June 2004 Archives

We're back from the vet. Thirteen was out cold all afternoon, no surprise after all the excitement this morning. They shaved her tummy in preparation for the ultrasound that didn't end up happening, so she's a baldy girl now. Oh well, maybe it will keep her cool this summer.

bald_thirteen.jpg

Dr. Lindeke talked to me for a long time, and showed me Thirteen's X-rays. By the way, have I mentioned how much I love Dr. Lindeke? The personal attention she gives my dogs, & time she takes to explain things, is just wonderful. In this past week alone she called me from her home & even called me from her son's Little League game, because she wanted me to have the info on Thirteen as soon as possible. She has told me about her own pets too (dogs, cats and horses) so I know how much she cares about animals.

Anyway, she showed me Thirteen's X-rays. I could definitely see what she was talking about. Some of the vertebrae look kind of ... fused, connected to each other by a cloudiness around the bottoms of the discs. Apparently that shows that Thirteen has either had this infection in the past, or still has it now. Dr. Lindeke said that sometimes when an infection is low-level and chronic, it doesn't show up in standard blood tests. However, they took more blood to do another test, now that they know what to look for. Also they took a urine sample. She said that this spinal infection, discospondylitis, can be caused by an infection somewhere else in the body (like a uti) or by a fungal infection, so they have to check for both. In the past week Thirteen has had lab work done on every substance a dog produces. Except drool, and if there was any reason I'm sure they'd test that too.

She gave me an antibiotic, which she said would treat the spinal infection if she has it, and also the bronchitis and the skin irritation they noticed when they clipped her belly. If the antibiotic doesn't clear up her cough, we'll put her on a steroid too. Also they gave me some topical stuff because she got a razor burn in one spot from the shaving.

The antibiotic is kind of big and I have to give it to her twice a day for 6 weeks. I bought these "Pill Pockets," which are foul smelling mushy dog treats in the shape of a cup. Put a pill inside, smush it closed, and trick your dog into swallowing it without chewing. (This is easy with most dogs.) The funny thing is that according to the packaging, Pill Pockets contain probiotics. I have no idea what those are, but wouldn't they cancel out the antibiotics?

I looked up discospondylitis online. It's apparently quite painful, and treatment takes a long time. It sounds horrible to say that I hope my dog has a terribly painful spinal disease. But considering that I woke up this morning thinking she had terminal cancer, a treatable infection would be an incredible relief.

I've actually been feeling kind of weird this afternoon. Terribly relieved, also fearful and suspicious, annoyed that I can't just be happy unreservedly, confused about how I should feel, and in a weird way kind of let down. I guess mentally exhausted is a better way to put it. I've been thinking so much about Thirteen's death for the past week, that suddenly not having to worry about it is kind of emotional whiplash (as Georg put it).

thirteen update

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Just talked to the vet on the phone. The radiologist came in to do the ultrasound & look at her X-rays. He doesn't think she has cancer. He thinks her organs are enlarged simply because she's old and overweight. Instead he thinks she has a spinal infection. Her blood work doesn't indicate it but he said she has scarring on her spine that does suggest it. They didn't even do the ultrasound because he thought it was unnecessary at this point.

I'm intensely relieved and also intensely suspicious. Going from "she has a cough" to "she has cancer" to "she has an infection" in a week is just crazy. Also, I know that overweight is supposed to cause problems in old age, but I never heard of it making your spleen and liver swell up so much they push your heart out of place. I'm just concerned that they really have no idea what's wrong with her & maybe they're missing something that needs to be treated now.

I go back to pick her up this afternoon and get some antibiotics for the spinal infection that she may or may not have. I'm going to ask Dr. Lindeke what other tests we maybe should be thinking about.

one, two, three

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June 27 movie: One, Two, Three. Middle aged Coca-cola executive in Germany (James Cagney) reluctantly agrees to host the teenage daughter of the company president, then discovers to his horror that she's gotten secretly married to an East German fanatical Communist. Hilarity ensues!

Billy Wilder was able to do zany slapstick comedy to perfection (Some Like It Hot). And he was able to do excellent, funny movies with political topics (Stalag 17). But here? Not so much. The wackiness at times took on a tone of frantic desperation -- like watching an amateur comic who knows his act is bombing, but has to keep going -- that was literally cringe-inducing. Yes, literally: I physically cringed a couple of times.

Also, I don't know if One, Two, Three was based on a play or not, but it had a stagey feel to it that got on my nerves a bit. By which I mean, the movie almost entirely takes place in one room, and most of the actors seem to be projecting to the balcony all the time.

Not that it was all bad. The Cold War humor was sometimes funny precisely because it was so unfunny -- like Cagney's assistant snapping his heels together everytime he speaks, but insisting that he worked as a subway conductor during the war, then eventually admitting (at a particularly madcap moment) that he was in the SS. Because Nazis are funny! Unintentional comedy gold, people.

I guess it just goes to show that no matter how good the director, with such sheer volume of output, they can't all be brilliant.

photography lesson 2

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The photography class was much better today. It got off to an inauspicious start when the teacher was a good 20 minutes late, but she apologized profusely and continued the class 20 minutes extra to make up the time, so I have no complaint.

Once she did get started, it was a good two hours. It was what I had hoped the class would be (and feared we weren't going to get at all after last week): the teacher explaining basic principles of lighting, defining terms, and answering questions. Just like a real class!

We still have the problem that some of the students have way more experience with the subject than others. But I guess that's inescapable in a class like this, with no skill prerequisite. She did a pretty good job of quickly answering the one very advanced student who tried to engage her on more advance theory issues, without letting him derail the discussion at hand. (It seems like there's always one guy like that, who doesn't really need the class & just wants to talk about his particular interest. Which, I must say, really annoys me. If you have something esoteric you want to discuss with the teacher, that doesn't apply to anyone else, wait until the end of the class!)

On the other hand, I got the distinct impression that some of the advanced students were annoyed with the beginners (like myself) who didn't intuitively grasp the concept of converting among shutter speed, f-stop and ISO values, and actually needed to have it explained to us. I guess they felt the same way I felt about that one guy: that we were derailing the class by needing to spend time on something so basic.

She had brought props for us to take photos during the class, but we spent so much time talking that we never got to that. Instead we did an exercise where one person had to sit with the light from the windows falling on only one side of their face, and we took light readings on both sides and compared our readings.

(Coincidentally, my dad just emailed me that he is putting his light meter in the mail for me tomorrow. I should have it by the next class. So exciting! Best of all, I got outbid on both those meters on Ebay. So I don't have to pay for a superfluous meter. The Sekonic that I had bid on ended up going for $86!)

Our homework last week was to write down our personal lighting challenge, and bring 1-3 photos that illustrate this challenge. Well, my personal lighting challenge is that I don't know a damned thing about lighting. Which is what I wrote and turned in. For the photo I found this big stone carving of a magnolia on the ground at the Duke Gardens. It would make a great collage element. I took a photo of the center of it (it's too big to get the whole thing without a ladder), and wrote a note asking how I could make the image more contrasty since it is in full shade and will never get much sunlight. Also I turned in a couple of photos from the Houston art car parade which illustrate a problem I've been having with taking photos in low light.

She had asked me to bring in some examples of my collage to show her, which I did after class. I talked to her briefly about my photo needs, which are a bit odd -- I need to learn how to take photos of small objects and interesting shapes or textures that I happen to see, to use as collage elements. I also need to learn how to expose a variety of objects consistently, so I can piece them together harmoniously in one collage. Learning how to compose and light a perfect shot would be nice, but that's not really why I'm taking the class & a lot of my photos will look really bad from that point of view.

She seemed interested in this & gave me extra instructions for our homework -- this week we're supposed to "bracket" our photos, meaning take a light reading, take one shot at the correct exposure, then take one a half f-stop up and a half f-stop down. But she told me to do three levels of bracketing: go .5, 1, and 1.5 f-stops up and down for each shot. Woo hoo, I have special homework!

I was all excited about my homework so Georg and I went out to the Duke Gardens this afternoon and took some photos. Almost all of which were atrocious. But hey, that's the only way to learn, right? Part of the problem was that it was overcast, with nice soft light, when we left home, but turned sunny and too bright, just when we got there. If I have time, I'll go back and retake some of the photos before the next class. I also need to buy nice inkjet paper so I can make decent prints. I wonder if Wal-mart will make prints from a CD?

dear sasha and jennifer

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To the people who left a note on my car at Duke today,

You wrote:

"This is Sasha and Jennifer from Duke Young Writer's Camp...
YOUR CAR IS HOTNESS!!!
...can we marry your car? PLEASE?"

My reply:

First, Undersea Mah Jongg, like its driver, is a girl. So you will have to go to Massachusetts if you want to marry her.

Second, while I concede that "hotness" is a noun, the sentence "Your car is hotness" sounds ungrammatical to me. Also, "Duke Young Writer's Camp" is definitely problematic, in that it suggests the camp belongs to one young writer. As they will teach you in writers' camp, you must learn the rules before you can break them. (Before anyone posts a comment pointing out my own grammatical errors, I have learned the rules, leaving me free to break them whenever I please.)

Last, thank you. You will never know how much I needed to smile today.

come back, owls

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In other news, the telephoto lens arrived today. It's big. A big honking huge lens. In case you're also looking for a telephoto lens, it's a CrystalVue SharpShooter and I bought it from ckcpower.com because they threw in the adapter ring for free. The instructions (which are cursory at best, although I appreciate an instruction sheet including the sentence "That is about all.") say it includes a rubber eye ring for use as a monocular lens. Because you know, I've always wanted a monocular lens.

It was late, dark and rainy so I didn't even try to see how far it can zoom, but I did get a nice shot of a bunny in the yard. I should have gotten a shot without the telephoto so you could see the difference. You'll just have to take my word for it, the bunny was really far away.

The only bummer about the telephoto is that it absolutely cannot be used without a tripod. The lens unbalances the camera, making it impossible to hold it steady in my hands. Plus the focus is so tight that the camera needs to be really steady. I tried bracing the camera against a fence (this is my favorite trick for getting photos in low light) but it was no good, with the extra weight on the front I couldn't hold it still enough. I even had some trouble keeping it steady on the tripod! The ground was soft from the rain and the tripod kept shifting. But I had read a trick for steadying tripods that really worked: rest one hand on the apex of the tripod (where the three legs meet) and pull down hard, while pressing the button lightly with the other hand.

Luckily the bunny seemed to have the "freeze" response much better than the "flight" response: he sat perfectly still the whole time I was outside working on this. He made it much easier to get the shot.

It's nice that the lens arrived so fast because maybe I can use it for my photography class homework. We're supposed to take photos that address our "personal lighting challenge." Well, my personal lighting challenge is that I don't know a damned thing about lighting. I don't know enough to have a personal challenge. So I thought I'd just take some random photos and see what lighting problems occur. Maybe I'll go to the park and take surreptitious photos of people with my new lens. Is that unethical? I'm not going to publish them or anything. Well, I probably will post them here.

What I really want is for the owls to come back so I can get a nice crisp zoomed in photo of them. Maybe I could put raw meat scraps on top of the neighbor's treehouse where they were before. I kid.

thirteen update

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The ultrasound is scheduled for Tuesday morning. This is good because it means I can be there when they do it. On the other hand, it means six days before we have any hope of finding out what's wrong. I don't think the delay will matter much for Thirteen -- it's not like she's on the verge of keeling over, most of the time she seems fine -- but the anxiety isn't all that fun for me.

They're going to have to shave her entire belly and chest. Being a nervous, neurotic little kook, she's not going to enjoy that. But on the bright side, it will keep her cooler this summer. I jokingly asked the vet to clip her all over while they were at it.

I went to Stoneline tonight, intending not to say anything about the situation, to just do my work and not think about it. But Diana knew immediately that something was wrong. She's very perceptive (also I think I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve). We talked about it briefly & she advised me to think carefully about how far we want to go with treatment. Close friends of hers just went into debt over their dog's cancer, and the dog died anyway, and she says they really regret it.

I know she's right, with an animal this old there are hard decisions to make about how much should be done. But my main concern is not the money, but Thirteen's comfort. In any case I'm not going to think about this now. We don't even know what's wrong yet.

thirteen

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Thirteen is sick. Unfortunately, we don't yet know how sick.

She's had a lingering cough for a long time now. At first she only coughed first thing in the morning. Every day it was the same: when I got up in the morning she'd roll over and ask me to stratch her tummy, but while I was scratching her she'd have to sit up and cough. Then she started coughing more often in the morning, and then at other times of the day. Always a dry cough. Occasionally she would act like she'd managed to expectorate, but I never saw any phlegm or anything. I mentioned it to the vet once a long time ago, but neither one of us thought it was very serious.

Last weekend, though, she was coughing and made this hacking cough that I didn't like at all. It reminded me this old man who used to live across the street from me on Iredell. That guy would cough every day, so hard and so loud that I could hear him when we were both inside our respective houses. Thirteen wasn't nearly that loud of course, but it wasn't a good cough. So I called the vet on Monday and made an appointment.

Dr. Lindeke said it sounded like bronchitis and kept Thirteen for a chest X-ray. Called me back later in the day to say that both vets at St. Francis looked at it, and they don't know what the heck is wrong, but it isn't bronchitis. Her liver and spleen are enlarged, and the heart looks funny too. She thinks the heart might also be enlarged, but more likely the other organs are pressing against the diaphragm and have displaced the heart. Unfortunately, it's hard to tell from the X-ray.

They did blood work while they had her, and I was waiting to post about it until we knew more. But the blood work came back perfectly normal, so we still don't know anything. So they are going to do an ultrasound. They have to schedule it with a traveling radiologist but they are hoping they can get him in by the end of the week.

Dr. Lindeke says that the worst case scenario is cancer, probably in the liver. Also possible and equally bad would be heart failure. Best case scenario is some mysterious liver disease that could be treated with medication.

I'm trying not to assume the worst, but it's hard. Thirteen's been acting more and more frail for a while now, and I have been thinking about the fact that she won't be around forever. But I'm not ready to lose her. I've had her for over 12 years. I don't have many friends who've been in my life longer than she has. Since I've been working at home the past 18 months, I've felt a lot closer to her and Lina both. We spend all day together, almost every day. Of course the family is the four of us: me, Georg, Lina and Thirteen. But sometimes I feel like the three of us are the pack.

photography class

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This morning was the first session of a class at the Durham Arts Council on lighting for photography. It looks like it's going to be a good class, although the teacher seems a bit disorganized and frankly, off the wall. The first thing she told us was that she normally teaches darkroom, and they only told her a week ago that she'd be doing this class. And that she had no idea where to start. And that she didn't have the syllabus developed yet because she wanted to know our needs and concerns. She had hoped to email us all beforehand and find out, but she never got the email addresses from the DAC. She very clearly had hoped to spend this class reviewing our sample photos, but since we weren't told in advance to bring sample photos, only one guy did. And it wasn't even his own work.

Also she made us arrange the tables in a very odd way that made it hard to take notes and also look at her. Then more people showed up and it got really crowded, but when someone made to get another table she asked him not to. It was really strange!

Not that I have anything against strange, necessarily. Once the teacher got her bearings it turned out to be a good class. There was a piano in the room so she had some guys pull it over to a window and then had us take photos of someone's hands at the piano. So we could see the difficulty of photographing bright white, bright black, and skin tones, all in soft light. Unfortunately, I couldn't do the exercise correctly because I had neglected to read my camera's manual beforehand, so I had no idea how to manually change the shutter speed and aperture. D'oh!

I did it anyway, but with the automatic settings the shutter speed was way too slow, and the photo ended up blurry. Then I walked around to the other side of the piano and took photos of the other students. I was kind of amazed at how dark these photos turned out. The light was exactly the same in all three shots, and I was standing in almost the same place. The only difference was whether the windows were behind me or in front of me. (I guess that, if I don't understand something as elementary as backlighting, it's a good thing I'm taking this class!)

The only really bad thing about the class was that the room was extremely cold. Kind of ironic considering I was just bitching about air conditioning this morning. It wasn't just me though, everyone was complaining about it. At least the men were wearing pants and shirts with sleeves. I was in a little sundress, and another woman in shorts and a tank top looked just as cold as I was. Finally, about 15 minutes before the class ended, a student named Cynthia found the thermostat and turned it up. Genius!

She asked us to bring example photos next time, so this afternoon I had fun going through my photos and picking out a few good ones. Alas, some of my best photos are on the old Mac that died, thus inaccessible. But I found a couple of decent shots from the past year. Also I got out the manual and figured out how to work the manual settings. Next time I'll be prepared for sure!

Did you know that light meters are very expensive? I was shocked by how much new ones cost. Luckily, there are lots of used ones available on Ebay. I went on there today and put a bid on one. Actually, two. One by Gossen that looks basic, lightweight and reliable, and best of all doesn't need batteries. And another by Sekonic that looks more advanced, but heavier and does use batteries. If I get both of them, I'll have the Sekonic for indoor work when I want to be careful with the lighting, and the Gossen for situations like art car events, where I'm already lugging around more than enough equipment.

I don't know yet what our homework will be for next week's photography class. The teacher said she would email it to us over the weekend. I'll probably post whatever photos I take here, as long as they don't turn out total crap. And probably even if they do.

mmm ... fungus

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Georg splurged at the supermarket and bought fresh porcini and hen of the woods mushrooms. I think we might have had hen of the woods when we went to Craft, but I know I've never had fresh porcini before. He's braising them right now in white wine, with pancetta. It smells so good I think I might pee my pants.

refrigerated air

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I'm not crazy about air conditioning. I try to wait as long as possible before turning it on every year. Even when it's on, we keep the thermostat up around 80 so it just takes the edge off the heat.

It's not because I'm cheap or anything. Well okay, I am cheap. But it's not just that. There are a lot of things I don't like about air conditioning:

-Because refrigerated air is so dry, I often feel cold when it's running, even if the thermostat is still pretty high. It makes sense to use climate control to make myself comfortable, but making myself uncomfortably cold just feels ridiculous and wasteful.

-Also my hands and face dry out something awful if I spend too much time in air conditioning. I already get dry and chapped in winter; I don't need it to happen in summer too.

-It makes hot weather seem even hotter. When I'm acclimatized to refrigerated air, a day that would have been just a little warm now seems unbearably hot.

-I feel really disconnected. When the house is all shut up I can't hear the birds, I can't feel the breeze. When it starts to cool down in the evening, instead of enjoying it, I don't even know because I'm sealed up in my climate controlled environment.

All that said, every summer I eventually break down and turn on the air conditioning. This year it happened yesterday. At some point in late afternoon I realized that it was too hot to concentrate on work, so I shut up the house and put on the a/c. We turned it off again at night when it cooled down outside.

That's what we try to do all summer: run the a/c only on the hottest days, and then only during the hottest part of the day. We have one of those whole house fans that does a good job of cooling the house most of the time, just by keeping air moving. I have to say, if I ever moved into a house without a whole house fan, the first thing I'd do is install one.

super size me

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June 15 movie: Super Size Me. There's been a lot of talk about this movie. I enjoyed it, although I found it a bit preachy. Well actually a lot preachy. Also I felt there was a mean-spirited "ha ha look at the fatties" tone to the constant images of large people. That really put me off.

That said, I did really enjoy the movie. It made me extremely glad that I haven't eaten at McDonald's in years. (I just hope no one ever does a documentary about eating Bojangles for thirty days!) The part about nutrition in schools was really upsetting. And I have to give his girlfriend credit. Not many vegan chefs would support their boyfriend through a project like this!

elizabeth r

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June 14 movie: Elizabeth R. The end of the miniseries: Part 5, dealing with the attack of the Spanish Armada, and part 6, dealing with Elizabeth's relationship with the Earl of Essex, and the end of her life. Essex comes off really badly. He's no Errol Flynn in this version!

The Elizabeth movies I've seen before, Young Bess and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, portray Tom Seymour (here shown as a ruthlessly ambitious sleaze who nearly gets ER killed) and Essex (here a sniveling weasel who kisses ER's ass then plots her overthrow) as the loves of Elizabeth's life. In Elizabeth R, the love of her life is definitely Robert Dudley, though they portray her as never consummating the relationship. I haven't yet seen the one with Cate Blanchett but I heard that Dudley is the love interest there too. I don't know whether Blanchett's ER is a virgin queen or not.

I'm amazed at Glenda Jackson's ability to portray the stages of Elizabeth's life, from youth, to middle age, to old age and death. (Trivia note: in that photo of ER's death scene, I noticed that her hands were extremely smooth and thought that was a make-up error. But then the historical commentary mentioned that just before she died, her fingers had swollen so much that her coronation ring had to be cut off her finger. So I guess that was actually extreme attention to detail with the makeup.) The makeup in the final episode is amazing, because she has to play "old Elizabeth wearing bright red wig and heavy white makeup" and "old Elizabeth without makeup or wig." The effect is shocking.

The special features DVD was kind of disappointing. Not surprising, considering that the miniseries was made in the early 70s, when no one thought of filming "making of" specials for the DVD.

It did include an interview with Glenda Jackson, who gave up acting in 1992 to become a member of Parliament. (And who also looks nothing like the "older Elizabeth" they made her up to be in the movie.) It was a good interview although she does get off on a lengthy rant about Margaret Thatcher at one point. I guess the interviewer must have asked her to compare Thatcher to Elizabeth I. Which didn't sit so well with a member of the Labour Party.

There's also a nice interview with the historian who did the commentary for the miniseries.

man proof

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June 16 movie: Man Proof. Myrna Loy loves Walter Pidgeon, even though he's a lowlife fortune hunter who sneaks off and marries rich Rosalind Russell. Loy pursues Pidgeon despite his married state, but eventually realizes she's better off with coworker Franchote Tone.

This was a silly bit of fluff, but fun. Myrna Loy and Franchote Tone have some good scenes together. Rosalind Russell doesn't often play the victim but she did it with class.

all pods go to lisa's website

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Lisa has begun her annual trek to Roswell, NM. She is blogging, photologging and webcasting all the way. Check it out: www.allpodsgotoroswell.net/2004/ Right now. I mean it.

unamerican

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The past couple of weeks we've been searching for a summer blanket or coverlet for our bed. We finally found one that would suit, but the search was harder than you might expect. (at least, harder than I expected.) We had this conversation about it, in Kohl's:

me: Why do they only sell comforters and duvet covers? Doesn't anyone just use a blanket in the summer?

Georg: Because unlike us, they all use their air conditioning.

me: But do they have to keep it so cold that they need a comforter in July? Why can't they run their a/c just a little bit?

Georg: Now that's just un-American.

June 10 movie: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I really enjoyed this. They took a bit more latitude than in earlier films, dropping plot elements here and there. I guess there will be more of that as the series continues, since the books keep getting longer. The only place where I thought they missed something that should have been there was right at the end, there's no explanation for the shape Harry's Patronus takes. That was a really nice scene in the book and I'm sorry it didn't make it into the movie.

The only change that I actually found a bit jarring was that the three main kids spend most of their time in street clothes, not in their uniforms. Am I remembering it wrong, or did they wear their robes all the time in the first two movies? I'm going to have to read the third book again and see if she mentions the clothes they wear.

The new actors are great: David Thewlis, Gary Oldman and particularly Emma Thompson. Michael Gambon was okay -- he didn't make me forget Richard Harris but he wasn't bad. With all that makeup and the beard, he looked about the same. The dementors weren't as scary as the ringwraiths in Lord of the Rings, though they'll probably scare children plenty.

The kids are definitely aging. Harry, Hermione and Ron haven't grown that much since the second film (though I think Hermione and Ron both aged a lot between the first and second) but some of the supporting cast looked really different. Neville got a lot taller and a lot thinner, and I wasn't 100% sure that Draco Malfoy and his henchmen Crabbe and Goyle were even the same actors. They're going to have to start making these movies faster if they don't want to recast.

I think Alfonso Cuarón as director was wonderful choice. I loved his earlier film A Little Princess. Although I don't want to add to the dogpile on Chris Columbus (Salon.com's calling him "doggedly faithful ... but singularly graceless" is typical). Mainly because it's too easy. I mean, the guy's such a hack! Okay, I guess I couldn't resist taking a potshot. But he is a hack.

elizabeth r

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June 9 movie: Elizabeth R. Continuing this fascinating miniseries which stars Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth. Part 3 deals with the lengthy but eventually futile negotiations to marry Elizabeth to the Duke of Alençon of France. Part 4 is all about Mary Queen of Scots' time under Elizabeth's "protection" (actually under house arrest) in England, her involvement in a plot to kill Elizabeth, and her execution.

Of these two episodes I think I more enjoyed part 4, mainly because I found the Duke of Alençon annoying and Mary Stewart interesting. The historical commentary suggested that Mary's portrayal here was too sympathetic, but it seems to me that there are conflicting opinions on that.

I've gotten into the habit of watching the first bit of historical commentary, then turning off the commentary, rewinding and watching the whole episode. Then turning the commentary back on and watching the last few scenes again. I'm probably still missing a lot but at least this way I get some of the historical context, without having to watch every episode twice.

down with love

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June 5 movie: Down With Love. I watched this with my folks while I was in Delaware. I've already written about it, so I'll just add that it was still funny, but this time I noticed how much the last half-hour drags. Basically everything after the big "I'm not really Zip Martin -- I'm not really Barbara Novak" reveal is anticlimactic. I seem to recall feeling the same way about Pillow Talk but they wrap it up more quickly there. Or at least it seems that way.

My dad and I had fun pointing out anachronisms in the fashion and interior design. The biggests oopses we noticed were the offices for Barbara's new magazine at the end (very late 60s design) and the nightclub near the beginning, with the girls wearing space-age outfits and hats that look like space helmets. Both fun designs, but totally out of place in a movie set in 1962.

The crazy thing is that I've seen a photo somewhere of actual models from the late 60s wearing space helmet hats just like the ones in that nightclub in the movie. But I can't remember where! I'm thinking Rudi Gernreich but I haven't been able to find it online. How frustrating.

36 hours

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May 31 movie: 36 Hours. James Garner plays an Air Force major who is captured by the Germans and told that the war's been over for 6 years, the Allies won, and he's had amnesia all that time. They trick him into revealing critical information about the invasion of Normandy, but then he realizes he's been duped and convinces them the info was a red herring. Great supporting work by Eva Marie Saint as a concentration camp survivor and Rod Taylor as the German expert on amnesia. Also a small part for John Banner (Sgt. Shultz of Hogan's Heroes) as a pleasantly venal German Home Guard who helps them escape. Alas, he doesn't get to say "I know nothing!"

The major plot detail I had a problem with was the idea that anyone who knew so much about the Normandy landing (the code names of all the troops and where exactly they were going to land) would ever be put in a position where he might be captured. Unfortunately I missed the first few minutes so I don't know how the capture supposedly took place.

Other than that, I enjoyed this quite a bit. Mainly a psychological thriller, it's unusual as war movies go. I loved Rod Taylor in The Time Machine and he's excellent here as well. Like Operation Crossbow, this movie also has some very dark moments. For instance at one point Eva Marie Saint asks Garner not to touch her because she had been raped repeatedly in the concentration camp. I've been thinking about why these movies (both made in 1965) would be more brutal than earlier WWII films. Of course people die in most all war movies, but the overall picture usually isn't as grim. Maybe war movies made during or just after the war wanted to inspire people and give them courage, not remind them of the horrors of war.

operation crossbow

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May 31 movie: Operation Crossbow. How remiss am I about posting? I'm just now writing up the war movies I watched during All! War! Movies! Memorial! Day! Weekend! on TCM. That's how remiss I am. Memorial Day Weekend is probably my favorite annual movie event on TCM. They always show a lot of great movies. But this year it was a bit of a disappointment. No 30 Seconds Over Tokyo, no Stalag 17, no Since You Went Away. Still, there were a couple of good ones, including this.

George Peppard stars in a pretty decent spy thriller about the Allied attempts to sabotage German bomb development. It drags a bit in the middle, but the final sequence is really exciting. And there were a lot of excellent actors in supporting roles as the British officers planning the mission, the Dutch resistance, the evil Nazis, etc.

This is no Guns of Navarone (another favorite that TCM didn't show) but it's pretty good. The impression I got from my dad is that they portrayed the V1 flying bomb and V2 rocket fairly realistically, but the stuff about the Allies destroying the super-rocket in production was total fiction. Actually the Nazis simply didn't get it to work before the war ended.

There are some interesting details about this movie: for one, everyone speaks the language they should be speaking, with subtitles when necessary. No scenes with the Nazis talking to each other in English with German accents. (This linguistic convention drives me crazy, and used to happen in all war movies. Some still do it even now.) Even Peppard speaks German when he poses as a German rocket scientist to infiltrate the rocket production facility. His German isn't that bad, although he speaks as little as possible. I guess he was the silent type of rocket scientist spy.

Also, Sophia Loren got top billing even though she was only in the movie for about 20 minutes. At the time they didn't think Peppard could open a movie of this size. Loren's husband was one of the producers so they wrote in a small, fairly pointless role for her and promoted her as the star of the movie.

This film is a lot darker than most earlier (and even many later) war movies I've seen. For instance [spoiler] just about all the principals get killed. The impossible getaway is usually a key element of WWII capers like this, but Peppard doesn't even try to escape after fulfilling his mission. The rest of his team is already dead, and he just sits down and waits to be bombed along with the Nazis. [end spoiler]

trio flops

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The Trio cable channel is doing a series this month on famous flops. Last night we watched the episode about New Coke. Unfortunately, the show was pretty much of a flop itself.

It didn't address any of the questions I had, like why did they decide to get rid of the old formula, instead of selling them both. Or why didn't they market test New Coke before switching around the whole country. I'm assuming the concept of market testing simply wasn't around yet, but the show didn't say.

They didn't even say how long the classic "Old Coke" formula had been unchanged before New Coke. They strongly implied that it had been the same since the product was introduced a hundred years before. But that can't be true because of that whole cocaine thing. (I wondered if that was an urban legend but Snopes.com confirms it, and I trust them pretty well.) I guess they didn't want to say "The product had been the same since we discontinued cocaine as an ingredient in 1929."

Mostly the show was about the activities of fanatical Coke drinkers, trying to bring back the old formula. And not trying to get a life, which was what they really needed to do. I really wanted to learn about the corporate side of things: where did this incredibly bad decision come from, who made it, why, who got fired because of it, etc. But there was very little of that. They didn't even say how long New Coke was available! They did say how long it took them to reintroduce "Coke Classic" (77 days) but that was in a bumper graphic, not in the show itself.

Worst of all, there was nothing -- not even one still image -- from the New Coke ad campaign featuring Max Headroom. Dorky, yes, but I fondly remember those ads & had wanted to see them again. That show was a total waste of time. I was also looking forward to the episode about David Lynch's Dune, but now I'm not so sure.

parking ticket

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So I got a parking ticket on Duke campus last week. It was at the East Campus gym. I was only there for forty-five minutes! I wasn't even parked in one of the permit lots; I was at the metered guest parking, but I hadn't put anything in the meter.

The annoying thing is that I know DJs who park in the lot right next to the station every week for their daytime show, and have never gotten a ticket. I started going to the gym three weeks ago and already I have a ticket. Grr. If I had gotten away with it all summer, then I would have felt like the $20 ticket was a fair trade on not having to feed the meter every time. Oh well, the whole point of going to the gym is to exercise, right? Walking from the church lot will add to the experience.

Does anyone know if I actually have to pay this ticket? I'm not a student or staff, don't have a bursar's account. If I don't ever park on campus again, is there anything they can do to me?

spam bad, mail good

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OK, I was away last weekend in Delaware, and as for not posting since I got back, what can I say. Georg did an amazing level of housework while I was gone. He finished taking up the carpet in the bedroom, rearranged all the furniture, and cleaned every corner. Wow. I had taken up the carpet in the open areas (where it wasn't underneath furniture) so I know what a horrid job that is. The carpet isn't stapled down, but the ancient carpet pad has stuck to the floor, and mostly disintegrated. So you have to scrape it off the floor, and sweep up about a quarter-inch thick layer of grey dust. And sweep, and sweep, and vacuum, and then sweep some more. It's awful.

Came home to a rather annoying email problem. There seems to have been a dramatic increase in the amount of spam out there, just in the past week or two. So much so that during the 5 days I was away, a whole lot of email collected in my Denovo account. Over 22,000 messages to be precise. So much that my email client (Eudora) crashed just from trying to count them all, much less download them.

Fortunately, Mail (the email client that comes with the Mac) was better able to handle this volume. On the down side, for some reason it saw every message twice, bringing the total up to almost 45,000 messages. The Netscape email client did the same thing, and I don't know about Eudora because like I said, it crashed before it could even count them all. But they checked the mail server and there were actually about 22,500 messages in the account.

Anyway, I spent the entire day and night Tuesday trying to deal with this: watching Mail download 45,000 messages one at a time; moving the computer into the living room so I could watch it and the TV, losing the wireless connection for a moment and screwing up the download; starting over, then screaming in frustration when it crashed a few hours later, after the trash folder collected too many messages; then starting over again, this time emptying the trash folder every couple of hours. Unfortunately this meant getting up every couple of hours during the night. Oh well, I'm used to getting up in the middle of the night to let the dogs out. It was only slightly more annoying to get up and tend my email client.

At least it worked: by 6:30 am, Mail had successfully gotten rid of all the messages. I'm going to talk to them at Denovo about setting up some kind of filter on the mailserver. Because this situation can't continue, where I turn off my email client for five days and end up nearly bringing the mailserver to its knees. After all, I am going to go on vacation again.

Besides, it seems like it ought to be easy to deal with: the vast majority of my junk mail is intended for the Motley Fool (their domain name is very similar to one of mine). A filter that threw away messages with the subject line "FW: Undeliverable mail for domain <thefool.com>" would get rid of at least 80% of the junk mail.

On the bright side, I'm very happy with Mail. I had never tried it before, I had been using Eudora for years, but I like Mail's junk filter a lot. It puts everything it thinks is junk into a "Junk" folder. You can mark messages as junk & it will get more aggressive. Or you can unmark something that was mistakenly junked. I didn't look at every single message that got sent to the Junk folder, but I did look at most of it. Out of all those thousands of messages I only saw 3 messages that shouldn't have been junked. Only one of them (an Ebay bid notification) was something that I really needed to see.

Now that the email crisis is over I think I'm going to switch to Mail. I like Eudora but this junk filter is making my life a whole lot easier. The only thing I don't like about Mail is that it doesn't seem to allow me to automatically assign different signatures to different accounts. But maybe I just haven't figured out how to do that.

the owls

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I saw two owls tonight, really close! They are so beautiful. They were sitting on the treehouse of the kids next door when I got home from Stoneline. One was bigger than the other, and the smaller one looked kind of fuzzy around the lower part of its body, like it was still losing its chick feathers. So we think it might have been young. When I pulled into the driveway, two bunnies scampered away. I bet the owls were scoping the bunnies as potential dinner.

owl_closeup.jpgI couldn't believe how close the owls were. They didn't fly away even though my car pulled in, Georg came out to close the gate, the dogs came out, I went in to get my camera, came back out and took their picture. I posted a photo of both of them in the photolog, and here's a close-up of the bigger one.

I am so getting a telephoto lens! Just think how these photos might have turned out if I could have gotten a decent close-up.

I compared my photos to the photos on the Owl Pages. They are definitely barred owls, as we thought from their call. The weird thing is, they weren't making the call we've already heard before. They were making a quiet screech to each other, which threw me off a bit. The Owl Pages didn't say barred owls could screech. But I listened to the barn owl's screech and it sounded nothing like what our owls were doing. It feels kind of silly to call them "our owls," of course they aren't ours. But I feel attached to them. They've been living in the woods around the house since we moved in and we've heard them year after year.

Georg and I watched the pair for a while, and they watched us. Eventually one of them walked over to the other, then flew away. The other one joined it soon after, but we continued to hear them screeching for at least another hour.

Yay for the owls!

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