Thursday, June 13, 2024

Space Missions I'd Like to See

I'm getting older. If I live another 20 years I'll be lucky. But there is still so much to learn and see. I'd love to see some of the following space missions happen before I go. (Some of these may be actually planned; I don't keep up on all the space agencies' projects.)

A mission to Europa (moon of Jupiter) to see if there is life under the ice. Same with Encladus (moon of Saturn). Both would involve somehow drilling through layers of ice (10 to 15 miles in the case of Europa). Or maybe they could use radar to see if something is swimming under the ice. 

A mission to Titan (moon of Saturn) to see what if anything is swimming in the methane lakes. Maybe a submarine.

A manned mission to Mars (this is in the works, I know).

The launch of a fast probe to the Alpha Centauri system to look for life. Like maybe it travels at 0.1% the speed of light. I'd never see it arrive because it would take about 400 years to get there. Don't ask me where the energy will come from to propel a probe that fast. (Yes, this was inspired by 3 Body Problem.)

Are there any space missions you'd like to see? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

Disneyland Canoes

Not Disneyland Canoes
My wife and I have twice gone to Disneyland without kids. The first time was in 1986 before we had any kids. I was in the Army stationed at the Presidio of Monterey and driving to Los Angeles wasn't a big deal. 

On that trip, we (probably me) decided to take the "Davy's Crockette's Explorer Canoes" ride. Which is the oldest ride at Disneyland. You are in a real canoe and paddling around Tom Sawyer Island. The water is dark, probably so you can't see the track that the Mark Twain Riverboat and Sailing Ship Columbia ride on. The water is called "Rivers of America." The canoes are big and hold about twenty people.

On this trip, we got in the canoe and started paddling. 

Going into the water near the start of the canoes is the rafts that take people to Tom Sawyer Island. As we paddled past where they launch into the rafts, one came toward our canoe probably because the raft driver didn't see us. The Disneyland employee in the canoe started yelling and banging his oar on the side of the canoe. A woman screamed when the raft got closer. And I thought that was a bit of an over-reaction. I started wondering how deep the Rivers of America is. It was a bit scary.

Suddenly, the driver of the raft saw us and steered away. So a fun little adventure on our adventure.

Have you had any unintentionally scary things happen at a theme park? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Singing Cars

Toyota Prius
I was in the Starbucks parking lot (big shock, I know) and I just got out of my car. The white, Toyota SUV parked beside me started backing up. And it was... singing. Almost sounded like whale songs. Then I realized that I didn't hear an engine running. So it must have been moving via battery power.

Upon a little research, I decided it was a Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV). The only fully electric vehicle (EV) Toyota currently sells is bZ4X and I was pretty sure it wasn't that.

PHEVs have both a battery that's larger than a hybrid's and smaller than an EV's. This allows the use of battery power for commuting or running errands around town but then you have an engine for longer range than an EV.

Then I bought my wife a Prius Prime PHEV. And when it's running on battery power... it sings. Just like that RAV4 Prime did. I bought it for her because she does the vast majority of her driving around town. She gets about 30 miles out of the battery and uses almost no gas (she went 1,000 miles before having to put gas in it on a trip). I calculated it costs 64 cents to fill her battery (at local power rates). That's about the equivalent of 64 cents per gallon if the car it replaces gets 30 miles to the gallon (which it did).

I've decided the singing is to warn people the car is moving when there's no engine noise. I think it only plays when the car is moving in reverse or under a certain speed. I know it sings when she's pulling into the garage at our house. I don't know if other EVs or PHEVs other than Toyota do this.

Maybe the singing is a form of communication between Toyotas. They are plotting the overtake of the world...

Maybe in the future you'll be able to choose what noise you what your EV or PHEV to make. You can buy sounds, sort of like they used to sell ringtones for cell phones.

What do you think of singing cars. Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

The War of the Worlds 1953

When I was a kid, probably about eight years old, I remembered watching the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds movie on T.V. And it scared me... a little. I remember the three guys at the beginning being turned to ash and the army colonel being zapped. And I remembered the end (no spoilers here).

In later years, I read the book by H.G. Wells.

I came across the old movie a little while ago on Paramount+ and decided to watch it. And it was pretty much as I remembered it, except some details.

But one thing that struck me was the female lead/love interest Ann Robinson played by Sylvia Van Buren. I don't blame Ms. Van Buren for how she portrayed Ann. After all, it was in the script (written by Barré Lyndon). But the character spent most of the film screaming. And needing rescued. And screaming some more. She was just helpless. I found it annoying she was so weak. And she wore skirts the entire movie (okay, it was 1953). There was no analogous character in the book, by the way, so don't blame Wells.

And I contrasted that to movies these days where women are strong and rescue themselves. Or rescue the men. 

Times have changed.

What do you think about women's roles in the 50s versus today? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Flat Earth Believers

I was going to write about and show one of my pictures from last Friday when the Northern Lights were, for the first time in my life, actually overhead. But it seems everyone north of Florida saw them and posted pictures on Facebook. So I'll talk about something else today.

Somehow I found this group on Facebook that had the title "Flat Earth Official." Later it changed its name to "Don’t be fecking stupid, of course Earth’s not flat" That didn't seem to discourage the flat earth zealots.

What amazes me is that these people believe the Earth is flat despite all the evidence to the contrary. You show them a picture of the Earth and they'll say it's fake. Or a "cartoon." You point out that NASA had pictures of a globe Earth in the 1960s and they'll say NASA had CGI then. And, of course, they think the Moon landing was faked because the Moon is "local" and some sort of light source. They don't seem quite sure about that. They don't

understand gravity ("It's just a theory"/"It's magical"). They don't understand orbits. They say density makes things fall down. They think south is equivalent to "down" as if there's up and down in space. They post the picture at right saying all water would go down to the south if we lived on a globe.

One even said he went to Australia and nothing was upside down so therefore the Earth is flat.

I don't know why it frustrates me so much. I guess I'm annoyed at the ignorance. They will point out that there's no stars in space pictures. You try to explain why (because of how cameras work) and they say you're lying. I've never seen such pig-headed people. Well, except some political types.

And the wonders they are denying themselves. They say the pictures the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes are fake. They say space probes are fake. They deny the wonders of the universe that are both beautiful and sometimes frightening.

I tried to leave the group, but I was sucked back in by the sheer ignorance displayed. 

Oh, and the scary news, it has 126,700 members last I looked (and growing). Some of those, like me, are not flat earth believers. But I bet most of them are. I finally had to leave the group for good. It was making me angry to encounter such willful ignorance. But now flat earthers are invading other Facebook groups, such as the one for the James Web Space Telescope. Very annoying and frustrating.

I wonder what they thought of the aurora borealis. How do they explain away that?

Have you ran into flat Earth believers? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Okay, here's a Northern Lights picture that I took last Friday:

Thursday, May 9, 2024

National Parks

Glacier National Park (photo by me)
For some reason the other day I started counting the National Parks (in the US) I've visited. I think I've visited four in Canada: Banff, Jasper, Lake Louise, and Waterton Lakes. 

All the parks I've visited are in the west part of the US. Probably because I live in the west part of the US.

The park I've visited most is Yellowstone. I lived less than 200 miles from it as a kid and we went there every year, at least. TIP: Go after Labor Day and before it snows. It's much less crowded. Yellowstone is mostly in the north-west corner of Wyoming but a bit of it leaks into Idaho and Montana.

Just south of Yellowstone is Grand Teton. The main attraction there is the Teton Range and the three mountains of the Tetons.

I've only been to Glacier once. It's in northern Montana and a long ways from everything. But it's worth the trip. It's gorgeous and the old hotels (built by the railroad) are amazing. 

In Washington State (where I now live), I've been to Mount Rainier once. That despite living close to it (I can see the mountain from my house on a clear day).  Someday I'd like to visit the Olympic National Park in western Washington and the North Cascades National Park in northern Washington State.

In Oregon I've been to Crater Lake. The lake is very pretty but there's not much to do there unless you like to hike.

In California, I have been to many national parks. The absolute best was Yosemite. It definitely lives up to the hype. But I've also been to Pinnacles (which is not very well known but interesting as the San Andres Fault runs right through it). I've also been to Sequoia and Kings Canyon and Redwoods National Parks.  Redwood trees are amazing for their size. And Sequoia trees are even bigger!

In Utah, I've been to a lot of parks, too. First was Arches. Amazing place. Next door to it is Canyonlands. I've also been to Bryce Canyon (another amazing spot) and Zion.

And finally, the grandaddy of them all: The Grand Canyon in Arizona. If you've never been there, it'll blow you away

So that's 14 national parks I've been to in seven western states. (I'm ignoring monuments such as Craters of the Moon and Devil's Tower.)

I've also been to Gettysburg National Military Park. Not sure that counts. If it does, it's the only national park I've been to that's east of the Rocky Mountains.

For more pictures of Glacier National Park, go here and here.

How many national parks have you been to? What was your favorite. Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

3 Body Problem Review

 I recently watched 3 Body Problem on Netflix. And, wow, what a great show. My sole disappointment was that it was only ten episodes and it ended on a cliffhanger. I believe it covered the events in the first book it's based on. There are four books in the series so maybe there will be four seasons.

The show starts with the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s. It's a scary scene as it is so reminiscent of what happens on college campuses if someone who's not woke enough (in the eyes of the students) tries to speak. It then jumps to the present and someone (or something) is trying to shut down human science by screwing with experiments and driving scientists insane. Many are committing suicide.

As the mystery deepens, clues are found, including in a VR video game like no other.

I don't want to give any spoilers, but just watch the series. It's amazing. 

Have you seen it? Let me know in the comments below what you thought.

The above photo is being used under Section 107 of the Copyright Act: fair usage.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Transition to a Mac

My old Dell PC was starting to act up. It was almost five years old and almost daily it wanted to fix problems with the hard drive. So I decided to buy a new computer. 

For years, people have been telling me to get a Mac. And I thought about. I even drove to Spokane to talk to the people at the Apple Store. The person there was very helpful but tried to sell me a MacBook Air. Instead I bought an refurbished MacBook Pro from Amazon. It was supposed to arrive Monday the 12th of February. Which was okay. I had a big deadline on the 15th. So my thought was to finish the deadline and then slowly work my way into the Mac.

The morning of the 12th my Dell died. Wouldn't boot up. Kaput.

The Mac arrived that afternoon. I set it up and took it to my office, unplugging the Dell, and plugging in the Mac. I was glad to learn that it worked with my monitor, keyboard and mouse. Except the mouse died and I had to buy a new one.  (Later my keyboard died and I had to buy a new one. A new experience for me: both the mouse and the keyboard hook up to the computer via Bluetooth.)

There was a steep learning curve. All my documents were backed up to the cloud and to an external hard drive. The Mac wouldn't recognize the hard drive (probably because it was formatted for Windows)(or I couldn't figure out how to find it). So I found and downloaded the files I needed in the cloud for the big deadline and, not knowing where else to put them, put them on the desktop.

When I'd google stuff, it kept talking about the "Finder side bar." So I kept looking to the left of the screen for a side bar. Then I looked to the right side. Nothing. Finally I found the damn thing in the Finder window, on the left side. And there I found Documents. So I loaded everything into it.

Then, I couldn't open a Word document, modify it, and then save it. All the files I downloaded off the cloud were locked as "read only" and so were the folders. Took me a while to figure that one out.

So slowly I'm learning more and more. It's often pretty easy. But sometimes it's frustrating. Once, most of my documents were grayed out so I couldn't open them. I don't know why and I don't know why the gray went away eventually.

Do you use a Mac or PC? And why? Let me know in the comments below. And why you chose that computer.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Why Star Trek?

Star Trek is a billion dollar property for Paramount Pictures. And I've kind of wondered why. It's not the only science fiction show in the 1960s. I remember Land of the Giants and The Time Tunnel. 

There was also Lost in Space which lasted three seasons (the same as Star Trek). It spawned a movie in 1998 and a series in 2018 that lasted three seasons of ten episodes each. I suspect it was shown on a streaming service. I remember my older siblings wanting to watch Lost in Space but I didn't like it because it scared me (I was around 6 years old).

In the '70s there was Space 1999 (which was syndicated) and the Six Million Dollar Man along with The Bionic Woman. Space 1999 lasted two seasons and got worse as the seasons got longer. Then there's Battlestar Galactica. I think it lasted one season. It wasn't very good. (The reboot in the 2000s was much better.)

In the late 70s there was Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It also lasted two seasons. The last season they totally screwed it up.

So why Star Trek? It wasn't that good. Some episodes were amazing. But a lot of them were just awful. Campy. A friend of mine recently watch the original series (TOS) for the first time and found it... lacking. 

When I was a teenager, I wasn't surprised by Uhura, a black woman on the bridge: a woman who had authority over white men. I just accepted that's how it was. I grew up in a very white area (I didn't see a black person other than on the TV until I was 12 years old). And Sulu didn't bother me at all. My sister dated an Asian boy in high school. Was that part of what made Star Trek special? It probably was at least part of it; I was just too isolated to realize it.

I was watching the "The Apple" episode and Chekov (an obvious Russian) compared the planet to the Garden of Eden. My mother, who happened to hear this wondered why a Russian believed in the Garden of Eden. I said, "Because communism is dead by this time." And that a Russian and Americans could work together is also part of the magic of Star Trek.

A lot of people cite the hope Star Trek displayed. People get along. We don't blow ourselves up. Maybe that is it.

I frankly don't know.

Do you? Let me know in the comments below.

The above photo is being used under Section 107 of the Copyright Act: fair usage.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

UFOs and Other Paranormal Activity

If you've read this blog, you know I try to think scientifically. I believe natural phenomena have a scientific explanation.

But what about paranormal activity? I have seen things in my life that I can't explain away. Such as a possible UFO sighting.

For example, when I was a kid, a friend and I were sleeping outside in my backyard. It was the late 1960s or early 1970s, you got your entertainment were you could. Anyway, we were talking, looking at the stars, when suddenly a fireball rose from the horizon and shot into the sky. I don't remember if there was any sound associated with it. My friend I and scrambled out of our sleeping bags and hurried into the house.

Or, sometime in the seventies, I was playing in my room on a bright sunny summer day (even then I didn't like the outdoors) when I heard a sound like a jet zooming into the sky from outside. I ran to the front door and my brother was standing by the family car and people were coming out of their houses. My brother said that as he parked the car, a fireball zoomed from the radio antenna into the sky. What was it? I have no idea.

I don't jump to conclusions such as "it was a UFO" or some other paranormal activity. They simply remain unexplained in my memory.

Do you have any UFO sightings or other paranormal activity in your life? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Why Does Car Exhaust Sound so Good?

A while back I was watching a reel on Facebook of a Shelby Daytona replica running. Not moving, just sitting there idling. And the sound of its V8 engine was... almost erotic. I loved the sound. Then I watched another reel of what looked like a Shelby Cobra accelerating.

And it got me wondering: why do I love the sound of a car engine and its exhaust. And I know I'm not the only one who does.

In fact, I feel sorry for future generations who will only have the hum of electric motors coming from their cars.

I have a theory about why some people, such as me, like the sound of a car's exhaust and engine noises. We associate the sound with good times we've had in cars: accelerating, cornering, braking. For example, when I drove on a racetrack. Doing those things for some people releases dopamine. And that makes me love the sounds associated with them. Such as engine exhaust.

And that's why, I think, some people love the sound of car exhaust and engine noise. I know I do. 

For a lot of exhaust and engine noise, watch this.

What do you think of my theory? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

I Was a Victim of Censorship

I remember watching a few episodes of Star Trek (the Original Series) in first run. The one I remember most is "The Changeling." I would have been six at the time. I didn't get to watch Star Trek a lot because my older siblings didn't like it.

But then when I was a teenager, a local station started showing reruns of Star Trek in the afternoon, right after I got home from school. They showed them every weekday. And I watched them, every weekday. There are 79 TOS episodes (of varying quality). But I only saw 77 of them. 

(If they only showed 77, it must have only taken 15 weeks to show them all. I know I watched them all multiple times.)

A kid moved from the Los Angeles area to the small town I lived in in Idaho. Don't ask me why. We became friends. And one day he said "What are Little Girls Made Of" was one of his favorite episodes. And I had to admit that I'd never seen it. He was shocked. I was shocked. I didn't know that episode existed.

Apparently my local television station wouldn't show it. They finally decided to show "Turnabout Intruder" at some point but only once or twice. 

I was mad that my local station decided to censor my Star Trek watching. Admittedly, I grew up in a pretty conservative part of the world (southeast Idaho). But why should a TV station decide what I can and can't watch? It might have been what Sherry Jackson as Andrea was wearing (see above photo). I don't know.

How do you feel about others making decisions about what you can read or watch? Let me know in the comments below.

The above photo is being used under Section 107 of the Copyright Act: fair usage.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

A Little Story

Sometimes (well, often) being a writer brings some fun to the world. For example:

Since we've remodeled our shower, my wife has decreed that the last person showering in the morning will squeegee the glass doors. And most of the time, that's me.

So to entertain myself, I made up a little story about it. And here it goes:

"Here's the brave, world-famous window washer thousands of feet above the street. One false move and he'll plummet to a gruesome death on the asphalt below. Or worse, the windows will have streaks."

And that's it. I find that entertaining while I'm squeegeeing the glass doors.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Appliance Hell

Recently my appliances have put me through hell. 

First, the freezer seemed to be going too high a temperature because I was finding ice in the ice bin that looked melted and refrozen.

So I bought a thermometer that recorded temperatures. And I was right. Temperatures ranged from 29.7°F to -14.3°F. I called my appliance repair guy and told him about it. He said he'd look into the cost of the new thermostat but he thought it might be as much as $400. And since the fridge is old, we might want to consider just buying a new one (which would be about $1,000). 

The day after I talked to him, that fridge stopped making ice (and I love my ice). So I called him about that and he said let's figure out if we want to replace it or not. So we were buying ice and keeping it in our other, older fridge which seems to work fine.

Then, about the same day, our dishwasher wouldn't drain and smelled like something plastic was burning. I didn't call the guy this time. I decided to wait until he called back about the fridge. But I was worried I might have to buy a new dishwasher now

The broken pump
So he shows up and puts a new thermostat in the fridge. Then he discovers the water line to the ice maker is frozen (likely happened when the temp in the freezer reached -14.3°F). So he cleaned that out too and now the ice maker is working.

And then he found the dishwasher's drain pump is not working so he's going to order a new one and put it in.

So a few days later he brought in a new pump, installed it. And everything worked fine... for about two weeks.

Then the dishwasher wasn't filling. Repair guy came and ordered a new filter because junk in the recirculation pump wasn't letting the dishwasher fill.

A few days later he returned and put in the new filter and the dishwasher is working fine (and more quietly). So far, so good. Let's hope that stays.

Have you had problems with your appliances? What was the outcome? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

February Wasn't That Bad

At the beginning of February, I posted on this blog how that month is the worst month of the year.

Except this year. While January had frigid weather (down to -5F at night once), February was rather mild. Lots of rain, however. In early February, highs almost reached 50F. In the middle of February, highs did reach the 50s. Amazing. 

It snowed once but it melted off fast. 

The biggest problem with this February was fog. It seemed ubiquitous, especially in the mornings. We did have a few days of sunshine, but dang few.

Toward the end of the month it got cooler but sunny. Which is much better than foggy.

How was your February? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Five Thursdays

This is the fifth Thursday in February. February only has five Thursdays because this is a leap year and it's the 29th of February.  I started wondering how much that happens. And I think, it happens every four years to a different weekday. So I investigated.

In 2020, February had five Saturdays, and the last one was the leap day.

In 2016, February had five Mondays (groan) and the last one was the leap day!

In 2012, February had five Wednesdays, and the last one was the leap day.

So apparently this is how leap days work: they are always the fifth day of their weekday.

I'm in my 60s and I never noticed that before. That's amazing.

What about the world did you not notice until late in your life? Let me know in the comments below.

And why do leap years have to be election years? Another day of campaigning. That we don't need.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Errors in the Lord of the Rings Movies

I love the Lord of the Rings movies. They are among my favorite movies. I watch them every few months, it seems. I have the extended versions on 4K Blu-ray so the picture looks amazing.

Even if I come across them while channel flipping, I'll stop and watch them.

I'm more of a science fiction guy, but I still love the Lord of the Rings.

But as I keep watching them, I have noticed some... errors. Not deviations from the novels (lots of those), but errors in the movies themselves.

For example, big cities such as Minas Tirith will be full of people (and horses), but there's no farmland around the city to provide food for them. Same with Edoras, the capital of Rohan. I'm not sure if Tolkien talked about farmland around those cities (it's been a while since I've read the books). The Shire seems to be, in the movies, the only place growing food.

There are other errors. For example, in The Two Towers, Frodo, Sam, and Gollum are on a ridge overlooking the Black Gate of Mordor. But in Return of the King, when Aragon leads an army to the gate, the ridge has disappeared. Also, in that battle in front of the Black Gate, Aragon and others ride there on horses. But when the battle starts, the horses disappear. 

Speaking of horses. When they reach the Mines of Moria (Khazad-dûm), they let the horse Bill go because he can't go through the mines. But that horse has never been with them before since leaving Rivendell. In the novel, Bill is with them after they leave Bree.

In The Two Towers, a Uruk-hai climbs up on a big boulder to start the battle. But later when Gandalf leads the Rohirrim against the Uruk-hai, the boulder is gone.

Have you noticed any other errors in the movies? Let me know in the comments below. There are probably a lot more (see here, here, and here).

The above photo is being used under Section 107 of the Copyright Act: fair usage.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Character Names

Someone posted in a writers' group on Facebook "How do you select the names of your characters?" 

That's a tough one. Coming up with character names is one of the most annoying parts of writing for me. My seven book series Chumba of the Intelligence Corps/Treasures of Space/Death to the Emperor the main character's moniker is "Titus Chumba."  I have no idea where I came up with that. But in Treasures of Space and Death to the Emperor, he uses a lot of pseudonyms since he's hiding from the Core Empire. The main one is "Rick Bailey." How did I come up with all those names? I have no idea nor memory of doing it. When it comes to main characters, I tend to make up a name I like.

But then there are the secondary characters. For those, I will often use a random name generator. I like the Behind the Name one because of all the options. Or sometimes I just want a quick one, so I'll use this one.

In Rock Killer, the main character's name was Alexander Chun. I decided I wanted a Korean-American name (I'd just graduated from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, where I studied Korean when I started writing it). But other names, I just made up (I wrote most of this book before I discovered the internet in 1994).

How do you come up with character names? Let me know in the comments below.


Thursday, February 8, 2024

Husky Heartbreak

The week of January 8th was a heartbreaking one for fans of the University of Washington Huskies football program. Such as myself.

You know I love my Huskies. Even when they went 0-12 in 2008. 

Then, this season after an amazing year where we went 12-0 in the regular season, won the Pac-12 championship game (against Oregon!), and won the Sugar Bowl to go 14-0, we lost badly in the CFP championship game to Michigan. We were so hoping to bring back a football championship to the Pac-12 in its last year of existence as a Power 5 conference. (The fate of the Pac-12 is still in the air as all but two schools left it). 

After losing the CFP championship game, our coach, Kalen DeBoer, announced he was going to Alabama, who had just had their coach retire. That was almost too much to bear. I was literally depressed for at least a week. And a lot of players announced they were going into the NFL draft or were going to the transfer portal.

We went from the highs of winning the Sugar Bowl on January 1st to the lows of January 9th.

In addition, Pete Carroll announced he's retiring as head coach of the Seahawks. That didn't upset me a lot (I'm sort of a fair-weather Seahawks fan), but it did add to the devastation for the community.

The Huskies have named a new head coach in Arizona's Jedd Fisch. He was, in my opinion, a good pick. Not a great pick, but a good one. He did turn around an ailing Arizona team.  He'll have a big job at Washington as most, if not all, of the good players have left. 

I was so looking forward to next year when we might do better than this year (that is, win the championship) with DeBoer as our coach. But now I'm just hoping we have a winning season and beat Oregon and Washington State. I'm hoping,

Thursday, February 1, 2024

February is the Worst

In my opinion, February is the worst month of the year. There's almost nothing to look forward to and the weather is usually awful. Some people say January is bad. But to me, it's February that's the worst.

Sure there's Valentines Day, or as two of my sons call it, "Single Awareness Day." Or "Mandatory Romance Day."

There's George Washington's Birthday, which if you work in some businesses or government, you might get off. But most don't. And there's no Christmas or New Years to look forward to. Just bleak, cold days.

Bleak because February is usually the coldest month. I'm not sure why because the solstice is in late December. You'd think as daylight hours increase, it would get warmer. However, in February, the snow is deeper and the wind is more cutting than any other month.

It's like August is the hottest month, usually, but the solstice is in June. Maybe the Earth retains heat and it takes until February to dissipate it all. 

I don't know.

Do you know why February is so bad? And how do you feel about February? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Favorite 103 Top Movies: The Top Ten List!

This is it, that last of my list of 103 favorite movies. Now we're into the movies I watch over and over again.

Previous entries in this countdown are:

109 - 90

89 - 80

79 - 70

69 - 60

59 - 50

49 - 40

39 - 30

29 - 20

19 - 11

Without further ado, let's get on with my top ten favorite movies:

10: Toy Story 2 (1999)

Yes, this movie is better than Toy Story. They get out of the house and have adventures outdoors and in a toy store and an apartment building. Fun from beginning to end (except the sad part in the middle), this is such an amazing film. And funny, too. I remember in the theater (I took my kids) laughing out loud at a part that parodies The Empire Strikes Back. And Mattel lets them use Barbie to great effect. Available on Disney+

9:  Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi (1983)

Now known as "Star Wars, Episode VII: Return of the Jedi," this is the worst of the three main Star Wars movies. But still a very good film. The Ewoks are a little too cute and the final battle where they defeat the stormtroopers is a bit unbelievable (why do stormtroopers wear that worthless armor, anyway?). The battle in space is almost too much but Luke finally confronting Vader is amazing (with a great soundtrack to accompany it). If you can watch the non-CGI version, do. It's better. Available on Disney+ (unfortunately, only the CGI-ruined version).

8: Fantasia (1940)

I am a huge fan of hand-drawn animation. And Fantasia is a tour-de-force of that art form. Plus, the music is fantastic. If you want to introduce your children to classical music, this is a sneaky way to do it. The ending is a bit overdone and long, but up until then, the dancing hippos and ostriches are worth the price of admission. Available on Disney+ 

7: The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

English POWs, led by Alec Guinness, are held at a Japanese camp in occupied Burma. They are tasked with building a railroad bridge over the River Kwai. Guinness's character is at first reluctant, but then gets into the spirt of the thing and decides to build the best damn bridge they can. Only at the end of the film does he realize what he's done by aiding the enemy. Strong performances by Guinness and William Holden as an American POW bind this film together. Available on Max, Sling TV, and Amazon Prime Video. 

6: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

If you're a fan of the golden age of animation (the 40s and the 50s), you gotta love this movie. Somehow, the film makers convinced both Disney and Warner Brothers to use their characters. Want to see Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny on the screen at the same time, this is your movie. Set in a world where animated characters live and interact with real life humans. The film has an uninteresting plot and the climax is a bit overdone. But if you love animation, you'll love this film as much as I do. Available on Disney+

5: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Long, slow, but amazing. Special effects are a highlight of this film, especially for 1968. This movie is this high on the list solely on the strength of its audacity. A collaboration between Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, it is simply an amazing film with a bit of a downer message. (Clarke has never been a fan of humans.) You have to watch this movie at least once in your life. Available on Tubi (free), Max, and Amazon Prime Video.

4: Star Wars (1977)

Now unfortunately known as "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope," there was nothing ever seen like this movie when it came out. Science fiction in the 1970s tended to be pessimistic and dystopian (See Soylent Green and Silent Running). But this was fun, exciting, and what great special effects that were amazing for the time (zero CGI). The climax is so good they stole it for Top Gun: Maverick. Because of this film's success, the Star Trek movies were made and science fiction movies became fun again, mostly. Available on Disney+ (unfortunately, only the CGI-ruined version).

3: Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Beautifully shot in New Zealand, this film was simply amazing. Based on Tolkien's book, and sticks to the novel more than The Two Towers does, it goes from the green, pastoral Shire to a final battle by humans and an elf against a band of orcs in a forest. Its action sequences are intense. Who would have thought swordplay could be so powerful without guns or cars? The extended version is even better with more background. And Ian McKellen plays Gandalf perfectly, exactly as I imagined him from the books: compassionate, wise, and with a twinkle in his eyes. Available on Max, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.

2: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

"Never tell me the odds!" For more than two decades, this was my favorite movie. Now called Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, this is the best of all the Star Wars movies. From the battle on Hoth to Luke confronting Vader when he's not quite ready, this movie keeps the plot moving fast. And the asteroid field chase is not only amazing to watch, you have to wonder how they did it in 1980 before CGI. Han Solo becomes less of a rogue and more of a sympathetic character. A bit of a downer/cliffhanger ending, though. Available on Disney+ (unfortunately, only the CGI-ruined version).

And my number one favorite movies is...

1: Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

Thousands of orcs (CGI, but you don't care, it's done so well) besiege a huge white city built into a mountain. That image is what I remember most from this movie. A powerful climax to the Lord of the Rings films. Yes, the denouement is way over-long but they are wrapping up almost nine hours of film. When the 6,000 mounted soldiers from Rohan (CGI) ride toward the orcs, you feel the pounding of the ground. The emotions of this movie are deep and hard. Peter Jackson knows how to tug at your heartstrings while exciting you with massive battle scenes. Also better on the extended version, but even the theatrical version thrills, too. Available on Max, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.

What do you think of my top ten favorite movies? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Top 103 Favorite Moves: #19 - 11

We're getting closer to my favorite all-time movie. But today we're doing #19 - 11.

The previous post with the movies are;

103 - 90

89 - 80

79 - 70

69 - 60

59 - 50

49 - 40

39 - 30

29 - 20

So, here we go on the penultimate countdown blog:

19: On the Waterfront (1954)

A movie about corruption in the longshoremen's unions. Very well made and shows how the unions kept control. Someone threatens to go to the authorities, and a load "accidentally" falls on him. Has the classic scene with Marlon Brando: "I coulda been a contender." A very good movie that you should watch. Available on YouTube, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video (all paid).

18: The Lives of Others (2006)

You probably haven't heard of this movie. Made in Germany about life in the Communist East Germany (German Democratic Republic), this is a powerful film. A writer wants to write about what's happening, but of course, the government won't even allow him to have a typewriter. So, one is smuggled in for him and he has to hide it when he's not using it. Lots of little subplots (a singer is being raped regularly by a party official). This builds and builds to a powerful climax. I should watch this again soon. Available on YouTube, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video (all paid).

17: Citizen Kane (1941)

Considered by some as the best movie ever made. It's a little slow by modern standards, but it is still very good. Orson Wells wrote and stared in this picture, based on the life of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. Contains the classic exchange between Kane and his wife: "The people will think…" "What I tell them to think." Wells does a great job of both playing Kane and directing. Look for a young Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched) as Kane's mother. "Rosebud." Available on YouTube, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video (all paid).

16: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

This movie is huge. Desert vistas and big battles scenes. The story is about an Englishman who helps out the Arabs during World War I to unite and fight the Turks. The train wreak scene is worth the price of admission. Peter O'Toole plays Lawrence. I need to watch this again. Available on Sling TV.

15: The Godfather (1972)

14: The Godfather Part 2 (1974)

I've decided to treat these two Godfather movies as one (they pretty much are one movie). These are among the best films ever made, if not the best. The story of the Corleone mafia family from the 1910s to the 1960s. Al Pacino plays Michael who is determined to stay out of the family business, but then is sucked into it by his need for revenge.  Watching his descent into crime and callousness is fascinating and heartbreaking. You have to watch these movies at least once in your life. Available on Paramount+

13:  Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

I thought about treating the Lord of the Rings movies as one movie, but decided not to. The Two Towers is the weakest of the three LOTR films. (I thought the book was the weakest of the three books, too.) Huge battle sequences (with a lot of CGI but you don't care because it's done so well), but also the story of Frodo and Sam as they try to get to Mordor to destroy the ring with Gollum in tow (sometimes literally). The extended version is a little better, but still, this movie runs a bit slow even for the massive battle at Helms Deep. The movie strays a bit from Tolkien, too, which isn't good. Available on Max, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.

12: Toy Story (1995)

Speaking of CGI: this as the first completely computer animated feature film. Quite an accomplishment. But in addition, it has a great storyline with an evil next-door kid (Sid; and we all knew a Sid growing up), a competition between toys for the affections of the child who plays with them, and a fun climax. This was Pixar's first movie and one of its best. Available on Disney+

11: The Incredibles (2004)

When I was a kid there was an animated show called "Jonny Quest." It could never be made today due to being politically incorrect. But The Incredibles reminds me of it so much. This is Pixar's first film where people die (bad guys, mostly). People with superpowers are in hiding after being sued and banned for the damage they cause while saving people. But Mr. Incredible (aka, Bob Parr) is tired of it and when an invitation comes to be super again, he grabs at it. That's when the adventure starts. Available on Disney+

Coming up next week, my top 10 favorite movies.

What do you think of my list? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Top 103 Favorite Moves #29 - 20

We're back with my favorite 103 movies of all time. If you want to see the previous entries, they are here:

39 - 30

49 - 40

59 - 50

69 - 60

79 - 70

89 - 80

103 - 90

Why 103? Because there were some movies (three) I couldn't just ignore.

So let's continue with the countdown:

29: The Hunt for Red October (1990)

Based on the Tom Clancy book, this movie is a suspenseful epic. If you like military and CIA stuff, you'll love this flick. The one downside, Alex Baldwin stars. But he's young, so it's easier to ignore. A Soviet submarine captain wants to defect with his high-technology nuclear missile boat. But will the Americans understand and let him? Sean Connery plays the Soviet with a bit of a Scottish accent. Still an intense movie. Available on Philo.

28: Jurassic Park (1993)

One of the first movies to use CGI extensively (after Terminator 2). But watching it, you don't care. This movie is scary, intense, and fast-paced. Directed by Steven Spielberg with amazing results, the tension builds and builds as carnivorous dinosaurs stalk humans. Based on the book by Michael Crichton. Jeff Goldblum plays a cynical mathematician who is not happy to be right. Available on Amazon Prime Video.

27: E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982)

We have a few Steven Spielberg movies in a row. E.T. was a blockbuster when it came out. Everyone wanted to know about the little alien botanist. There's plenty of humor and pathos and kids riding bikes to escape government agents, which was just fun. Featuring a very young Drew Barrymore and other young actors who do a very good job. Suburbia was never this enjoyable. Available on YouTube, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video (all paid).

26:  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

The chemistry between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery is amazing. Why didn't these two men make more movies together? Ford, of course, plays Indiana Jones and Connery, his father (with a slight Scottish accent). While the climax is a bit dull (after the tank chase), the adventure getting there is amazing. Directed by Steven Spielberg. I remember seeing this in the theater with a very pregnant wife after waiting in line for two hours in the California sun. Available on Paramount+ and Disney+

(When I revise this list, this is where Oppenheimer will go.)

25: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The movie that introduced us to Indiana Jones and of course it was directed by Steven Spielberg. The whole premise (an archeologist hunting for rare artifacts in the 1930) plus evil Nazis, plus a love interest plus an evil French archeologist, all adds up to some of the most fun on film. Ignore the (many) bloopers and plot holes and just hang on for the ride. Available on Paramount+ and Disney+

24: The Matrix (1999)

Ignore that this movie makes no sense from a thermodynamic point of view. Written and directed by the Wachowski brothers, err, sisters, this is basically a live-action anime with violence and a smart storyline. Evil computers enslave humanity and keep them "entertained" in a matrix that looks like late 20th century real world. Again, don't think about it too much. Good fighting and shootout sequences. Available on Max and Amazon Prime Video.

23: Schindler’s List (1993)

Back to Steven Spielberg. This true story about the Holocaust is brutal and hard to watch at times. Spielberg won an Oscar for this and deservedly so. Schindler is a German who tries to save as many Jews as he can with a list of concentration camp inmates that he wants to work in his war factory. Shot in black and white (mostly), it's a powerful movie that'll make you say "Never again." Available on Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video (both paid).

22: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Steven Spielberg's follow up to Jaws was this science fiction movie about aliens visiting Earth. At times mysterious and other times funny, it shows extra-terrestrials to be benign. Well, except for kidnapping humans. Richard Dreyfuss is a man who, after an encounter with a UFO, starts acting strange and building a model of a mountain in his house. It all ends Wyoming with a light show. The special effects are very good for this era. Doesn't seem to be available on streaming.

21: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Probably one of the most realistic war movies ever made. Director Steven Spielberg doesn't flinch from the violence and brutality of combat. The first minutes of this film are near horrific as the Allies land on the beach on D-Day. And it goes on from there. Tom Hanks stars and Vin Diesel has a small role. This isn't a feel-good movie, but it's one that you can't stop watching. Available on Paramount+

20: The Right Stuff (1983)

"They all wanna see Buck Rogers, and that's us." Okay, this movie is a little long, I admit. It could have used a good edit. Like cut out the Australian sequences completely. But if you like planes and space exploration (and I do), this is a great movie about the beginning of the space race. Based on the Tom Wolfe book (which I read before the movie came out) there is humor (some of it bathroom humor), excitement, and history in this flick. Available on YouTube, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video (all paid).

That's it for this ten. What do you think of my list? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Top 103 Favorite Movies: #39 - 30

Happy New Year!

Back to counting down my favorite 103 movies. Why 103? Because there were some movies I just couldn't bear to leave out.

Previous editions of this count down are:

103 - 90

89 - 80

79 - 70

69 - 60

59 - 50

49 - 40

So here we go:

39:  It Happened one Night (1934)

The oldest movie on this list and a fun glimpse into 1930s life and culture in the US. Starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, she is a rich woman running away from her father and he is a reporter looking for a scoop. They end up travelling together and posing as a married couple to stay in motels. And when there's only one bed in a room… well, things might happen. Available on Sling TV (free).

38: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

If you watch this movie enough, you realize it's not about Ferris Bueller, but about Cameron finding his courage to stand up for himself and to live his life the way he wants to. There's fun along the way as the dean of students at the high school, Ed Rooney, tries to catch Bueller playing hooky. It reminds me of Wile E. Coyote trying to catch the road runner. And don't worry, the Ferrari was a replica. Available on Netflix.

37: Guy Richie's The Covenant (2023)

This is the newest film on the list. Set during the Afghanistan War, an interpreter risks his life to save an American soldier. After the American is home and out of the military, he finds out the Taliban is searching for the interpreter with plans to murder him and his family. The soldier returns to Afghanistan to save the interpreter. Lots of action and good acting, this is an intense movie. It was directed by Guy Richie who usually does British crime caper movies. Available on YouTube and Vudu (both paid).

36: Ghostbusters (1984)

"Who ya gonna call?" Who would think a movie about a business to find and eradicate ghosts would work this well? Hilarious (mostly due to Bill Murray) and fun. Eminently quotable, too. And the movie makes an over-zealous EPA bureaucrat the bad guy. Gotta love that. Sigourney Weaver is a woman who is being haunted both by ghosts and neighbor Louis Tully (played by Rick Moranis). Available on YouTube, Vudu, and Amazon Prime Video (all paid).

35: Lone Survivor (2013)

Back to the Afghanistan War, Lone Survivor is the story of special forces soldier Marcus Luttrell who was the only survivor of a vicious firefight on a ridge. The combat sequences are what makes this movie great. They are intense and you can actually tell what's happening. The Americans are discovered by some shepherds, and they let the men go who apparently tell the Taliban where the Americans are. No good deed goes unpunished. Available on YouTube, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime Video (all paid).

34: Braveheart (1995)

Mel Gibson directed and starred in this movie about freedom. William Wallace (Gibson) leads his fellow Scots against the tyrannical English, trying to win their independence. Forget that it's historically inaccurate, remember that these people were fighting and dying for freedom 500 years before the American Revolution. Available on Max, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.

33: American Graffiti (1973)

George Lucas's second feature film, this one might be a bit hard to understand if you don't know about "cruising." On Friday and/or Saturday night, you'd get in your car (or your parent's car) and drive slowly up and down your town's main drag to see and be seen. This movie is about one night of cruising but it's more than that. Some characters are about to leave for college and some don't know where they want to go and some are staying. Watch for a young Harrison Ford (and Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Cindy Williams, Suzanne Somers). Available on Netflix.

32: Amadeus (1984)

Not the most historically accurate movie, but the music is amazing. This is the story of the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart told through the eyes of a rival, Salieri. Mozart is a buffoon and Salieri is a serious composter envious of Mozart's talent. Salieri tries to sabotage his rival. And did I mention the music? A very good movie. Available on Amazon Prime Video.

31: Grand Prix (1966)

The best film about car racing, ever. The driving is realistic and the wreaks are realistic. I don't know about the relationships between the drivers and women, but that might be true too. This is where James Garner learned to drive fast. The sometimes-artsy direction distracts at times, but if you want the feel of driving an F1 car in the '60s, this movie is it. Available on YouTube and Amazon Prime Video (both paid).

30:  Finding Nemo (2003)

Beautiful computer animation makes you think you are underwater. There are also lots of memorable characters including the over-protective father, Marlin. The sea turtles are worth the price of admission. Crush reminds me of my cousin Kenny and Squirt is hilarious. Another Pixar triumph, this movie is fun, funny, and touching. "Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming." Available on Disney+

That's it. What do you think of the movies on my list? Let me know in the comments below.