclusive sets (especially those exclusive to Walmart or Target) may only be available for six months. Thus, in order to maintain the completeness of my collection, I run out and buy those sets, whether I have money on hand or not. Fortunately my wife hoards her allowance money (yes, we each receive an allowance; it keeps our frivolous spending down) and she'll often give me a loan. I was indebted to her for about three months after the last major release of Lego sets.

I usually check Amazon for items whose availability will soon be uncertain. I start to worry as soon as the "usually ships within..." changes from "two to three days" to "two weeks". The closest call I had was when Amazon stopped carrying a Star Wars Republic comic I wanted. I bought it for a reasonable $12 from an independent seller. Within two weeks a new copy of the comic was going for about $100.

The latest panic involved the two Godzilla movies Invasion of Astro-Monster and The Terror of Mechagodzilla. Apparently Classic Media has recently discontinued their Godzilla DVDs. Classic Media was the company that had been releasing the awesome two-disc collections of early Godzilla movies: one disc with the dubbed version released in the US and one disc with the original Japanese version with English sub-titles (the only way for a true fan to watch a Godzilla movie). Once I was able to get over my horror, off I went to borrow money from my wife so I could buy the two movies on Amazon. Astro-Monster will be coming from an independent seller, but he's covered by Amazon, so it's all good.

The collector's life is a hard one.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Last Saturday I added another Godzilla figure to my collection of toys. It's a 6" Destroyah figure (or Destoroyah, or Destroyer; they never came up with a consistent spelling for him). My two older kids get a kick out of my Godzilla toys so I "attacked" each of them with it. Our one-year old watched this intently so I did the same to her; I put the admittedly hideous toy about a foot away from her and said "rarrr!". She partially hid her face until I moved the toy away, afraid that I had actually scared her. Almost immediately she uncovered her face, smiled, and said "rarrr". Ever since then she has been scooting through the house rarrr-ing.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

America, You Got What You Voted For, Part 2

Well, Congress has passed the so-called "Stimulus" bill. Now it goes to Obama, who is certain to sign it. This monstrosity, a conglomeration of pork, Democratic pet projects, and payoffs, will cost us and our children $787 billion, plus interest. About the bill, Obama said, "This historic step won't be the end of what we do to turn our economy around, but rather the beginning. The problems that led us into this crisis are deep and widespread, and our response must be equal to the task." So, Barry, this imbecilic bill is about to blow $1 trillion that we don't have, and you want to spend more?

You know, we got into this recession because the American people were encouraged to spend well beyond their means. Now our government thinks that we can get out of it by spending even more. I believe the axiom "when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging" needs to be branded on every moron in Congress who voted for this bill. I am happy to report that not a single Republican in the House voted for the bill. As for the three Republican senators that did vote for the bill, they probably won't get past the next Republican primaries.

Below are a few of my favorite items in this bill. Can anyone tell me what these items have to do with economic stimulus? Remember, the Democratic scaremongers are saying that we'll sink into a depression without this bill.
  • $176 million for renovating Agricultural Research Service buildings
  • $290 million for flood prevention
  • $1.4 billion for wastewater disposal programs
  • $295 million for administrative expenses associated with food stamp programs
  • $1 billion for the 2010 Census
  • $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges and libraries
  • $650 million for the digital TV converter box coupon program
  • $2 billion for Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program
  • $1 billion for the Community Oriented Policing Services program
  • $1 billion for NASA (much of which I believe is supposed to go to "Global Warming" research)
  • $300 million to purchase scientific instruments for colleges and museums
  • $400 million for equipment and facilities at the National Science Foundation
  • $3.7 billion to conduct "green" renovations on military bases
From "Much of the spending won't be delivered this year or even next, and Republicans pointed to studies by the Congressional Budget Office that say that adding so much to the national debt would cost the economy by the end of the decade." So much for the timely economic stimulus that Obama and the Democrats have been promising.

The Democrats even sneaked in several new health care provisions in preparation for socialized medicine. I advise you to read the article I've linked to (I hope you're not too attached to your grandparents or any other elderly relatives).

Do you know where Obama and the Democrats are leading us? Here's what Newsweek (a liberal rag) is saying:

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

25 Things About Me

Well, my wife is pushing for me to do a "25 Things About Me" list. It's not quite as sentimental as hers since I don't express a whole lot of sentimentality online.

1. Like my wife, I read constantly. I haven't gone without a book to read for several years. I buy them faster than I can read them.
2. Although I read constantly, I read very slowly; roughly at a talking pace with a lot of rereading to make sure I catch important details.
3. Despite having grown up with a family of sports fans, I despise watching sports. I hate the sound of a crowd, I hate the monotony and repetitiveness of most sports, and I hate how obsessive so many people become about them (often to the exclusion of more important things).
4. I dislike crowds, especially when they consist of strangers. At places like the mall, I become anxious, tense, and slightly disoriented. I've had similar experiences at parties with friends when the room became too loud and crowded. One advantage of working in the Idaho desert is that it's wide open and quiet.
5. At about the age of 18 I learned how to fly. I got as far as flying solo before college interrupted my lessons.
6. When I was young I wanted to be an astronaut. Later I wanted to be a pilot. In high school my poor eyesight dissuaded me from trying to become a pilot, so I decided to design aircraft instead. I wanted to become an aerospace engineer, but BYU didn't have an aerospace engineering program, so I went into mechanical engineering. Now I work with nuclear power.
7. I was one of two valedictorians in my high school. The salutatorian's graduation speech was better than mine or the other valedictorian's.
8. In my senior year I was captain of our high school's academic league (think of it as group Jeopardy!). It was in academic league that I really got to the know the girl that became my wife.
9. I hold a B.S. and an M.S. in mechanical engineering from BYU. As a graduate student I specialized in heat transfer and fluid mechanics. I have co-authored three peer-reviewed articles on gas turbines that were published by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; two of the articles won Best Technical Paper Awards in 2006.
10. I enjoy learning new things about a wide variety of subjects such as history, archaeology, paleontology, languages, science, religion, etc. Since there's no practical limit to how much information the human mind can hold, I don't believe there's any such thing as useless knowledge. Learning is an end in and of itself.
11. I have had a driver's license for almost 13 years and have a spotless driving record; I have never received a parking ticket or a moving violation, nor have I ever been pulled over.
12. While in high school I went on a whirlwind tour of Europe with a group of students. We hit Edinburgh (Scotland), London, Paris, Cologne, and Amsterdam. For me the highlights of the trip were Edinburgh Castle, the Tower of London, Westminster Abby, and Notre Dame.
13. I was a B+ math student until I entered calculus. For some reason, calculus made more sense than any other math class I had taken and I brought my math grade up to an A.
14. I hate having dirt, grease, or grime on my hands and often can't go for more than an hour or so without washing them. I have been this way since at least the age of three. I was never a good Boy Scout (I had barely reached Tenderfoot by the time I turned 18), because I couldn't tolerate being unable to wash my hands while camping (I didn't like all the hiking, either).
15. I am politically conservative and have been since I was a young teenager. Growing up in southern California, it was usually me versus the rest of the class during any debate in history or government class.
16. I like snakes and would love to have one as a pet, but my wife (like my mother before her) absolutely forbids it.
17. I hate dogs. They're noisy, smelly, and troublesome. Plus I'm allergic to them (they make my throat close up).
18. I have suffered from frequent headaches since at least the age of four. I have them about four days out of each week.
19. I love studying World War II history, especially about the air war. I own numerous books on the subject, have visited museums and air shows showcasing WWII-era planes, and I've flown in a World War II-era B-24 bomber.
20. I unconsciously adopt the mannerisms of people with whom I interact on a regular basis. This includes facial expressions, ways of speaking, the use of certain words and phrases, etc.
21. Although a religious person who reads frequently on the subject, I can't appreciate a lot of the sentimentality that you often find in religious literature. I would rather read a scholarly paper by a BYU professor analyzing a scriptural passage than any of the myriad inspirational books that are so popular with Mormons.
22. I listen to unconventional music. For the most part I listen to movie scores (particularly those by John Williams, Danny Elfman, James Newton Howard, or Hans Zimmer). When I feel like something more upbeat I listen to They Might Be Giants (they did Istanbul Not Constantinople) or "Weird Al" Yankovic. Only within the past few years did I start listening to country.
23. Although I tend to dislike noise, I don't like silence either. I will always have either music playing in the background or the TV will be on.
24. Since junior high school I have admitted that, by all standard and accepted measures, I am a nerd. It was funny to see the look on other kids faces when they called me a nerd and I openly and proudly admitted it. It completely destroyed the effectiveness of their teasing so most just gave up.
25. If a conversation interests me, I am able to pick it up where it was left off... even if several hours or even a day has passed since the conversation ended. It drives my wife nuts.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

America, You Got What You Voted For

So, one of the first things Obama does after getting into office is to reverse a policy held by Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush; he "lifted a ban on federal funding for international groups that promote or perform abortions". For those who were paying attention during the presidential race, this is exactly what he promised to do in his first days in office.

In case my fellow Americans don't know what this implies, it means that your tax dollars can now go to groups that encourage abortions or that pay for them. Doesn't that make you happy to know that you can now financially support the murder of unborn babies?

Oh yeah, he also reversed a bunch of anti-terrorism policies. So, how many Americans thought that the "Change" Obama was talking about meant making it easier for people to a) murder unborn babies and b) to be a terrorist and to try to kill everyone else? Okay, I see the Change, but I'm really not seeing the Hope. Maybe the Hope comes when Obama pays my mortgage.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Bad Movies

I haven't posted in quite a while, in part because we spent Christmas vacation in San Diego with family. I'll leave it to my wife to give the details on the vacation.

Anyway, for Christmas my mother gave me the Mystery Science Theater 3000 20th Anniversary Collection (this was merely Volume 13 of the series, but I guess they decided that "20th Anniversary Collection" had a certain ring to it). Before I left for college my mother and I would watch MST3k on Saturday mornings on the Sci-Fi Channel.

For those who aren't familiar with it, MST3k is about a human (Joel for the first five seasons and Mike for the last five) and two robots (Tom Servo and Crow) who are trapped on a spaceship and are forced by mad scientists to watch bad movies in an attempt to drive them insane. To keep their sanity, they continuously comment on the movies.

Recently had an article on the worst movies of 2008. This list even included Cloverfield, which was pretty good except for the motion sickness it can induce in viewers. I find declarations that 'such-and-such current movie is really bad' to be absurd; clearly these people have never seen Manos: The Hands of Fate. Here's a list of some of the worst movies I've ever seen. All of them I saw with the benefit of commentary by Mike or Joel and the 'bots on MST3k. To watch these movies in any other way is to risk madness.

Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)
A man, his wife, his daughter, and his dog get lost and ask to spend the night in a stranger's house. Unfortunately, the house belongs to "The Master", an undead something-or-other, his equally undead wives, and his large-kneed servant Torgo. The Master has a giant red hand printed on his black cloak (no, it's never explained). Poor sound quality, lousy acting, and poor editing truly make this movie. Ironically, the plot could have been made into something good in the hands of a talented cast and crew (this film had neither).

Laserblast (1978)
A teenager who can't seem to be able to button his shirt finds an alien laser weapon that turns him into some sort of laser blasting zombie when he wields it. Stop-motion aliens (that look like shell-less turtles) retrieve the laser as a completely undeveloped CIA/FBI/MIB-type character looks on. Cameo by an embarrassed Roddy McDowall! This movie is so aimless and inane it's impossible not to laugh at it, even without the MST3k riffing. The movie seems to be unable to explain the purpose or position of the omnipresent federal agent and the movie's climax makes absolutely no sense. I loved it.

Space Mutiny (1988)
Our heroes must prevent a mutiny on a generational starship. Who knew they made movies this bad in the late '80s. The spaceship special effects are pretty good since they used old Battlestar Galactica footage. The beefy hero with a high-pitched voice, the heroine that looks to be about 20 years older than she's supposed to be, the ship's captain who looks like Santa Claus, and the villain who really needs a mustache to twirl make the movie hilariously funny. The "climactic" chase scene involving armed vehicles (which appear to be golf carts or floor buffers with plastic missiles attached to the sides) is utterly sublime. I have never heard my mother laugh so hard in all my life.

Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961)
Aliens from Neptune in a ridiculous spaceship attack earth (i.e., Japan). Only Space Chief and his flying car can stop them. The movie is dominated by the standard Japanese schoolkids in shorts (who populated the 1960s and 1970s Godzilla and Gamera movies, too). The hero is the goofy Space Chief who employs the typical "karate" moves on the aliens and flies a spaceship that looks like it should have a big wind-up key sticking out of it. An extended scene of Space Chief's spaceship fighting Neptunian fighter craft, with the requisite destruction of a model Tokyo, is utterly painful. It's during this scene that both Mike and Crow actually walk out of the theater (this is forbidden on MST3k; the two were forced back into the theater when the mad scientist turned off the life support in the other parts of the spaceship).

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)
An aimless teenager visits a carnival where he becomes the hypnotized assassin of a gypsy fortune teller. By the end of the movie he joins her other acid-deformed servants in a disappointingly short five minute rampage. While the point of the movie is supposedly the zombies, they take up only a few minutes of screentime. Various dull carnival performances actually take up most of the movie's running time. The movie is made even worse by horrible sound quality (the "hero's" foreign friend is almost completely incomprehensible).


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