May 2007 Archives

thanks, duke power

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So I was working at home yesterday afternoon (which doesn't happen nearly often enough) when the power went out. I didn't notice at first because the computer is on a battery backup and I had the lights out. I love this time of year, when it's getting hot, but it hasn't been hot for long enough to warm up the house. So you leave the lights out and the windows open and the house stays cool all afternoon. 

Anyway, I was working at home and the power went out. I realized it when the battery backups started beeping. And then Jane started barking outside, and I went out and saw a woman at the electric meter. I had a moment of panic, wondering if we had forgotten to pay the bill and she was here to cut the power or something? But no, she explained that our meter was broken and she was replacing it.

She said that they knew it was broken because the reading had been the same this month as last month. I asked her how they were going to bill us for this month and she just shrugged. I asked if they would estimate the bill, and she said she thought they'd probably just start over from yesterday. 

When I told Georg about this, he told me that the power bill had been only $8 last month. He had assumed they were doing some kind of year-end adjustment. So, wow! Thanks Duke Power!

happy computer time

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I have a new computer. Another one! I took my fried new computer back to the Apple Store, where they did a bunch of testing and determined that a capacitor blew in the logic board, taking the hard drive out with it. So no data recovery, alas. The biggest loss turned out to be my time sheet, which I had to turn in this morning. Normally at the end of each month, I review the past month's email to make sure I didn't miss anything. Can't do that this time because I lost my email too. Oh well, I made my best guess. Luckily I worked almost entirely on one project this month. That made it easier to recreate my time.

I did lose one thing I'm a little bummed about: the past 5-6 weeks of This American Life podcasts. I had been saving them for my next road trip. Has anyone got them & if so, can you help me out?

bluestone sale

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Famed mail order nursery Bluestone Perennials is having an end-of-the-season 50% sale on everything until June 1! The prices are outstanding: packs of 3 perennials for $6 - $7. I didn't go crazy, but I did order a few things. Mostly blue and white flowers, which we're trying to get more of in the garden.

It's kind of getting late in the season for planting perennials, especially little mail order perennials. I think we might just  stick them into a bare spot in the vegetable garden where they'll get regular irrigation. Maybe even leave them in their pots and sink the whole pots into the veg beds. Then in the fall we can find permanent homes for them in the flower garden.

but other than that..

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Other than my computer crashing and burning, it was a nice weekend. On Friday night we had dinner with Lee, who was in town with her husband Russ working the Animazement con. We were hoping Russ could spend some time with us too, but he was in the grips of a major hardware problem and had to spend the evening searching Raleigh for an obscure cable. (A 25 pin to 25 pin parallel cable, both ends male, with no centronics, in case you're interested.)

On Saturday I was relieved to find out that Russ, although unable to find the cable, had been able to rig up an alternate solution. So his receipt printer worked for the rest of the weekend, which I'm sure saved him a lot of time. Lee and I had lunch at Neomonde in Morrisville. Which has an interesting little grocery section. Besides the obvious things, like grape leaves and tahini, they also sold some things I'd never seen before like rose jam, date paste, and a bunch of interesting cheeses. I would have bought some cheese if I'd had a way to keep it cold.

We took a takeout lunch back to Russ -- which involved much negotiating of the hotel parking lot, where I wasn't allowed to stop for more than a minute -- and then headed out to Chapel Hill/Carrboro for the afternoon. We went to Carr Mill Mall, where Lee enjoyed the bead shop and we both shopped a bit at that store where everything is blue. Turns out they have Fiesta dishes, and best of all they're getting rid of most of their Fiesta stock, so it was on sale! I bought a deep oval dish in plum (the deep purple) and a small tumbler in a pretty bright blue I'd never seen before. It might be Peacock, last year's new color. I am so out of date on Fiesta. I used to keep up pretty well & get at least one piece in every new color. Then my favorite internet seller went out of business, and I just haven't been buying it since then. Also, I pretty much have all the dishes I need, which greatly reduces the desire to buy more dishes.

After Carr Mill Mall we walked up and down Franklin Street. Which, to be honest, has more restaurants and fewer cool shops than I remembered. On the way back to the car we ducked through the NCNB building and ended up at that tiny used CD store. Which was great! Nice guy running that place. He has a small but good jazz section and I bought 3 things: The Song is Hoagy Carmichael, a Johnny Hartman CD, and a 3-CD set of Benny Goodman from 1935-36. 

We also went to Cafe Driade for some refreshment and a very small BPAL meet n sniff. Lee has a terrific storage system for travel: she keeps her imps in small vials designed for beads, threaded on a chain so they stay together, and carries the whole thing in a small beaded bag.

Today I took it easy. All I did was help with the laundry, space bag my winter clothes, and fish feed the garden. This time I waited until early evening when it was cool, but hoo boy, that stuff still stinks. I fed almost everything: the vegetable garden, the roses, the asparagus, the nasturtiums, and all the perennials I wanted to have a boost. The only thing I missed was the blueberries and the hydrangeas. I used up almost all the fish emulsion. Which is kind of a bummer! That stuff was expensive and I only got 2 feedings out of it. I think there's enough left to do a "foliar feeding" (mix it up in a sprayer and spray the leaves instead of watering the ground). I'll try to do that in 2 weeks. 

thank you for your custom

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So I've been buying a fair amount lately from ebay.co.uk. (long story short: I have an unusual bra size which seems to be not that unusual in England. Over here if I can even find a bra, it's both hideous and hideously expensive. Including international shipping, I can get bras I like from ebay.co.uk -- new of course -- for about half the cost.)

Most of the orders come with a note that says "Thank you for your custom." Can anyone explain this term to me? I don't mean define it; it's obvious from context that it means "thank you for your order." But the term "custom" eludes me. Is it related to the "customs" that the order has to pass through when it's shipped to the US?

my new computer

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Is dead. My new computer is dead. I got it so recently that I never even got around to mentioning that I had it.

I have no idea what happened. It was asleep all day while I was out. I came home, spent about 10 minutes checking email and web surfing, then clicked the BBEdit icon, and boom. Dead computer. The screen went white and it made a burned plastic smell.

I turned it off and left it off for about forty minutes, then tried to start it up again. No go. Can't start it from the emergency CD either. I called tech support, who told me to pack it up and return it to the Apple store, who will likely give me a new one.

What a pain. The most annoying thing is the loss of files. Which isn't really the disaster of the world, actually. I'll lose a month's worth of email, and the psd files for the design concepts for a new client. But I can recreate those. Most of the last month I spent working on programmatic stuff that's on the server. I just remembered, there were some photos and music files too. Dang.

 

put them on the car

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I had a great chat this evening with someone who was taking pictures of my car as I walked up. A surprising number of people seem nervous or uncomfortable about talking to me, as if they've been caught in the act of snooping or something. This woman was totally at ease, and even told me she's been talking to her young daughter about decorating their car with the daughter's toy dinosaurs and My Pretty Ponies.

How refreshing! I can't tell you how many people say to me that they wish they could do something like that with their car. And when I say "I think you should!" or "Why don't you?" they shrug and look sad. Somehow they just can't make that leap. I've even pointed out to people that I have done nothing to my car which a trip to Maaco couldn't undo. So the argument about resale value of the car doesn't hold water. It doesn't make a bit of difference. Plain old logic isn't going to sway a person who's convinced that they can't do it.

So it was great to meet someone who isn't all tied up in that "I can't" mentality. I hope she does decorate her car. I would love to have a local art car club to drive in local parades, and even hold our own events. Why should the Houstoners have all the fun on World Art Car Day? This person also mentioned studying Mandarin with her daughter. Which was cool because I did too back in college, but also made me a little sad because I remember so little from when I studied it. I ought to look for a local class or something. I bet it would come right back.

don

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May 21 movie: Don. My DVD of Don arrived and Sean and Pam came over last night to watch it with us. They loved it, as I knew they would. Who could not love this movie?

Alas, the subtitles on the new DVD aren't as good as the one from Netflix. If the dialog ran longer than one screen's worth of subtitles, often they just wouldn't show the second screen. Leaving us to fill in the ends of the sentences ourselves. Fortunately we could pretty much always figure out what they were saying.

I've already blathered on about this movie, so how about some screen caps. Cheers, gentlemen!

broadway melody of 1940

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May 19 movie: Broadway Melody of 1940. I love this movie! Watching Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell dance together is a joy. It's also got George Murphy, Ian Hunter and the wonderful Frank Morgan.

jack the giant killer

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May 18 movie: Jack the Giant Killer. Basically this was a rip-off of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, except with really bad special effects. I mean excruciatingly bad. I guess they couldn't get Harryhausen.

May 18 movie: AV Geeks Television, a Welcome Guest in Your Home. Short, mostly educational, films about television. I have to say that I was a little disappointed with this edition of AV Geeks. From the premise I thought it would be the best ever, but a couple of the movies were kind of lame: a Fat Albert episode in which one of the kids watches too much TV, and an edumacational short explaining to kids that TV violence isn't real and real violence is really bad. Still, there were some good ones: a short hosted by Leonard Nimoy explaining TV terminology, and a short using stop-motion animation in which a reel of videotape attacks and eats a guy.

The best part of the evening was running into our old friend Walt, who has apparently become an AV Geeks aficionado. Walt won both trivia questions scoring the DVDs for "The Modern Housewife" and the Greatest Hits disc with all the catchy songs. I've seen both of those shows and they were both outstanding. The housewife one in particular.

durham garden center

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I have to plug the Durham Garden Center on Hillsborough Road. Georg heard a radio ad for them, and we went out today. It was great! A really nice selection with excellent prices. It's not as big as the plant section of a big box store, but way more of their stock is the kind of plants I like. They had some things I had never seen before, like pink verbena-on-a-stick.

They also sell pots -- not that many but again, mostly in styles that I like. They even have rough dishes and troughs made of a course concrete mix, like hypertufa (although I don't think it actually was hypertufa). Really pretty! I'm going to look around the yard and see if we have a good place for one of those. And they have a small indoor shop with organic fertilizers and pesticides.

I'm so happy to find a good nursery with good prices that's 5 minutes away instead of 45 minutes. Since they're so close, we didn't have to load up like we would at the farmers market. We got a few things: two packs of gazanias (which I think are among the cutest annuals out there, and I don't understand why they aren't as popular as petunias or marigolds), a pack of white-and-green shade annuals for the new bed, an african daisy with really interesting spoon-shaped petals, an ice plant with yellow flowers, a "ham and eggs" lantana, a peach verbena and a hardy geranium.

In the fine tradition of directions that make no sense to anyone but me: take Hillsborough as if you were coming to my house, but instead of turning onto Cole Mill, keep going. Go past the part where Hillsborough runs parallel to I-85, past the transmission shop that was so nice to me a few years ago, and it's on the right, just past the office of the persnickety plumber who redid our bathroom. If you get to Sparger you've gone too far.

the cabinet of dr. caligari

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May 18 movie: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Wow. Just, wow.

le mystère picasso

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May 17 movie: Le Mystère Picasso. I've seen this once before and I was excited when it showed up on TCM. It was part of a series of Cannes winners. It's a documentary by Clouzot (who directed Diabolique and The Wages of Fear) that attempts to illuminate Picasso's creative process. There's almost no dialogue; you just watch Picasso paint for ninety minutes.

In the first part of the movie they use special sheer canvases and Picasso works with ink. The camera is set up on the back side of the canvas, making the paintings seem to appear on their own, line by line. About half-way through Picasso says that he'd rather work with oil paints and they switch to aiming the camera at the front of the canvas and using stop-motion as the paintings develop.

The oil paintings have much more depth, and this is the part of the movie I enjoyed the most. On both viewings I've been amazed by how much the paintings change from beginning to end. He might do a face over ten times, then remove the figure entirely, then put it back, only larger and more abstract. With the ink paintings, I often felt like there was a point at which the painting looked done to me, and then he he kept adding stuff and cluttering it up. That didn't happen so much with the oil paintings because he would add a bunch of stuff, then paint it all out and start over.

At the end they said that Clouzot and Picasso intended to destroy the paintings created during the movie, so that the movie would stand on its own as the primary work of art. Which would be a tragedy, except that according to Robert Osbourne it didn't happen. He said that several of the paintings have shown up at auction and are believed to be in private collections. It's too bad they aren't in museums! I would love to see these paintings in real life.

capote

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May 16 movie: Capote. I'm really glad I watched this while In Cold Blood was still fresh in my mind. It's "the story behind the story," showing how Truman Capote befriended the killers to get the story, developed genuine feelings for them, and ultimately betrayed them. At first he helps them by getting them a good lawyer, to win their trust and because, I think, he honestly likes them. (In fact he has a major crush on one, the one played by Robert Blake in In Cold Blood. Which explains why Blake's character was so much more sympathetic.) But eventually he realizes that their execution is the only good ending for the story, and so he withholds his friendship and his legal help, and waits for them to die so he can finish his book.

If Capote had been a hack like that guy who wrote the "Acid is groovy, kill the pigs" book, he might have been able to shrug off his duplicity. But he was a brilliant writer, not a hack, and it destroyed him. The main focus of the story is Capote unraveling under the pressure. It's really quite tragic. There's one scene in particular where Smith (the killer Capote is crushing on) finds out the title of the book and realizes that Capote's work is not going to help exonerate him. Capote's lies to placate him and keep the information coming are heartbreaking .

I wonder how close to fact it was. Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar was well-deserved. He captures Capote's voice and mannerisms so perfectly, and somehow rises above caricature. Catherine Keener was also excellent as Harper Lee, a grounding force in the movie.

buffy the vampire slayer

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May 15 movie: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I've heard that a lot of fans of the series hate this movie. I don't, and I don't really understand their hatred. Sure, the movie doesn't have the depth of the series. So what? It's silly, campy good fun. Even if nothing else, it would be worth it for Paul Reubens' death scene. At many points I sort of felt like I could see the missing moments, where Joss would have taken it further if he had been in control of the movie.

drunken master

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May 12 movie: Drunken Master. I'm going to cheat and link to Georg's write up because he said everything I would like to say. It's an early Jackie Chan movie, amazing fight scenes, no wire work because they hadn't developed the whole wire fu thing yet, and Jackie's character is a total dick. Still somehow basically likeable, I think because I'm so used to Jackie playing likeable good guys that I superimposed that persona on this character.

In both this movie and the sequel Drunken Master 2, Jackie has to get literally drunk to do the "drunken fighting" style. I don't think that's what drunken fighting really meant; I think it was a fluid, off-kilter style of movement that seemed discoordinated or unpredictable, and that's why people called it "drunken" fighting. Georg said that these movies were a radical departure in depictions of Wong Fei Hung, who had previously always been portrayed as a very serious, heroic figure. It's sort of like if Hollywood made a movie in which young Abraham Lincoln was a drunken lout.

just the highlights

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I haven't felt much like posting for the past few days, so I'm just going to wrap things up with some quick notes.

  • We got a new DVD player yesterday. We thought we had had a run of bad DVDs that skipped terribly, and after the 3rd or 4th we realized that it might be the player. They're so cheap now! It only took us 45 minutes to set up the new one. Including vacuuming behind the TV stand. It's amazing how much dust can collect back there. The new DVD player works fine, I'm watching a movie right now. I'm just bummed that I sent back Pittsburgh half-finished because I thought the disc was bad. Oh well, I put it back in my queue.
  • Yesterday I came to the horrible realization that I have meeting clothes for cold weather, and for hot weather, but absolutely nothing for the current weather. Then a cold front comes in and whew, now I have something to wear for tomorrow's meeting.
  • Mosquito season has finally started. I hope it won't be so bad this year now that we've gotten rid of the old shed and the old buckets inside it that used to collect water. I need to walk around the yard and look for other sources of standing water.
  • We tried cooking ramps tonight. I'd never had them before. I thought from the look that they were a green, but it turns out they taste like a garlicky shallot. We sauteed the white part until soft and brown, and diced a few of the leaves into our salad. I read that's really hard to grow ramps. Too bad, they're so expensive in the grocery. When you can even get them.

delight in plants

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Yesterday we went to the big open house at Plants Delight. It was great fun, as usual. The best part is their extensive garden, where you can see how the plants look massed together, and in combination with other plants.

We only bought a few things, that we haven't seen anyplace else: a hardy fuschia (wow!), a bright blue hardy geranium, a spreading ground-cover-ish perennial called fringed campion silene, a crazy-cool phlomis with a tall stem and a series of yellow pom-poms of flowers, and best of all, a cross between hardy amaryllis and crinum lily called amarcrinum.

Today we finished adding soil to the new bed, which is looking nice if I do say so myself. The zinnia seedlings are starting to come up and we're slowly filling it in with other plants. The big thrill of the day was that Georg put a drip irrigation system in the vegetable garden. Yay! While he was doing that I planted everything we had bought yesterday. I didn't want the amarcrinum to suffer the same fate as our hardy amaryllis (eaten by voles! Heartbreaking!) so I made a wire cage to plant it in. It was kind of a pain to clip all those wires, and I tried to do a good job of folding all the cut edges in so no one in future will accidently cut themselves digging in that spot. I accidently made it way too big, but what the heck, now the amarcrinum has lots of room to grow. At Plants Delight they had an amazing clump of hardy amaryllis. I can dream that someday our amarcrinum will be like that.

ps: I almost forgot: we have a tomato! One tiny little green Early Girl tomato. Today at lunch we had a salad with mint, green onion and sugar snap peas from our garden. I have to say, just-picked sugar snaps are a revelation. Almost a different vegetable. It's like the first time you eat a home-grown tomato. I think it's partly because they're so fresh, and partly because we're picking them younger than the ones you get at the store. My only regret about the sugar snaps is that we didn't plant more! Each plant doesn't make that many peas. We might only get one or two more meals out of them. Next year I'd like to plant two or even three times as many.

the rose report

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It's been 2 months since the new roses were planted, and today Georg and I took a gander to see how they were doing. It's been raining so much that we haven't needed to water them, and so I hadn't taken a close look at them in a couple of weeks.

Mme. Alfred Carriere: Dead, dead, dead. Our one major rose failure. My fault entirely. I had ordered 5 from Ashdown, and they shipped four in one box and one -- this one -- in a small box by itself. The other four kept themselves moist enough, but Mme. Alfred Carriere dried out more by itself. I didn't realize this, or didn't realize how important it was. I watered them all at the same rate, which wasn't enough for poor Mme. Alfred Carriere.
      By the time I realized what was going on it had died back mostly. But three little shoots of new growth showed up, and I thought it was going to be okay. Then we had that hard freeze over Easter. All the new growth froze off, and it's been dead as a doornail ever since. Alas!

Crepescule: Has bloomed several times already, with three more buds ready to open and several more tiny buds. It has lots of new growth, seems to be growing fuller rather than throwing out long canes. It will get more sun when it grows taller, though it seems to be doing fine now. A touch of powdery mildew, nothing to worry about.

Colonial White (Sombreuil): The smallest of the roses that survived, it's doing well. Has two new canes up. May not flower this year, but that's okay!

Awakening: Looks great. Growing fast, sending out lots of sturdy canes. Only problem is, they're growing straight up. We want them to hang down and cover that slope. No big deal, we can peg it -- bend the cane down and attach it to a peg in the ground. In fact I should do that soon. I hear it's easier to do when the canes are young and still flexible. It has one big bud that will open soon.

Reve D'or: I think this one is doing best of all the Ashdown roses. Growing fast, in just the shape we want, has bloomed several times. I need to weed around it though. I'm going to try and do that tomorrow.

Secret Garden Musk Climber: These two came from Roses Unlimited and were planted much later (one a month ago, one only two weeks ago). They both look fine and are starting to send out new growth. Though of course they haven't had time to establish as well as the others. No flower buds yet. I've read that you're supposed to pinch off the flowers in the first year, so they put all their energy into root growth. Yeah right! I couldn't stand to do that.

Cutting: Two weeks ago I knocked a small branchlet off one of the Secret Garden Musk Climbers, and tried to root it. It's supposed to take two to three weeks, and I think it is starting to take root. It doesn't look at all wilted, and when I gently tugged on it, there was resistance. If it hadn't rooted, I guess it would have pulled right out. My only concern is that the leaves are turning yellow. Maybe it needs more light? Tomorrow I'll move it into a spot that gets some direct sun.

Mystery Rose: Cleaning up some debris on the sunny side of the house, we found a mystery rose growing against the wall. It must have been there all along, and I don't think it's ever bloomed. The plant looks healthy though. I'm going to give it this year and see what it does. If it doesn't bloom, or we don't like the flowers, we'll dig it out this fall. (The rose people call that "shovel pruning.")

fireball

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I dreamed I was in a small community that was the only community on our planet. It looked like Earth but I don't think it was. Because for one thing, only one small community of about a hundred people on the whole planet? Also, the moon was really big. It filled about a quarter of the sky and was visible during the day. Our world was heavily forested, so much that it was hard to see where you were going sometimes. There was green everywhere, a thick undergrowth like a wall of leaves. And narrow stone paths between the trees and bushes, leading from house to house.

There was another community on the moon that was attacking us. Or maybe about to attack us. I'm not sure. I also don't know how I knew this. I never met one of the people from the moon.

We defended ourselves (or perhaps we made a pre-emptive attack) by aiming some kind of giant rocket launcher up at the moon and firing. A flame jet that looked a mile wide shot out of it and all the way up to the moon, which burst into flame across its entire surface.

Fire poured down to our world and in the distance I could see it spreading, like water dumped from a bucket, and burning everything. It was hard to see much through all the trees, and it was happening hundreds of miles away, but through a distortion of perspective I was able to see it pretty clearly. I wondered how much of our world had been burned up and how long it would take to grow back.

The flames stopped pouring down from the moon and now it glowed and burned like a small sun. Well actually, like a big sun that filled a quarter of the sky. Just not as bright, I could look straight at it. I could see fire roiling around its surface.

It became hot, extremely hot like standing in an oven. I ran along the stone path. The heat in the stones felt good to my bare feet, though it was a bit hard to breathe the hot dry air. Even running in that heat, I didn't feel sweaty because the sweat dried instantly on my skin. I ran easily without tiring.

The leaves on the trees still looked okay, so I figured it wasn't so hot as to be dangerous for me either. In dream logic this made perfect sense. I stopped running when I reached another group of people. I wondered out loud how many people we had killed on the moon. One of the others said, "we had to do it, it was them or us." I knew she was right.

**

So I said The Testament of Dr. Mabuse might give me nightmares, and it turns out I was right. I'm pretty sure the fireball imagery came from the chemical plant explosion at the end of the movie. (If I just spoiled the movie for you, sorry. Watch it anyway; it's still good even if you know part of the ending.)

The weird thing about this dream, the really really weird thing, is that it wasn't a nightmare. The events and imagery were horrific, but the emotions I had during the dream were more like an adventure: excitement, discovery, enjoying sensations (the warm stones under my feet and the breeze caused by running) and observations. There was none of the anxiety and fear that I would normally feel during a nightmare. Also, trying to run but feeling like I'm moving through molasses & my legs just don't work is a common nightmare theme for me. In this dream I was light on my feet and never got tired.

umrao jaan

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May 10 movie: Umrao Jaan. Sylvia and I got together for another Bollywood night. No Amitabh this time; instead the movie starred luminous Bollywood superstar Rekha. We had seen her before in Muqaddar ka Sikandar, playing the courtesan who loved Amitabh in vain. Rekha was so beautiful that at times, in close up she almost didn't look human. I found a couple of photos from that time, but neither one really does her justice. She's still incredibly beautiful today, though now she plays matriarchs instead of courtesans.

Apparently "courtesan with a heart of gold" was her specialty, and that's what she played in Umrao Jaan. It's a tragic melodrama based on the true story of a girl who is kidnapped, sold into slavery, trained to be a courtesan, and becomes a famous poet, singer and dancer. Kind of a downer, good movie though. It's all about Rekha's character, and her acting was strong enough to sustain it. It was a change of pace from the hip Amitabh movies we've been watching. Set in the 1840s, with traditional costumes and music.

And also, my god, I could look at that woman all day. She could read the phone book and I'd watch it.

I often use Amazon customer reviews to help me make purchasing decisions, and they have never yet led me wrong. Unfortunately Netflix customer reviews seem to be written by idiots. I've never read one that told me something interesting or useful that I didn't already know about the movie. And I just now read a review criticizing The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for being silent! The reviewer accused them of forgoing sound for budget reasons and said it detracted from the movie! I give up.

(by the way, I decided that if I wanted to watch a crazy scary German expressionist horror movie, I should go to the source. Too bad it won't arrive until next week. This is the only downside to Netflix, I find: if you have an urge to watch a movie right now, you can't indulge that urge the way you can with a video store. You have to put it in your queue, send another movie back and wait for it to arrive. That could take days! Dr. Caligari won't wait!)

the testament of dr. mabuse

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May 8 movie: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. This wasn't quite what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a crazy scary German expressionist horror movie. Actually it was sort of a creepy German expressionist gangster movie. That's not a criticism; the movie was was really really good. It seems like it must have been about fascism at least to some degree. At first glance the criminals seem like ordinary gangsters, but really they're terrorists led by an absolute dictator trying to destabilize the entire population through fear and establish an "empire of crime." Hmm, sound familiar? I read that it was Fritz Lang's last movie before he fled Nazi Germany, so these issues had to have been on his mind. The movie is complex and I'd like to see it again and think more on this theme.

I love that incredible art style prevalent in Germany in the 20s and early 30s. It pervades this movie, most overtly in the credits and in the titular testament (i.e. notes) of Dr. Mabuse. And also there's one evocative scene with a man in an insane asylum who imagines himself sitting at a desk where everything is made of glass -- glass telephone, glass desk lamp, etc.

There were a few scenes that were exactly what I was expecting. Every time Dr. Mabuse shows up the movie heads into horror territory. That scene where he whispers his philosophy to Dr. Baum, brrr! I think that might give me nightmares. I tried to catch screen shots of a couple of these scenes, but the sheer weirdness didn't translate to a still. The sound and the movement is essential I guess.

Georg said that when he watched this movie, he got to the end and was like, "what the hell?" I got to the end and was like, "okay! this is the movie I thought I was going to be watching!"

So, can anyone recommend a crazy scary German expressionist horror movie? I'm kind of in the mood for one.

mr. and mrs. smith

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May 7 movie: Mr. and Mrs. Smith. This was okay. It was fun, the stars have good on-screen chemistry (not always true for real-life lovers), and there's one extremely funny line: "I knew I saw your dad on Fantasy Island!" That was enough for me. Although, if I watch Mr. and Mrs. Smith again, it will be the one starring Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombarde.

in cold blood

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May 6 movie: In Cold Blood. Another one of those "can't believe I hadn't seen it yet" movies. I don't think I need to describe the plot or worry about spoilers, as anyone who's interested has probably either seen this movie or Capote or read the book, or all three. So I can just say that it's excellent. Well worth seeing. The best parts I think are the music (Quincy Jones), the performances of Robert Blake and Scott Wilson as the killers, and especially the cinematography (Conrad Hall). I found the flat, documentary style extremely effective. The story hung together so well that at the time, I wondered how factual it was. According to reviews I read, it was very much so -- even down to filming in the actual house where the family was killed, and the actual gallows where the killers were executed. That's kind of creepy when you think about it.

I get the impression that an anti-death penalty statement intended in the movie. And I must say, if that was its aim, it failed. I'm strongly against the death penalty, and while watching this movie I was almost for it. If anyone in the world deserved to be executed, it was those guys. Their crime was so thuggish, cruel, and stupid. The movie made me feel sympathy for the killers, but it didn't make me feel much regret that they were put to death. Having Blake's character be the more likeable and more sympathetic of the two, and also be the actual killer, made the movie that much creepier. I wonder if that part was true.

My only quarrel with the movie was the reporter who shows up at the end and pontificates about the death penalty. Every time the character spoke, he pulled me out of the moment. I suppose he was intended as a stand-in for Capote, though of course he looked and sounded nothing like Capote. I think the movie would have been better off without him.

Speaking of Capote, I put Capote in my Netflix queue as soon as I was done watching this movie. It should be here tomorrow, yay!

not as a stranger

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May 5 movie: Not As a Stranger. Melodrama starring Robert Mitchum and Frank Sinatra as medical students, and Olivia de Havilland as the nurse Mitchum marries to pay for his education. Also features Charles Bickford as Mitchum's mentor, Gloria Grahame as the chick with whom he gets some on the side, Lee Marvin as another student and Harry Morgan as a pal.

Mitchum is badly miscast. It's hard to imagine how anyone could have seen him as a driven, ambitious young doctor. Sinatra is fun and convincing, however, as a wise-acre who's mainly in it for the money. And De Havilland is predictably excellent.

the sailor takes a wife

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May 5 movie: The Sailor Takes a Wife. A sweet little movie from late in the war. A sailor (Robert Walker) and a canteen girl (June Allyson) get married the night they meet, right before he ships out. Allyson seems to see the marriage as a patriotic gesture and an excuse to move into her own apartment. Ruh-roh, Walker is 4F! Now they have to actually live together, as, like, man and wife! Hilarity ensues.

This movie wasn't great, but it was worth the time. Allyson's sexless girl-child schtick is the object of comedy here, instead of being portrayed as some kind of model of pure womanhood. Which made it much easier to take. Walker even tells her she looks like "a cute little bunny" on their wedding night. Ha! Also, I've never seen a wartime movie before where the male lead was 4F.

the path

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I finished the path! Fourteen bags of mulch in all.

The hardest part was moving Tiki Man. He weighs 180 pounds and I probably should have waited for Georg. I just really wanted to do it myself. I had a hand cart -- which we found in the shed a couple of weeks ago! We have no idea where it came from or how long it's been in there. Maybe it came with the house? Anyway, good thing we didn't buy one.

The hardest part actually was when Tiki Man tipped over and I had to lift him up. Well no, the really hardest part was when he tipped over the second time. I almost gave up then. But I got him upright, wiggled him into place and then stuffed more dirt under one side so he would stand up straight. I think maybe I should plant something in front of him. Maybe nasturtiums.

copy? copy!

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The Massive Archiving Project is done, at least the copying phase. My friend Joe's duplication equipment made things go about 4 times faster. The burn time is about the same as my computer, but my computer only has one drive. Not having to rip to the hard drive, then burn onto a blank doubled the speed. Plus Joe has two duplicators, doubling the speed again. I spent about 11 hours over there last week! I hope I didn't wear out my welcome.

Next we have to make labels. Which might turn out to be even more time-consuming of a job. Because I am a perfectionist who isn't happy with the labels iTunes prints, oh no. We can't do anything the sensible way. (Well, we did the duplication the sensible way. But not the labels. Definitely not.) I have a label template set up in Quark Xpress that I really like, and I'm trying to figure out how to import label information from iTunes into my Quark template. My main problem with the iTunes labels is that they lack key information, like composer, featured artist (i.e. if it's a duet with a guest singer), and label (i.e. Capitol or Decca. Too many uses of the word "label" in that sentence).

Today I was tired after all that copying yesterday, so I only did a little yardwork. Put in a few eggplants and a purple verbena, and made a path from the sidewalk to the vegetable garden. Well, I didn't get the path finished because I ran out of mulch. I always drastically underestimate the amount of mulch I'm going to need. If I think I've got way too much, I'll run out. And if I think I've got it just right (as I did today), I've got less than half what I need.

So I weeded the path -- this was the hard part, digging out those hateful vines -- laid down landscape fabric, and put down the mulch I had. This evening Georg got more mulch, which I'll put down tomorrow. It will be a nice path when it's done, I hope!

For dinner we made a sort of hash, with leftover chicken and fresh vegetables. Including an onion from the garden, and the rest of the spinach. It was all bolting so we pulled it all out and cooked it. Ah well, it was nice while it lasted. We'll plant it again in the fall and hopefully we'll get a couple of months out of it again.

I was reading an article somewhere -- it doesn't matter where, somebody runs this same article every spring -- about how everyone wants to grow vegetables and then people inevitably realize that with all the money and labor they sink into the garden, they are growing tomatoes that cost $5 each or what have you. I think that, first of all, equations like that are meaningless because few people grow food crops to save money. A suburban gardener isn't a small farmer; they're doing it for fun! Just like the reason I make clothes: so I can have exactly what I want that fits me right, and because I like sewing. That's pretty much exactly why I grow vegetables. So I can have unusual varieties, that taste good and fresh, and because it's fun.

Secondly, those appalling cost analyses of your home-grown produce are only that appalling in the first year. When you add up buying soil, the lumber for your raised beds, tools, tomato cages, fertilizer, etc etc etc ... yeah, you're spending an awful lot of money and you haven't even bought your plants yet. Not to mention the backbreaking work of creating the beds.

But the costs -- both in money and labor -- drop enormously in subsequent years. (And I also think the harvest gets better as you gain experience, which further improves the equation.) This year we spent ... well about $3.50 on compost to add to the beds, and how much on seeds and plants? Probably about $20 total. No, wait, I splurged on those fancy-pants fingerling potatoes. Let's say $30. I think that's a fair investment for as much as we're getting.

mansfield park

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May 4 movie: Mansfield Park. Finishing up the Mansfield Park miniseries, disc 2 covers Henry Crawfor's attempt to win Fanny, Fanny's trip to Portsmouth, and the scandal that brings everything about at the end.

Funny thing about this miniseries. I've never before understood the people who think that Fanny made the wrong choice. Apparently there are a lot of them among Austen fans, who think that Fanny should have chosen Henry Crawford, the ostensible villain of the piece, instead of Edmund. Watching this, I finally get it. I was rooting for Henry too! What's that about? Somehow they made Henry seem sincere in his affection for Fanny, and in his desire to become a better person for her.

By the end of course, it's clear that Henry was play-acting at reform, and that if he were truly sincere he wouldn't have gotten entangled with Mrs. Rushworth. But then again, maybe he was sincere, just weak. Maybe if Fanny had accepted him he would have continued to improve himself, and wouldn't have thrown himself into the path of temptation.

I finally get Henry Crawford! This miniseries is great.

serenity

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May 3 movie: Serenity. Lisa, Shayne and I talked about going to the "Can't Stop the Serenity" benefit. But we couldn't figure out how to buy tickets, and it became kind of annoying, so we decided to just rent the movie and watch it together.

It was fun to get together! It reminded me of the Buffy nights we used to have. Back when Buffy was a great show and we enjoyed watching it together. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed Serenity. Too much speechifying though. Joss sure was fond of the speeches. At the end of the movie Mal gives a particularly egregious speech to River about how love is the first rule of flying. Lisa and I were like, "I thought for sure the first rule of flying was 'don't crash'! Or 'check your equipment,' or 'have enough fuel'!"

That's just a quibble, and I really do love this movie. Gina Torres has to be one of the most beautiful people on the planet. No wonder Joss cast her as a goddess on Angel.

rain

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May 3 movie: Rain. My god this movie was sordid. Well acted, and I'm glad I saw it, but sheesh! I felt like I needed a shower by the end.

Joan Crawford plays a prostitute who goes to Pago Pago (in Samoa) to try and start a new life. Unfortunately she falls in with an evil missionary (Walter Huston) who punishes Crawford for triggering his own moral bankruptcy. In other words, he wants to have sex with her, and he hates her for it. [major spoilers] Huston bullies and brainwashes Crawford into believing she's a dirty bad icky girl, and that she has to go back to the US and do time for a crime she didn't commit, as repentance for her sins. Huston makes Crawford totally dependant on him, then gives into his own lust and seduces her. Crawford is crushed by this and starts acting like a hooker again. Then she finds out that Huston killed himself after screwing her (off camera so I'm not entirely sure that's what really happened, I maybe was supposed to read between the lines that she killed him? I would rather it ended that way) and then she snaps out of it and runs off with another guy who wants to marry her.

Cree-pee. It's based on a play called Miss Sadie Thompson and I think Rita Hayworth did a version of it too.

beat the devil

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May 2 movie: Beat the Devil. I heard this movie was a hysterically funny send-up of caper movies. Unfortunately I had it on while buried deep in the Massive Archiving Project and I didn't give it nearly the attention it deserved, and don't have much of a clear memory of it. I do remember Georg and I laughing at a number of things so it must have been as funny as advertised. It starred Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Peter Lorre, Gina Lollabrigida and Robert Morley, and was written by Truman Capote. Rent it for that reason, despite my being too lame to write a decent review.

mansfield park

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April 30 movie: Mansfield Park. In the early 80s the BBC apparently did miniseries versions of Jane Austen's entire body of work. This one is from 1983 and it's pretty good. Well, it's excellent compared to the "loosely inspired" 1999 version directed by Patricia Rozema. Simply because Rozema's version was not Mansfield Park, and this one is.

Mansfield Park is one of my less favorite Austen novels, though it has grown on me over the years. I think it helps to try and understand Fanny Price in the context of her time. She translates to the modern era the least well of any Austen heroine I think. The book tends towards that sadistic piling-on I mentioned in the write-up of The Little Princess, where the heroine proves her worthiness by suffering over and over and fer-crying-out-loud-over again.

They handle this pretty well in the miniseries. Fanny is kind of nervous and jumpy, which doesn't really reflect how she was described in the book, but I think this is a good change. It helps explain why she puts up with it all, helps make her seem more sympathetic, less of a dishrag. Also helps bring her forward, since in the book she's completely passive, & her emotions are almost totally internal & therefore difficult to convey on film. I think also the actress playing Fanny is very good. There's one scene where Edmund, her close friend and secret crush/love, confides that he doesn't think Mary Crawford will marry him. With the tiniest, barely noticeable smile Fanny conveys relief and hope. Then her smile fades to (sincere) concern for her friend when Edmund turns his eyes to her. It's a beautiful little scene done in extreme close-up.

I'm not sure I would recommend this to someone who hadn't read Mansfield Park. It's pretty long, 312 minutes total, and I don't know that it has the broad appeal of the Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice or the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility. I do highly recommend it for anyone who has read the book or has an interest in Austen. Especially for anyone who was disappointed in the Rozema movie. Which may be a perfect fine regency romance in its own right, but as an adaptation of Mansfield Park it sucked.

cataracts

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I had the vet check Thirteen's eyes today during her regular visit. She (the vet) confirmed that she (Thirteen) has cataracts in both eyes. The one in the right eye is blocking about 1/3 of her vision; the one in the left eye is less severe.

It's basically what I was expecting. At Thirteen's age, loss of sight is so common than it would be unusual for her to have perfect vision. The only treatment is surgery, which would be too risky for a dog her age. So she's going to gradually lose her sight, and we just need to make things easier for her by not moving the furniture unnecessarily and so forth.

I'm really kind of surprised that I'm not more freaked out about this. I guess because cataracts are so common for old animals (old people too!) that it isn't exactly a shock. Lina had cataracts in both eyes before she died. She was much younger than Thirteen is now, and it never seemed to affect her.

I should have noticed that Thirteen's eyes had gotten cloudy, but it happened so gradually. Now that it's been pointed out to me, I look into her blue eye and remember how crystal clear it used to be. (I don't know if I've mentioned on the blog that Thirteen's eyes are two different colors: one blue and one brown.)

the adventures of robin hood

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April 28 movie: The Adventures of Robin Hood. I'm on the fence as to which is the better Errol Flynn movie: this or Captain Blood. I think this one maybe is a tiny bit better. They're both great though.

A few months ago Mythbusters did a movie myths episode where they tried to split an arrow all the way down the middle with another arrow, like Flynn does in this movie. They weren't able to do it. They could hit one arrow with another, and even partially split it. Then the piercing arrow would always follow the grain of the other arrow and pop out the side after a few inches. During the episode they showed some footage of the archer who had been Flynn's archery stunt man. That was cool.

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