thewayne: (Default)
I was discussing the VLA with a friend on LJ and realized that I shot it twice in '13 during the last government shutdown and never got around to posting photos. Well, I've remedied that and just finished uploading a dozen. I also reset my hit counter. The images are at WayneWestPhotography.com.

I'm honestly not too happy with the shoots, which is part of the reason why I never uploaded photos.  When I did the first shoot, I was at that time also shooting for the local newspaper as part of a class.  They wanted everything just shot as JPEG, no RAW.  I forgot to reset my camera when I arrived at the site, and EVERYTHING I SHOT WAS IN JPEG.  Well, you can suck JPEGs in to Photoshop and do some adjustments, but you've already lost a lot of info with the camera having already done image adjustments and compression, so it hardly seems worth it.  I was tremendously pissed off at myself over this, but I've lost a lot of that anger in the intervening four years, and did some work today, partly while I was at the dentist and not holding my wife's hand, partly while waiting for cookies to bake (I adjusted my oatmeal/chocolate chip/macadamia nut recipe by adding two tablespoons of molasses: very interesting result).  And I played a bit with a couple of HDR shots that are kind of cool.  When the government shut-down, I high-tailed it out to Socorro when I read that not only was the observatory shut-down, but all the telescopes had been parked pointing at zenith, straight up.  That was just too cool a photo opportunity to miss.

The second shoot was after the government shutdown had been resolved, but it was going to take at least a week to recall all of the workers who had dispersed hither and yon on an unpaid vacation, so the spouse and I loaded up the poodle and went.  She wasn't able to go on the first shoot as she was working.  I had my camera set correctly for the second shoot, but my telephoto wasn't doing a good job focusing, so again, I wasn't really satisfied with the output.

Well, it looks very probable that we're about to have yet another government shutdown.  Which means that it's very probable that NRAO will shut down again, I'll have to keep an eye on their web site.  I'm going to Phoenix this weekend -- my mom is having a yard sale and my dad has a broken bone in his foot -- so I won't be able to get up there this weekend, but I should be able to go next.  We shall see.  And now I have much better equipment: I've replaced the legs on my tripod, I have a full-frame camera, and a new (to me) 75-300 zoom.  I've pretty much retired my 28-300 that I shot with in '13.

The reason for resetting the hit counter is it seems like I am always getting the same 15 photos with the most hits.  I keep meaning to mine the logs and see where the hits for those photos are coming from, and seeing if there are web sites somewhere exploiting my pix for profit without my permission.  I could always do a bit of sabotage to them if I wanted to: replace those images with a sign that says 'If you want to use my photo for advertising, you need to contact me for licensing.'
thewayne: (Default)

The repair guy in Alamogordo fixed my AV receiver!  He never heard from Onkyo about a replacement board, so he did some digging online and apparently it's a fairly common failure, common enough for their to be repair tutorials.  He dug in with a soldering iron, replaced some caps, and IT LIVES!

$60, plus my original $20 deposit.  Seems fine.  The only glitch putting it back together was one of my speaker wires broke -- at the speaker!  easy enough to fix with a pocket knife.  Plus apparently the digital port is on the amplifier board, not the HDMI board, so if it happens again, I could buy a HDMI switch with an optical out and bypass the HDMI board entirely.

thewayne: (Default)
We went to Las Cruces this morning and participated in the march which was sort of co-promoted with the Earth Day people. I sported a sign that said Dog > Dogma on one side and Free Cookies on the other: I carried a small Igloo cooler with my oatmeal/chocolate/macadamia nut cookies that I baked last night, gave away about 50 of 'em. Russet's sign on one side said Science flies us to the moon, Dogma flies us in to buildings, the other side said Man wrote the bible, God wrote the stars. I had told her about the Science flies us to the moon, religion flies us in to buildings, and we agreed that Las Cruces and Alamogordo is too religious and it could be somewhat provocative to word it quite that way.

One astronomer from Apache Point who lives up on the mountain came with us, another who lives in Las Cruces was there along with an observatory retiree and a friend. People were chanting "What do we want?" "Science!" "When do we want it?" "Now!" With the "Now!", we started shouting "After peer review!" which got people laughing and shouting it with us.

The retiree and her friend had the most awesome knit hats! They weren't pussy hats, they weren't brain hats, they were pussy/brain hats! I WANT ONE!

Every time I gave away cookies I'd talk about how baking was precise measurements, repeatability, controlled environments, etc. I should have added chemical reactions to my shpeel. I once got mobbed by about a dozen polite kids, it was tremendous fun.  I wanted a large sign that said Baking Is Science, but I just didn't feel like driving down to Alamogordo on Friday to get the materials for it.  Still, Russet cobbled together some decent little signs for us. Next year I think I'll have a proper placard: I doubt these marches will stop as long as The Orange One is in office, and Earth Day is the perfect day for a science march.
thewayne: (Default)
I've been watching a lot of these today, and I think this one to Jurassic World is perhaps the best single video. The one for Captain America: Civil War is also quite excellent.

thewayne: (Default)
We know "45"'s famous Respect For Women, as evidenced from the wide variety of comments that he's made over the years, add to the fact that he cheated on his previous wives and is now on his third marriage. He may genuinely love Melania, we have no way of knowing what goes on behind closed doors, but clearly she is a trophy wife and we don't really see her face light up when he walks in to a room. Crosswise, we have seen her face shut down when he turns away from her. And he is 24 years older. She worked for him as a model in his now-closing modelling agency, without a proper work permit, thus illegally, before they were wed, which raises all sorts of icky questions about coercion.

Wednesday I came across an interesting article on Huffington Post, talking about how he had horrible etiquette vis a vis his body language towards his wife. The subtitle of the article is that he's a husband before he's president. He's on the ground before his wife is half way down the stairs when de-planing, etc.

This got me thinking. Add to this that DC has amazing schools because of all the diplomats etc. in DC and Melania not having any interest in moving there. What if it is purely a trophy marriage? I decided to look in to some dates in the Trump household.

Trump: born 6/16/1946
Melania: born 4/26/1970
Married: 1/22/2005
Barron born: 3/20/2006
(dates from Wikipedia)

Barron was born ALMOST EXACTLY NINE MONTHS AFTER TRUMP'S BIRTHDAY. HE'S A BIRTHDAY SEX BABY!

I offer no conjecture whether or not they have sex aside from birthdays, I just found this quite amusing. It would be interesting to backtrack the birthdates of his other children, but frankly, I can't be bothered.

My wife said that his "you can grab 'em by the ..." comment was made when Melania was pregnant with Bannon. I haven't verified those dates, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least as he is such a class act.
thewayne: (Default)
This is the second time in a month or so that for reasons unknown, 130 apps were transferred to my phone while syncing. WTF!!! This is ridiculous. I could delete them from my library, but there are several that I know I'll be adding back later, such as the Washington, DC subway schedule app what I only use one week a year.

*sigh*

Definite WTF.

ETA: I went ahead and deleted most of the apps from my library. In one case I went to look it up in the iTunes store and it was no longer available.
thewayne: (Default)
Everyone's always said that 420 was a police radio code about people smoking pot. It isn't. The story is quite interesting and goes back to 1971! Naturally there's lots of references to the Grateful Dead and the magazine High Society. Here's a pretty full telling from Huffington Post: www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/20/420-meaning-the-true-stor_n_543854.html

Myself, honestly, I've never indulged. Aside from having worked for a major police department for nine years (computer stuff, not a sworn position), I've had bad lungs all my life, and having pneumonia five times in seven months in 2009 really kinda actively discouraged smoking pot. If New Mexico ever legalizes it recreationally, which is projected to happen possibly within 5 years, I'll gladly try pot brownies, that'll probably be my avenue. And I could probably use it right now, I've been kinda hyper-stressed and depressed because of my utter lack of success in the job search area these days. But that is the way things go. And I refuse to adopt an alcohol habit! :-)

I do have an amusing second-hand 420 story for you. In Colorado, after they legalized marijuana for personal use, they had problems with people stealing the mile marker 420 sign from I-25. So they changed the sign to mile marker 419.9. Surveyors, satellites, geographic surveys, all that. Just to keep people from stealing a stupid traffic sign.
thewayne: (Default)
My hart is boken! Howeverswill he make ends meat! Surely heswill end up on the streets in the gutter, (hopefully) a broken man.

I'm sure there are a few more people he can kill in his alleged historical books if he sets his pea-brain to it.

*snerk*
thewayne: (Default)
We lost a rocker last week, and I haven't seen word one on DW/LJ. *sigh*

J. Geils was the founder of the J. Geils Band, best known for hits such as Angel Of The Centerfold, Love Stinks, and Freeze-Frame. The band was founded in 1967! He was found dead at his home of apparent natural causes, he was 71.

The album Love Stinks was released in 1980, Freeze-Frame followed the next year and was the band's 12th album. They didn't last much longer as a band and broke up in 1985, but started the inevitable reunion tours in 1999. Geils himself went on and did several solo albums throughout the years.

I'm quite fond of Love Stinks, they were pretty solid rockers. That album, aside from the title track, also had some great ones in the forms of Come Back and No Anchovies.

www.rollingstone.com/music/news/guitarist-j-geils-dead-at-71-w476279
thewayne: (Default)
[personal profile] lovelyangel made an interesting post yesterday about photography, asking whether or not your current camera is the last camera body that you'll ever buy. I highly recommend the post as she brings up some points that I'm not going to dwell on here.

Good food for thought. I've been shooting for about 40 years now, digital for 15+. I can't class Nikon bodies as to what is what in the Pro vs Consumer or Prosumer spectrum, when it comes to Canon, it's pretty clear: 1D series is Pro, 5D series is just under it, and 6D is the top of the line prosumer: full-frame, but not quite the full-metal body of the 1 and 5. Then you have the consumer Digital Rebel series. The Rebels are quite adequate and I spent a number of years shooting them, and I still own one. But now my main camera is a 6D.

Two decisions went in to me buying the 6D over a used 5D Mark II (Mk III wasn't out at that time and I couldn't afford new), the 1D was never in the race as the price point was just ridiculous for me. I knew I needed a full-frame DSLR to get rid of the 1.6 multiplier for lens focal length caused by the imaging chip crop. This prevents you from having true wide-angle lenses, and that's critical for me. I'd lived without it for a decade, and that was long enough. The first reason for buying the 6D was price. It's simply much less expensive than the 5D. The first generation 6D also had built-in GPS and WiFi. I don't normally use the GPS when shooting locally, but it was turned on constantly when I was shooting in Germany. The second was weight. Again, very nice when I was shooting in Europe, but nice overall. Electronics-wise, the 5D has some slightly better features than the 6D, but price won out.

Will it be the last body that I buy? Ignoring loss (theft or damage), it's a possibility. Like Amy, I'd like larger pixels for improved lower light sensitivity for shooting at night at the observatory (homey don't do weddings and ain't much of a people shooter). For me, I expect I'll be buying more glass as I don't have the exact mix of lenses that I want: though I'm happy with what I have, I need a long zoom and I'd like a wide fixed and perhaps a fast normal and fast 85mm, though not a priority on the last two. I'm very slow on acquiring gear: it's not just my unemployed state, it's my attitude of my gear fits my needs pretty well.

Which still dances around whether or not this is my last body. In short, probably. It takes a lot of shooting to wear out a body, and I haven't done that yet. I currently shoot three bodies, plus, occasionally, my iPhone. My cameras are: Canon 6D, Canon Rebel SL1, and my Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 (I also have a Elan 7e film body, though I have no plans for that to ever be used again, you never know). I'll be keeping the two Canons, barring theft or the body failing, but I am planning on replacing the Lumix. There's another Lumix model that I covet: it's pretty much the same size, so it's easily kept in my pocket, about the same lens focal length, the difference for me is that it has a viewfinder. It has a fake place for your eye that detects your eye being there and turns on a tiny LCD screen, just like the big one on the back. The difference is that I can't use the big one on the back for composition without putting on my reading glasses, which means the rest of the world goes fuzzy. So either the composition is clear and the world is fuzzy, or the composition is fuzzy and approximate and the world is clear. Annoying. I think that would be worth spending less than $400 to remove an annoyance, if I ever get another job.

Thinking about it, my Lumix is currently my primary camera based on current usage, but that changes when I have a specific objective when shooting with friends. But that's all mainly because I can carry it in my pocket all the time.

The Rebel SL1 fills a specific niche. Actually, it fills two. First, it's a Digital Rebel, which means a smaller sensor, which means all focal lengths get multiplied by 1.6. Thus the 100mm lens becomes a 170mm lens. Fantastic for telephoto shooting, sucks for wide-angle. I have a 75-300mm for wildlife and other telephoto shooting, so this body will stay until it dies, and it's pretty inexpensive to replace if you don't mind used equipment, and 90% of my equipment over the years I've bought used. It's very lightweight and small, so nice to transport. Excellent backup and specialist camera.


I'm going to talk about one more thing: what are the reasons to buy new camera bodies? Ignoring buying a new body for sheer newfangledness, I see it for two reasons: pixel lust and feature lust. Pixel lust breaks down to more or bigger. More is sort of a false race at this point: while 20 is better than 10, for more people 30 is not markedly better than 20. The sheer number of pixels is not terribly meaningful, but the size of the pixels is. Let's do the time warp: five years ago, cell phones and DSLRs were beyond 5 megapixels and people were saying that cell phones were going to replace DSLRs. There's two problems with that line of thought. Yes, in terms of the raw number of pixels, that was true. But the cell phone pixels were crammed in to an area the size of your pinkie thumb nail while the DSLRs were the size of a postage stamp and thus were much larger. When the number is the same, size matters. Second, when the density is increased, in the case of cell phones, other problems emerge: cross-talk between pixels, increased noise, false colors, etc. So while cell phone pictures look great on a computer monitor, blow it up to a 16x20" print and it won't look nearly as good.

There's also generational improvements in digital technology. Last month I gave my mom one of those digital picture frames loaded up with photos from my wedding. My wife and I were married 12 years ago, and our wedding was shot by a friend using two Digital Rebels and two film bodies. And we really should have hired a professional. T is a very good photographer, but the equipment quality just wasn't that great. I was cleaning up those photos prior to loading them on to a memory card and was proverbially gritting my teeth, mentally comparing them to what my cameras produce today. That's viewing them on two computers: a late 2015 27" iMac with a 5K display and a 2011 1" MacBook Pro. The flaws in the camera electronics are quite obvious. I know the electronics in my current cameras are amazingly awesome: but what are they going to be like in another 10 years?

30 years ago, my mom asked me what computers would be like in another 20 years. My answer holds true today and for the future, and for photography: smaller, lighter, faster, less expensive, but I have no idea beyond that. Ask any serious photographer and they probably have more money in glass and other equipment than bodies, and next year's bodies work on last year's glass. My oldest Canon lens, a 35-105 (the first Eos lens that I ever bought), is from the late '80s and works just fine on my 6D from 2-3 years ago.
thewayne: (Default)
Peanut butter-filled pretzels + Almond Chocolate Spread = YUM. If you don't have a TJ's nearby, you might be able to cobble something similar together. If not, well, your loss. :-)

I dip the pretzel nuggets directly in to the jar. I think I brought four jars back from Phoenix last month, and if needs must, I can drive up to Albuquerque for more.
thewayne: (Default)
It's the receiver.

I bought a nice Onkyo A/V receiver two years ago that has SIX HDMI inputs and had no problem switching between them all. Two nights ago it went wacko. If I paired it with my iPhone via Bluetooth for playing music, it was fine, so it was apparently just the HDMI portion of the unit.

The thing that frightens me is that it is actually the most expensive thing to replace. The problem was clearly not the TV, I had a spare satellite receiver/DVR on-hand, the DVD/Bluray player is replaceable for less than $100, as was the Apple TV. But the receiver? A factory refurb unit was $300. While I didn't need all six HDMI ports, I was using three and was going back and forth whether or not I'd want to use a fourth to add a gaming console, which I had not done yet.

This morning I linked up my laptop through the Apple TV and streamed some Doctor Who (first season Eccleston) through Amazon Prime: video, no sound. Then I hooked up my laptop directly to the RCA output of the DVR through an Elgato video capture and it reported an HDMI problem. So I disconnected all the cables (after carefully labeling them with tape and a Sharpie and connected the DVR and DVD directly to the TV, and they're working fine: perfect video and audio.

So I guess I'm heading down the mountain. We have a repair shop in Alamogordo, I hope he's good. I discussed the problem with him, he'll look at it for $20 cash, says that it's possible that a reset might do the trick.

Fingers crossed. I can live without the receiver for now, but I HATE living without my B&W speakers! TV sound SUUUUUUCKS! While my hearing is no where near 100%, there's such a huge difference between cheap Sylvania TV speakers from what's probably a 10 y/o TV and gorgeous speakers by Bowers & Wilkins. Let me tell you: these speakers may be over 30 years old, but they still sound absolutely phenomenal.

At least I didn't lose the DVR and all the programming on it, and I'll be able to watch the season premier of Doctor Who and Class tomorrow.
thewayne: (Default)
My A/V system is sorta blowed up. I'm not sure if the satellite receiver/DVR is toast, or what, and I'm not confident that I'll have everything working in time for Dr. Who/Class on Saturday. Theoretically it'll be available to download on-demand after it airs, but no guarantees.

Not a happy camper. I'm getting very confusing symptoms: DVR isn't working right, DVD/Bluray player isn't working right, Apple TV is giving video but doesn't seem to be giving audio, stereo receiver which is providing HDMI switching between everything is playing audio via Bluetooth from my phone just fine. Everything seemed perfect Tuesday night, though I can't recall when I last watched a DVD, it's probably been a month or so.

So I'm not sure WTF is going on, aside from something appears massively borked. On top of that, I'm pushing a class deadline to complete making a video and have to go out and get three cavities taken care of this afternoon, so I don't really have time to muck with this.

*sigh* Such fun. On top of that, I'm having a power problem with my laptop. Either multiple power supplies going bad, or the MagSafe adapter on my MacBook Pro needs to be replaced.

In the words of Roseanne Roseannadanna, if it's not one thing, it's another.
thewayne: (Default)
On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in the Vostok 1 space launch. 20 years later, the first NASA space shuttle launch, STS-1, happened. It was first celebrated in 2001, 40 years after Yuri's flight, and is now a world-wide event as World Space Party night.

Sounds good to me.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri%27s_Night
thewayne: (Default)
I just created a community here called [community profile] good_eats and posted my chocolate mousse pie recipe on it. There was such a community on LJ, but it started getting overrun by spammers, and the owner changed it to a moderated page, then left LJ without making anyone else a moderator! I tried contacting her on several occasions with no success.

Well, I like to talk about food, so I created another! There's no restrictions on joining or posting, I just ask that we keep politics out of the discussions as there are plenty of places to bitch about that.
thewayne: (Default)
UserPic icons!

At some time I paid for LJ and had over 100 icons, and the transfer moved over 10-15. So I'm in the process of copying them down, which is going to take a little bit of time.

Thus, if this is something of any importance to you, you might want to check what's in your account before deleting your LJ, assuming you're going to delete your LJ. My current plan is to probably make all entries previous entries private and only the cross-posts will continue over there.
thewayne: (Default)
I am now 55 and have been married for a dozen years, for both of us it's our first and hopefully only.  And I've been receiving AARP junk mail for a decade!  It usually goes straight in the trash at the post office, though on occasion they trick me in to opening it.  Fortunately they haven't sniffed my email address yet!  A friend of mine started receiving AARP mail in his 30s!

My first senior citizen discount was at a movie theater in Las Cruces, probably a decade ago.  I've had lots of white/grey in my beard for decades now, and some teen gave me the discount.  I was both amused and befuddled.  I had not asked for it, but neither was I going to turn it down.  And I've had occasional senior discounts at movie theaters since then.

Earlier this year, or perhaps late December, after I turned 55 my wife and I went to IHOP after a late movie, it was well after midnight.  And I ordered off the Senior menu.  Part of ordering off it was sort of a celebration thing, but the main part was they had what I wanted on that menu: two eggs, hash browns, bacon, and two pancakes.  I didn't want a huge meal, and it worked perfectly for my desire.  Then things got a little weird.  I prefer my eggs sunnyside-up.  The waiter looked a little confused, went away to plug our order in to the computer, then came back: they can't do sunnyside-up BECAUSE THERE'S NO SUCH OPTION IN THE COMPUTER.  They have over easy, over hard, scrambled, probably an option for blending mithril in to it.  But no sunnyside-up.  Now here's the funny bit: ALMOST EVERY PHOTO IN THEIR MENU SHOWS EGGS SUNNYSIDE-UP.  Yet their order system can't handle that.  VERY strange.

Last month when my wife and I went to see Beauty and the Beast while in Phoenix, I realized the girl in the ticket booth hadn't charged me as much as I'd expected.  Once in the theater I looked at the tickets and found that both were charged as senior citizens.  Now, although I'm 55, most theaters seem to have a 60 y/o limit for seniors.  Still, not complaining!  I'm just glad that I'm not paying NY or LA ticket prices!  So my wife and I have decided to change strategies when it comes to movies.  Our normal methodology was that she'd get the tickets and I'd get in line for concessions.  We're switching that in hopes that I might occasionally win the (very poor paying) lottery and get senior discounts.

Do you have an interesting senior discount memory?  I'd love to hear it!
thewayne: (Default)
"Elijah Cummings was in my office and he said, 'You will go down as one of the greatest presidents in the history of our country.'"
-- Trump

"I have said repeatedly that he could be a great president if -- if -- he takes steps to truly represent all Americans rather than continuing the divisive and harmful path he is on."
-- Congressman Elijah Cummings

I'll put my money that what Representative Cummings said is more accurate than what "45" said.

thewayne: (Default)
She's doing an elimination diet this week, and thus far it looks like cheese is the issue. The next stage will be to determine if it's all dairy, or just cheese. Then is it all cheese, or specifically hard or soft cheese.

If it's all cheese, there's going to have to be some lifestyle changes. We live mainly on Mexican and Italian cuisines, both known for copious amounts of cheese. Many dishes can be done without cheese, but I see a probable increase in Asian dishes in our future, a cuisine that we also love, there just isn't much available locally that is of any quality. We found an awesome Chinese restaurant in El Paso that we've been to twice in the last couple of months, so at least there's that. They have a page of traditional Chinese dishes, including beef tendon and chicken feet, so confidence was high that they'd be good. (not that I'm interested in trying either) I'd also like to try my hand at Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches, their beef prep is just amazingly flavorful.

And it's not easy to wok on an electric range.
thewayne: (Default)
Books:
1/2 Miniatures: The Very Best Short Fiction of John Scalzi
1/5 Twenty-Sided Sorceress 1-3, Annie Bellet
2/11 Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson

Movies:
1/06 Sing
1/07 Hidden Figures
1/25 The Founder
2/11 Resident Evil: Final Chapter
2/19 Lego Batman 3D
2/21 The Great Wall
3/07 Logan
3/27 Beauty and the Beast (2017)

I figured that if I could consistently do this quarterly that it would be a lot less work than trying to do everything early next year!

Miniatures.
This new release by Scalzi is a collection of some of his short work, in some cases, very short. Lots of fun stuff if you like Scalzi, including a multi-part work about going back in time to kill Hitler and what the repercussions would be. Fun stuff.

Twenty-Sided Sorceress, 1-3. This collection of three books: Justice Calling, A Murder of Crows, and Pack of Lies is a YA series about a woman living in a town of witches and werewolves who just happens to be a sorceress, a type of practitioner who is not trusted in the magic community. The reason for the mistrust is fairly simple: when a sorcerer/ess kills someone, they can suck their power and add it to their own (except for weres). Jade Crow is keeping a low profile, running a comic book/game store, when Bad Things Start To Happen. Most of it is because of her ex-boyfriend, a sorcerer who trains up neophytes then kills them to suck their power, decides it's time for her to die. She escaped before he thought she was ripe for the plucking. This was an impulse ebook buy and a lot of fun, though a tad Mary Sue-ish. The characters were decently-done, and you definitely don't want to mess with Jade when she has her mean on. When I can find a collection of the subsequent books I'll probably buy them, but I'm not going to actively seek them out. These three books set up the confrontation, but the battle with the ex won't be for another book or two at least.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. I don't normally read RomComs, though I do occasionally like them in the movies. Something about the description of this one intrigued me, so again, impulse buy. It's a contemporary setting in rural East Sussex about a retired English Army Major whose brother has an unexpected heart attack and dies. The Major has been alone for several years since his wife died, has never gotten along particularly well with his sister in law, and his son is a rather alien financier in The City. He's rather staid in his ways, and things come to a head with his brother's death. The Major's grandfather was a war hero in India and was awarded a pair of Churchill fowling pieces for service in rescuing the family of an Indian prince. The guns, as a matched set, are worth a very respectable amount of money. And his father, upon his death, gave each of the boys one of the shotguns, with the understanding that on the passing of one brother, the gun would be returned to the other. Alas, he didn't explicitly spell that out in the will. And the sister in law, and his son, know the guns are quite valuable and are trying to press the Major to sell his piece along with the other and split the proceeds. But that's just one story thread. The real 'Last Stand' is the Major slowly falling in love with a Pakistani woman who runs the town's shoppe. She is also a widow, and also a tremendous lover of books. Except for skin color and people talking, they are an ideal couple. The story of their relationship, and the difficulties in their getting together, is very well woven (IMO). What I found most interesting is that this is Helen Simonson's first published novel! Her second novel was released earlier this year and is not a continuation, which I'm both glad and not happy with. The book is in development as a movie, and I think it should be a lot of fun if they do a good job.


Sing. While it is a new year, I would class Sing as one of the better animated movies that I've seen in the last year. Excellent story, and amazing character acting. And it's sitting on the coffee table in front of me, I expect to watch it again soon.

Hidden Figures. What a movie! While there was no chance it would win the Oscar for Best Motion Picture, it certainly deserved the nomination. It tells the story of black women, mathematicians, working on the space program to launch the first American (man, of course) in to space and later the moon landings. Just an amazing movie. It definitely felt time-compressed, but lots of movies have to do that to cover the key points of the material and to get them in to one movie.

The Founder. Again, what a movie! But I also cannot blanket recommend this movie to just anyone. It's the story of Ray Kroc and the founding of McDonald's, though it might be more accurate to describe it as the theft of McDonald's. Kroc was a literal traveling salesman, selling milk shake mixers to drive-in restaurants. It wasn't exactly making him rich, then he receives a major order from two brothers running a little restaurant in California. He drives out there to see why they needed so many machines, and in a contrast to the slow and messy teen hangouts that he had been selling to, he sees a clean operation where people line up to order at a window and are handed a bag with their burger and fries. It blows his mind, and he talks the owners in to letting him franchise the operation. The dark side of this movie is that Ray is a pretty evil and conniving person, ultimately taking even the name from the founders. He was quite a slime ball, at least as shown in this movie, so it's hard to know how much is accurate and how much exaggeration or just pure fiction. I've been a fan of Michael Keaton for a long time, and he does an outstanding job of portraying Kroc.

Resident Evil: Final Chapter. Guilty pleasure movie. I've seen all of the Resident Evil movies and own the first couple, and just had to finish out the series. And it stays true to form: lots of zombie blasting, the evil Umbrella Corp., etc. A good wrap-up for the franchise. Basically a pretty decent shoot-'em-up, nothing terribly deep here. Basic popcorn movie with very good stuntwork and fight choreography.

Lego Batman 3D. Another guilty pleasure movie. I hadn't seen the previous The Lego Movie, but I had friends recommend it. And there was a certain silly vibe of this movie that really resonated with me. One evening while my wife and I were in Phoenix for the renaissance festival, we went to the movies. And in this case, the plural is accurate: she once again saw Star Wars: Rogue One, I saw Lego Batman. Lots of fun, pure silly. I absolutely loved the villains saying Pew! Pew! as they fired their blasters! AND as a bonus, I got a Lego Batman bag of Lego parts, which I haven't assembled yet. I think it's for the Bat Wing. Lots of good call-outs to the Adam West TV series and the previous live movies. And I expect I'll buy it, it'll be a good 'too sick to work' movie for watching when suffering from brain death and unable to sleep.

The Great Wall. Lots has gone on in the last few years with Caucasian actors appropriating Asian roles, but that's not really the case here. This is an original work with Caucasians in addition to Chinese casting. Yes, Matt Damon is a star, but he's not the only hero in this film and not remotely the best hero. The director, Zhang Yimou, denies the 'White Savior' trope, and I agree. The Washington Post critic says Damon is "heroic, but also clearly a foil for the superior principles and courage of his Chinese allies." It's a basic monster movie, but with some good twists. Lots of fun, I've seen it twice and will consider picking it up. It's not a giant monster movie, but the monsters are quite good. Amazing stunts and mass battle scenes. Right now it is one of four movies to make more than $100million in China while not making that much in the USA. While it made good money in Asia, it's considered a loss in the USA excluding the aftermarket of digital sales and broadcast.

Logan. Granted, I only saw eight movies in the first quarter of the year. This, hands-down, is perhaps the best of the bunch. For an X-Men movie, sort of, it's a fantastic story and does an excellent job of wrapping up Hugh Jackman's and Patrick Stewart's roles as Wolverine and Professor X. VERY gritty, VERY violent, it definitely earned its R rating. There's not much to say about the movie without giving too much away because it has a heck of a story. There's obviously a 'rescue seemingly innocent young child from bad guys' that's seen in the trailers, but it's so much more than that. If you're a fan of Jackman's and Stewart's X-Men movies, this is an absolute must-see. And as a bonus for me, it's initially set in El Paso, so a lot of the scenery was very familiar.

Beauty and the Beast (2017).
I was whelmed. It was a decent enough movie, and the visuals were stunning, but it just didn't grab me the way that I expected to be grabbed. As much as I love Emma Watson, she's not a singer: they autotuned some or all of her songs. The saving grace for me was the animation of the transformed household items and their voice-acting, but also Kevin Kline. You just can't go wrong with Kevin, and his song is truly touching. Plus, he can sing. After seeing him in Pirates of Penzance (the movie, sadly not the actual production), boy is he a great comic actor! Granted, his role in this movie doesn't have much in the way of comedy, but still, he excels. Still, I wanted more and the movie just didn't deliver, and I can't really put my finger on what didn't work for me.

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