Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rainbow and haywagon, Moody Bridge Road, Hadley, Massachusetts, July 28, 2014

Sometimes, even while driving to the mall...

... beauty can jump up and gently poke you in the eye.  -- PL

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Johnny Winter, 1944-2014

I just saw on CNN.com that Johnny Winter passed away yesterday at the age of seventy. My late brother Don introduced me to Winters' music when I was in high school, I think, and I pretty much wore out the two vinyl Johnny Winter albums I had with me through college. I especially liked "Be Careful With A Fool", which had one of the most amazing lead guitar solos I've ever heard.

Farewell to one of the best guitarists and bluesmen of his generation. -- PL

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An ancient relic

This past weekend, my brother and sister held a tag sale at our late parents' house, clearing out a lot of the stuff our parents had accumulated over the years. There were a few things that we decided to keep as mementos, and one of them that I had picked out some weeks ago almost got sold. But I timed my visit to the tag sale just right, and the person who'd been about to buy it graciously took it out of his pile of stuff, and now it resides in my house.

The item is this:

I created it when I was in college at UMass in Amherst, Massachusetts, roughly forty years ago. In fact, I think I made it using some of the facilities at school, specifically the old wood shop. It was not, however, a school project. I'm not exactly sure where the idea of making a toilet paper holder in the form of a Greek temple came from, but as I said to Jeannine as we were looking at it recently, it may have been -- at least in part -- a sort of sarcastic comment about high art. 

I really don't remember. But I do recall that making it was both fun and frustrating. The trickiest thing to make was the set of columns. I cut circular pieces out of 3/4 inch pine boards, probably on a jigsaw, and glued them together to make the basic column shapes. Then I employed some wood carving tools to laboriously carve by hand the fluting into each column. It was laborious mostly because I was carving against the grain, while trying to maintain the little flutes between each channel. I was not completely successful, and some of the columns have irregular, nicked flutes. But the result was satisfactory to me. I think it pleased me that these little wooden columns were made in sections, as the original marble ones were, and that I didn't just buy wooden dowels of the appropriate size and carve those, which probably would have been a lot easier.

I also spent a significant amount of time carving the relief in the pediment of this temple. I'm not sure what, if any, particular significance the imagery had. It's suffered a bit over the years, getting chipped in a few spots.

The roof of the temple was also built from seven separate pieces of pine wood, cut roughly into nearly-triangular pieces of similar size, then glued together and sanded down. This roof piece was attached with small brass hinges to two vertical pieces of 3/4 inch pine, which I used instead of more fluted columns because it was easier to attach that way, and probably sturdier as well. 

      A short piece of light-gauge chain was employed to keep the roof of the temple from flopping all the way back when opened.

To hold the roll of toilet paper within the temple, I built a small cradle out of plywood and pine, with holes in it spaced to accommodate a standard size toilet paper roller of the spring-loaded plastic sort.

The base was constructed of plywood, with the top piece being solid and the lower two pieces being frames just large enough to make the temple stairs with sufficient overlap to allow the three levels to be glued together. The columns were attached to the base using screws.

When completed, I brushed on a brown stain to unify (well, as much as I could) the disparate visual elements and types of wood, as well as to protect the piece from water damage, as might be expected for something intended to be used in a bathroom.

However, I don't think it ever saw use in that way. Looking at it now, I see that it is really a bit too cumbersome for its intended use -- you'd really need to have a table next to your toilet to make it practical, and that is not a terribly common feature in most bathrooms. So it ended up as a curiosity on a shelf in my parents' home after I gave it to them for Christmas one year. I wish I could remember at this point what their reaction to such an odd gift was, but I can't. I suspect there may have been more than one eyebrow raised. -- PL

Friday, July 4, 2014

Review of "Maleficent"

On this rainy Fourth of July, Jeannine and I decided to take in a movie, and chose "Maleficent", the new Disney "reimagining" of the tale of "Sleeping Beauty", focusing this time on the villainous sorceress, Maleficent, so wonderfully designed (probably the best name and design for a Disney villain EVER) and brought to animated "life" in the original DIsney cartoon version of "Sleeping Beauty".

This live-action film stars Angelina Jolie in the title role, and while I am generally not a big fan of hers, I have to admit that -- at least as she is made up in this movie, with those cool signature horns -- she does sort of look the part. 

Sadly, but certainly not unexpectedly, that resemblance is probably the most memorable thing in the movie. 

I would love to have been a "fly on the wall" when the story meetings for this movie took place, especially when the people in charge discussed what is a key element -- if not THE key element -- in the movie. I refer to the assault on Maleficent in which her wings are cut off, and the aftermath of this tragedy. Let's imagine how it might have gone…

PRODUCER: Okay, so Stefan cuts off her wings with a cool saw chain -- what a great idea! 

WRITER:  Um… maybe we should show her trying to use her magic to try to regrow her wings after that, or attempting to get a new pair somehow.

DIRECTOR: Nah, nobody will want to see that. Besides, we have more special effects we have to get to.

WRITER:  But she's already displayed her incredible magic powers… wouldn't it make sense for her to at least TRY to use them to repair herself?

PRODUCER: Ah, you think too much. The audience won't care about that -- they just want to see cool stuff!

WRITER: But -- but even after she's lost her wings, she shows that she can do almost anything with her powers. I mean, she's changing a bird into a man into a wolf into a huge fire-breathing dragon --

PRODUCER: Yeah, isn't that dragon cool?! Much better than that old animated one.

WRITER: Well… it just doesn't make sense that she doesn't even make a single attempt to use her amazing magical powers to heal herself -- there's not even a passing mention of her trying to. And if you want to argue that it's impossible, for some reason, for her to do so, like maybe fairies only ever get one set of wings in their lives, aren't we missing a great opportunity for emotion and drama and pathos here? I mean, we could show her desperately trying to regrow her wings, trying every magic spell she can think of, but failing, misshapen stumps growing and falling apart, failing, tears running down her razor-sharp cheekbones as she realizes to her utter horror that it's just not possible -- 

DIRECTOR: Nah, that'll take too long. We've got a whole bunch of scenes of fairies throwing mud and flour at each other to fit in this flick, remember…

WRITER: Oh, yeah. Never mind.

The movie was entirely what I expected -- a "clever" idea which really wasn't all that clever to begin with, dressed up in the kind of nearly-flawless special effects finery which is possible these days when buckets of money are hurled at a project. Heart and soul are virtually nonexistent. The plot progresses in a kind of by-the-numbers, phone-it-in manner, as we are asked to believe all manner of illogical actions and results for the sake of being able to lurch from one plot point to the next. It all ends with a "true love's kiss" which is almost exactly like the one in "Frozen", and just about as contrived and forced as that one was as well… and finally "the kingdoms are united". Huh? How'd that happen?

It makes me want to watch the original "Sleeping Beauty" again, as a mental palate cleanser. -- PL

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sometimes you can just do nothing...

... and beauty will happen, all on its own. -- PL

Monday, June 2, 2014

Leonard who...?

I saw a story online last week* about someone selling a "Star Trek" themed house for a lot of money -- $35 million, apparently. It turned out that the whole of this "Star Trek space mansion"  (as it was described in the header of the piece) was not "Star Trek"-themed, but the owner had installed a media room/home theater which was patterned after the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise from "Star Trek: The Next Generation". I have to admit, it looked pretty cool.

There was also a sizable collection of "Star Trek" stuff in the house, and as the camera briefly panned over some of the items, my eye was caught by something odd. I wasn't sure if I'd seen it right, as it seemed so ridiculous, so I scrolled back and forth in the video until I could pause it at the right moment.

As you can see in this screen grab, it was a display of what were labeled as Spock ears from the original "Star Trek" TV series, as worn by someone named "Leonard Nemoy".


Wait… you go to all this trouble and expense to outfit your house with all this cool "Star Trek" stuff… and you misspell the last name of one of the key original cast members?

I'm not sure why "Ears" is capitalized either, but that's a minor point.

Maybe the seller should knock a few bucks off the asking price for this "Star Trek mansion" due to this goofy misspelling… unless the ears don't come with the house -- in which case... never mind.  -- PL

*Here''s the link to the story:


Saturday, May 24, 2014

A brief review of "X-Men: Days of Future Past" (the movie)

Just saw the new "X-Men" movie directed by Brian SInger, and I left the theater with a smile on my face. There is a lot to like about this movie, beginning with the fact that it reboots the continuity of the "X-Men" films in such a way as to obliterate the missteps of the past, starting with the second "X-Men" movie. I'm curious to see where the franchise goes now.

It's not a perfect movie, and it has at least two giant, gaping logic holes that occurred to me as I was watching it -- one more of a important detail which was overlooked, the other more daunting because the entire plot of the movie depends on your uncritical acceptance of this concept.

I am going to avoid revealing these "spoilers"  here, for those who don't want to know these things, by putting them in what has been referred to on various websites as "Invisitext" -- basically, text in white which does not show up unless selected.

Part of the plot -- and a part which directly leads to perhaps the most delightful and imaginative sequence in the movie (newly-introduced super-fast mutant Quicksilver's handling of some trigger-happy guards) -- involves supervillain Magneto being held in a metal-free prison deep beneath the Pentagon. It is specifically stated that one of the reasons -- besides all of the plastic, wood and other non-metal building materials used to construct this area -- it is also made of concrete.

Well, as we all know, and as we are gruesomely reminded later on in the film in one of the most brutal scenes, concrete in modern buildings isn't just concrete -- it is also rebar, the steel reinforcing rods around which concrete is poured to make it stronger. GIven that the Pentagon was constructed long before anyone knew about Magneto, it seems likely -- highly likely -- that its concrete parts would have been made with integrated steel rebar. If so, Magneto could have used these at any time to break out of his prison.

The second thing -- and this one is a much bigger problem -- is the idea that Bolivar Trask's robot Sentinels are enhanced by the use of Mystique's shape-shifting abilities through some sort of manipulation of her DNA. This nonsensical idea reminded me of some of the light-on-the-science science fiction concepts from the early days of the computer age, when a "computer virus" might lead to some humans catching that virus.
Really quite ridiculous -- I mean, think about it for a moment. How do you change the abilities of an inorganic robot by mixing in some organic DNA? It makes no sense. And yet if you don't buy this idea, the whole movie pretty much falls apart.
It's unfortunate that they went in this direction, because the use of this goofy idea isn't even necessary. The Sentinels could have easily been made as threatening and as overwhelming a force without becoming, essentially, mutants.
Hey -- that just made me realize ANOTHER huge lapse of logic: If the Sentinels have become, as I just mentioned, for all intents and purposes mutants because of the infusion into their being of Mystique's mutant DNA, why don't they all turn on each other? Isn't their whole reason for being to locate, hunt down and destroy mutants? I guess that would have shortened the movie considerably.

There are probably a few more problems of this nature which will become clear on repeated viewings. 

I do plan to see it again -- even with the aforementioned issues, it was a fun movie to watch. And the cast did a great job with the material given to them. -- PL