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Archive for February, 2010

Friday Fun! (On Tuesday!)

February 16, 2010 4 comments

I realized that I missed Friday Fun last week, and given that my current read is pretty long and a lack of movie watching, I haven’t posted since Thursday. My bad!

I took last Friday off of work and had Monday off for President’s Day.  Yay being a non-essential employee of a hospital!  I spent Friday running errands, shopping, and cooking.  I discovered a Stop n Shop that is closer to my apartment than the Shaws I had been frequenting, and let me tell you, their prices are insanely low!  Plus they have more vegetarian options than Shaws does.  I’m a total convert.

Also this weekend, I paid my first visit to the Apple Store’s Genius Bar.  It wasn’t for me; it was for someone else’s iPhone.  I haven’t dared to bring in my baby, erm, MacBook, even though it does this freaky thing where it restarts if I close it.  It took observing someone else using the Genius Bar for me to realize that they are totally awesome!  They’re like librarians’ nerdy twins, and you guys should totally make appointments to use them.  It was some of the best customer service I’ve ever seen.  Just be sure to make your appointment online before you go, or you’ll wind up waiting a while.

Hope you guys enjoy your evenings.  Don’t forget there’s a new episode of Lost tonight and a new Wolf Bite Wednesday tomorrow!

Book Review: The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

February 11, 2010 1 comment

Red book coverSummary:
The US government is searching for new biological weapons by sending satellites into the edges of the atmosphere to collect bacteria strains that may exist there but not on earth.  Due to concerns of contamination on reentry, an emergency team called Wildfire is created as a contingency plan.  When a satellite crashes in the Arizona desert, grotesquely killing all but two residents of a small town, the team of scientists is put to the test in a race to protect humanity.

Review:
An up-front confession: Michael Crichton is one of my favorite authors.  I love how realistic his science is, and he writes suspense quite well.  I was therefore excited to read his first book.  Unfortunately, Andromeda Strain did not live up to these expectations.

The suspense is killed right off the bat with the narration style.  The story is told as if it is a report being written up by someone after the event.  This means that we not only know that some of humanity survives this impending doom, but that society is still held together enough to want a report.  If I’m sure that everything is going to turn out hunky dory in the end, I’m just not going to be all that concerned throughout the book.  Similarly, the characters aren’t fleshed out as well as in later books.  They are basically their careers.  Here’s the bacteriologist.  Here’s the professor.  here’s the surgeon.  They don’t come across as real, rounded people, so I completely failed to care about them at all.  This isn’t good for suspense, because if I don’t care about the characters, I’m not going to worry about them too much.

Crichton’s ability to set a scene shines through well in this book, however.  Wildfire’s underground station is vividly imagined, as is the scene at the small town in Arizona.  It was simultaneously gruesome and exciting.  Similarly, his ability to weave real science into a fake scenario is carried off flawlessly here.  The glimmers of the writing that would later appear in Jurassic Park and Prey is clear.

Speaking of the science, Andromeda Strain doesn’t age well.  An entire page is devoted to explaining binary like it’s this huge complicated thing, which it isn’t to anyone who grew up with computers.  Indeed, a lot of the book is devoted to explaining the huge computer in Wildfire’s base.  Unlike biological science, in which the basics stay the same, technology changes rapidly.  I don’t think it’s a wise choice to focus on in a scientific thriller, unless you are projecting plausible possibilities in technology in the future.  Or super awesome possible technology the government may already have.  Crichton does this really well in Prey, which is all about nanotechnology.  Science horror needs to take me into a world that is a bit more awesome than my own, not lamer.  Thankfully, Crichton figured this out in his later books.

If you’re a Michael Crichton fan, The Andromeda Strain is worth the read to see where he started.  If you’re new to him though, I’d recommend starting with some of his later books such as Jurassic Park or Prey.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Bought at Violet’s Book Exchange

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Wolf Bite Wednesday (Impossible Graduate Assignments)

February 10, 2010 2 comments

Dear professors and adjunct professors who teach graduate level courses,

I’m imagining there must be some super-secret meeting of you folks where you all agree upon how to be evil to us as some form of rite of passage to earn our graduate degrees.  It’s not enough that we’ve already fought our way through high school, the SATs, freshman year of undergrad, the rest of undergrad, and the epic painful life choice of what the hell am I going to do for a career.  It’s also not enough that most of us are working real jobs while we also partake in endless hours of class and homework.  For some reason, these are not enough dues paid.  We must pay more.  Enter the class work or homework that you, the professor, know has no answer or solution.  The unsolvable problem.  The unattainable quest.

I have never encountered this in my education before.  I may have banged my head against the table attempting to solve for x in high school algebra, but I was always confident that there was indeed an answer.  My teacher could never be so cruel as to assign an unsolvable problem.  Other things may have changed throughout my education–citation style desired, writing style desired, form notes should be taken in–but this one thing remained true.  There was always an answer to the problem.

Then grad school came.  I will never forget the endless hours I spent attempting to figure out how to update a mythical library’s computers so that all of them would run in a similar capability level within a certain budget only to find out after the assignment was handed in that the problem was impossible! Hah!  See, what I learned there is, in the real world, sometimes there is no solution.

Well duh!  I know that sometimes it sucks in the real world.  I know sometimes there’s just not enough money for what you need.  I didn’t live on a intern’s salary of $120 a month and expect to be able to eat anything beyond pasta and olive oil.  This, however, is not the real world.  This is school.  You are not being creative.  You are not teaching us a valuable lesson.  If you really were concerned about this, you could do something like tell us in lecture that sometimes your budget isn’t big enough to do what your boss wants you to do.  Or sometimes databases suck and won’t work to find what you need.  Or you could create an actually useful assignment that doesn’t lie to us and tell us “your boss is being an asshole and expects you to do all this with this minuscule amount of money. Figure out the best solution you can that might make him happy.”

You are not being creative when you make us do class work consisting of attempts to find articles in databases that you know won’t be there.  You could just tell us “this database is only good for these types of things.”  I mean, isn’t that what grad school is for?  To teach us the librarian-fu secrets that will make us look bad-ass on the job?

For the love of god, we are paying enough dues already.  We’ve been running on less than healthy amounts of sleep since we were around 16 years old.  We’ve chugged unhealthy amounts of caffeine, studied endlessly for standardized tests, filled out confusing as fuck application forms, and more.  Grad school should be about helping us, not giving us more hoops to jump through.

So, please, please, stop giving us assignments you know are impossible to solve.

If you don’t, I swear I’ll stop caring about them altogether.

Sincerely,

One annoyed grad student

Movie Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

February 9, 2010 2 comments

Two green faces looking at each other.Summary:
Elizabeth wakes up one morning to discover her boyfriend, Jeffrey, being distant and acting odd.  She nearly immediately intuitively senses that this man is not Jeffrey.  The only people to believe her are her boss, Matt, and an author and his wife.  Together the four of them struggle against the nearly invisible alien invasion of a type of plant that morphs human bodies in with their own personalities, thereby replacing the humans.

Review:
This is a remake of the 1956 movie of the same name.  I was told you don’t need to watch the 1956 version first, but now I’m not so sure.  A lot of the story just didn’t make any sense, and I’m wondering if those are plot points that were better addressed in the 1956 version.  For instance, what makes someone at risk to become an alien hybrid?  We know that the aliens came into Elizabeth’s household on a flower, yet her boyfriend morphs overnight whereas she does not.  Why?  Similarly, a process is started by the aliens and at some point it becomes dangerous for that person to sleep, for when they sleep, the metamorphosis completes.  Why isn’t everyone transforming in their sleep?  At what point is it dangerous to sleep?  Why does sleep complete the metamorphosis?  For that matter, why do the aliens duplicate the humans’ dna in a pod?  Why don’t they just invade the body and combine dna that way?  Why does the person’s body disappear when the pod is complete?  Why have they come to earth?  And for the love of god, why do they make that horrible screeching noise?  I’m pretty sure plants don’t generally make noise.  Obviously, this movie left me with a lot of questions and not many answers, and that’s something I don’t tolerate well from my scifi movies.  If you’re going to do scifi, do it well.  Build a world that is not our own but still makes sense!  It ruins the experience for me if I’m continually yanked out of that world by my brain going, “Wait…..what?!”

On the other hand, the special effects are really good for the 1970s.  The opening with the alien life wafting around space is impressive and reminded me of cgi.  The pods are simultaneously realistic-looking and grotesque.  Whatever noise they recorded for the aliens screeching is truly spine-chilling.

Two items of note.  The first is that you get to see Jeff Goldblum of Jurassic Park in another brainy, geek role, which is fun.  Also, there’s some brief nudity, which is always fun in a movie when it’s not in the context of awkward, obviously not really happening sex.

If you like scifi you won’t regret watching this movie.  Just be sure to have something to do while you watch it–like knitting, or a game of Clue–to keep your mind off of the glaring plot holes and unanswered questions.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Movie Review: Phantasm (1979)

February 8, 2010 3 comments

Person standing on a sphere and another figure standing in front of it.Summary:
After Mike’s parents and a family friend die, he starts to suspect something sinister is going on at the Morningside funeral home.  After seeing cloaked dwarves and a flying sphere of death, he manages to convince his brother Jody that not all is right.  The two set out to defeat The Tall Man before any more townspeople die.

Review:
It’s rare for a movie to be simultaneously funny and scary, but Phantasm pulls it off well.  The Tall Man is incredibly spooky.  His mere appearance makes you jump.  Yet the dialogue provides comic relief.  An example is early in the movie, Mike thinks he’s heard something sinister in the woods.  Jody respond, “Ah, it was probably just a gopher in heat.”

The spooky elements are actually creative.  Very few horror tropes are utilized.  Some of the scenes reminded me of The Shining, with the eerie, waiting, quiet.  The audience and the character knows something is afoot, yet there is nothing right then that is actually wrong.  It gives delicious chills down the spine.

What really tips this over into awesomeland, is the character Reggie–an ice cream truck driver.  For almost the entire movie, he wears his ice cream man uniform complete with a giant black bow tie, yet he manages to be badass.  He jams on the guitar with the teenagers and fights a good fight.  He’s such a creative character, going beyond the immediate perception of an ice cream man.  I wish there were more characters like him in horror movies.

If you enjoy old-school horror with a touch of comedy, or just want to see some creative scares, I recommend Phantasm.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Friday Fun! (Grad School Returns)

February 5, 2010 4 comments

Grad school is fully back in swing.  While I still wish I could miraculously have the copious amount of time I had over winter break when I was just working full-time, instead of working full-time and attending grad school part-time, I don’t totally hate my classes this semester. Yet.

One of my classes is on being an academic librarian in science and technology.  The professor is an adjunct, which means he works in the field and knows what he’s talking about.  Miraculously, I have yet to loathe any of my fellow students in that class.  In fact, I even like some of them.  A couple of them were in my medical librarianship class last spring, and I enjoy hanging out with them while they smoke on our break.  They don’t have this false sense of being superheroes a lot of students in the program do.  They just want a good, stable career, like me.

My other class is an online one on academic libraries.  I’ve found I learn more in online classes, not sure why.  I pretty much can’t stand any of my fellow students in it, but that’s ok.  It’s easy to just roll your eyes at the statements made when you’re not trapped in a classroom with them.  I like the professor though, and the assignments seem like I’ll actually learn something from them.

I’ve reached the climax in the novella that I’m writing.  I’m excited to get to edit it and send it off to a friend for critique.  I seem to actually be following through on my, totally not officially made but thought about a lot, resolution to write my novellas/books more.  I really feel like the time I’m spending working on improving my writing is well spent, which is a pretty darn good feel good pill.  Maybe someday you guys will get to review my books! Lol.

Happy weekend!

Movie Review: World’s Greatest Dad (2009)

February 5, 2010 2 comments

Robin Williams holding a coffee cup in his bathrobe.Summary:
Lance knows he’s a good writer with a voice that deserves to be heard, but somehow it gets lost in the shuffle of his everyday life as a divorced high school English teacher and dad to his teenage son.  His son is a jerk and a bit of a pervert, but Lance’s love for him helps him get through the day.  When he comes home to find his son dead from erotic asphyxiation, his world is turned upside down.

Review:
This movie is a wonderful study of multiple, well-rounded, three-dimensional characters.  From Lance to his hoarding neighbor to his art teacher, shallow, childish, love interest and everyone in-between, this movie is chock full of characters who are believable as real people.  You want to study them more in-depth.  You want to know what makes them tick.

Lance is such a likeable guy.  He’s sweet, loves old horror movies, strives to write the best he can.  All he wants out of life is to be recognized, not just on the level of his writing, but in his life over-all.  He desperately wants to be noticed and loved.  Parents will appreciate that whatever it is that makes Lance’s son such a jerk, it is never portrayed as Lance’s fault.

Beyond the wonderful characters, the movie makes a great commentary on what makes a book publishable.  It points out the hypocrisy of popularity surrounding a controversy and the general sheep-like quality of the masses.  This combined with the character studies makes it well worth the watch.

I recommend it to those who enjoy character-driven movies with a wry sense of humor.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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