Thursday, March 31, 2016

Clone Wars -- Season Two

Season two of The Clone Wars does a great job of expanding the stories from season one. Although the series does bounce around a bit, since it's giving us glimpses of so many characters, we get a good sense of the progression of the war. All is not well with the Republic.

One of the things season two does is to give us a glimpse of the universe beyond the Republic and beyond the Separatists. There are a lot of bounty hunters in season two. And some pirates. Fun stuff. Oh, and one raging monster.

My favorite story of the season is the Mandalore arc. I think that trilogy of episodes is a must watch for any Star Wars fan. There's just too much important background for Obi-Wan. Definitely the first two, at least. You can find my reviews of those episodes here, here, and here.

This season also deals a lot with the philosophical issues around cloning. Or around the clones themselves. What makes an individual? What is just a copy?
Definitely check out this episode.

I did, also, have an episode I wasn't all that fond of, but I don't now remember which one it was, and I'm not going to read back through all of my reviews to figure it out. If it doesn't stand out enough for me to remember which one it was, it couldn't have been that bad, right?

Season two really doesn't require that you've seen season one to watch it. Neither do most of the story arcs. With that in mind, I would suggest picking out an arc that sounds interesting and just sit down and watch it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Lethal Trackdown" (Ep. 2.22)

-- Revenge is a confession of pain.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

This episode marks the end of the young Boba Fett story arc and the end of season two. It's an interesting to end the season (with no cliffhanger).

Also: The return of Hondo!
In a good way.

Aurra Sing and crew took hostages during the previous episode and use those hostages to entice Mace to come after them and face Boba Fett in combat. Boba does want his revenge.

But Mace is too injured to go because of the events last episode, so Plo Koon goes instead and takes Ahsoka with him.

The interesting bits:
There's a conversation between Anakin and Mace about revenge, because Anakin thinks Mace should go after Boba because of the attempted assassination and all the troopers the bounty hunters killed. Mace has already let it all go and says doing that, going after Boba, would lower him to Boba's level. Anakin... well, Anakin doesn't agree. Mace only "agrees" to go after Boba because of the hostages they took.

Plo gives Ahsoka a lesson on subtlety, something she hasn't learned from Anakin. She's not really very good at it.

Honda is Aurra's ex! I hod completely forgotten about that, so that was a cool re-discovery.

It's a good story arc, and it provides interesting background material for Boba Fett. And it raises some questions, none of which I'm going to say, because there would be spoilers. I will say that one of them has to do with the Slave 1, though. I can't remember if any of the questions get answered, because I can't remember if young Boba returns to the series or not. I suspect that he does from the ending of the episode, but I can't remember it. It makes it like watching the series for the first time all over again.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Do You Have Something To Say? (Change: part 8)

So far each of these posts have dealt with changes that happened in 2015, but this one is dealing with a current change. Some of you might have noticed? Probably not, though, which is why this change is happening.

Let's revisit the topic of blogging. Or, more specifically, commenting.

Since I started my blog way back in... wow! That was five years ago! Suddenly, I don't know how I feel about that...

When I started my blog, it was with a dedication to being interactive and all that goes with it, but that was mostly because the rhetoric around blogging (still) says that that's how you grow your followers and your audience and all of that. And it might be true for when you're first starting out with absolutely zero followers; I don't know. Part of that, the being interactive, at least for me, has included always responding to comments. I've sort of taken some pride in that...


See, the thing is, most people, as in almost all people, who comment never come back to see if the blogger responded. Which is fine... except when people comment with a question or a lead into a discussion but never check back about the answer to the question. That's like when one of my kids (especially my daughter) asks me a question and, while I'm answering it, will start talking about some other subject entirely, usually to some other person. Annoying, to say the least.

What it really all boils down to is a matter of focus. If I want my focus to be my blog, spending lots of time on comments and commenting totally makes sense, but I am not my blog, and that's not supposed to be my focus. The blog is only here to support the writing, and responding to all comments, even if it doesn't take a huge amount of time on an individual basis, is not really profitable. Time-wise, that is. I mean, it doesn't make sense to respond when that response is never going to be seen.

So, from now on, my responses will be... well, let's say "at my discretion." If the comment is interesting or there's a question that I feel is worth answering for its own sake, or if I just feel like it, I'll respond. And I get that that might seem... uncouth to some people, but most people don't comment at all, so it's not going to affect them one way or the other.

It's all about finding what works and finding what works best.
And not doing the same thing over and over again if that thing isn't working.
Change can be good...

All of that to say, "Don't be offended if I don't respond to your comment. It's not you; it's me."

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Revenant (a movie review post)

A beautiful and terrible movie.

I could almost leave it at that, but I suppose it does need more explanation.

First, though:
You know, I'm not going to complain about DiCaprio getting best actor for this. I think a role like this is probably pretty tough. And I don't just mean the rigorous conditions. I mean the not being able to use your voice. There's not a lot of talking in this one. DiCaprio did a more than adequate job of carrying the movie with his facial expressions and stumbling around, much better than Redmayne did last year, at any rate. However, I think Bale would have been the better choice for The Big Short. If he'd been nominated for best actor, that is. What's up with that?

And I don't particularly like Christian Bale.

The movie is beautiful. Even in its terror, it's beautiful. The cinematography is, in a word, amazing.

But, beyond that, the movie doesn't offer much. In that way, you can take "terrible" to mean whatever you want it to. What I can say is that, at the end of the movie, I wasn't left feeling anything. Maybe that's the way Inarritu intended it, but I don't want to watch a movie and then feel nothing. My actual thought when the screen went from DiCaprio's face to the credits was, "Oh... That's it?" There was no joy, no sadness, no nothing. No catharsis. There wasn't even anything to think about as there was at the end of Birdman. It was just over.

Now, this next thing is my own bias:
People talk about this movie as if it is just a revenge tale, but that's not true. It's not even mostly true. Mostly, it's a survival tale. I tend to not like fictional survival tales. They're just... too outrageous. Once you've decided your hero is going to survive, you can do anything you want to the character and, guess what, he survives! I have a hard time with Hugh Glass surviving the trials he went through. A real Hugh Glass, that is. Still, I was willing to go along with it for a while, even the trips in the freezing water, but [SPOILER ALERT!] going over the cliff on the horse was just too much for me. Okay, so was putting gun powder in his wound and igniting it. Clever but too much.

See, if you give me something like 127 Hours, I'm good. That really happened. The things Aron Ralston did to survive were amazing, but it's amazing because it's real. Nothing Hugh Glass did to survive or that he survived was amazing, because it was all a fiction. There's nothing triumphant and nothing to cheer. Then, there's the ending...

Also, there's Tom Hardy. I have nothing good to say about Hardy. Maybe if he takes a role that's more than guttural mumbling.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Four Legs (pictures I like)

My wife put one of these pictures on a mug she had made for me for Christmas.
I love that mug.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Clone Wars -- "R2 Come Home" (Ep. 2.21)

-- Adversity is a friendship's truest test.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

The title of the episode is a little misleading. I suppose it's only meant to bring up images of Lassie. You know: "What, Lassie? Timmy fell down the well? Oh, no!" Which is exactly the kind of episode it is. However, when I read the title, I actually thought of the movie, Lassie Come Home, which is about Lassie trying to get back to her owners, to which I thought, "Again?" So, fortunately, I suppose, it was just an episode where Anakin fell down the metaphorical well and R2 had to go for help.

The episode picks up where the last one left off, just after Boba Fett sabotaged the ship Mace Windu was on. Anakin and Mace have gone to where the ship crashed to look for survivors. Aurra Sing and Boba Fett are doing the same thing but for different reasons. Boba, knowing Mace escaped, is still after him and has set a trap. One that Anakin walks right into.

It's not a very complicated episode, but I do think it's a very well done episode. The group of bounty hunters (Aurra, Boba, Bossk, and a... thing called Castas) have a lot of infighting. And Anakin and Mace's relationship is never one that can be said to all roses and sunshine, so there's a lot of interpersonal conflict in this one.

Then there's R2. Because, like I said, it's up to him to save the day and to deliver the message that Timmy fell down in the well.

"He's got a lot of personality. That's all."

Monday, March 21, 2016

A to Z and the Final Change (Change: part 7)

Okay, so it's probably going a little too far to say that the thing I'm about to talk about was the final change of 2015 (there were also art projects and a multitude of smaller things that got passed over as I was writing this series); in fact, it was one of the earlier changes of the year, but it is the final one I'm going to talk about. The final change of 2015, at any rate.

When I started writing, I chose a very specific style of writing, because I was writing with my kids in mind as part of the audience. In fact, they were my primary audience for The House on the Corner, seeing as how I wrote that book for them. After that, because my kids wanted to be able to read what I was writing, I made sure to keep whatever I was working on kid-friendly. Which is not to say that there aren't mature themes, but my current published works (minus one) were written with my children in mind as part of the audience.

[Fun fact:
Shadow Spinner actually has a 1-star review because of all the sex. All the sex? Did I miss something? I don't remember writing any sex in that book. Like I said, my kids were in mind as part of the audience, so I'm pretty sure I didn't include any sex or anything else that would be inappropriate for a normal 12-year-old. I mean, I've read the book in public schools and there have never been any complaints about me reading "sex" to middle schoolers.]

But speaking of sex...
Oh, wait, I'm not there yet.

I've always had some decidedly adult projects in mind when I started writing, many of those being in various planning stages or beginning phases, right now. It's part of how I work. I do try to stay focused on the actual project(s) I'm working on, though. Theoretically, that's supposed to be Brother's Keeper, the sequel to The House on the Corner, but various things keep sidetracking me from getting that finished. In 2015, it was a deliberate change in tone in my writing.

Basically, I decided to write some things that were not kid-friendly, meaning that I decided to work on some projects that would get at least "R" ratings if they were movies. One of those is a collaboration with another author, one of those is the current novel I'm working on (and am very excited about (but more on that later (much))), and the last of those is my A-to-Z project.

The project for A-to-Z actually came to me back in 2014 and is why I didn't do A-to-Z last year: It wasn't ready. It's still not ready, but I'm not willing to wait another year to start this thing off.

What is it, you ask.


Actually, I'm going to skip the long explanation and let the product, eventually, stand on its own. Let's just say that I wanted a topic that would lend itself to a series of related short stories. After much thinking, I settled on Angels & Demons. The idea was that there would be a free story each day for and Angel and a Demon for that letter of the alphabet but, well, I haven't finished the stories yet. By a lot. So some days there will be free stories and some days there will only be a brief character description. The stories will only be free the day (and the day after) they are released, though, so be aware ahead of time. And this year is just the Angels (with, maybe, one exception).

But what does that have to do with change? Well, these will be the first (very) adult works I will publish. So far, the people who have had a chance to read any of these have pretty much all responded with, "Wow, this isn't like anything you've ever written before." And they are not like any of the work I have currently available. By a lot.

I hope you will stick around and check them out.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Rebels: "Fighter Flight" (Ep. 1.3)

"You did all this for fruit?"

The title of the episode is possibly the most amusing thing about it. Well, that gives the wrong impression, I suppose, if you don't find the title amusing or if it leads you to believe that the episode isn't amusing. It is, albeit a bit silly. The episode, not the title. But, then, I'm really beginning to believe that the target audience for this series is the 7-10 age group. Or somewhere around there.

Ezra and Zeb don't get along. They don't get along in much the way that siblings don't get along. They probably like each other but bicker and fight all the time, both of them continually claiming anything that happens was the other one's fault. My problem with this dynamic is Zeb. While Ezra is just a kid and his behavior may be appropriate, Zeb is supposed to be some kind of honor guard or something for his (nearly extinct) people. But, you know, whatever. Maybe Zeb is actually very representative of his race's behavior.

At any rate, the scuffle at the beginning of "Fighter Flight" gets Zeb and Ezra kicked off the ship to run an impossible errand, to retrieve some sort of fruit for Hera that doesn't grow on the planet they're on. Not that they know that. But they manage to find it anyway... in the hands of the Empire. Of course.

Hi-jinks ensue.

Hi-jinks which include stealing a TIE fighter.

I think TIE fighters must be set up to be the easiest things in the galaxy to fly because, really, Zeb figures it out pretty quickly, and he's not really a pilot. What I'm saying is that, all things considered, it seems that anyone can steal a TIE fighter and fly away in it.

Anyway... It's an amusing episode, but there's not much to it other than that it's amusing. It lacks the kind of philosophical tone that nearly every episode of Clone Wars had. Still, I'm not that far into the series, so I'm not making any final judgements yet.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Death Trap" (Ep. 2.20)

-- Who my father was matters less than my memory of him.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

I have in my head this picture of the young Boba Fett first going off with Bossk and Aurra Sing, of him climbing the ramp into the ship with them, but I don't remember where that happened. The Clone Wars is not all in chronological order so, maybe, that's an episode later in the series. In this episode, though, the young Fett has already joined the bounty hunters, and he's undercover for them as, you guessed it, a clone trooper cadet.

It's unclear what the actual objective of the mission is, but Fett's objective is to assassinate Mace Windu. And it could be that that is the overall mission objective, but it seemed to me that that aspect of it was not actually what was important to Aurra Sing, she being the one in charge.

In effect, this is another episode about clone differentiation. Boba, going by the name Lucky, of course, blends right in with the other cadets. They look at him as a "brother." But Boba, while a clone, isn't actually like the other clones. He's the same but different, because Boba is actually a true clone of Jango, not a modified one like the other clones. Boba, though, still feels a kinship with the clones, the other cadets and the full troopers. He doesn't want to hurt any of them.

Aurra Sing doesn't care about any of them. Including Boba; he's just a tool to her.

The other thing of interest has to do with origin stories for established characters. It's not like Luke or, say, Spider-Man; we got to watch those origin stories as they happened. But you put in a character like Darth Vader or Wolverine, and everyone wants to know their origins. The problem is that the characters are so cool that no origin story can possibly live up to it, although it's entirely possibly that people would have been pissed if we'd first met Luke as full Jedi only to find out later that he started as a whiny farm boy from Tatooine.

Boba Fett suffers from this problem, probably even more than Darth Vader. When I was a kid, everyone wanted to know who Boba Fett was. It was great speculation. Finding out that he's just a clone of Jango Fett was a great letdown for a lot of people, although I think it works rather will considering the implied relationship between Vader and Boba in The Empire Strikes Back.

Effectively, this is an origin story episode. How did Boba Fett become the hardened bounty hunter that we know in Empire? This episode is how. Or, at least, the beginning of that how. There's a moment... but, well, that would be telling.

"When I show off, it is instructive. And inspiring."

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Dating Change (Change: part 6)

Who here likes dating?
No, I don't mean going on dates; I mean that period in your life when you have no significant other and you are "dating."
No one?
Good, because that's not what I'm talking about.
You wouldn't want to listen to me talk about that anyway except to learn the ways not to do it. It was never my strong suit.

What I am talking about is dating your significant other. That can have it's own special set of challenges. Just by the way in case you haven't figured that out.

My wife and I figured out a long time ago that we needed to set aside time together on a daily basis to keep our relationship strong and stay connected. Probably, as you read this, you're thinking, "Well, of course! Everyone knows that." But, really, how many of you do it?

No, I don't mean that each of you are in the same room together while you both do your own things. No, I am not talking about watching the same TV show together from your separate places while you mindlessly stare. Or even sitting next to each other while you mindlessly stare.
No, I am not even talking about working together on some household DIY project where your attention is on the project and telling your partner how s/he is doing it wrong.
I'm not even talking about going to the movies, because that's usually about as engaging as watching TV together (seriously, guys, ask your women if they consider that a "good" date; I think you're going to be surprised when you get a bunch of "no"s).

What I am talking about is time together when you are actively engaged with your partner.

So, yeah, we do that.
But sometimes even that is not quite enough. Let me explain:

For years, my wife and I have made it a priority to spend time together each evening. Sometimes, that even includes watching a TV show on DVD, but we don't do it mindlessly or ignore each other while we're watching. However, as my daughter has gotten more involved in softball and we spend about eight months of the year with softball practice two to three days a week (mostly on weeknight evenings) plus games and tournaments, our evenings became rather... routine. Which means through 2014 and the first half of 2015, most of what we did was watch a DVD on the nights we were able to do anything because, on softball nights, I generally get in too late for us to have time to do anything significant, including watching a DVD. And, honestly, during softball, I spend a lot of the time just being tired (it's not all because of softball; there's also the part where I get up at 5am everyday).

As I said in the first post, I'm pretty good with routine. My wife? Not so much.

So it was that I realized sometime last spring that my wife was bored with what had become the softball routine. I don't actually think she realized it herself, to tell the truth. In her (paraphrased) words, everything was fine. And that was true. It was "fine." But she was bored with it just being fine. Maybe I was too, although I think it all really had more to do with the fact that everything in our lives had gotten to be where it all revolved around softball.

Those of you who have been reading for a while may have noticed some changes in the blog through the second half of last year in relation to things I was doing, like seeing new bands, or going to roller derby, or taking my wife away for the weekend, or going to the opera. Well, all of that was to shake up our lives a bit, our dating life specifically, and make things more interesting. It was all a big deal.

It was all a big deal, because I did a lot of the planning for this stuff, something my wife has traditionally been responsible for. It changed the dynamic and has allowed us to, together, expand our horizons and be more free to do and try new things.

There was a moment when we were away for that weekend when we were sitting at dinner and discussing, I believe, dessert, but not just dessert, because the conversation involved something about the kids... I suppose it doesn't really matter what. The point is that while we were discussing whether we should do whatever the thing was we were discussing, I looked at my wife and said something about how we were away with no kids and no other responsibilities for that one twenty-four period and finished the statement with, "We can do whatever we want." Whatever we want. It was a big moment. When our schedules are so often run by what our kids are doing and we are putting things that we want to do aside because there is a softball tournament or a choir rehearsal or whatever, it was very freeing to acknowledge, "We can do whatever we want."

I suggest you try it.
Even with being back in softball and everything else right now, that one statement has continued to change our lives.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Rebels: "Droids in Distress" (Ep. 1.2)

"Your formal Jedi training starts tomorrow."

"Droids in Distress" actually opens with the distress of Ezra, distress over not being taught to use the Force by his would be mentor Kanan Jarrus, but it quickly moves to the distress of the entire crew of the Ghost as they lament over needing a job or not being able to keep the ship running. [I was strongly reminded of Firefly during this whole exchange.]

The droid part doesn't start until they actually begin their job, which is when we... Well, let's just say I was surprised to run into R2-D2 and C-3PO, basically, right off the bat for the series. They are the droids who are in distress. Okay, C-3PO is the droid who is in distress, but what's new? Of course, C-3PO believes that R2 is also in distress but, as we find out, R2 is really on a secret mission. Also sound familiar?

The episode gives us some the background for Zeb, one of the remaining of the Lasat. We get to find out why. I'll be interested to find out how this particular thread develops. It seems to me to be more along the lines of what Lucas originally had intended for the wookies before Chewbacca happened to them.

There's also what we'll call a cameo appearance by Bail Organa, somewhat like the way he shows up at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Organa was one of the movers behind the Rebellion, so I'm curious as to how often he's going to show up. I think my vote is for "more often," as long as he doesn't become some kind of deus ex machina device.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Clone Wars -- "The Zillo Beast Strikes Back" (Ep. 2.19)

-- The most dangerous beast is the beast within.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

Remember last episode and the conflict I mentioned? It was about whether to keep the zillo beast alive or not. You know, a philosophical conflict between the Jedi and Palpatine. One of the reasons Palpatine wanted to get rid of the Jedi is that you can't just say "no" to them, so, when Mace Windu wanted to spare the beast and move it to some other world to live on, Palpatine couldn't say "no" even though he wanted to. So, of course, he turned the situation to his advantage.

By having the zillo beast taken to Coruscant instead of wherever it was supposed to go.

You can imagine the results.
Actually, you should just watch the episode so that you don't have to imagine them.

I do have to wonder, though, how much of what happened Palpatine foresaw, because... well, again, you should just watch the episode.

All the creature stuff aside, I think the most significant thing about this episode is what's revealed about the relationship between Anakin and Padme. Padme takes Anakin with her to support her in convincing Palpatine to not have the zillo beast killed, but, during the conversation, Anakin waffles and comes to Palpatine's defense at one point. Padme pulls him aside and asks him whose side he's on. Anakin, of course, says hers but that he can see both sides and Palpatine has some valid points. Basically, he becomes the only Jedi who doesn't 100% believe the zillo beast should be saved. That's the implication anyway.

Of course, that's not just about the relationship between Anakin and Padme but about Anakin and his relationship to the rest of the Jedi. Hints of the growing rift between Anakin's ideology and the ideology of the Jedi as a whole. It's these little things that happen within the overall arc of the show that make it interesting and bridges the gap between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith and reveal how it is that Anakin came to betray the Jedi Order.

"A lot of the general's plans involve falling."

Monday, March 7, 2016

Other Firsts (Change: part 5)

We went to IKEA.

I mentioned that before back when I was talking about getting the espresso machine and all of that, and I see from looking back that I said I was going to do a post about the whole IKEA trip thing. Well, I never did that. At this point, I'm probably not going to, either; this will have to serve as that post.

I think the IKEA thing is interesting because of the sort of cultural significance of what IKEA has become, i.e., a relationship testing grounds. My wife and I talked about that a surprising amount on our first trip (yes, that means there has been at least one other trip). She was worried that we would get into some kind of fight or argument in relation to the item we were going to purchase (yes, the "red thing").
At any rate, the whole trip felt like some weird kind of rite of passage for us, like, even though we've been together nearly 20 years, we weren't a "real" couple because we hadn't been through the IKEA fire of purification.

Personally, I don't really get it. I don't get the whole fighting at and over IKEA. I understand why it happens, but I don't get it. See, the problem is that couples go to IKEA with no real plan about what they're doing or what they're getting, so they end up getting into arguments about that there in the store. And everything related to it. But my wife never does anything without a plan, so we've always already looked at all the options and come to decision about it before we ever buy anything so, when it comes to the purchase, we just go and buy the thing.

Which is not to say that we just have the argument at home, because that's not it, either. We're actually pretty good at just discussing things and knowing what's actually important to each of us. What's important is, well, an important thing, and it's important to know those things going in. For instance, we could have had a fight over the color, but that's not really important to me, but I think that's the kind of thing a lot of people would get into a disagreement over. Not because both parties felt passionately about the color but because there was a mild preference for something different for each person that ends up becoming a fight.


Learning how to discuss things and come to agreements is something that many people never learn how to do, and we had our years of learning those things, but those were a long time ago.
But we made it through IKEA, and that's what's important, right?

We changed Christmas.

As I mentioned in my first "Change" post, people have a hard time with change, especially if it has to do with family traditions and more especially if it has to do with family traditions dealing with the holidays.

When I was a kid, my whole family, including my dad, hated going to my paternal grandparents' for Christmas. It was horrible. Everyone sat quietly in the living room with the poor lighting and watched TV that was barely audible. That would last for hours before there were presents, which we were never allowed to open or play with while we were there. There were also no toys at their house, which is why the kids just sat and watched TV with everyone else. Nothing to do in the house, and we weren't allowed outside, because we always went over there one evening during the week leading up to Christmas. Oh, and there was no food, either. My grandparents would always get one of those store bought deli plates; you know, the one with the meat and cheese on toothpicks. One. It never lasted more then 10 minutes into everyone arriving, and we (the kids) were always told not to get more than one meat and one cheese until everyone had had some. That meant there was never any left because the adults didn't follow that rule.

We all hated it, and, yet, we went every year.

Until we didn't.

That was my fault. I don't remember how old I was, but I think it was sometime during middle school when I stated, "I don't want to go." Of course, I didn't want to go anywhere when I was in middle school. But I didn't go. I guess that kind of broke the whole thing. Not right away of course, because my parents and brother still went but only for a couple or few more years. The fact that I started refusing to go over there and sit on the couch for four hours (or more) staring at the wall eventually allowed everyone else to stop going, too. Or something.

And sure, you could say I was (or am) just a bad person for refusing to go to my grandparents' house for Christmas, but really? Family obligation only goes so far and should be two ways.

But that's not what this is about. It's just an example.

When my wife and I prepared to spend our first Christmas together, we actually sat down and had a long talk about how to do it. I really had left all of my traditions back in the South, so it was all about looking at what was important from each of our childhoods and working out what we wanted to do. And that was great. But...

The food was not great. We've been doing the very basic ham, mashed potatoes, etc thing for nearly two decades, and the ham ends up sitting in the fridge for days after being eaten pretty much only by me. Not because I like it that much but because I don't want it to get tossed. But, you know, tradition. And my daughter especially gets ruffled whenever any tradition thing gets changed (just this week she was bemoaning the loss of a sandwich shop (the shop shut down at least five years ago) where we used to get sandwiches every year for Independence Day firework show).

However, in part because of all of the other changes during 2015, just after Thanksgiving, my wife said to me, "What would you think about doing something different for our Christmas dinner this year?" I, of course, was all for it. And, surprisingly, my daughter (and the boys) bought in, too. So for Christmas, we had a big "traditional"-ish Italian Christmas dinner. It was really great, and we decided to do some different ethnic theme every year from now on.

In fact, we have actually worked that into our food routine. January was our month for exploring Indian food, and we learned how to make several different dishes (and my wife made the most amazing naan!). March will be Moroccan cuisine. February, due to travelling, has been a carryover of Indian. It's a lot of fun exploring foods this way, and it never would have happened if we hadn't messed around with our Christmas tradition.

And there was no leftover ham this year!

Well, not until New Year's when we did Cuban food and needed ham for part of that, but oh well...

Friday, March 4, 2016

To Whom It May Concern at Caltrans: Fuck You

So there we were driving west down 80 through Sacramento. It was late Sunday afternoon and nothing was going on that should have made traffic bad...

But wait. Let me give you the visual.

We were on a section of 80 with four lanes, so let's designate those so you'll know what happened.
Here's how they're laid out:

left left lane          right left lane          left right lane          right right lane
      LL                           RL                        LR                             RR

Makes sense, right? We were in the LR, and traffic was actually moving smoothly enough.

Now, as I was saying, we were cruising along and, suddenly, there was one of those concrete lane dividers in between the RL and LR and a big sign on the right saying that that was the way to the I-5 interchange.

Let's just be clear here: There had been no signs warning about construction. There were no signs explaining what was going on. There were no signs about anything except the one on the right saying that that was the way to I-5. My wife is the navigator, so I expressed my concern to my wife about the sudden division in the highway. She said, "Well, we don't want to go to I-5." So I did what I think anyone would have done being in unfamiliar territory (I don't live in or near Sacramento) with no other instructions: I moved from the LR to the RL.

We quickly realized that this might not have been the correct choice.

See, the cars in the left two lanes, the cars that were now in what felt like some sort of cattle chute, immediately began slowing down. And stopping. This began one of the longest hours of my life. Actually, more than an hour. And, yes, some hours are longer than others. It's relativity.
Shut up.

We could see over the concrete divider, and we could see the cars in the right lanes zipping along their merry way. And, well, all of the exits were on the right side of the wall. Imagine if you will that you had never been to Sacramento before and you were coming in but were in  the fast lane and this wall suddenly went up and you were stuck in  this congested traffic and, as you were inching along, you saw your exit... on the other side of the wall! No, that's not what happened to us, but it could have. See, once you were on the left side of the wall, you were on the left side of the wall!

So we drove and we watched the traffic on the right moving at normal paces and we watched the exits go by and we wondered. We wondered what the fuck was going on and why there was a wall in the road. And we would drive a bit, then stop a bit, and move a bit, then stop a bit, and we couldn't figure out why that was, either. Why was traffic on our side of the wall so bad and the other side was normal?

You know in movies and TV shows when they have the orphan, street kids hanging out at the window of a restaurant looking in with that "please, sir, can I have some more?" face? That's what it felt like being on the left side of the road wall. Time goes faster on the freeway, so we were really there for some exponential amount of time beyond the actual amount of time we were there, so, yes, we were starving to move. Why did all of those other cars get to go and not us?! "Please, sir, we want to go!"

Then there was a hole. And a big sign saying that was the exit for I-5. Remember how we didn't want to go to I-5? Well, we still didn't want to go to I-5. So we watched this one opening in the wall go by because we couldn't tell what the fuck was going on! And we continued down our cattle chute, and I made jokes about how we were going to be slaughtered when we got to the end... until everyone told me to shut up.

That was when the lanes merged. Yes, LL and RL became just L, and that was why the traffic was so bad. Okay, not all of why, but we're not to the rest yet. See, at the end of all of this was a bridge that went over the Sacramento river, and the cattle chute we were in had to be merged back into the other traffic to go over the bridge. That, of course, made it all stop and go again.

Yes, you read that correctly. At the end of it all, the traffic was just merged back together. That was it. No apparent reason for the divider or anything, just a shunting of two lanes of traffic out of the flow and merged together for no fucking reason at all! So, yeah, that was more than an hour to go less than 10 miles (8? maybe even just 6?).

That's when the jokes started. You know, some disgruntled traffic controller or something messing with things just to see what kind of traffic snarls he could cause. Or weird experiments. I don't remember what all now. What I do remember is that no one was happy.

I mean, seriously, what the fuck is up with that? Maybe it was all because of some construction project (which wasn't active on a Sunday afternoon), but, still, there needs to be some sort of warning and explanation so that people can know what choice to make. Like I said, we hadn't wanted an exit (until, actually, we did, because my wife was looking up a better route because of the traffic issues, but we couldn't get out of the cattle chute, so it didn't matter), but, if I had been coming into town and had intended to take one of the, oh, I don't know, dozen or so of exits we passed, I would have been pissed. And probably lost, because, when it's just me, I write down my directions explicitly, and having an exit I need to take be closed can really throw me off. Having no access to any of them would have been devastating for my paltry skills of navigating (which is why my wife is the navigator (and I'm the pilot)).

Whatever the case, I have only one thing to say to whomever was responsible for that catastrophe of road design: Fuck you!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Clone Wars -- "The Zillo Beast" (Ep. 2.18)

-- Choose what is right, not what is easy.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

A good question to ask about the Clone Wars is why the Republic doesn't use EMP devices against the droids. The truth is that they do, sometimes, use those kinds of things. There are some kind of EMP grenades that are used in some episodes, but I have to assume that, in general, the droids have some kind of shielding against EM pulses. Whatever they have, it wasn't enough to guard them against the giant electro-proton bomb the Republic used to wipe out an entire Separatist army in this episode.

The bomb also uncovered an ancient zillo beast...

You know, I'm not even going to try to describe the zillo beast other than to say that this is the Star Wars version of Godzilla, though the two creatures don't look anything alike. Also, the zillo beast has lightsaber-proof scales. Okay, fine. Here's a picture:
So, yeah, plenty of rampaging beast action.

But the core of the story is the conflict between killing or saving the zillo beast. The dugs, whose planet the zillo occupies, want to destroy it. They don't care that it's possibly the last of its kind. Mace Windu wants to save it and relocate it. However, the Republic needs a treaty with the dugs to help in the war, and the dugs withhold their signatures from the deal until the Jedi help to destroy the beast. Palpatine, of course, plays politics with the situation, claiming that the treaty is more important than saving the beast.

It's a good episode, the first of two dealing with the zillo beast. I kept expecting that something would turn up later in the series in relation to this stuff, but I'm not remembering any return to creature at the moment. Maybe if the series had been allowed to keep going? It's hard to say, though, since there were still four seasons in which something could have come up again with the zillo.

Oh, this episode also gives us Mace saying, "I have a bad feeling about this." I think it's the only time we hear that from him. It's a good moment.