Monday, January 28, 2013

Off the Cuff Movie Review - Batman the Movie

     No, not that one. Or that one. This is the first one, the hilariously campy 1966 film based on the equally campy TV show, with Adam West, Burd Ward, Cesar Romero, Anthony Burgess and Frank Gorshin. The boys and I howled our way through this ridiculous romp, while my dear wife worried that our brains had fled, and that hers was preparing to jump ship as well. 
     Batman and Robin versus the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler and Catwoman all at once? Check. Bat-Shark-repellent? Check. Self-sacrificing porpoises (What?)? Check. A goofy ray gun that reduces its target to 100% dry dust (just add water to reverse the effect)? Check. Big silly fist fight scene with "Splat!" and "Klonk!" written across the screen?  Check. I've only seen a few episodes of the classic TV show, but now I think I'll try to find some more. I haven't laughed that hard at a movie in a long time.

      Best line from the movie: Batman is running this way and that, holding a large smoking bomb over his head, dodging children, nuns and even ducklings, looking for a place to dispose of it.
"Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!"

     Hilarious. Ask at the public library, call Netflix or the local video store. Watch this movie. Laugh yourself silly. We did. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Gaming Report - Chess

    My younger son and I played another game of chess this weekend. It is very heartening to me that he asked me to not give him any advice; and while I let him take back two moves that were ill-advised, I never pointed out why they were bad moves. He figured that out for himself. He knows the rule about "once you let go, the move stands" but I'm still willing to cut him some slack. He played a good game for a beginner - no fancy strategies but he did get me in check more than once. Please note that by the endgame, my Queen was no longer on the board.

In the end, I was able to check mate him, but he slipped out of my trap a few times before I was able to corner him. In the picture below, taken from the side, I was playing Black and my son played White. The final move was the rook to White's back line, protected by the Bishop which also trapped the King in the corner.


As you can see, he played a good game, and was working towards threatening my king as well, I just beat him to it. Maybe next time I'll have to make good on my promise to take him out to eat, his choice, once he beats me without any help. Good game, son! 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Defenestration

     Defenestration - this has long been one of my favorite words. It's so odd-sounding and complicated and funny all at the same time. It is an uncommon word, but it has shown up in odd places like an old Calvin & Hobbes Sunday comic strip. I've used it in conversation and a few years ago when I was laying a new floor in our bedroom, I actually did it. If you don't know about this wonderfully odd word, check out this informative video from Merriam-Webster.com (an invaluable resource for wordsmiths).


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     Now, I don't recommend or approve of throwing people out of windows, just for the record. While I was installing new flooring, it was convenient for me to throw the wood scraps and packaging out the window, onto my deck, where I collected it and disposed of it. Defenestration saved me the trouble of hauling it all down the stairs, is all. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Library aesthetic and 3-ring binders

     Does the appearance of the books in the library matter?  It does to me - I like to walk up & down the aisles of my library and look at the books, but I always cringe a bit when I see three-ring binders and other inferior binding formats. They just look ugly. I am not normally and interior-design kind of guy (just ask my wife) but the look of these sort of bindings bother me. I want our library to look inviting, pleasant and above all, intellectually stimulating. To me, three-ring binding, comb binding, spiral binding and paperboard covers are indicative of inferior or at least cheap production. This in turn calls into question the value of the content: if it was worth printing, why wasn't it worth printing well? Was your subject matter not that important?
     
     The value of the book is supposed to be in the content on the pages. A former library director used to talk about students wanting "the tomatoes, not the can", meaning the content is more important than the way its presented. He was speaking particularly about the differences between print and e-books, so I agree with him in that regard; but I'm not sure that the dictum applies so well to the progressive state of disrepair to which print books are subject.

      All library material gets worn, but these binding formats lose pages much, much more easily than book bindings do. Comb & spiral binding also tend to have cheaper covers, front and back, which are even less resistant to wear and tear. They are more likely as a result to end up in the mending process than standard books. This adds to the expense of dealing with them, as well as taking them out of circulation for a time. 

     I spent some time searching the library science literature for any published writing on the subject of a library aesthetic, but so far I've not found anything substantial. So, I am planning a project/study in which we put brand-new copies of books and the shelves next to old battered copes of the same books and see which ones circulate more over a year. Once I'm finished I will write up results and see if I can get it published. In the mean time, I'm going to continue my beautification project by pulling these ugly books (and worn-out standard bound books)off of the shelves and either replacing them with better copies or discarding them.
      As a humorous side-note to this post, I would like to share a site I discovered a while back, that might have gotten me thinking about this subject:  Awful Library Books 
Librarians share, in blog format, cover images and stories about books they couldn't wait to get off their shelves. This site should make all librarians want to weed their collections.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Gaming Report - Asteroid

     This time it was my younger son who played with me. He requested that we play Asteroid, a Traveller-like game from GDW where the heroes must stop a mad computer from destroying the Earth by causing an asteroid collision. The rock in question was tunneled out as a mining control station, and the central computer went wacky after the IT guy tried to upload his brain to the mainframe.
     My son asked to play the heroes, and choose from a rather motley assortment of characters to go into the station: from the beefy Muscles McGee to Alex the professional thief, to The Professor and his daughter and their dog, Sascha. Each character has some skill or talent that may be useful. Muscles' brother Lucky can fix things by whacking them, another is a psychic, and another just a very good shot with a laser. Against them are the station's robotic crew, a mix of mining, utility and defense robots. The computer's control over them is erratic, though, and during the game, several small robots went over to my son's side. The computer's units are laid face-down on the map so my son had to investigate them one by one, trying to find the computer central terminal to shut it down.
     The fighting rules are pretty simple but work well, dice rolling is at a minimum and there's only one chart to consult. Many of the robots and a few of the heroes were killed before the computer was shut down. The rest escaped and Saved the World. The asteroid station itself is laid out on eight map sections, four for the upper level and four for the lower. The maps are designed in such a way that they can be connected in any sequence, so the station never looks the same twice. A rule that I missed until after the game appealed to me so I'll have to put it in for the next time - once the computer player decides where all his units go, the maps are laid out in number order, so the heroes have no idea which map section is connected to which other section. This adds a great layer of complexity to the heroes' mission. 
     We will have to play a few more times to really come to grips with all the potential of this game, but managed to finish in about two hours. My son was glad to have won, but was saddened every time one of his robots got smashed by the larger robots. At least Sascha the dog made it out all right. 

Pictures will eventually go on the Gaming Events page.  

Off the Cuff Movie Review - The Miracle of the White Stallions

     This week's movie night was my older son's pick, and he chose a movie he read about in a book, about a true story I had never heard of, but enjoyed watching. The white stallions of the title were Lipizzaner stallions, at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria. The story is set at the end of WWII, as the Allies are moving into Austria and pushing the Germans out. The narrator and main character, Colonel Alois Podhajsky, is the master of the school, which the Germans pressed into service training horse riders. As the Allies advance, Colonel Podhajsky (played well by Robert Taylor) worries that the school will be hit by bombs and the horses killed. More than damaging a building, it could end the horse breed, as it seems all of the Lipizzaners in the world are at this school. The mares have already been sent away to Czechoslovakia, but the Germans won't allow the school to evacuate, claiming it would be a show of weakness. The Colonel eventually decides he's evacuating anyway, and with some covert and overt collaboration from supportive Austrians, he secures space on a freight train to get the horses out of danger, relocating to an estate in southern Austria , far away from Vienna. The Americans eventually appear, and set up a major headquarters at the estate. The Colonel asks the American army for help in recovering the mares, which he fears will fall into the hands of the Russians, and be destroyed (or maybe eaten). After putting on a show for General Patton, the Americans do undertake an expedition to rescue the horses, as a side project to liberating a large number of Allied prisoners, held by a force of Germans who also hold the horses. 
     The mares and stallions are safe and re-united by the end, and all is well. This was, after all a 1960's Disney movie. For being set in a war, there was little destruction shown, even during the one battle sequence. There are evil Nazis, of course, but they are walk-on, walk-off characters. This film was enjoyable, but not exactly exciting. I kept expecting some big built-up Hollywood style dramatic climax, but that didn't happen, because the film was trying to accurately tell the story. The highlight of this film, instead, is the last ten minutes where we were treated to the spectacle of the refurbished post-war School in full gala, with the horses performing to a cheering crowd. The performance was a sight to behold, and demonstrates why the Colonel was right in risking so much to save the horses and the School. Among the spectators were several people who helped with the evacuation, claiming to their grandchildren that they 'saved the horses'.
     The Spanish Riding School was of no military value, it held no strategic location, and I suspect the Colonel did not get rich as the director of the School. What he did, though, was to save a cultural institution of his country, a thing of beauty, something that no amount of money or modern technology could replace. I wish that more people were interested in saving old beautiful things. 

A Lipizzaner stallion: (image courtesy of Conversano Isabella through Wikipedia)
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