Spook-y writing

I mentioned that the upcoming movie, Seventh Son, was based (as near as I can tell at the time) on the book Spooks Apprentice.  Well, I got the book and took it on the trip to Oshkosh, to see if it's any good.

One thing I'm sure of is that there were many additions to the book (just based on that one trailer).  It could be that they came from later books in the series, or maybe they were entirely fabricated.  But the trailer made it look like fighting took up a large portion of the movie, while the book had very little fighting.

I am, however, sure that I got the right book.  Too many elements do line up.

My suspicion is that it was decided that the original book was too tame, and it needed to be "punched up to eleven".  The original is in the form of a diary, and a fairly informally written one, at that.  Also, as I said, conflicts were brief, and not a focus of the book.

Mostly, the book is about Thomas learning what his position is about, and a few of the threats he has to deal with.  There are also intimations that he is uniquely qualified for the position (aside from being the seventh son of a seventh son), and hints of other things to come in later books.

Some other bits of interest.  There are hints that the book takes place in our world (specifically, in the UK), although at an unspecified time in the past.  The vague hints of when seem to indicate pre-Industrial Revolution, but probably not a long while before that.

Anyway, as part of a coming of age story, I liked the book.  I suspect that I will not like the movie (certainly, the connection to the book is unlikely to make me like it more), but we'll see.

It isn't big and dramatic, and that's not a knock on it.  It was actually suggested to be a horror novel.  I'm really not big on horror (the movies generally make me laugh, more than anything, because of how ridiculous they are, and I generally avoid the books), but didn't find much there, horror-wise.  And again, that was not a bad thing.

I am curious about the later books, but I'm not sure if I'll chase them down.

Who's the greatest?

I was just reading Posnanski's latest missive, on golfing greatness. I really don't have anything to add to it, except one question that only occurred to me when reading the article. How many non-major tournaments have the players played in their career.

I know that if we were to compare playoff stats in most sports between Woods' time and Nicklaus' time, there'd be vastly more opportunities to win. I suspect it isn't as vast a gulf in golf as in, say, baseball, but I'd bet it's still a not-insignificant amount.


Who Am I?

(Yes, I'm aware of the excellent Jackie Chan movie of that title.  No, I'm not going to talk about it today.)

I previously mentioned not being a terribly big fan of Superman (or DC comics in general, really.  Even as a power-gaming RPGer teenager, DC struck me as being more about the power and less about the people.  And even then, I didn't find that terribly interesting).

Still, after a friend of mine mentioned the latest Superman movie owing at least one scene to a recent Superman graphic novel, I tracked down a couple of them.  After talking with him at some length (and finding reviews/summaries of various graphic novels), we determined that the one he was particularly thinking of was one called Superman: Secret Identity.

The short answer was that the scene he was thinking of was really the only thing that might have been inspired by that book, but the book itself was still fabulous.

Going hard against the stereotype I developed (and mentioned above), this book is focused almost entirely on the human aspects.

So, the book takes place on an earth indistinguishable from where we live (at least, as of X years ago, indistinguishable).  Superman is known there, but only as a comic book figure.  Against that backdrop, a boy named Clark Kent grows up in Kansas, and gains Superman's powers when he's a teen.  He doesn't want to tell anyone about it, but has to deal with a number of temptations to do so.

As a young writer (working for the New Yorker, not a daily newspaper), he's set up with a Lois Chaudhari after work one day.  She storms out to show her appreciation for the setup, but he follows her out, and they end up hitting it off.  Bigger temptation for telling.

And, of course, for quite a while, the government is investigating, looking for him (they know Superman is there, but not who he is).  He wants them off his back, and needs to figure out a way to make that happen.  He doesn't want to be a lab specimen, obviously.

What makes it even better is running the whole gamut of his life.  It starts with him as a teenager, and ends with him as an old man, retired from "hero" work and contemplating retirement from writing as well.

It's extremely well done from start to finish.  I certainly wouldn't say I was blown away by the art, but it was good.  The whole arc of the story, though?  Yeah, really, really good.  I should probably hunt down other work by the authors, but haven't yet.

Titanium Tools

Well, I've previously bought a couple of products (camranger, triggertrap) that started their lives as kickstarter projects.  But today I'm supporting a project for the first time.  It's a titanium multitool that looks pretty nifty.  Not sure I'll make a lot of use of it, but I will get some.

I'm hoping that, thanks to having far more than the minimum, they'll be able to get production started quicker, but that might well be unrealistic.  Still, I'm looking forward to it.


Judging music

When I was in middle/high school, I really enjoyed reading a lot of Piers Anthony's books. His first several books of a series were generally excellent, and I'll admit to reading some series well past that point (particularly Xanth, of which I read 10-12).

The point is, I read his Apprentice Adept series back then, and enjoyed it quite a bit. In it, there is this Game that is the center of the Proton (sci-fi-ish) world. A Game starts with a grid where progressively finer selections are made on a grid between two players. Eventually (whether cooperatively or competitively), they end up with a one-on-one challenge, which gets played out.

In it, the main character, Stile (a way over a fence between pastures, nothing to do with how he dresses) ends up in a musical performance competition with a professional musician. He ends up playing to the crowd, while the pro is a technical master. They play twice (the first ended in a draw, I believe, with the crowd choosing Stile, and the judges choosing their colleague), and the second time, the musician takes cues from Stile and plays much better.

The judges gave the victory to Stile, judging that if he was able to raise the level of playing of the other so much, he must be the better player. It always seemed a bit of a stretch, but now we have evidence that that never would have happened.

In her study, Tsay obtained complete audio and video recordings of 10 different classical music competitions, each of which featured three different finalists. At the end of each competition, a panel of expert judges had chosen a winner based on these performances.
When given the full performance, the novices performed about as well [at predicting winners, based on the clips they saw or heard] as the experts—and that turned out to be not well at all. With only three clips, they'd be expected to choose the winner a third of the time due to random chance alone. With the full performance, they only managed to guess correctly 35 percent of the time. Those who were given audio-only clips did even worse, getting it right 29 percent of the time.

But the surprise came from those given only visual clips. They got it right 46 percent of the time.

So, judging by this, it's very unlikely that the judges, even as well attuned as they are to the technical side of things, would have ever chosen the musician.

A bit of a surprise, and a good indication that any "sport" decided by judges is not terribly meritocratic. Not to belittle figure skaters, gymnasts, or others involved in similar sports, but it gives strong indication that the eyes lie (even when there is no prior bias, which is a definite issue as well, in international sports).

And as a side note, the first three books of that series ranged from excellent to pretty good. I wouldn't bother with the later ones.

Projection lens?

As usual, following Nikon Rumors for new things (although not as closely as I did before getting my D4). They're now speculating that it's likely the 300 f/4 will be updated soon. Reading the comments reminded me; I've heard several people say that they keep a 1.4 teleconverter always on their 300 f/4.

Combined with an earlier post about those teleconverters possibly being discontinued, I wonder if the new 300 f/4 will be introduced along with the new 1.4 converter.

I'd certainly consider buying both, if so (largely depending on price, although there is a question whether I need f/2.8 for gymnastics, too).

Grab the excitement

Since Toronto (inexplicably) used one of their compliance buy-outs on Mikhail Grabovski, I've been hoping that he'd end up on the Caps.

It's been a frustrating two-month wait (exacerbated by Mikey getting married and going on his honeymoon right after the buy out was announced), but today it became official.  He's going to be the second center, behind Nicky, where he'll hopefully drive possession (along with Erat and Brouwer, presumably) the same way he did in Toronto.

There are some concerns that he might be a bit of a head-case, although his lambasting of his former manager right after the buy out is not, to my mind, part of that concern.

Roster-wise, it does present an interesting question or two.

I can't see any way that MarJo doesn't re-sign with the Caps, which leaves lines something like:
MarJo - Backstrom - OV
Erat - Grabs - Brouwer
Laich - Perreault - Fehr
Chimmer - Beagle - Ward

Laich/MarJo/Perreault are the big question marks, in my mind.  You would think, with Laich having been projected as second center, that he'd naturally fall back into third center, but I hope that isn't the case.  Laich could go up to 1LW instead, although I doubt that'll happen unless MarJo refuses to sign.

And I really hope Matty P doesn't get dumped into no man's land, which is what would happen if Laich went back to 3C (although putting the Chimmer - Laich - Ward line back together as a very tough-minutes line wouldn't be bad.  If that happens, I hope the 4th line becomes a support-scoring line, rather than the more traditional defensive grinders).

I guess we'll see what Oates wants to do.  I'm now more hopeful about this team than I've been since the Montreal series.  If they can find someone to push Erskine back to third pairing (whether that's Dima or an outside option), they can go really far this year.


Continuing the trip

As I said, we got up to Chicago late at night, did a hair of scouting, and found a place to sleep.

I made it up, and over to Montrose Point before sunrise the next morning. I was a little worried about getting into the park (they'd closed the gate when we drove by close to midnight), but it was ok, as the gate was open when I arrived. And no problem finding parking. But photographically, not much happened there. I got a decent skyline shot (well, pano, actually), but there wasn't any real sunrise (color-wise, that is; too much cloud cover).

After shooting for a bit, I went back to the hotel, and got some more sleep.

We eventually woke up, ate breakfast, packed everything in the car, and drove over to Calumet, where my dad had arranged a rental of a 600mm lens for the airshow. We picked up the lens, put the arca-swiss plate I'd gotten onto it, and took a few test shots (I was feeling good about spending so much for my tripod, as it handled the load without flinching).

Things looked good, so we headed back to Montrose Point to do some more practice. Parking was a bit more of an issue by this point, but manageable.

Shooting planes was fun, but easy. Shooting little birds (Montrose Point is also a bird sanctuary, so there were lots of them) was extremely challenging. In fact, we didn't manage a single good shot of them. But we got a lot of shots of sailboats, and a few more of the city (the Willis Tower barely fit within the frame at 600mm, from there). We also got a few of people (including ourselves), but nothing special.

It did help give us an idea what we could, and couldn't, do with the lens. Although shooting airliners on final approach to O'Hare was a lot different than shooting aerobatics at the airshow. Especially since the aerobatics planes were all prop-engines.

Eventually, though, we gave up and headed into town. We drove down the Magnificent Mile (no pictures, though), and found parking underneath Millenium Park. We wandered around for a bit, and got a few shots of The Bean. They were also setting up for a concert, next to the Bean, featuring Chaka Khan (who is, it seems, a Chicago native); quite a shock, there. I hadn't heard the name since High School, I don't think.

My dad had mentioned wanting pizza (and hey, we were in Chicago deep-dish land; why not?), and I saw a sign for Pizano's. I figured they had to have good pizza, so we meandered over for a long, but excellent (if late), lunch. Had a nice talk with a family from Kansas; the husband did sand-blasting of oil pipelines (and they had two cute kids, about the same age as my kids).

After eating, we wandered around the park for a while, then found a hotel nearby.

We were tired by this point, and not hungry (I'd finished my pizza, and my dad came close to finishing his), so we went to bed a little early, planning on going back to the Bean at sunrise.

We'd found the hotel via GPS, from the car, and when we got up, we found out we were much closer than we thought. We were waiting for the car to be brought around, when we realized a cab would suit us better. We got in the cab, told him where we wanted to go, and he said we were only two blocks away. Ok, then.

So we walked over, as fast as we could. We didn't get the best light (we talked to another photographer there, and it was much better earlier), but we got some decent shots. And we got to wander all around with no crowd. Plus, we got to see them setting up for a shoot for an upcoming show, Betrayal (I think one of the crew told us it was Betrayed).

After the sun was fully risen, we walked over to the garden area we'd seen yesterday, and I took a few shots (in particular, showing my dad how to do focus stacking with the camranger and ipad). We wandered back (passing the shooting of a scene of the show), stopping in a Starbucks so my dad could get some coffee (and I got juice and a croissant, since we were there). Continuing, we walked by a bus stop again, where they'd been doing something with PVC piping when we went by earlier. It turned out that they were setting up some Blue Man Group thing that was just getting started as we returned.

It seemed very random, but cool. We talked to one of the setup people for a few minutes, and found out that the founders of BMG don't do shows anymore. They just train the new performers. We stuck around to see things starting; the person we talked to lamented that mostly these things just got people to take pictures with their cell phones nowadays, not to start partying.

When we got back to the hotel, we packed up and headed north to Oshkosh. We skipped on Milwaukee (I'd wanted to stop there, to see the "new" waterfront. ie: I'm not sure how old it is, but it definitely wasn't there the last time we went to Milwaukee (1989, for GenCon)), and drove straight through. Fairly boring drive, actually. The only interesting things were the detours we took to avoid traffic, and the gas prices we saw around Chicago (up to $4.499 for regular, which compared with the ~$4 we were seeing around DC for super, at the time).

Oh, and we were mightily impressed at the number of billboards we saw for "adult novelties" in Wisconsin.

Getting to Oshkosh, we found where we were staying (a room of a dorm at University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh), and dropped some stuff off there.  Then we headed off to the airshow.

I think I'll stop there for now.


Outright admission of gerrymandering?

Wow.  Texas certainly has it all.  The GOP there might not be racists in their redistricting, but they've plainly admitted to gerrymandering.  The lede:
Texas didn’t discriminate against minority voters. It was only because they were Democrats.

Even if you take them at their word, of which I admit to being skeptical, they've admitted that they are not seeking the good of the state.  Public servants, they are not.  Hard not to admire the brazenness, but wow.


Picture Perfect

I mentioned my Oshkosh trip. It was a photography trip with my dad and myself (the destination came from my dad being a pilot for most of his professional life).

We started by driving to Dayton, OH, the first day. We knocked around Wright-Patterson Air Base for a bit, then went to the carillon for sunset. That link's a little misleading, though, because we took pictures at the carillon, but everything else was closed by the time we got there.

From there, we went to a pretty nice steakhouse for dinner. Bit heavy on the salt for the bread (?!?) and the steak, but the salad was fantastic. The House Dressing is anything but subtle, but tastes really nice. And the steak was good; it was cooked perfectly. I'd've just preferred a bit less salt.

The main reason for going to Dayton, though, was to go to the Air Force Museum. My dad wanted to spend the entire day there, while I was thinking that I'd be quite happy to leave an hour or two early.

We didn't get there at opening, but not too late. We got drenched going from the car to the museum (not helped by my forgetting my remote shutter trigger and something else). I had taken a painter's pole for pictures; it didn't look like (for a while) that it would be useful (too little light). But eventually we got to another section (Cold War), and it was mighty useful there.

After a late lunch, my dad asked me (after I'd described it) to bring in the camranger and ipad I'd told him about. I did, and he was seriously hooked after the first time using it. In fact, he'd been agitating to hurry through the section we went to then so we could get to the stuff outside. Well, he was hooked enough with it that he didn't want to go at all anymore. In fact, we closed the place out, and they were rushing us to get us out at that point. It was a lot of fun, and we got some great shots.

In fact, now I'd love to go back there, and probably spend the whole day with it.  The only problem, I guess, is that the iPad wouldn't last the whole day (the amount of data transfer, while using it, just chews the battery like nobody's business).  Well, and I'd need a spare battery for the camranger, most likely, though that's an easier problem.

Anyway, after leaving, we went a mile or so away to a Wright Memorial that seems to've been put up in the 40's.  It was pretty.  And pretty seriously deteriorating, which was a shame.

After that, we had to drive up north to Chicago, where we were going to spend the night (I wanted to get some shots at sunrise at Montrose Point).

It wasn't a terribly interesting drive, for the most part.  But the GPS sent us off on a bit of a wild-goose chase to find a restaurant, which worked out well.  Well, not for the restaurant, which had closed by the time we got there.  But we got a neat sunset looking straight down railroad tracks half a mile from the restaurant.

And when we'd driven a bit farther north, we noticed a lot of red, flashing lights in the distance (east and west).  What was weirder (and which I still don't understand), was that they were all flashing in sync.  It looked really spooky, actually.

Fortunately, before too long, one of the lights ended up being close enough to the road that we could see the turbine spinning next to it.  It was a wind farm.  I'd heard about them, but never seen one, so that was really cool.  I wish there was a way to show a picture of it, but it wasn't something capturable by photo.  I should have stopped, gotten my iPhone out, and taken a video, though.  That might have worked.

But that was it for interesting stuff on the road.  We found Montrose Point, and, shortly after, a hotel room.  I'll talk about later parts of the trip soon (tomorrow, if all goes well).

We Want that Conversation

You almost have to laugh, listening to Obama spinning the surveillance revelations that keep on coming.

Saying that he welcomes the conversation.  Yeah, that's why we needed a whistleblower to reveal what's been going on.

Saying that there are checks and balances.  Yeah, the secret court that rubber stamps everything.  And the Congress that knew everything about it, so they could keep it in check.  It kills me how we're now finding out how some members of Congress were deliberately keeping others (most of the others) in the dark about what was going on.  As if the administration hiding all possible knowledge wasn't bad enough.

Saying that there will be an independent review.  Yeah, reviewed by a board appointed by the guy running the show.  That shows independence.  I wonder if they'll even be allowed to suggest any changes.  And if they'll have the requisite clearance.  And if they'll get honest answers to their questions.

I can't say that anything that's happened has been a huge surprise, but it certainly shows a serious lack of integrity on the part of just about everyone in the White House.  And that definitely doesn't make it any less disappointing.

The other part that's seriously disappointing is that none of the Republicans are pushing back against Obama based on this.  I mean, they made it clear that, no matter what Obama wanted (even when he took previously-Republican positions), they were going to say no.  But they haven't said no on this.

I almost wish Obama would use it against the GOP, so they could see how pernicious the whole situation is.  Because apparently, as long as it isn't used on them personally, they have no problem with it.

Thomas Payne is certainly rolling over in his grave.

A-Rod the Martyr?

I must admit to a lot of surprise at hearing that A-Rod had been suspended for 211 games for steroid use and for interfering with the investigation.

I'm a little curious about the breakdown between the two infractions, and mildly curious about how it'll play out (especially how the Yankees will pay out).

But my biggest question is just this: how was it even possible for A-Rod to interfere with the investigation? What were they doing that made that even possible?

Crushin' It

Been spending the last week post-processing photos from my trip the week before (to the Oshkosh Air Show). Still a ways from finishing that, but wanted to post a few small items. Will hopefully discuss trip in more detail soon.

Lately, I've been playing both Candy Crush and Bejeweled. Same game, right?

Well, at the beginning of the game, outside of power items, it certainly looks like it. But the more I play Candy Crush, the more impressed with how they've managed to differentiate themselves. Variable goals, discrete levels, variable playing-field shapes, and tiles with meanings (for those who've played, I'm talking about chocolate, jelly, wrappers, and cages. And maybe others I haven't found yet).

Each level, instead of being identical except for match goal, has one of four different types of goal. Part of what drove me to write this was finally noticing that the color of a level in the layout map tells you what kind of goal that level has. So far, the goal types I've seen are: orange, points goal in set number of moves; blue, clear jelly spaces; purple, points goal in time; and green, getting ingredients down to the bottom (loosely interpreted, sometimes) of the board. Each one also has a different layout, and falling is generally from top to bottom. But sometimes there will be wraparound, where the bottom of one column will fall into the top of another column. This makes some levels very complicated.

And a number of replays, based on time (and amount you're willing to spam your facebook friends. Probably makes my friends glad I don't have a facebook account), as the limit on how much you can play. That works well for me, as I never want to play more than fifteen or twenty minutes at a time.  I've been enjoying playing.