Thursday, April 15, 2021

Star Wars Movies Ranked from Best to Worst

 

Well, it would be tax day, but the IRS moved it.

Anyway, the other day I decided to make a list of the best to worst Star Wars movies. This is based 100% on my opinion/memories (I've only seen the prequels once each and the J.J. Abrams abominations once each). And I'm not including ancillary movies such as Rogue One. But there's the list from best to worst:

Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back (originally, The Empire Strikes Back; 1980)

This movie is the best because it is intense, dark, and ends with a cliffhanger. The "updated" version detracts little from it's intensity. From the stop-motion imperial walkers to the final fight between Luke and Vader, it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Oh, and don't forget the asteroid field chase between the Millennium Falcon and the TIE fighters. Amazing for 1980s special effects technology.

Star Wars IV: A New Hope (originally, Star Wars; 1977)

The first Star Wars movie. And at the time it was like nothing we'd ever seen. It was fun! Science fiction of the seventies tended to be boring and/or depressing. This is the Star Wars movie I've seen the most. I remember back in 1977 people saying the special effects were better than 2001: A Space Odyssey. And we were amazed when we saw 2001. It only loses to Empire because of the second movie's intensity.

Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi (originally, Return of the Jedi; 1983) 

In some way this movie is brilliant (the speeder bikes through the forest). But the Ewoks defeating stormtroopers? No way. It has its funny moments and its amazing special effects (especially before CGI). But Lucas had enough money to do what he wanted, and what he wanted wasn't as tight nor intense as the previous two movies.

Star Wars III: Revenge the Sith (2005)

As I said, I've only seen this once. I remember it being better than the other prequels with less politics and more adventure.

Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

The best of the J.J. Abrams movies (Which is sort of like saying "The best McDonalds in town). It had some of the fun of the original trilogy and no outright stupidity (see Star Wars VIII).

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

 It echoed Star Wars IV too much and Rey was a completely unbelievable character. If she were a man, people would have noticed that instead of oohing and ahhing at her being a strong female character. 

 Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

I barely remember this movie but I remember that it was better than the first one. All I remember is Anakin and Padme tied to some posts in an arena.

Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Pod racing and a kid who was conceived without sex (where have I heard that before?). This movie was a train wreck from start to finish. Still, wasn't as bad as...

Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi (2018)

They bomb a ship in space. Bombs, falling down on a ship in space. Then Laura Dern (who I like as an actress) plays a female general with purple hair who is oh-so-perfect. Oh, and Leia is apparently able to survive in vacuum and even move in space. Yeah. This move was so bad, I didn't go see Star Wars IX in the theater but waited until it came out on Blu-Ray. 

So, do you agree with my list? Are they in the correct order? Let me know in the comments below. 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

I Got a COVID Vaccine


As of Sunday the 3rd, I have had both my COVID-19 vaccination shots. I had the Pfizer version.

I got my first shot on March 13th. It was a luck thing, really. A friend of mine, who is younger than I, posted on Facebook that she'd gotten a shot. I asked her how and she said a mass vaccination event in our town was looking for more people to give the shot to. And she linked me to the website to make an appointment. So I jumped through what felt like 47 hoops on the website and got an appointment. And then I got the shot. They gave it to me in a parking lot as I sat in my car and made me sit for 15 minutes before I could leave. While I was sitting there, a small bus full of seniors pulled up. I presume they all got the shot, too.

The only side effect I had then was bad headaches that Tylenol didn't seem to touch. On the Sunday (first day) after the shot, the headache was most of the day. And I rarely get headaches. On Monday it was about half the day. Each day the amount of time I had the headache decreased until the fifth day (Thursday) I didn't have a headache at all.  I have had a couple of headaches since then, but I'm not sure if they are related to the shot.

One thing that did impress me what that a few days after getting the first shot, I got an email with a link to make my appointment on the 3rd (the day before Easter). I had to jump through the 47 hoops again (why, since they already had my information) but I got the appointment. Which was one less thing to worry about.

After my second shot I took Tylenol preemptively, hoping to stop any headaches before they began. And it seemed to work. I did have a little nausea on the same day I got the shot. On the third day I didn't take Tylenol and did get a bit of a headache. But not nearly as bad as with the first shot. By the fourth day, I pretty much didn't have any side effects.

My daughter-in-law who is a nurse and has given lots of COVID vaccine shots has a theory that the stronger one's immune system, the worst the reaction they'll have to the shot(s). 

On April 17th (two weeks after the second shot) I should have 95% protection. Which is good, because if I get COVID, I will likely die. 

But, according to the CDC, very little changes. You still have to wear a mask and socially distance. So what's the point? When will we reach "herd immunity" and be able to go back to some semblance of normality?

Did you get a COVID vaccine? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Music I Don't Like

It may be April Fools' Day, but I'm being perfectly serious. 

I have eclectic music tastes. I listen to classic rock and classical music and even opera on occasion. I can listen to country-western, folk, and some jazz. I don't like rap and hip hop. 

But even though I listen to classic rock from the 60s through the 80s (no good music after 1990), there are some groups/singers from that era I refuse to listen to.

Number one is The Grateful Dead. They are kind of folksy but more drug induced. Their music just puts me to sleep. Reminds me of a joke. "What did the dead head [fan of The Grateful Dead] say when he ran out of drugs? 'This music sucks.'"

There there's Steely Dan. I like one song of theirs: "Dirty Work." Otherwise, they tend to sing in this breathless jazz style that just grates on my nerves.

Genesis and Phil Collins are also on the list of music I don't like. Just 'cause.

I don't like Neil Young. His voice is just annoying. He's okay with Crosby, Stills and Nash. But solo, forget it.

I'm not crazy about the Allman Brothers and Greg Allman as a solo act. But that's more because when I first got SirusXM in the car, it seemed as if they played the Allman Brothers or Greg Allman every damn time I got in the vehicle.

I'm not a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen, either. I like "Born to Run" and "Dancing in the Dark." But that's about it. Most of his stuff is pretentious and overwrought.

And I know this might get me cancelled, but I'm not a huge fan of The Beatles. Some songs are okay but mostly I just turn them off.

If I were joking, I'd say I didn't like Led Zeppelin, Chicago, Dire Straits, and the Eagles.

Are there any musical groups that play in the genre you like, but you can't stand? Let me know in the comments below.



Thursday, March 25, 2021

Reverse Psychology on a Cat

Lily
If you've been reading this blog, you know my son has a cat named Lily (see here, here, and here).

Now I go to bed kind of early. But Lily stays up. She used to come up (my bedroom is on the top floor of the house) and scratch at my bedroom door. Which was annoying when I was trying to sleep. So we started bringing her into the bedroom before I went to sleep and she would lie on the duvet and I would scratch her neck and pet her for a few minutes. That stopped the scratching at the door. A win-win because I enjoyed those minutes with her. She would come up to my bedroom and wait for my wife to bring her in. As I went to bed I would tell her I was going upstairs to go to bed and she should come up.

Then one day recently, she'd stop coming upstairs. I don't know why. She's a cat. So, as a joke, I tried telling her not to come up. "What ever you do, Lily, don't come up." And she started coming up again. That actually worked for a couple of weeks. I was amazed. But now it's not working.

Now she's not coming up but occasionally she'll scratch on the door. Which is annoying. Whether she comes up or not just seems random.

I might have to start bribing her with treats to come up and get petted.

Do you have a cat? What quirks does it have. Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Sleep

Maybe it's getting older, but I have weird sleep habits.

After I retired from the corporate world (where I had to get up at 7 am every weekday morning) I thought I could sleep in. But for years I would wake up at 5 am and not be able to go back to sleep. I would spend that time watching the MCU shows on Netflix (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Punisher, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist) then wake up my wife at about six or seven. Then I would take a nap at about two in the afternoon for at least an hour.

Now I sleep as late as 9 am. I still go to bed at about 9 pm so I'm sleeping almost 12 hours! That cuts into your day. I almost always wake up in the night to go to the bathroom (I'm old) and sometimes I have trouble going back to sleep. But I usually go back to sleep eventually. Lately I've been taking melatonin to see if that'll help me sleep. But it just seems to make me sleep longer before I wake up to go to the bathroom.

I go to bed at 9 because if I don't, I fall asleep in the recliner. 

I wish I could go to bed at ten or eleven and wake up 8 hours later, not 11 or 12. But my body seems to want the sleep at least ten hours or more. I blame my bipolar drugs, to be honest.

How do you sleep? Can you sleep through the night. Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Research... Again

Back in September of 2017, I wrote about doing research on novels. Well, I'm going to do it again.

When I was a kid, my mother and I were watching something on television. She caught a factual inaccuracy in the program. And she said, "I hate when writers don't do their research. It insults the intelligence of their audience." At the time, I don't think she knew I wanted to be a writer.

I've always remember that so I always say that unless you lived it, you can't do enough research. And even then you might have to do some. I could write a novel about being in the Army at Fort Ord, California in the late 1980s because I lived it. 

You can't do enough research. But what you can, and shouldn't do, is show off in your writing how much research you did. "I learned this neat little fact about Fort Ord, I'm going to put it in the story!" No! Unless it's germane to the narrative, don't do it.

Now, with the internet and Google et. al., it's very easy to do research. I remember going to the Seattle library to look at maps for a story I was writing. But with online sources,  you have to be careful. You might run into someone's biased views. Especially on Wikipedia.

In my novel, Agent of Artifice, my hero travels to Key West and the southern most point in the

Continental United States. And I wrote about the waves lapping at the sand. Because I was unable to find any information on what the shore was like, so I assumed a beach.

Then I took a business trip to Miami and decided to drive to Key West to see this for myself. I found out two things: 1) the "southernmost point" is only the southernmost that's accessible. There's a Navy base that has farther south points.  And 2) there's no sand. There's rocks. So I had to change that in the novel.

So do your research and do it well. Or some reader might catch you in an error. And you don't want that.

But... Don't do research and never do the writing. Because that's the point: to write.

How do you research your writing? Do you think it's important? Let me know in the comments below.



Thursday, March 4, 2021

No Progress

I've talked about the progress humans have made before, from the beginning and from the 1970s. But in some ways, we aren't making progress.

This thought isn't original to me. I read it somewhere. But the truth is, we don't move any faster than we did 60 years ago at the beginning of the jet age. Commercial aircraft fly about the same speed now that the Concorde has been grounded permanently. Trains are slower from what I can tell. And cars go about the same speeds. In fact, in some places due to idiotic speed limits, they are forced to go slower despite being safer by every measure.

My mother told me that traveling to Portland, OR in the early sixties, my father was going 80 mph on I-84. Now the maximum speed limit on that highway is 70 mph and is 65 between The Dalles and Portland. And up until 1995 when it was repealed, the national maximum speed limit was 65 mph, 55 in urban areas. And before 1986, it was 55 mph everywhere. And yes, now there are places were the speed limit is 75 or even 80 mph, but they are rare. And, again, that's how fast my parents were going in the early '60s.

I was driving on I-84 a few weeks ago and on some straightaways I could see for miles and couldn't see another car. I had the cruise control set at 75 mph but it felt as if 80 or even 85 would have been perfectly safe.

Why aren't we traveling faster? Why aren't we moving at supersonic speeds through the air? Why don't we have bullet trains like in Japan?

The Concorde consumed a lot more fuel than a regular jet. Which is why it cost so much to fly on it.

The US is too big geographically and population density too low to make bullet trains practical outside of the East Coast population centers and maybe parts of Southern California (San Diego to LA).

Some companies are working on a "hyperloop" that can travel at 700 mph which is faster than commercial airplanes. But like high-speed rail, it's expensive and probably not practical in the low-population density areas of the country.

I don't know what the answer is. We need a breakthrough in speed. I don't know where it's going to come from. Maybe autonomous cars will go 100 mph while we sit inside and look at our phones. I don't know. That sounds almost as bad as flying on an airplane.

Why do you think we're not going any faster than in 1960? What do you think might help that? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Dreams

I have weird dreams sometimes.

Like recently I dreamed I was in a movie with a young Elizabeth Taylor and a youngish Glenn Ford. And there was a war on and I was trying to do guerilla action against an occupying army. One image that stuck with me was burning trucks full of supplies. Oh, and this was a Star Trek movie. Probably because the day before I watched Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. But another image that sticks with me is a Star Trek-like spaceship. You know, saucer shaped with warp nacelles. Like the USS Reliant in Star Trek II.

What does it all mean? Probably nothing. Just brain debugging itself, I assume. But lately I've been having vivid dreams and I don't know why. 

And sometimes, and this is really weird, I'm a woman in dreams. For example, in the "movie" described above, I spent time as Elizabeth Tylor as she (I) was horseback riding. This is before the war part of the movie. She (I) was riding on Glenn Ford's, her (my) father, estate. Isn't that weird.

Another dream I was Bill Crystal and hosting the Oscars. I was floating over the audience on some sort of platform and making jokes. Then I came to James Earl Jones and I stopped and shook his hand and said I was very honored to meet him.

One time in a dream I was looking for a new house. And in the house I was looking at, there was a flat-screen TV high on the wall. And I said to the house's owner, "I'm going to need a new TV." And he said "Don't forget about the TV tax." And I knew (as you  sometimes know in dreams) that there was a tax on TVs to discourage people from buying them because they use a lot of electricity. Who else dreams government policy?

Are you ever the opposite sex in a dream? What do you dream about? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Movie Review: Greenland

 

Last week I watched the movie Greenland

In the movie, a comet named "Clarke" is heading for Earth and is calculated to crash into the planet. Some folks, including the movie's heroes, are selected to be taken to a shelter in Greenland where they should be safe. But things don't go as planned and the movie is exciting and well made. I literally jumped with surprise at one point. The movie tugs at your heartstrings and keeps the tension high. It was a pretty good film.

Except the science of it stinks. 

**Spoilers Ahead**

Clarke is supposed to be in fragments, which is certainly plausible. The first fragment hits Tampa in the afternoon of the first day. As the movie progresses through the next night, the next day, through that night, more fragments hit. And a "planet killer" sized chunk is supposed to hit on the morning of the third day. I estimate it's about 40 hours from the first fragment hitting until the planet killer hits.

Now the Earth spins around its axis so more fragments hit in various parts of the world. But, Earth also orbits the sun, as does the comet (in a parabolic orbit, based on the movie's descriptions of it coming from "another solar system"). In 40 hours from the first hit to the last, Earth would have moved 2.68 million miles in its orbit. The comet would be in its orbit which might move slightly toward the Earth due to Earth's gravity, but likely not over two million miles. In reality, the "planet killer" and most of the other fragments would have simply flown by the Earth in their orbit.

What about Earth's gravity? Well, asteroids pass by the Earth much closer then 2 million miles and a lot slower than a comet, and they don't get sucked into Earth gravity. They likely change course but they don't hit the planet.

The movie is still worth watching. It's not at bad as Armageddon for science errors. But then again, I don't think anything could be.

Did you watch Greenland? What did you think. Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

5G Update

 A while back I tested Verizon 5G speeds and was surprised how fast they were.

Come to find out, I was wrong.

I was in Spokane for a doctor's appointment a few days ago and when I got there, my phone said "NO SERVICE." I thought that was weird. Luckily, my car's WiFi still worked, so I was able to locate a Verizon store just a few blocks from my doctor's office. The nice woman put in a new SIM card and the phone worked. And when it came up, it said "5G."


And I was like, "Cool." Then, later, I looked the Verizon website and found a map of Verizon 5G ultra-wideband. And where I was at the Verizon store, I should have gotten ultra-wideband. But I didn't. So I contacted Verizon. Turns out the plan I'm on (2GB a month) doesn't include ultra-wideband. In fact, it's doesn't even include 5G, my phone just says that. 

So, why when I tested my phone, did it say 5G was faster than LTE? I don't know.

I have to buy at least 5GB per month to get 5G, according to the Verizon agent I talked to. But I barely use my 2GBs. So it's not worth the money and 5G Ultra Wideband isn't available where I live. And neither is 5G (fake 5G). 

So, I guess we'll wait until later to explore 5G Ultra-Wideband.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Progress 2

Hunting Mastodons
 I've written about progress before. But that was from the 1970s to now.

But think about the past 100 years, progress since 1920. Or from 1820. My grandmother's grandfather (my great-great grandfather) was born in 1835 and died in 1905. His name was Martin Luther Parks. 

It's likely he never saw a car nor had electricity. He probably never heard the word "computer" and if you said "smart phone" to him, he'd likely give you a blank look (the phone was invented in 1876). In fact, he had more in common with Julius Cesar than he does with me. And Cesar died about 1,900 years before Martin was born.

Humans (homo sapiens) came around about 100,000 years ago. For half that time (around 50,000 years) they were hunter/gathers who lived in caves or rudimentary shelters. Then they invented agriculture and that allowed there to be excess food which allowed cities to form and people to not spend their entire existence search for food. Writing was invented. Math was invented. Government was, unfortunately, invented.

But for half of human existence we were fighting for survival with animals. Humans in 90,000 BC were just as smart as today, but they didn't know anything.

Still, after civilization arose 50,000 years ago, it took until, really, the industrial revolution in the late 1700s before people's lives improved much more.

At the rate of scientific progress today, in 100 years humans may be unrecognizable. We might live as computer programs or in robot bodies. I don't know. But as a science fiction writer, I should have some ideas. And I do.

Where do you think humans will be in 100 years? What's your vision of the future? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

iPhone Night Mode

Night mode on iPhone cameras came out with the iPhone 11. I didn't own an 11 as I waited for the 12 to upgrade from my Xs. 

It was actually a bit more complicated than that. My Xs refused to boot in August. I needed a phone, so I bought the cheapest I could find: a refurbished iPhone 7. That got me through until I could buy a 12.

But I'm finding I really like night mode. Mostly (okay totally), I've used it to take pictures of my son's cat, Lily. In the evenings when it's dark, the family room gets gloomy and night mode works very well for taking pictures of Lily.

Lily likes to be next to me on the loveseat recliner. Usually she curls up and sleeps. But sometimes I can entice her with a snack to sit up and look cute, such as in this picture:


That was taken with night mode. Here's another one:


Here's one I really like:


And finally, here's where I caught her on the floor:

Her pupils are large in these photos because it's dim in the room but you can't tell because of the picture. 

I'm not sure how Night Mode works. It acts like it's taking a long exposure, but Lily has moved while I'm taking the picture and I don't get motion blur. So it must be something other than a long exposure. But whatever it is, it works.

If you want to see lots of cute pictures of Lily, follow me on Instagram.


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Car Logo Ovals

The other day I was sitting behind a Subaru at a stoplight. I started looking at the logo on the back of the car. This is what it looks like;


The "star" shapes inside the logo honor the Pleiades star cluster.  But the logo itself is an oval. And I started thinking about car logos are are ovals. And there's a lot of them. For example, probably the oldest car logo in America, Ford:


But there's others, such as Toyota:


(I've never quite figured out what that's supposed to be. Reminds me of a sombrero.) And Lexus, which is owned by Toyota:


Scion (now defunct) was owned by Toyota. And its logo was designed to fit the same spaces on the cars as Toyota logos, I'm pretty sure:


Other car logs that are oval are Infiniti (owned by Nissan)...

Hyundai:

And Kia (owned by Hyundai):


And Mazda is sort of a modified oval:


I'm not sure why automakers think ovals are good for logos. A lot of logos are also circles (BMW for example). 


(BMW, after 23 years, has changed their logo. I don't like the new one much.)



Other circular logos are Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen.

Mercedes-Benz

Volkswagen (new logo)


Then there's Audi, who sort of took circles to the extreme:

The four circles represent the four companies that came together to form Auto Union which later became Audi.

Probably the least circular logo is Jaguar.


Which is, in my opinion, a pretty cool logo.

Am I forgetting any other oval car logos (I'm only doing makes, not models)? What do you think of all these oval logos? Let me know in the comments below.

(All logos copyright their owners.)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Outdoors

 I'm not an outdoors person. Short reason is that outdoors is "sunburn and allergies." I have type 1skin and sunburn very quickly. The alternative is to wear lots of clothes and then sunscreen on any exposed skin. And I hate sunscreen. It's all oily and gloopy. This is why I rarely go to the beach and if I do, I try to sit in the shade. If there is shade. I also wear hats a lot.

Allergies are another matter. Since doing seven(!) years of allergy shots, my allergies are much better. But I still sneeze and itch at times.

In the winter it's cold outside. I used to snow ski but now I don't even do that. Winter means putting on snow tires and not having fun driving.

So, not being an outdoors person, I don't like to hunt or fish or do any of those outdoors things. Fishing is boring, anyway. And wandering through the woods looking for game doesn't thrill me. If I'm going to shoot a gun, I want there to be a target to aim at (usually paper).

I know people who love to fish. My brother goes hunting every fall (and has yet to get anything). I just don't enjoy it.

I'm also into computers and television. And warm (or cool in the summer) and comfortable places to sit. And all of that is indoors.

How do you feel about outdoors? I know there are people who love the outdoors. Are you one of them?

Thursday, January 7, 2021

5G Speed Test

Welcome to 2021. Let's hope this year is better.

Now, on with the show.

 I was in the Portland, Oregon area recently, and I noticed my phone said I had 5G data service.


So I thought I'd test that out. I used Ookla's SpeedTest app on my phone. And I tested the speed at 5G. Here's the results:


(Download is the first number, upload is the second number. Units are in Mbps.)

The download number is similar to what I get on my WiFi at home (I have very fast broadband internet with fiber optics). 


The upload speed on 5G is awful. But, in reality, who really cares? It's download we want.

Later, I was on LTE (still in the Portland area) so I speed tested that:


Which had even worse upload speeds and, of course, download speeds did not match 5G.

Verizon has a "5G Ultra Wideband" in select areas of select cities. I want to try that when I can.

What is your experience with 5G. Have you tried it? Let me know in the comments below.