Sunday, February 18, 2018

Recent Reads

Christine by Stephen King.  I was reading this at the same time I was listening to the audio book of David Copperfield which made me realize King and Dickens are a lot alike.  Both write popular prose for the masses with interesting characters, good dialogue, and realistic situations (and yes, apart from the car possessed by the demonic spirit of a former owner, I would say Christine is quite realistic).  And like Dickens, King writes books that are too long.  There's nothing specific to cut, but both are authors I'd love to read more of if each book wasn't such a time investment.

What the Valley Knows by Heather Christie.  Not my usual cup of tea, but it was written by the daughter of someone I know.  A single mother moves to a new town where her daughter hooks up with the town football star.  I enjoyed it far more than I expected to.  The characters were well written and the ending was satisfying without being overly neat.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  This popped up on Prime Reading.  I know I read it years ago but didn't remember much.  Must say it's very dark for a classic children's book.

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie.  On the one hand, the book has a lot of mystical mumbo jumbo since the plot involves a group that promises to kill people while leaving no traces.  On the other hand, the ending was quite clever and several real life murderers were caught thanks to this book.  Overall a decent Christie with a few too many people coincidentally knowing each other.

Ancient Egypt Secrets Explained! by Jeffrey Houston.  Another Prime Reading book.  Going off the exclamation point I was expecting some sort of crazy nonsense involving aliens or some other silliness.  Instead it's a nice little primer on the belief system of the ancient Egyptians.  I liked that the author pointed out that most of what we know is based on tombs since those were the tings that survived.  Whenever you think about ancient cultures, it's always good to remember that what we know is based on very limited sources.

Nellie Taft by Carl Sferrazza Anthony.  Nellie Taft drank, smoked, played cards, treated minorities with decency, and had a job when she didn't need to work.  So she was an independent, modern woman at the beginning of the 20th century which should have made for a more exciting biography.  A pretty good First Lady biography but lacking in zip.

In Memory:  A Tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett.  A collection of short stories written in tribute to Terry Pratchett all based on the theme of memory.  A surprisingly good collection given many of the authors were amateurs.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Recent Reads

My Wonderful World of Slapstick by Buster Keaton with Charles Samuels.  Keaton's memoir was quite charming if not overly detailed.  He comes off as a guy who could deal with anything.  Even when talking about the bad years, he didn't sound overly bitter or try to place the blame on others (when talking about his bad marriages, he doesn't even mention his wives' names).  His affection for Roscoe Arbuckle shines through.  I respect his loyalty to his wronged friend almost as much as I respect Keaton as a filmmaker.  He talked a bit about Chaplin and Lloyd saying he thought Chaplin was the only one of the three to fully embrace the genius label.  It made me realize that's probably why Chaplin's my least favorite of the three.  Keaton and Lloyd focused on good films to make people laugh, Chaplin always tried to get too arty.

Buster Keaton : The Persistence of Comedy by Imogen Sara Smith.  My Kindle Owner's Lending Library book for December.  Smith does an okay job of examining Keaton's career, but the book didn't quite do it for me.  She  tended to bog down a little in exploring why Keaton was funny while for me funny is an end unto itself and doesn't need a why.  I thought she was a little harsh on Chaplin and Lloyd as well.   All three have their merits and made quite different films.  The most interesting section for me was the beginning where she talked about modern claims Keaton was abused as a child because the family vaudeville act was so physical.  That thought had never occurred to me.  Certainly he was abused as a teen when his father became an alcoholic and couldn't maintain the timing the act requires, but his childhood seemed more like roughhousing (I think his dad was fine with being upstaged by a kid but couldn't deal with being upstaged by an increasingly handsome young man).

She by H. Rider Haggard.  Quite possible Haggard's most influential book (although I prefer the Allen Quartermain novels).  A young man and his tutor venture to Africa to resolve a 2000 year old family secret.  There they encounter the immortal Ayesha, She Who Must be Obeyed.  You'll recognize that phrase as one that has been echoed and emulated across all sorts of media.  This and Haggard's previous novel, King Solomon's Mine, are the foundational works of the Lost World genre.  Ayesha is not very likable which is understandable for anyone who has lived for thousands of years, but I quite liked the other characters and there were some great action pieces.

Louisa May:  A Modern Biography of Louisa May Alcott by Martha Saxton.  I hated this book and hated myself for not giving up on it.  For starter's, that title is a lie.  Fully half the book is about Bronson Alcott.  Yes, parents influence their children but not to the extent of justifying taking half a biography.  And Bronson was an ass.  He thought he was a genius and refused any work that did not involve the acknowledgement of that fact.  Louisa's mother wasn't much better.  She thought a woman's highest calling was to love and support her husband no matter what which caused some mental issue since her husband refused to do anything to provide food or shelter for their family.  And she was pissy that her friend's and family didn't joyfully support those deadbeats.  The bits of the book about Louisa were mostly dull recaps of her writing.  An utter waste of time.

Gad's Hall and The Haunting of Gad's Hall by Norah Lofts. The first book starts in modern times then goes back a century to find out why the house felt evil.  The second book was the opposite.  Enjoyable although I wish the supernatural elements were explored a bit more.

A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick.  Sci-Fi meets the drug culture.  I got this off Prime Reading.  An undercover cop is trying to find the source of a mysterious and powerful drug.  All the cops wear scramble suits that hide their identities even from the other police.  I'm not sure that part really holds together since theoretically everyone can be a cop without anyone else knowing.  The world could be a whole bunch of cops investigating a problem made up by other cops.  Maybe the problem with my not enjoying this more is that I just can't get into Sci-Fi the way I did in my teens.

Johnny Carson by Harry Bushkin.  Bushkin was Carson's lawyer for about eighteen years.  The book is easy reading and a bit gossipy without being salacious.  Carson is a slippery figure--obviously he had charisma that drew people to him, but he was also cold and didn't truly care for anyone.

Thor and Hulk comics.  Prime reading has a bunch of Thor and Hulk comics right now which I've been working my way through.  I prefer the Hulk ones.  Planet Hulk along with its prequel and World War Hulk are quite good.  I didn't like most of the Thor.  The book introducing Beta Ray Bill and the ones with the female Thor were decent, but I didn't much care for the rest.

Recent Listens

The Cleaner by Mark Dawson narrated by David Thorpe.  I got this one for free from Audible.  John Milton is sick of his job killing inconvenient people for the government and trys to escape.   He meets up with a single mother living in the poor part of London and wants to help save her son from a life of crime.  It's an odd books in being half secret agent and half social justice.  Good for free, but not an author I'd read again.  Thorpe's narration was decent.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens narrated by Simon Vance.  There's a reason Dickens is Dickens.  There's a sprawling complex but not confusing story.  The characters all ring true especially the ones who are oddballs.  The man was an excellent story teller.  But the thing that keeps me from reading more Dickens is that he does go on.  This was 33 hours long.  The villains have been punished, the heroes rewarded, and all that's left is for David to propose to an old friend.  That one small thing took two hours.  Okay, books are always longer when read aloud. but still.  Vance is excellent, of course.  He does an amazing job with a wide variety of accents and with both male and female characters.  He's one of those narrators who make me more interested in listening to a book.

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery narrated by Rachel McAdams. Another Audible freebie.  I quite enjoyed the Anne series when I read it a few years back.  It's got a fresh modern feel to it despite being set in the 1870s.  Teens will always worry about being fashionable, popular, and better than their peers.  McAdams does a great job especially in conveying Anne's enthusiasm for life without making Anne annoying.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Doctor Who Season 10

Peter Capaldi's final season as The Doctor popped up on Amazon Prime recently.  Having ditched cable before it started showing, I was interested but leery.  I quite like Capaldi as The Doctor.  HE's got a lot of charisma and a certain cheekiness.  He's also a fantastic actor whose face can speak volumes without saying a word.  The downside was he was stuck with Steven Moffat as the show runner.  Moffat can write a great story when he wants, but he has a tendency to lose track of the story and get lost in trying to show what a clever boy he is. There were times during his tenure that I had no clue what was going on or why.  Fortunately, he avoided his worst tendencies in season 10.  The episodes work as stand alone stories and some are quite fun.  There's an overall arc for the season, but it is relatively straightforward and makes sense.  There's a couple of clever boy moments in the last episodes, but they serve the story.  This actually turned out to be one of my favorite seasons.

Before embarking on Season 10, I watched the last episode of Season 9 which just served to remind me how much I disliked that season (oh--Wikipdia says I'm in the minority with that opinion, and apparently my least favorite episode is widely considered to be one of the best) .  As I worked through season 10 I realized how important the Companions are.  The past few seasons had Clara Oswald as the Companion.  Clara "the impossible girl" who I never found anywhere near as fascinating as Moffat did.  In fact, I fould her rather dull.  In season 10 we have Bill Potts whom The Doctor takes on because she is intellectually curious.  She's a university student trying to improve herself and have some fun.  But the best was Nardole.  Nardole is now near the top of my list for best ever Companion (no one will ever dethrone Sarah Jane).  He's bald and pudgy and looks like a whole lot of nothing, but at heart he's a bad ass with a fabulous dry sense of humor.  Best of all, he's the rare being who is willing to berate The Doctor.  He was authorized by River Song to kick The Doctor's arse when needed and he does so on a regular basis.  I loved him.

Amazon's video organization system sucks so after watching the end of season 9, I had to search for the Christmas Specials before going on to season 10.  I'd recommend skipping 9 and watching the two specials that ran before season 10 ("The Husbands of River Song" and " The Return of Doctor Mysterio"). 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Instant Pot Mini Duo

I eat a lot of pasta.  Till I got home from work and exercise, I want dinner to be something easy and quick to make.  But this is not the healthiest, so I was excited when Instant Pot put out its 3 quart Mini Duo.  I'm single and live in an apartment.  I certainly did not want the 6 quart model.  The 3 quart seemed like it fit my life, and I was fortunate to get one for Christmas from my parents (there's something to be said for showing up at Thanksgiving and saying "this is what I want and it's on sale").

The IP is a combo pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, and yogurt maker (I won't use that last function.  The pressure cooking part means everything can cook faster.  It's designed so that you can't make anything explode.  The only down side I have found so far is that the silicone sealing ring retains odor.  This is not an issue for most things I plan to cook, but I have ordered a second ring to use when I attempt cheesecake. The lid and cooking pot are dishwasher safe and easy to clean. The controls are easy but a wee bit confusing. You can get by without using most of the buttons anyway.

The rice cooker works well.  I'd gotten a rice cooker a few years ago and ended up not using it as much as I should have since it ended up being a crap shoot on whether or not the rice would scorch on the bottom.  Since rice is something that does reheat well, this should be a good option to make on the weekend for weekday meals (I'm fussy on leftovers since a lot of things don't taste as good reheated).

Pressure cooked caramelized onions turned out mushy.  If I try that again, I'll take the time to slow cook them, but honestly I prefer my onions not cooked to the caramelized stage.  Still these were fine to add to other things including the gravy I made to go with the IP "baked" potatoes.  I can now make baked potatoes in about 30 minutes.  You sacrifice a crisp skin by pressure cooking them, but that's okay.  I tried finishing in the oven to crisp the skin  but I think I'd have to leave them in a lot longer to get truly crisp skin.   Here was some failure in that one potato I cooked was bigger than the others and didn't get fully done, but now I know to add more time for large ones.

This might be my new breakfast (recipe here).  A quick blender pulse followed by a bit of time watching to release pressure and switch batches, and I have breakfast for a week.  My Echo is super helpful with the timer thing.  They're puffy when first removed but collapse enough to put lids on the jars.  Then with a little less than 2 minutes in the microwave, I have a yummy breakfast.  I added broccoli which was good.  Going forward I will probably skip the bacon (doesn't add much to me) and the cream (since I don't keep it on hand) and am looking forward to adding other mix-ins.

Finally I tried this recipe for sloppy joes (more or less since I didn't measure anything).  Super yummy over toast and another item that should reheat well.

So my goal is to add more variety and veggies to my dinners this year.  I've ordered a steamer basket to do veggies in.  I've also bought some dried beans.  Supposedly with the IP, you don't need to presoak the beans so we'll see how that goes.  I'm also psyched to try a cheesecake recipe at some point.  I

To got with the IP, I bought a 12 pack of 4 oz. mason jars along with lids, a wide neck funnel, and jar lifter (all for the egg bites).  For some odd reason, jars come in 12 packs and plastic lids in 8 packs.  I then got some 8 oz. mason jars after someone online said how great they are for leftovers.  It's true, the jars take up little room in the fridge and are great for a serving size of rice or veggies or to keep leftover ingredients (I ain't going through a can of tomato paste in one go).  I also picked up the Kindle version of How to Instant Pot which is just okay as a cookbook (recipes aren't listed separately in the table of contents which is a pain in the butt), but it was worth the $2 for the tips and  basicinstructions on using the IP.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Spoilers)

Wow that was not good.
1) Most of the movie involves the First Order fleet chasing the Rebel fleet.  The Rebel ships are faster so they can pull out of range of the First Order guns, but once out of range cannot gain additional distance.  If their ships are faster, they should be able to increase the distance.
2) Kylo Ren has no motivation.  He's just evil for no reason.  And he's even more of a whiney bitch than Anakin was.
3) The diversion to the casino planet was stupid.  If a small ship can escape the rebel fleet and make it's way to a planet in the middle of a chase, why don't all the rebels jump into small ships and escape?
4)  Force ghost Yoda had way too much physical substance and should have been blue.
5)  BB-8 is the Elmo of the SW universe.  R2-D2 was cool, and smart, and mouthy (you know those beeps were smart ass comments).  BB-8 is cute and silly and has nothing of substance to hide.
6)  I rolled my eyes at least four times including when Rey walked into the tree, the planet that looked like ice at first (both ESB call backs), when the rebels stopped trying to destroy the cannon ram because it was a suicide mission (never mind that failing to destroy it would mean the end of the rebellion), and whenever Rey and Ren shared a psychic connection (especially the shirtless scene because Ren is so not attractive).
7) Ending with enslaved children retelling the Skywalker story to show that there is still hope in the galaxy was an insult to my intelligence with it sickly fake sweetness.
8) "That blast door is the only way in or out of this mine" followed immediately by the rebels running out of the mine into trenches and outside defenses.
9)Luke suddenly having dark hair when he shows up to save the rebels.
10) It was way too long

It was not 100% crap.  Mark Hamill was excellent despite how Luke was written.  I think in part that might be just because Hamill really looks like a guy whose been through some stuff.  The scene between Luke and Leia was lovely and almost made the movie worthwhile (almost--the dreck to good stuff ratio was way too high).  Benicio del Toro was fantastic as about the only interesting character.

So forty years after my love affair with SW began, it has come to an end.  Short of the original Original Trilogy being reconstructed and rereleased (a near impossibility since that bastard Lucas destroyed the original negatives with his meddling) I never have to pay to see a SW film in a theater again.  I wish Carrie Fisher had a better last film than this one, but it is what it is.

Simple Human Dish Rack

I fell in lust with the Simple Human dish rack when I first saw it.  The only problem is that it is stupid expensive.  It's hard to justify spending $80 on a dish rack. Actually it is not hard.  Some of my coffee things must be hand washed and, since I live alone, it can take several days to get enough dishes to fill the dishwasher, so a dish rack is something I use every day.  It's just "an $80 dish rack" feel like a ridiculous statement.  But since Christmas is in part about buying things for others that they might not buy for themselves, my sister gave me this beauty.

First thing is the dish rack hold a lot.  There's a three bin utensil basket.  One side has prongs for four glasses and the other has a mine rack where you can hang glasses by their stems.  The prongs to hold plates are vertical and allow the plates to face the long ends of the rack leaving a nice large flat space.  The sides are solid plastic which keeps everything inside (my previous racks were wire and small items could easily fall out).  The best thing is the integrated drainage system.  My previous racks came with plastic trays which got gross.  Then I had used drying mats under them but they took awhile to dry and had to be laundered regularly.  With the Simple Human rack, the water drains into the bottom and then goes down a spout directly into the sink.  No more standing water.  I love this thing.

My sister also got me the Simple Human paper towel holder.  I'm always thrown my roll of paper towels into a cabinet since I don't have the counter space to leave them out.  I had recently cleaned out my cabinets and the paper towel holder fits inside it nicely.  The holder is a nice heavy weight and has a tension bar  making it easy to grab a paper towel with one hand.  This is something I wouldn't have bought for myself but am glad to have.

I now have four Simple Human products having previously bought one of their step trash cans and their bag holder.  Some of their stuff is pricey, but the quality is good and everything comes with a five year warranty.