Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four*: (By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).  This is the second Sherlock Holmes story.  Though it was the second one written by Doyle it is written as if many years have already gone by and Holmes and Watson have had a plethora of adventure together.  It reads just as well as A Study in Scarlet and likewise doesn't really feel that old.

Also like A Study in Scarlet** there's a section in which Doyle takes time to explain the entire back story of the villain.  Though unlike A Study in Scarlet, he lets you know that is what he's going to do ahead of time so there's no literary whiplash as you try to figure out what happened.  Also this flash back is much shorter.

Story wise, the book definitely has a more polished feel and consequently it's a better book.

I  suppose it's probably telling of me that the thing I'll probably remember most about the book is this little exchange between Watson and Mr. Sherman, the owner of a house that he is trying to wake up and get a hound dog from in the middle of the night.

   "Go on!" yelled the voice. "So help me gracious, I have a wiper in this bag, and I'll drop it on your 'ead if you don't hook it!"
   "But I want a dog," I cried.
   "I won't be argued with!" shouted Mr. Sherman. "Now stand clear, for when I say 'three,' down goes the wiper."

The Sign of Four: A

* - Also often called The Sign of the Four
** - I was going to start abbreviating A Study in Scarlet by the first letters of the capitalized words but then thought better of it.

The Principal Players

This is my 50th post on the blog so I thought I'd do something different and clarify and give a bit more info on some of the people I seem to mention from time to time.

The Pook:  (a.k.a. - My Better Half, the Mrs., the Woman Who For Some Reason Puts Up With Me).  She's living proof that good things come to those who wait.  It may be sappy to say it, but she's my best friend and I'd be lost without her.

A few other facts about her.  She's in the same profession as me but at a different location. She's never met a craft that she didn't like or excel in and as previously mentioned, she's an Olympic class sleeper.  Though she does talk in her sleep from time to time which leads to interesting conversations.

Pook: [mumbles something]

Me (not realizing she's actually asleep): What's that?

Pook: The blankets are [mumbles]

Me: What's wrong with the blankets?

Pook: They're getting in and out of the basket.

Me: ????

Pook: They're going for rides.

Me: What?

Pook (now waking up enough to realize a little more of her surroundings): Nothing.  Good night.

Me: What??

Finally, she's an excellent mother to our two youngsters.

The Bear: (a.k.a. - The Bug, The Bud, Squirtimus Prime and Goober Noober).  The Bear turned three this year which in and of itself is astonishing to me.  He's incredibly bright for his age and was essentially a perfect child for the first two years of his life.  This year he's decided to forgo being the sweet little boy he used to be and has transformed into Mr. Whiny Pants.  In any event, he's amazing and I'm constantly amazed by the things he says.  Of course he's also still a typical little boy who loves anything that has wheels.

Here's what he told me a few months ago when he came into our bedroom one morning and hopped up onto the bed: 

Bear: Daddy, I love everything in the whole world.

Me: [smiles]

Bear (after a pause suddenly adds): And monster trucks. 

Me: Why do you like monster trucks so much?

Bear (with appropriate hand signs): Because they can crush things like buildings, signs . . . and empty bottles.

Evidently monster trucks are defeated by full bottles.

The Bean: (a.k.a. - Mr. B and The Baby Who Wants to Cry Every Night at Midnight).  The Bean is a whopping two months old as of this post.  We had been so lucky with the Bear that we knew if we ever had a second kid he would probably be completely different and be a terror.  For the most part that hasn't happened so far (knock on wood) but there's still time.  Though he's definitely different in a lot of ways already.  One of the main ways is that he simply doesn't listen to his father.*

For instance, when the Bear was little I made a deal with him that if he didn't pee on me, when he got older I would take him out to whatever restaurant he wanted.  Scoff if you'd like but he never peed on me once.**  When the Bean came along I made the same deal with him.  He promptly peed on me.  In fact he's done it five times at this point.  On the last occasion I took his diaper off to change him and he kicked his digestive system into high and stuff began coming out of both sides.  I put the diaper back on but not before he'd gotten pee all over everything, including me.  Once he'd finished, I attempted to give him a stern talking to while I cleaned him up.  He then smiled up at me with a beatific (albeit toothless) smile that was so cute I instantly forgave him.  He then peed on me again.

Pook: A++
Bear: A++
Bean: A++

* - Yes I know he's only 2 months old but that doesn't change things.
** - Okay technically he did twice, but once he was actually shooting at his mother and she dodge out of the way and the other time was a rebound shot off the tub wall.  So I don't hold either against him.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012  

I want you to stop whatever it is you are doing* and ask yourself what is it that I need right now to make my life better.  Have an answer?  Well Amazon can get you that.  Seriously, they have everything on Amazon.  But wait you say, I wasn't thinking about a book or movie or CD.  Doesn't matter, they have it.

They have food.  And not just prepackaged or canned food that could be shipped to the moon and back and remain essentially unchanged**.  You can get fresh stuff too.  For instance Lettuce or Tomatoes or even
Milk.  And not canned tomatoes or some strange milk hybrid that lasts 1000 years and is the preferred brand of choice by survivalists, but fresh tomatoes and lettuce and a regular old gallon of milk.

They have clothes.  Any kind you could want.  From dresses to swimsuits.  From tuxedos to tighty whities*** You could even get yourself a Three Wolf Moon T-Shirt if you think you could handle the cool.

I'm telling you, whatever it is that you think you need.  They have it.

Well, maybe you know what you need but you don't exactly have the money on hand to purchase it.  No problem!  Put it on your wish list.  They have a convenient place for you to list those things you were hoping your significant other, friends, co-workers, random strangers or web stalkers might get you.

Seriously though, the wish list is key to avoiding bad Christmas and birthday gifts.  You know that one relative who clearly doesn't know who you are?  The one that always gives you a gift that you wouldn't have wanted in a million years.  Well Amazon has provided you the means to never receive a neon lit palm tree again.****  Just direct that relative to your wish list and problem solved.

What if the things you want are so odd and out there that even cries uncle and admits that they don't carry such a thing.  Still no problem because you can link items from other websites to your wish list.  That's right Amazon will inform your potential gift purchaser of items you want from other website, essentially diverting purchasers away from their website.  Why?  Because Amazon is awesome.

Don't want to pay shipping?  Order more than $25 and often shipping is free.

Need your velvet Elvis painting immediately?  Expedite shipping and you can often have it the next day.

Want to sell out your blogging integrity and see if you can make a profit by linking Amazon products in your blog?  They can help you do that too.

Seriously.  Amazon is so awesome you never have to leave your house again.***** A+

* - Your reply was probably, "I'm reading your blog moron."
** - No, I wasn't specifically referring to Spam, but that is a good example.
*** - Gentlemen don't click that link.  Don't say I didn't warn you.
**** - After receiving something like this for a birthday present from his mother, my nephew said, "What, do you hate me?"
***** - Except to possibly gather your adoring masses while sporting your three wolf moon shirt.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet(By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) First of all, I swear I've already written this one before, but as I can find no evidence of a previous post, here it is again (or not again if this is the first time).  Just before I actually watched the new BBC show Sherlock I had actually unrelatedly started reading all of the Holmes stories.*  I had read a bunch of the short stories as a youngster but for whatever reason I had never read the novels.  So when I set out to actually read all of the Sherlock oeuvre I figured I would read them in order.**  That put A Study in Scarlet first.

Despite being nearly one hundred and fifty years old the story doesn't feel dated at all.  In fact if you ignore the few technological differences that come up (carriages vs cars for example) it could easily take place in the present.  Even the dialogue between characters doesn't sound, for lack of a better term, old.  Read a bit of Pride and Prejudice and you'll see what I mean.***  Holmes and Watson do tend to throw out the occasional SAT word and sound a bit high brow, but one's a doctor and the other's an effete snob (in other words that's what they are supposed to sound like).

The story is pretty standard Holmes fare.  Dead bodies, clever deductions, etc, etc.  As I said in my Sherlock post, the episode is nigh unto a direct copy of the book with one huge exception. As you're reading the book everything is proceeding as you'd expect, but if you were paying attention you'd see that Holmes and Watson seem to have nearly the whole thing wrapped up but there is still about a third of the book to go.  that's because suddenly you are no longer in the foggy London of the industrial revolution, but instead you find yourself in the desert in the American Old West.  There's no mention of any of the previous characters and there is no warning that the change is about to happen.  Instead, one minute it is, "Right, what's all this then" and the next it's a man and a little girl dying from dehydration.  It's a disconcerting enough switch that I actually turned a few pages back to see if I'd missed something or if perhaps there'd been a misprint and somehow a Zane Grey novel had snuck into my Doyle.

The side jaunt is explanation of the motives of the killer.  It's overly long for its purpose and really is more distracting than useful.  The short version of it is that the killer is nearly justified in what he's done because the Mormons are trying to kill him.**** Holmes enthusiast say that A Study in Scarlet is actually one of the weaker Holmes stories and I imagine it's for that reason alone.

A Study in Scarlet: A-

* - I had started reading the novels and stories and then got the first season of Sherlock as a gift.  There, now you know more about that they you cared or needed to.
** - To avoid stepping on toes in a debate only a complete Holmes geek would care about, I went with chronological order of original publication.  I know you think it unlikely anyone would care about the order, but trust me, the internet is full of wackos.
*** - Yes I know Pride and Prejudice is a seventy years older than A Study in Scarlet.  Quit knit picking.  You get my point.
**** - Bet you didn't see that one coming.  Now you know how I felt.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Mother's Day and Father's Day

Mother's Day & Father's Day: Mother's day is a great idea.  A day to say thank you to your mom for everything that she's done and believe me that wasn't an easy task.  Now you're saying: "Wait a minute! You don't know what I was like as a child and you don't know my mother at all!"  Well the fact of the matter is that I don't need to.  Let's just assume that you were actually a good child.  One who really didn't cause your mom much trouble at all.*  She still had to do all of the everyday normal things that come with taking care of a child: cleaning up after you, getting you dressed, feeding you, etc. etc.  This stuff isn't easy.  Need proof that this isn't easy?  Here you go.

Mother's day is the day that you are supposed to be thanking mom for everything that she did for you.  So how do you properly thank mom for doing all of that cleaning, tending to and cooking that she did for you?  Well,  if it was so easy you could do some cleaning, tending to and cooking for her.  But do you?  Nope, in fact mother's day is the day in which restaurants do more business than any other day of the year.  Let's hope you took her to a nice one and weren't too cheap.

Father's day is a whole other day and let's face it, if there wasn't a mother's day there wouldn't be a father's day.  Don't get me wrong, dads deserve to be celebrated as much as moms.  But while there are exceptions, in general I think we can all agree that when you get down to it moms are carrying the majority of the parental weight.**

Speaking as a dad, I like father's day fine.  It isn't your tier one holiday, but it's nice to have somebody take a moment to say thanks.  My only real problem with father's day is the day that it is on.  Mother's day is on a Sunday and it should be.  If there is any day of the week that says "Mom", then it is Sunday.  Sundays in May are bright and sunny.  There are flowers and pretty dresses in pastel.  Even the month of May seems like a Mom month.

Father's day is in June and that's fine.  June sounds like a father-type month to me,*** though I think August might have been better.  But either way, father's day shouldn't be on Sunday.  It should be on Saturday.  Saturday is dad's day.  Saturdays are sawdust and wood.  Saturdays are cut grass and gasoline spilled on the mower.  Saturdays are sports on TV and grilling out.  In other words dad stuff.

Anyway, in my opinion father's day should be on Saturday.  And since I'm already speaking for the rest of the father's out there let me throw this in as well.  While we do appreciate the gifts, lay off the ties. If you were thinking tie, think again.

Mothers Day: A-
Fathers Day: B+

* - And for some of you that is a BIG assumption.
** - Yes, I realize your family might be an exception so you can skip the pointed email defending dear old dad's honor.
*** - Apologies to any ladies out there named such.  I promised I didn't just call you manly.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Last Battle

The Last Battle: The Chronicles of Narnia (By C.S. Lewis)  This is the last of the Narnia books.  I had read most of the series as a youngster but I'd never actually gotten to this one.  So over the years I've always assumed it was going to be about an epic battle between the forces of good and evil.  The goods guys lead by Aslan of course.  If you haven't read it, it's not that at all.  It starts out like that is what's going to happen.  A bad guy (a talking ape) gains power through deception.  The good king is arrested and escapes.  Eustace and Pole (from the previous book) are called from the real world to save him.  The good guys start getting organized and they begin plans to muster an army.  The evil god Tash shows up and the bad guys are increasing their army as well. Up to this point I was really enjoying the book, then a little over half way through the book, suddenly Lewis decides to switch things around entirely and everyone dies.  And I do mean everyone.  And not really in some epic battle.  Some do die fighting in a small skirmish, but the main characters just walk through a door into heaven.  It's unclear if they actually died to get there or not.  There they meet all of the other characters from all of the other Narnia books who are also dead.  Then Aslan causes all of Narnia to be destroyed and then they all wander around heaven for a while.  And that's it. Religiously speaking it's a very nice depiction of the afterlife, complete with some reunions of old friends and the forgiveness of some enemies.  Speaking from the story aspect it's not that great.  The entire first half of the book really has nothing to do with the second half.  I used this analogy with the Pook and while it's not perfect it serves its purpose.  It would be like if in the Wizard of Oz, after they've finally met the Wizard, Dorothy and her group suddenly died and the second half of the book was a description of Brazil, which turns out to look a lot like Oz*.

The Last Battle: C+

* - No, I'm not saying that Oz or Brazil are heaven or that Oz and Brazil have anything to do with each other.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Scooby-Doo: Where are You? (Seasons 1, 2 & 3)

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: The Complete First and Second Seasons  
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!: The Complete Third Season

My childhood memories are replete with cartoons.  Cartoons after school were good but nothing could touch Saturday mornings.  My younger brother and I would get up at stupid-o'clock in the morning, fill our bowls with sugar saturated cereals and watch until we couldn't stand it any more or until the show "Timeout" started.*  One of the highlights of this gluttony of animation was always Scooby-Doo.  Over the years Scooby and the gang have returned and been reinvented dozens of times in dozens of different combinations and with the exception of one stretch of anathema** my brother and I would gladly watch them all.  Scooby-Doo and the Laff-O-Lympics?  We'll give it a try.  Scooby-Doo and Don Knots?  Um, sure?  Scoody-Doo and the gang are all little kids?  Fortunately this version came out well after I stopped watching. Scooby-Doo and a nephew called, he-who-shall-not-be-named?*** Forget it, turn the channel.    But even if you discount these wide ranging variations, there were still several different versions that were just the standard group of five characters, driving around in the Mystery Machine, solving mysteries.  And on Saturday mornings when Scooby was about to start, you would wait for the opening credits to start hoping that what you would see was the bats coming out of the spooky looking house that signified the beginning of the original and best, Scooby-Doo: Where are You?

Recently I received season 1 & 2 as a gift and not long after that, I bought Season 3 for myself.  As and adult, I've been able to see again many of the shows that I watched as a kid and sometimes it's quite painful.  Some shows simply do not hold up and you are better off leaving your fond memories of them alone, because attempting to watch them again means risking seeing just how horrible they really were.****  I'm glad to report that in general, Scooby-Doo: Where are You? holds up wonderfully.  The Bear and I quite enjoyed watching them together.

Season 1: This is where it all began and truth be told this is where the show is at its best.  The villains, while not really creepy or scary are still "bad" enough that you can suspend disbelief and feel like the heroes might actually be afraid.  Scooby is still essentially a dog***** and the plots, while simplistic at times, make sense.  These are the seasons in which Fred is always trying to trap the villain with some strange version of a Rube Goldberg machine that even when I was very young I knew would never work in real life.  (But then again they rarely worked on the show either.)

Season 2: There are really only eight episodes in season 2 and it is almost as good as season 1.  The biggest difference is that the opening credits have been re-recorded with a new band playing/singing and that band has a song in every episode that plays during the chase sequences.  The songs aren't bad, but they rarely (if ever) have anything to do with the plot or what's going on.  They're more of a sudden side jaunt than anything else.

Season 3: In truth this isn't really the third season of Scooby capers.  In between Season 2 and 3 six years or so have passed.  During that time, Scooby-Doo came out with twenty-four more stories that appeared during the Scooby-Doo & Dynomutt Hour and some that were shown during the Hanna-Barbera Laff-O-Lympics shows.  These all followed the traditional mystery format, but for whatever reason where not called "Scooby-Doo: Where are You?".  After those episodes, they went back to having Scooby and the gang on their own show and went back to calling it Scooby-Doo: Where are You?  The passing of the years did not improve the show.

Some of the villains in season 3 are so moronic that they are more laughable than anything else.  As two examples, the villain in the episode of The Diabolical Disc Demon looks like a reject from the band Kiss and the warlock from the Warlock of Wimbledon looks more like the Disc Demon's sad side-kick than a villain. You really expect Fred, Daphne and Velma to fall over laughing and certainly not to run in fear.  Gone are Fred's odd traps, instead in season 3 more often the villain ends up trapping themselves while chasing Scooby and Shaggy.  Most of the plots make absolutely no sense and Fred and Velma make insane leaps of logic when they later describe what was going on.  Physics which was flexible in season 1 & 2 is completely tossed out the window****** and Scooby is now more a person with dog-like qualities than a dog that's slightly anthropomorphic.  I enjoyed a Scooby that could say "Rutt ro, Raggy" in season 1.  The Scooby that can operate a fishing pole and talks as well as Fred Fenster******* in the Usual Suspects isn't nearly as fun.  In an effort to expand the villain options that gang is often in other countries: China, Italy, Spain and Puerto Rico******** to name a few.  But the best part of them going to other countries are the accents.  None of them sound in the least like the accents of the country they are supposed to be mimicking.  I'm pretty sure the casting call for the parts went something like this:

Director: Are you French?
Potential Voice Actor: No.
Director: Well, have you been to France?
Director: Have you ever heard a French person talk?
Director: Do you even know where France is on a map?
Director: Why should we hire you for this part?
PVA: I had French Fries for lunch?
Director: You're hired.

If you are looking to indulge in a little childhood nostalgia, let me strongly recommend Seasons 1&2.  And unless you are a die-hard Scooby fan, leave season 3 on the shelf

Scooby-Doo: Where are You?  Seasons 1&2: A-

Scooby-Doo: Where are You?  Seasons 3: C+

* - which was at noon, the official end of the cartoon goodness.
** - see below
*** - Sorry Hanna-Barbera, we were willing to endure Johnathan Winters, but there has to be a line somewhere and with this you've gone way over it.  Also, I'm pretty sure they knew this and they just added the "S" to the front of his name in an effort to hide the obvious.
**** - Sadly the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon is one example of this.
***** - More no that in a minute.
****** - I realize it's a cartoon, but even as a young child suspension of disbelief is hard to maintain when people are falling out of airplanes with no consequence.
******* - Benicio Del Toro's character.
******** - Yes, I know Puerto Rico is part of the U.S.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sherlock (Seasons 1 & 2)

Sherlock: Season One
Sherlock: Season Two

Steven Moffat (one of the geniuses behind the revamping of Doctor Who) decided to work on a small side project with a friend of his, Mark Gatiss.  As they were both big fans of the originals, they thought it might be fun to try and make a modern version of Sherlock Holmes.  The result is the BBC TV show, Sherlock.  In a word it is brilliant.  It's everything you could possibly hope for from such an idea and more.  All of the characters are cast perfectly.  The modernization doesn't lose any of the Holmesiness* of the originals. And the stories while not exactly like their inspirations are pretty darn close.  As it happens, I had just read A Study in Scarlet, before watching the first episode of season 1, A Study in Pink.  The story line is different but large portions of it are nearly exact copies, except modernize.  There is a bit of liberty taken here and there.  Sherlock's brother Mycroft is little more than a side note in the original stories and is a much larger part in the series.  Similarly, Moriarty shows up much more than the stories.  But you couldn't ask for a better characterization of a villain who's so bored with life that he helps others commit crimes just to spice things up a little.  Andrew Scott plays the part brilliantly.  Season 2 picks up where season 1 leaves off (both literally and figuratively) and while there are a few changes in how things are done in season 2, they only serve to make the show better.  If I have any complaint with the show, it would be that a "season" is only three episodes.  And while the episodes are ninety minutes, it doesn't seem enough.  Though if the price of keeping the show so great is the small episodes per season, I guess I'll learn to suffer.

Sherlock (Seasons 1 & 2): A+

p.s. - The U.S. is coming out with its own modern version of Sherlock Holmes called Elementary.  A made for TV movie that should be broadcast sometime this year (2012).  I hope it will be as good as Sherlock but I'm not holding my breath.

* - Technical term

Underwater Sunshine (Counting Crows)

Underwater Sunshine (or what we did on our summer vacation) (Counting Crows)  It used to be commonplace for bands to record and release cover versions of other people's songs* and I think most people enjoy hearing their favorite bands singing good songs by other bands.  So when I found out that this album by Counting Crows was actually all cover versions I was pretty excited.  Upon reading the liner notes, I found out that it "was an unintentional theme . . . that a lot of the songs on this record aren't well known."**  Which made me less excited. Of the fifteen songs on the CD, I was actually familiar with five of them.  However, all of the songs have that distinctive Counting Crows sound.  So even if you haven't heard of any of these songs and assuming you like Counting Crows*** then the CD sounds like a bunch of Counting Crows songs.  Personally, I found the first half of the CD to be the weaker half.  Things picked up more at the end, but then again most of the songs I already knew were on the back half, so that may have had something to do with it.  In the end, this is not one of my favorite Counting Crows albums**** but it's definitely something that I will play again.*****

Underwater Sunshine: B

* - The Beatles first album is full of cover versions.
** - From the liner notes
*** - And if you don't, why did you buy the album?
**** - In no particular order those would be: Hard Candy, August and Everything After and Recovering the Satellites.
***** - If only so that I can get Amie stuck in my head again.