Sunday, July 29, 2007

Through the wall

Roughly half of the people who read this blog already know this, but I'm going to mention it anyway: we're moving.

We're going to Rogers Park, the northmost neighborhood in the ciy limits of Chicago. It's also one of the most (if not THE most) ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the country, which I think is cool. We're living just south of Devon street, frequently known as "Little India." It's a good neighborhood, and a lovely home. We're paying $40 less per month than we are in Schaumburg (in part because we're choosing to do some minor maintenance), and it's roughly 1.5 times the size. Admittedly, it's in a vintage building, and therefore doesn't have a lot of the amenities that a newer building has (like the one in which we currently live). But it will make a GREAT party place, even better than our current residence.

It'll be an adjustment, living in the city after a year in the suburbs. I'm not a big fan of Schaumburg, but parking is bountiful and traffic is not such an issue. There's a lot of space and it's quiet. You can see more than five stars at night. That said, it's kind of soulless and feels somewhat "corporate."

What I find interesting is the psychological barrier between the suburbs and the city. I've commented on this before, but a lot of people actually fear going through "the wall." It seems the transition from suburb to city is easier than the other direction, and few people will admit the fear, but it's evident. We actually had friends say, "but then we won't be able to see you anymore," when we mentioned we were moving back into the city. There was less commentary about moving into the suburbs when we did, simply because it was almost beyond a Chicagoan's comprehension. Heidi's father is particularly noteworthy (and kind of funny) in the fear of the "other side;" he actually told us "you don't want to live in a neighborhood where you hear gunshots at night." And whereas that is a true statement, the underlying assumption was that it's dramatically more common than it really is (no matter that in the one year I've lived in Schaumburg, I've heard more gunshots at night than I'd heard in two years in Chicago and seven years in LA).

I look forward to feasibly taking public transportation on an entire journey (as opposed to driving to a public transportation parking lot). I look forward to going to a show on a whim (or even auditioning for some). I'll miss Pita House and Asian Noodle House, but we'll be able to find ethic dining in neighborhoods where it's really not all that ethnic for the inhabitants. We'll be able to hit the Hopleaf or go to the lakefront at will.

I'll still go into the 'burbs, as now that I'm aware of the wall, I will intentionally defy it. Heidi's folks are out there, as are many of my Mensa friends, and I've started gaming with Heidi's brother's group (all of which are suburbanites), so I'll need to be out there on a regular basis anyway.

It's a good move. I look forward to seeing what it will bring us.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Doggy Poo

Netflix has a feature in which you can watch on demand programming, as many hours a month as you're paying in dollars. We're right now on the $4.99 plan, for other reasons which I'll get into later.

Anyway, it's Friday night after a long difficult week for both of us, and we wanted to do a whole lot of nothing tonight. My plan was to eat Chinese food and watch anime, a great thing to do on a whim. I was looking through the list for Akira (wonderful dinnertime viewing), and happened upon something very very different: Doggy Poo.

It's a story of a Doggy Poo trying to find its purpose in life. It is laid unceremoniously by the side of a road, and shunned for being the most worthless kind of poo. It discusses its lot in life with a clump of dirt and a leaf, until finally finding purpose in fertilizing a dandelion.

Sounds bizarre enough? But wait, there's more! It's very slow paced, as if it's aimed at kids in their very early years (like before five years old). Kids who like poo. Kids who might not understand the concepts that are being spouted, were it not for the fact that the characters are fun little pieces of the environment. Such is the parable nature of the show.

That's right, it just wasn't bizarre enough! It's a children's animation about poo that's actually a Christian parable. It reminds me a bit of Davey and Goliath in the animation style, the pace and the ultimate message (it's not so overt as Davey and Goliath were, but they also were never about excrement). The poo is born feeling worthless and dirty, abandoned by the dog who shat it. Nobody wants the poo, evidenced by the birds who refuse to eat it. The clump of dirt has sinned egregiously in his past, and all he wants to do is go back and make it right (which is called "works based salvation," and is not part of the evangelistic tradition). The leaf is blown wherever the wind sends her, and is not grounded like the poo (meaning in some metaphorical sense that she cannot be of one opinion about anything). The poo only finds its purpose in giving its entire self to the beautiful flower. I'm sure it makes a lot more sense in a Sunday School classroom, when the teacher (the teacher who shows her kids scatological movies) tells her kids what it all means.

So there ya have it: A children's Christian parable animation about a dog turd. Certainly wasn't planning on THAT for our dinner viewing.

Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix

A lot of people have been reviewing this movie. The biggest Harry Potter fan I know didn't like it. Other people did. We saw it Monday, I haven't had a chance to say anything for a while, but I was one of the latter.

I didn't much care for this book. At the time I was working in a suicide-inducingly bad job, having just come back from LA after having failed miserably, and was now living with my mother. I read to get away from my life. In the fifth book, Harry was depressed and annoyed the bulk of the book, and it just didn't work for me. Perhaps if I read it today, it would be a better book. In any case, the movie made me want to read it again.

Whereas it's difficult to fit a huge book into a single movie without it being 3+ hours long, this one did a good job of it. I thought the Goblet of Fire a good movie, but too cramped and crowded, and could have used another 20-30 minutes (I have to say, though, that I am haunted to this day by the acting of Cedric's father when Cedric died). This movie brushed over a lot of elements that I did want to see, but it was for the sake of the larger narrative, and it worked really well.

In this one, the war is brewing between most of Wizarding society, and Lord Voldemort and his cronies. Both sides are recruiting, although the "good" side is hindered by the government's refusal to believe there's a problem. Enter the Order of the Phoenix. These are a handful of freedom fighters who had formed during Voldemort's first "reign of terror." As it happens, the vast majority of the adults Harry likes are part of the Order of the Phoenix.

The show introduces a couple new characters to the field: Luna Lovegood (played by Evanna Lynch) and Dolores Umbridge (played by Imelda Staunton). Both are freakin' amazing and steal the show. The story is more about Mrs. Umbridge than Dumbledore, more about Luna than Ron or Hermione. Umbridge is the Ministry of Magic's plant inside Hogwarts, and subsequently starts to take over the school with Ministry agenda. Among the Ministry rules is that there is to be no practical teaching of Defense against the Dark Arts, as that would indicate that there is a problem. Harry, being the proactive rebel he usually is, starts an illegal school club where the kids learn how to defend themselves. This makes for some of the most fun scenes in the show.

I won't mention how the show ends. You've probably read the books by now, and know it all, but I'm not going to spoil anything. I will mention that there is a wizard battle at the end, and it's arguably the best bettle between two great wizards that I've ever seen on film.

This film is vying for my favorite among the Harry Potter shows. It does lose a lot of elements the book had, but it's a magnificent addition to the franchise. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Good Marketing

I have a few blog topics upcoming. More to say than there is time/energy to say it. But this one requires a comment.

I received a package today (actually a couple days ago, but I found it out on the front porch today). What follows is the entirety of the letter included (emphasis is mine):
Dear John,

Well, it has taken two years and I'm happy to say the quest was well worth it.

After watching wine lovers drink from glasses specifically designed to enhance different varietals, I decided that I was going to find the perfect glass for Samuel Adams Boston
Lager, and as a member of the American Homebrewers Association, I wanted to
share the results with you. I hope you share my view that beer deserves to be
approached with the same respect that wine is accorded.

We are enclosing a document we wrote about the history of this quest... what we tested, who we worked with, etc., and I hope you enjoy the story [we did... Heidi remarked how it was really well put together] The proof, however, is in the tasting, so, I am sending along a pair of our new pint glasses for you to experience and test. As an AHA member you have showed the same commitment that we craft brewers have to the brewer's art.

I hope you will enjoy Samuel Adams in this glass. While we developed this glass specifically for Samuel Adams Boston Lager, we suspect it may enhance the taste of other beers with a high malt body and a high level of complex hop aroma as well. You can be the judge. I would certainly be honored if you enjoy one of your homebrews from this glass.

Thank you for your support over the years.


Jim Koch

That's right, they sent me two pint glasses for no reason other than that I'm in the AHA. Of course, they're advertising their beer, but they did a really bang-up job with that. They're really cool glasses as well, and since we both dig finding new pub glasses, this makes for a huge treat. I wish the camera was working, so I could post a picture of them.

So Sam Adams, I tip my glass to thee! My new one, at that.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


We just saw Transformers. I was really looking forward to this movie, even to the point of wanting to take off work early so I could go see it sooner. On Friday, I checked Rotten Tomatoes for early reviews. At the time, they were 100% positive. I had also read good reviews from a couple people whose opinions I trust. And yes, it was a hell of a lot of fun.

The plot is little more than giant robots that can transform into nearly anything they see come to Earth in search of "The Allspark." Some of the robots go about it for different motivations, and using different means. The bad robots are very good at destroying things. Humanity likes living. Hilarity ensues.

This is an action movie; there is no question that's what it's trying to do, and it does that quite well. It's a bit long on scenes of rather goofy dialogue, but when it comes into the action, it shines.

Transformers has some freakishly die-hard fans, and there was some significant backlash when this movie was announced. There were a lot of people that were appalled that Michael Bay was making it, and expected horrible things. However, this was built with thought. There were internet forums up, asking the fans to have input. There was semi-meaningful dialogue going on between the creators and the fans. I remember when the first shots of Optimus Prime (in truck mode) were shown, and there was backlash (that Prime's semi cab had a nose instead of a flat front). The moderator stepped in and rationally explained why. This film was built with fans in mind.

I'm a geek, and have been for the vast majority, if not all, of my life. I was a teenager when Transformers was in it's original TV iteration. I remember going to see Transformers: The Movie by myself, having driven myself there and paid for it with money I earned at my job. Yes, I'm that much of a geek. I loved it at the time, but I've seen the movie again recently, and it wasn't quite what I remembered (as in it was kind of bad). But here's the thing: they're really similar films.

They seem to be made for the same age bracket. The dialogue is campy and cheesy, and the events don't really move forward with a lot of sense, much like the 1986 version. In fact, there are moments of dialogue (specifically between robots) that are lifted verbatim from the 1986 movie. It seems to be built for kids, with a few double entendres thrown in so the adults can giggle during the slow stretches. And the screenwriter absolutely loved using the phrase, "No, no, no, No, NO, NO NO!"

It's a bit of a bugger for me; I like the Transformers. Optimus Prime kicks ass (and is voiced by Peter Cullen again... bout damn time), and when Starscream was introduced, I got a little shiver down my spine. But this show was a long and expensive toy advertisement. It was aimed at younger viewers, and not in a favorable way. It almost talked down to its viewers, making some characters more goofy than they needed to be simply for the goofy fun factor. Sometimes I was sitting in the theatre (particularly when the Autobots are being introduced) cringing in embarrassment for the writers and actors.

Let me state yet again, the action in this show is freakin' amazing. The effects are seamlessly beautiful. It's a hell of a lot of fun. If you can swallow some goofy stuff, and view parts of it as aimed towards children, you will love this movie. It practically makes you want to fly out of the theatre crying out for the inevitable sequel, but it's built to brainwash kids into getting some admittedly cool toys.

I still recommend it, but not as highly as I had hoped.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Watervale, Pt II

This weekend we went back to Watervale. As I mentioned previously, this is a lovely old resort in northern Michigan, started by the family of old college friends of my grandparents. My grandparents used to come here now and again in their youth, then again several times when my mom and uncle were children. Of course, this tradition continued when my siblings and cousins were children, and now it's continuing when the rest of us either already have children, or are thinking along those lines. It presumably will continue on through our children's and grandchildren's lives, adding generations and families to this mass escapade.

There are a handful of obligatory tasks that are required at Watervale. One is to head across Lower Herring Lake to the outlet into Lake Michigan. Typically you take a boat of some kind out there, and swim or build a sandcastle or just dink around. This is my brother and I starting out our voyage across the lake.
Another obligation is to climb this 1000' sand dune called "Old Baldy." It's a fun hike through the forest, then a slow and somewhat difficult climb up the back, and then a kickass run down the front. I don't actually have a picture of the front of Baldy, as my camera broke during the hike there. But these are various neices and nephews on the hike (the only ones who would take the course faster then myself).
The last obligation is to have a campfire out on the beach of Lake Michigan, having S'mores which are frequently built from marshmellow torches.
I have two sides of the family; my side (coming from my parents), and my cousins (coming, obviously, from my aunt and uncle). It's really surprising the difference between them. My brother in law was the only one of my side who would have one of my beers. My uncle's side couldn't get enough of them. Other than my brother, nobody dared have a whole bao (sort of a Chinese hotpocket), whereas my uncle's side couldn't get enough of them. There were other examples, but you get the picture. It was a bit offputting being with a family that lacks any desire for adventure (my side), when the promise of open minds (my uncle's side) is just a couple doors away. It's not as much of a complaint as it sounds; it's more of an observation.
In all, Watervale is absolutely wonderful. I never had my keys, never had my wallet, never needed to lock the door, my cell phone didn't work, and I barely saw a computer my whole time there. There was no schedule, except for dinner. Especially after the high stress couple months I've just had, it was bliss.