Thursday, September 26, 2013


I saw the debut episode on a plane trip this week.

Crane is re-imagined as an Oxford don turned soldier, then traitor, then spy for General Washington. (Washington did have a strong belief that spies were important in winning the war.) This background allows Crane to play both the role of frontline hunk _and_ team librarian/source of all occult knowledge. Crane has back-up in the occult area from his wife of 250 years ago, who just happens to be a witch, and trapped somewhere by Unamed Evil so that she can drop clues on Ichabod through visions, dreams and mirrors.

Washington Irving's Crane was a comical, credulous local school teacher who loved ghost stories. The name Ichabod makes sense in Puritan New England, but not England itself. And as anyone from Montclair knows, the Crane family was important in this part of New Jersey during that time. Anyway.

So the bucolic town of Sleepy Hollow turns out to host multiple competing occult groups. Three killings in the first episode, two of members fo the sherrif's department. Crane teams up with the remaining Deputy to stop the Apocalypse. No, really, there are high stakes in this show.

It all feels a bit like National Treasure mashed up with Buffy. Crane provides some fish-out-water time travel humor. We can only hope it will be better than The Dome.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cell phone bricked, time for a new one

Customer loyalty to electronic components doesn't really make sense, but it obviously exists. I've had a preference for Motorola since my days programming an Apple II. (I suppose the iPhone 5c would be the Apple LXVI if they had kept that naming scheme.) I was actually upset when Apple dropped Motorola CPUs in favor of Intel - and I didn't even use a Mac at that point.

My Motorola prejudice extended to smartphones, and I was a loyal Droid buyer for the last several years. No more.

My Droid 2 bricked itself yesterday. Somehow, one of the battery pins worked loose, though I have never dropped the phone. It stopped working without being plugged in to the charger, which defeats the purpose  of a mobile phone.

One quick trip to the Verizon store, and I walked out the proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy S4. Quad core 4G Android goodness. In white. Sorry Moto. The Droid line just didn't have it for me any more.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Forever Tango - Review

Forever Tango is completing its current run on Broadway tonight. The limited engagement brought the show back to New York City for the first time in many years.

This is a must see show. It captures the spirit of Argentine Tango in a wonderful mix of music, dance, song, and spirit. The format of the show is basically an alternation of music only numbers, performed by the small on-stage orchestra, and dances performed in front of and to the music of this orchestra. Much of the music is arrangements of pieces by Astor Piazzolla, one of the great tango composers.

In the current staging, this pattern was punctuated by one song and one comic dance number in each act. There are also a number of more balletic performances that involve over the head lifts and other athleticism by both the male and female performers.

While impressive, these modern riffs on Argentine Tango only showed how powerful the real thing can be. Marcela Duran, in particular, was spectacular. It was a pleasure to see her after the show interacting with fans outside the stage door of the Walter Kerr Theater on 48th Street.

Sit where you can see all the footwork. Tango has some of the most explosive and flashing footwork of any dance.

The on-stage orchestra was unnecessarily miked. The reult was that the clicking keys of the bandoneon were as loud as the music.

Overall, a great experience. See it if you can!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Shul for Scandal

Let's say you're in synagogue, praying on the holiest day of the year. You learn that someone you think is a big sinner is in the synagogue also. Do you:

  1. Rejoice that this person is praying and confronting their life story?
  2. Heckle loudly to interrupt everyone's prayers and force them to leave?

This person's actions show they have no clue why synagogues exist.

And where was the rabbi while this was taking place? That the jerks act out is sadly expected in our wonderful Jewish Taliban societies. Where is the rabbi that is supposed to keep order and provide a role model? Sitting on his hands.

In the story of Kamza and Bar Kamza, that the Rabbis did nothing is the true cause for the series of events leading up to the destruction of the Temple. Maybe they don't learn Kamza and Bar Kamza in Satmar on Tisha B'Av.

Jewish Taliban is sadly and nauseatingly appropriate for Satmar and its handling of the Nechemya Weberman scandal, and subsequent events.

Monday, July 29, 2013

RIPD, reviewed by David vun Kannon

I saw RIPD last night because Wolverine had sold out by the time I got to the theater. There, I could probably stop the review with that sentence, because it completely encapsulates what a second rate movie RIPD is.

RIPD is this summer's attempt to recreate Men In Black. And Ghostbusters. And Hellboy. And even a bit of Constantine. Can you say 'derivative'? Watching any of those again would be time better spent than in the theater with this movie.

The big upside is for players of "6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon" because, yes, Kevin Bacon is in this movie. Yes my friends, _that_ is the big upside. Other upsides - a Boston based film without Ben Affleck in it. I know, I'm stretching.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I'm a robot with a laser in my head, and I'm here to help you

Boston Dynamics, maker of the Big Dog robot mule for the US Army, unveiled their latest creation - Atlas.

Atlas shows why we build humaniform robots - we've already built a world for ourselves, and robots have to fit in. Atlas will be able to open a door, drive a car, and handle a fire hose, which is good, because it is being billed as replacing humans in high hazard areas such as nuclear power plant disasters.

If DARPA is funding Atlas development as a charitable act for the nuclear power industry, they should get on the same page, public relations-wise. I'm pretty sure there won't be any more nuclear accidents, right, industry spokespeople? And to be fair, they only happen once every 20 years, anyway.

And why else would DARPA fund a humaniform robot with a laser in its head?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

St Croix Wildlife

Blanka and I recently visited St Croix. We both took a lot of pictures of the beautiful beach at the resort we were staying at. I'll skip those, and share some pictures of some of the local wildlife. Above are sea urchins in a tidal pool in Davis Bay. The beach was well posted with warnings about avoiding this section, since sea urchin spines really hurt if you step on them!

Sea urchins have large, transparent eggs, which made them an important animal for the study of embryology and development. I was really happy to see them living in their natural habitat.

A Caribbean Brown Pelican sitting on a piece of coral. This bird came to feed over the area near our cabin every morning and evening. It was fun to watch him wheel over the waves, then dive into the surf for a fish. The Brown Pelican recently came off the US Endangered Species List.

A ghost crab digging out its burrow. The crab hides in the burrow for most of the day to avoid the hot sun, but they start to come out towards evening. They are very twitchy, and jump back into their holes whenever they feel threatened. Very amusing to watch them run in the surf, looking for food, then scurry back into hiding.

The resort (and the island in general) had a lot of mongoose. Mongoose were brought to the island to help control the rat population, which was feeding on the sugar cane crop. It didn't work, since the rats were nocturnal and the mongoose weren't! But the mongoose did eat all the snakes on the island, so Indiana Jones can retire to St Croix, worry free.

We took a hike through the rain forest to visit the tidal pools of Annally Bay. See this site for a better explanation of the hike than I could write. Along the path in the rain forest we got to see a bee hive in a tree right next to the path, and an enormous termite 'mound' - also in the trees! On these steep and rocky slopes, with heavy rainfall, there isn't enough soil for the termites to live underground.

We were on St Croix to relax, so there were a few things that I would have liked to do that we skipped. We were staying at Carambola Beach, which is on the northwest of the island. Here, steep hills create a rain forest climate. The eastern end of the island is flatter and more desert-like, with cactus.

The eastern tip of St Croix is Point Udall, which is the easternmost point in the US. It is host to the eastern end of the Very Long Baseline Array radiotelescope. The other end of the VLBA is in Hawa'ii, about 5,000 miles away. I would have loved to visit the telescope, but it didn't seem that they had a visitors center. Phooey.

We also missed a visit to the Salt River mangrove swamp. This was Colombus' second landing spot, in 1493. It looked very cool as we drove by on our way to Christiansted.

St Croix was a beautiful place, and I would love to go back!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Untouched by Morning, Poetry review

Untouched by Morning is a second chapbook of poetry by Francis Klein. His first, Podebrady, is also available from Amazon, and I gave it high marks.

The poems in this book have a consistent theme, looking at the lives of those who have completed life. The mind immediately leaps to a comparison with Spoon River Anthology, but these are on the whole more sophisticated thoughts on more thoughtful lives.

I enjoyed these poems exactly because they were insightful, looking at the nexus of life and accomplishment. We are treated, not to superficial reflection, but to the deeper flash of diamond, entering and illuminating.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gentleman detectives, some recent reading in mystery fiction

I've recently ploughed through several mystery novels by some of the best known writers, Golden Age and modern, examining the evolution of the gentleman detective.

I started by reading two of Georgette Heyer's books, featuring her detectives Inspectors Hemingway and Hannasyde. I started with Heyer because I enjoyed her mystery The Unfinished Clue, which I reviewed previously on my blog.

Death in the Stocks and No Wind of Blame were both enjoyable, but did not rise above casual consumption reading. Heyer writes characters very well, but the plots are tiresome. As in The Unfinished Clue, there is a stock cast, including a solid, no-nonsense young woman who finds most of the clues and, unexpectedly, love. Both of these novels contain a good bit of farce, which detracts from the solving as it grows into a bigger part of the novel. The plots are pedestrian and the actual murders poorly worked out. It is said that Heyer's husband worked on the plots for her. He was an engineer turned barrister, and engineers and barristers are the male leads.

The detectives, Hemingway and Hannasyde, only appear in the last third of the novels. They are poorly developed and forgettable personalities.

Looking for more substantial fare, I read the first two of Dorothy L. Sayers' novels starring Lord Peter Wimsey. These are a blast, and I thought the first one was really excellent.

Sayers cuts to the chase in modern fashion in the first book, Whose Body? The detective is on the scene almost from the first page. He is a strong, witty, and well drawn character. The second son of a duke, Wimsey is young, rich, and fascinated with old books and detection. His valet, Bunter, is a wonderful foil. Written in the middle 20's, the effects of the World War are still vividly present in this novel.

The second Wimsey, Clouds of Witnesses, is less successful. The plot revolves on too many coincidences. Wimsey is shot in the shoulder and suffers a broken collarbone, which goes unspoken for the rest of the novel. Still, fun to read. I look forward to following the path of Wimsey.

Having tried Wimsey, I went on to sample Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn. While Alleyn is also the second son of a noble (an earl, now), he is a Scotland Yard working stiff (Detective Inspector) as well. In his first outing, he solves a standard English country home weekend party murder. He also meets his regular foil, Nigel Bathgate, a young journalist. I found Alleyn less engaging than Wimsey, but will give him a second chance.

Jumping forward, the modern author Elizabeth George has also created a noble detective. He is Thomas Lynley, the Eighth Earl of Asherton. No second son, he is the Earl himself. I think there is a certain title inflation going on here. Lynley is also a Scotland yard DI, paired in most of the books with Detective Sargent Barbara Havers. Havers is of lower class origins, and her awareness of class differences with Lynley crops up regularly.

George's books are both mysteries and soap operas. Through the first four, there is as much emphasis on the personal life of the detective and his friends as there is on the case. This is just a tad wearisome, but I admit I am a sucker for this kind of thing. Each Lynley book has one main and several side murders. Written in the '80's, it is funny to watch the author grapple with rapidly changing technology. Computers are often referred to as 'word processors', as if this were a distinct appliance, for example.

The fourth Lynley book attempts to fill in some of his backstory, at the cost of some tortuous continuity issues. Too much of the book is taken up by the soap opera aspect of the storytelling.

As much as I am enjoying George, Lord Peter Wimsey is by far my favorite character. While he is decidedly eccentric, he is also the most human of these detectives, and the best drawn. I suppose this is saying that Sayers is the best author, as well.

The classic SF detectives are Elijah Bailey and R Daneel Olivaaw. I think the stories by Isaac Asimov featuring this pair, a New York detective and his robot sidekick, are my baseline for all other detectives, even Holmes and Watson. This is just my personal history at work, since I read Asimov earlier than any other detective fiction.