From Underwhelmed to Educated

This is one of those posts that came with a surprise. In essence, there are really two components to this post. I always prefer the uplift that comes when good news come follows bad so I’ll take that approach here. The first part was the original focus of the post and quite frankly is a tale of disappointment. However, the second part came about during the prep work for the post and as karma would have it, has a more positive outcome – how wonderlicous is that?  Let’s dispense with the bad.

A few weeks back some friends and I decided to catch the premier of Underworld 4: The Awakening.  Now for the record I am a huge fan of the Underworld series with what I felt were strong offering for the first and second movies.  Actually they even managed to pull off a strong third episode without  Beckinsale in skin tight vinyl.  Note, there may be some bias there since they essentially replaced her starring role with Rhona Mitra who looks like she could be Kate’s twin and Rhona was in Doomsday which is a fantastic movie (ah yes, Doomsday, three movies – Mad Max, Highlander and Cobra all wrapped into single pure adrenaline movie).  The three previous movies may have set the expectations too high which is a polite way of saying this movie totally sucked (do I get points for the pun?).  A quick look on IMDB shows the first movie ratings were 6.8, 6.6 and 6.4.  On a personal front it would be 7.4, 7.2 and then 6.7.  For some unknown reason IMDB is giving this version a 6.8 which is waaaay to high for what I had to sit through. It would have helped tremendously if they found a way to get Bill Nighy back in and at a minimum Scott Speedman to keep some continuity with the other episodes.  Without that it barely makes it over a 4 in my rating scale.

To be honest, we did attend the 2D and not the 3D IMAX version – partly due to my lack of interest in 3D movies which I have soap boxed on previously here at Intrigued (link here).  As stated in that post, it seems directors are just trying to cover up weak plot lines with gimmick imagery.  Guessing the proverbial 3D kitchen sink was thrown at this one because this script couldn’t even be used to strain spaghetti yet we watched the closing credits for at least 15 minutes as it scrolled name after name on the production teams – think they must have gone through the entire French and Sweden phone books.  I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum, but how many of your own kind would you give the gift of life to if you had the ability?  – me thinks more than ONE.  Hell, I’ll save the finger fatigue, go read the plot summary on IMDB if you want a good laugh…. and what should be no surprise, there is plenty of storyline left unanswered for another sequel.

There was a bright spot in Awakening.  Literally, there was a bright spot in the movie – A bright yellow spot that covered the entire right side of the screen in the middle of the movie, and there it remained for 10 -15 minutes prompting many individuals (including one in or party) to go seek a solution.  A worker eventually came in and informed the crowd that they would fix the problem (well thanks!) but a reboot was needed f0r the projector.  Now that is a sentence I’ve never heard before.  After a quick stoppage, the movie was restarted successfully.   There was a silver lining in all this.  As it turns out everyone ended up seeing the movie for free – in fact depending on how you view it, you could say the theater paid us to watch this movie.  A lady was actually handing out free movie passes to compensate for the bad experience.  This pass is good for any movie we want to see 2D, 3D or 3D IMAX.  I was hoping for some free popcorn or a Coke so kudos to The Rave for going beyond – too bad we can’t say the same for the director of this movie.

Hit the jump to see “The Educated” part of this post

Continue reading From Underwhelmed to Educated

Book Recollection: The Wolf – Ghost Hunter

Well, last night ended up being one for the “Nearly Bit It” record book – which already has an eerie number of pages in it.  Remember that highly engineered bird feeder I made last year.. the one made out of PVC… ugh, here’s a refresher (link here).   Turns out there is a demon side to this contraption that didn’t occur to me until… well, LAST NIGHT when I almost lost an eye and somehow avoided a broken nose.   I’ll leave off the ghastly details, but I didn’t take into account how slippery the rain had made the crank system and didn’t bring the feeders (I was trying to fill) all the way down.  When I let go, the crank continued freely unwinding.  The interesting part of this was attached to the crank was a 1.5′ coated wire with a large metal latch hook on the end.  This mace like object was whipped directly into the bridge of my nose.  Now there are hits to the head and then there are WHITE LIGHT events.  This was of the latter and my third major one in my lifetime (martial arts, snowboarding and now -embarrassingly- a bird feeder).  Quite frankly I can’t believe it didn’t hit directly into my eye socket.  Half a centimeter and I’m celebrating Talk Like a Pirate day every day.

Speaking of eyes, how about those haunting eyes on the covers of today’s main topic?  Those are windows into a truly majestic animal.  I think this may be a record for me, three book recollections in the same month.  This recollection is about The Wolf: Ghost Hunter by Daniel Leboeuf with photography by Thomas Kitchin and Victoria Hurst.  To my surprise, this book was originally a French publication from 1995 that had an English translation published in 1996.  It is probably unfortunate that I had read Wolves (link here) earlier in the month.  As a result, the impression of this offering suffered some.  For starters, the front cover shot on this book is fantastic and the rest of Thomas and Victoria’s work was very good, but it was eclipsed by the photography of Monty Sloan in the other book.  I make that statement only in the comparative light seeing how all of them far exceed anything I have been able to produce on the wolf front.  The text seems to suffer some too and this is likely due to the translation process.  It just seemed to lack any depth and unlike Shaun’s work it really didn’t have a lot of new insights.  It did have some interesting European dates for wolf extinction and a tidbit on Jewish views on the wolf (so harsh, so very harsh).  If you are looking pick up a fairly quick read on wolves and enjoy some outstanding wildlife photography I’d have to recommend Shaun Ellis Wolves book over this one.  There were a few takeaways/confirmations from the book so feel free to hit the jump to see those.

Continue reading Book Recollection: The Wolf – Ghost Hunter

The Cute and the Pissed

My apologies, this post was suppose to go out yesterday – you know, the whole Valentine’s Day and the “Cute” theme.  Unfortunately, some unplanned issues came up that required me to spend extra time on the phone discussing  flight schedules from Florida.  For the record, I can’t believe the price of air travel these days.  So basically you get to be treated as public enemy #1  and have the pleasure of paying a premium for it. (To keep my spirits up during air travel I mentally replay Tracy Morgan’s SNL skit on profiling.)  Figured it would be prudent to get this post out while there was some free time.

This set of pictures  is from our Yellowstone vacation (assuming you were not surprised about that) but they were not actually taken at the park.  Instead, they were shot at a stop off on our way there and another one on our way back.  Need to make the most of the photo opportunities when you are heading out West.  Since the VDay theme doesn’t really apply anymore, let’s start with the “Pissed”.  Spearfish south Dakota is a favorite stopping point for us when we are heading to Yellowstone.  Beyond the cool name, this small little town has some gorgeous waterfalls in relatively easy walking distance from parking lots.  Linda’s nature photography specialty are the “silks” and she once again produced some very nice shots – guessing she will be putting these head to head with my wildlife shots during the competition season.  While she is off playing with the shutter speeds, I generally entertain myself by stalking the local wildlife.

Well, to be honest the word stalking is better served by “annoying the living crap out them” in this case.  Imagine the insane racket reserved for raccoons protecting it’s young packaged up in a large golden brown hamster with a long fuzzy tale.  Rather than simply state displeasure and carry on with the comfy life of a forest rat, this squirrel would come running at me (in full rant of course) and take up a defiant posture in the nearest tree.  10 seconds later it would scamper off into the trees only to repeat the cycle as I continued walking along a trail.  Thanks to confidence from earning 2nd degree black belts in multiple martial arts discipline I stood my ground against this upset furball.

Hit the jump to view the rest of the pictures… and commentary

Continue reading The Cute and the Pissed

Book Recollection: Lost in My Own Backyard

It’s all about the reading output this month!  Still kicking myself for a pretty poor performance on last year’s reading stack.  Normally I would be optimistic about going into the new year, but this holiday (and birthday) season brought some great additions to the stack. So, this year I’m being a little more conservative and hoping to get through at least one book a month and then crank through three or four during vacations.  That is actually a great lead into this book recollection post.  The recent trip out to Yellowstone has rekindled my fondness for all things Yellowstone.  I must give Amazon some credit here because they recommended Tim Cahill’s Lost in My Own Backyard based on all the related purchases I had over Christmas.  At some point it went on my Wish List and sure enough Linda came through for my birthday.

When the wrapping paper was removed I was first a little shocked (for reasons which will be explained below) but quickly turned to anticipation to getting some time to start in on it.  It definitely had the feel of Bill Bryson’s Walk in the Woods which I thoroughly enjoyed, but unlike the Appalachian Trail I am actually pretty familiar with our (and later learned the world’s) first National Park.  One excellent feature Tim provides is a map of Yellowstone printed on the hardbound front and back cover of the book.  Whenever he referenced an unfamiliar place it was a simple task to flip to the closest cover and look it up.  The concept of the book is various experiences and thoughts Tim has encountered during his numerous hikes in the park.  Tom Murphy was his companion on some of these adventures.   I am familiar with him being a well known Yellowstone Park photographer … double bonus!  Tim’s book is divided up into small chapters/topics perfect for reading before hitting the sack (as mentioned in a previous post, it is much easier when you do not have to carry plots and topics across multiple days – getting older means the mind is wandering more and more).  Based on his highly entertaining (and quite humorous) descriptions of sights and experiences on his back country jaunts I’m getting the bug to take some longer hikes the next time we get out there.   Of course, now I am much more likely to stop off and pick up a can of bear spray!  It would also be prudent if I could find a nurse to go with us (as Tim was lucky enough to do) in case something bad happens.  One thing for certain, I will not be publishing a book which describes how to get to or has the audacity to give names to the natural features that I discover- there is some serious angst directed toward the authors of a Yellowstone waterfalls book (which Linda owns and really likes).   I also now want to capture the moonbows (night rainbows) Tim experienced (and learned about from Tom Murphy) on one of his hikes.

In summary, I thought this was a great read and would recommend it to anyone that likes to spend time in the woods.  It is written in a very comfortable style and should bring a few smiles (if not all out laughs) during the course of the read.  Unfortunately, there was one downside I need to share.  Remember when I mentioned there was some initial shock at first sight.  The reason for that is … hit the jump to find out why along with my takeaways (what a tease)

Continue reading Book Recollection: Lost in My Own Backyard

Introducing the Geek Cave

I think I’ve finally reached a man cave pinnacle and figured I would share my dark side of geekdom.  In the early stages of planning our current home there was serious consideration and design time spent on our bonus room with the full intent to transform it into a theater room.  As a result, a lot of the power, audio wiring, cat6 and component mounts were all put in place as the walls were being constructed.  Once the house was completed, the next steps just involved hooking everything up the way I wanted it.  There has been a few iterations of the configuration as technology was upgraded and new offerings came out for gaming, but this is the current XBox360 layout.  Somewhat embarrassing, it should really be classified more as a Geek Cave (cut me some slack on the image, it took me all of about 2 minutes to crank it out in PaintShop Pro.

If you are having difficulty figuring it out (and I highly doubt that), my game of choice is Rock Band along with the new Rocksmith offering my friends gave me for Christmas.  Since the day I went over to Pakage’s to check out Guitar Hero I’ve been addicted to that type of music themed game and although originally focused on the guitar peripherals, I’ve since become enamored with the drums (for the record I’m running in the top 2% on the Xbox leaderboards for Pro Drums).  A downside to that migration is the atrophying of the plastic guitar skills – Pakage is pretty much our foundation on the guitar and Billy now anchors the vocals which are not depicted since he brings over his professional mic and modified receiver for that functionality.

Assuming a colorform-esq picture isn’t going to satisfy your graphic needs, hit the jump and I’ll take you through all the elements (complete with photos!)

Continue reading Introducing the Geek Cave

Book Recollection: Wolves

Time to get back at this blog thingy. I’ve been spending most of my open nights on Operation Aunnauld and I must say, it is coming along quite nicely. Check back around June and I will hopefully be about done with that endeavor. For now, back to task at hand and that task is getting those keys pressed. Today’s offering is a Book Recollection. For starters, I have a read a book or two on wolves… ummm okay, maybe more than one… well, actually I have read a LOT of books on wolves. I am pretty much to the point where I’m working on the reinforcement principle since there usually is not a lot of new material but I figure a nice base of wolf knowledge will eventually make it into long term memory. Besides, I enjoy looking at the perty pictures. Then along comes this book by Shaun Ellis called Wolves: Capturing the Natural Spirit of these Incredible Animals. Apologetically, I have to admit that I can’t remember where this came from but definitely a gift from someone (guessing my brother, Linda or maybe one of my nephews/nieces – in all cases thank you thank you). This book was originally published back in 2006, however this particular edition came out in 2011. Now every once in awhile I’ll read a new nugget of information that may be an interesting nuance to a common fact or a possibly even an advancement of a previous theory. Shaun on the other hand managed to provide a wealth of new knowledge. So much so, that I even began to wonder if he might be taking some liberties. His bio indicates a significant amount of time observing wild wolves and even tried to join a pack (the book really did not elaborate on how successful that was). He also partnered with the Nez Perce tribe to learn from them and gain their perspective of their revered spirit. Probably the biggest takeaway from the book is the concept of the Beta wolves in the social hierarchy. This is a first awareness of this level and quite intriguing. They are actually the largest wolves in the pack (even larger than the Alphas) and are the enforcers. They are even allowed choice cuts of the kill to keep their strength. Seems like this would pose a significant risk to the Alphas since that means they would be less intimidated. It may be the special treatment they receive that keeps them in line, but some further investigation is required. Shaun also made the connection to how you can tell the Alphas and why. I have always known that their muzzle coloring seem to be bolder than the rest of the pack but nothing really explained how that results since it would seem it is a birth trait and not something that happens because they take control of the pack – there is not a concept of per-ordained Alphas so that reasoning for the color difference doesn’t come into play. Turns out the Alphas actually have a much darker and continuous defined line on the center of their backs from their neck to the tip of their tail (Betas also have a dark like but is not continuous). Shaun makes an astute observation that this is a byproduct of the choice cuts they get from the kill… and since Betas also get some of the choice cuts they also have bolder lines. I can actually buy that and I find myself looking for that line in every wolf picture I come across these days. The discussion on Alphas instructing their pack on what to hunt through reference body parts and holding training runs to point out the dangers and set the approach was also fascinating. If you want a pretty fast but informative read, I recommend getting your hands on this book as soon as possible.

Additionally, if you like looking at wildlife pictures and especially wolves do not hesitate to pick this up – trust me, just buy it and you will not be disappointed. The photographer for this book is actually Monty Sloan who spend a lot of time photographing at Wolf Park near Battle Ground, Indiana. I doubt all of these images came from there based on the diversity of landscapes and number of different wolves photographed. My hats are off to Monty, one bang up job behind the shutter. Having had the opportunity to get my own shots out in Yellowstone (and clearly lacking in execution) quickly demonstrated just how hard it is to get decent shots of these majestic creatures. I was not familiar with Sloan’s work before reading this book, but without hesitation, he is now up there with Joel Sartore (link here), Scott Linstead (link here) and Moose Peterson in my favorite wildlife photographers category. His work is so good that I am actually tracking down one of the pictures in this book to purchase (pg 72 if you are curious).

Unfortunately, there is one downside to this particular book and probably no fault of the authors. Blame probably belongs to the publisher who chose to be a crap binding on the book. At first I was liking the softer (semi-stiff) binding since it gave it a field reference journal feel. That is until the binding rip off the back after a mere ten pages in. This is very disappointing since it is one of the few books I’d likely just grab off the coffee table to peruse during TV commercials. With the fragile state of the binding I am too scared to do that.

Hit the link to see a picture of the torn binding and view my takeaways.

Continue reading Book Recollection: Wolves