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Media and Medea

This past week I finished three things: the netflixable Stargate series, the Watchmen series (on disk), and listening to George Orwell’s 1984.

Stargate is almost entirely fluff. They throw in a slightly more interesting episode or arc every once in a while, and they will bump into some of the bigger questions, but not much. Mostly it’s save the team/world/child in 30-60 minutes. But there are almost guaranteed explosions, so it’s mildly entertaining. It’s also amusing to see how CGI/special effects improve from season to season.

Watchmen is something altogether different. At some point I learned the Greek myths. I guess that probably started in elementary school; gods, heroes and monsters. I certainly gained a deeper appreciation for them in college, reading some of the classic plays (thank you, Dr. Barker). Regular and supernatural people, visions of the future, events political, natural, and supernatural, and how the characters choose to deal with them; heroically, horribly, successes and failures. For me, Watchmen evoked those themes and characters. Ellyn was frustrated by a foretelling of future events that was not avoided. To me, it was a retelling of a story with the Fates and Furies.

Great acting, some really great shooting, and some amazing music/audio (thanks to Trent Reznor). I highly recommend it.

I read 1984 in high school. It might have actually been 1984. Recently, I was part of a class action suit against audible.com because of a jerky thing they did. We won, and as a result I was granted one audio book from a very large limited selection of things that I had absolutely no interest in. But I’ve been meaning to re-read 1984, and that happened to be on the list.

Several things struck me about the book: it’s amazing how anti-Soviet Union it feels. Not so much the USSR of 1948 as that of the 70’s and 80’s. He is really hung up on people’s physical appearance in the book. And I didn’t find it particularly good. But maybe that’s just me conflating good with enjoyable – ’cause enjoyable it ain’t.

It’s certainly an interesting book in what it gets right and what it gets wrong, though. There is so much thought and energy put into controlling the media – all media past and present. Eradicating any scrap of evidence that the party in power was ever wrong. That still seems like a ridiculous idea to me; there is print, there is uncontrolled media, there is memory. So it still feels like he got that wrong. More important than getting it wrong is that it seems to be so totally unnecessary.

What he got right is the terrifying idea: doublethink. That people will willingly believe what they are told and forget what they were told 15 minutes ago. That you can hold up four fingers and declare that they are 5, and people will believe you. There is some terrifyingly large portion of the population that doesn’t care what the record shows, what reality shows. The message is reality.

So, no, 1984 is not an enjoyable read. But if you have not read it, you really probably ought to.

Comets and other c’s

Last night (Friday the 17th), we went out to see the comet. We decided to go ‘up the hill’ since it was foggy at the beach and it seemed likely the murk was going to flow into town. We chose a spot west of Santa Margarita Lake (a bit southeast from the marker on the map) because it is away from anything, pretty flat, and not many trees. We got there about 8:30 – about 15 minutes after sunset. We brought Ellyn’s binoculars and were able to spot the comet by around 9:10. It was about mid way between the big dipper and the horizon. By about 9:30 it was clearly visible to the naked eye – including the big tail. Continued to become more visible as the sky got darker. Great view of the milky way, and Jupiter happened to be at its brightest in the opposite direction. With the binoculars we could see several of Jupiter’s moons. If you can get to a dark sky place in the next few days/week, you should definitely go for it!

Other things:

Cupcakes for my birthday.

Carrots from the garden.

Ridiculously cute cats.

Unrelated

We went to 3 local animal shelters on Saturday. The goal: 2 cats, about 1 year old, probably at least one of them male. The first one was the Cal Poly Cat Program – which was having an open house. It was kind of a zoo. Lots of cats and lots of people. The second place was the Woods Humane Society, SLO. Really nice facility, not a lot of cats. Of course it really doesn’t take many, but we just didn’t find any we really felt attached to. The last one was the Woods Humane society up in Atascadero. Bunch of cats. We spent about 3 hours there.

After that, we headed just a little further North to Paso Robles. I’ve said, many times, that one of the things I miss about the bay area is good Chinese food – and that we don’t have any within 50 miles. Mom went to a place in Paso a week or two ago and said ‘the ladies all liked it!’ It turns out I’ve been lying all this time! There is good Chinese food to be had just 29 miles from home!

On Sunday we returned to Atascadero, spent a little more time with the two cats we had our eyes on, and brought ’em home with us. We were given lots of advice on how long to keep them apart and how to let them meet. But they shared a common area and one of them (Zeke) is so obviously so laid back. After a very frightening ride home, we put them in their respective spaces. About 10 minutes later, one got into the other’s room while we were arranging things. They seemed OK.

Here they are the next day. Zeke is the black one; Henry the other. Zeke is about a year and a half and henry is about a year.

Visiting Orange County

I’m a bit disappointed with how this picture came out. It didn’t look as smoggy as this does. I was down in OC for more than a week, and I was surprised at how clear it was. It seems to me that back in the 80’s the mountain’s didn’t come out so much.

Right after taking this picture I decided to find myself some good chocolate. I looked up chocolatier on my phone and it came up with 3. One was closed (it was coming up on 7PM) and two were Godiva. I certainly didn’t want to go to some mall and visit Godiva.

On a wild hair I decided to call the place that was closed. Guy picks up.
“Oh, hey – google said you’re closed. Are you really open?”
“Yeah. Usually we’re closed by now, but sometimes…”
“Great! How long will you be open?”
“Oh, ’til about 7:30.”
“I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

I get there in about 10 minutes. It’s in one of these light industry strips. I step in and they have the front 12 feet sectioned off as a little store/presentation area. The work obviously goes on in the back. The guy comes up front and greets me.
“Hi! Are you the guy that called a few minutes ago?”
“Yup!”
“Here, have some chocolate – what kind would you like? Is this your first time in our store?”
“Something dark, please – yes… And it will probably be my last, too.”

He’s really friendly – maybe just a few years older than I. His wife (obviously) has appeared from the back. He looks at me concerned.
“Oh. Why is that?”
“I live a long ways away from here.”
“How far – where do you live?”
“I live in San Luis Obispo – “
She chimes in: “I left my heart in San Luis Obispo!”

They moved from SLO to Orange County about 30 years ago. Couldn’t find a job in SLO (a common complaint). They’ve been in the chocolate business for 26 years. Still go back to SLO a couple of times a year to visit friends. We chatted for a while; nicest couple you could hope to meet. It was just what I was hoping for in a chocolatier.

If you’re looking for good (and kosher!) chocolate that ships anywhere: http://www.luisachocolatiere.com/

Dear Chicago

Dear Chicago,

Ellyn and I really enjoyed our week long visit a few weeks ago.

We enjoyed your grand architecture and rivers.

And we liked all the public art.

The art museums, too.

And the other museums.

We enjoyed your many green strips within the city.

But we could have done without the 90+ degree temperatures during the day and into the evening with 50-60%+ humidity.

Next time we come back it’ll be the spring or fall!

Kurt & Ellyn go to the beach

Ellyn and I stopped off in Santa Barbara the other week and visited the beach (first picture). Wow, I picked up a lot of tar on my feet. Scraped a bunch off, but still had a lot. The internet informed me that you can get it off with oil – any kind! Mineral, vegetable, olive… Ellyn poured about 1/4″ into the little rectangular bucket she uses for foot soaks and I put my feet in and a few minutes later it was all gone! ‘Course I then had oily feet, so shower time. Next time maybe olive oil.

Today was the first real summery day, so we went to Morro Bay and walked up and down the strand.

Vancouver

Ellyn and I visited Vancouver for the first time back in January. We did it sort of as a last minute thing. We both had some vacation time and a wild hair, so we took off! Without much of a plan – which worked out pretty well.

We got super lucky with the weather. Vancouver is supposed to be always rainy and it was mostly clear for us. A little rain one day and a bunch a couple of nights.

We ate a bunch of good Chinese food. We wandered around the city. We saw a bunch of pacific north west art. And we generally had a great time.

I think the highlight for me was going up to the top of Grouse Mountain and snowshoeing. The base of the mountain is just about 25 minutes from downtown via public transit – which is pretty cool. Then up the gondola.

Snowshoeing was amazing. It had been pretty warm for the previous couple of weeks with no new snow, so it was super spring conditions – hard pack with lots of ice. Snowshoes have these little kind of spiky things on the bottom, so you don’t slip. Ellyn kept asking what I was grinning about. We would walk up these 20-30 degree inclines that I knew were impossible without ending up on your butt a dozen times with no problem at all.

An eventful day

Yesterday was an eventful day for me.  It started out with a particularly productive day at work.  Nice when that happens.  It was interrupted by a SpaceX launch.

No, they didn’t launch from the top of Cerro San Luis, though it kind of looks like it from the picture!  I had no idea viewing might be that good from the driveway.  I will be less motivated to drive down to Vandenberg in the future – though watching the landing there a couple of months back was really awesome.  I was able to see all the way through the first stage and some of the positioning jets firing during the return.  Then the second stage lit up and I could see that for a bit.  Next time, binoculars!

The next thing to happen was that I was able to see Venus, which was pretty close to the crescent moon, after watching the launch.  It looked just like a star, hanging there in the middle of the day – I had no idea what it was.  I checked back 30 minutes later and it was still near the moon in the same spot.  And again an hour after that.  Thanks to my friend Mark for pointing out it had to be Venus.  Anyway, it was visible until much after noon when we had some clouds roll in.

Finally, I experienced a kidney stone.  I don’t recommend it.  At 5:15PM I thought I had gas.  At 5:45 I sent Ellyn off to have dinner with Mom & Sis with my apologies.  By 6:30 I thought it was food poisoning.  Around 7 I had no idea, but there had been no movement, so to speak, and I was in quite a lot of pain.  Ellyn got home about 8, collected me, and we went to the hospital.  She knew it was serious when she suggested that’s where we were going and I said “yup” with no discussion.  I visited the ER, got all the best drugs, and was feeling no pain.  They did a CT scan and urine sample and gave me the news.  Turns out it was quite close to the bladder (which is good news, since that means it’s nearly passed).  We went home, I took some more drugs, and went to bed.  This morning all was fine.

Half a century

Last week I turned 50.  That’s older than I ever imagined being, and it’s older than I imagine I am.  Maybe that’s because I think of 50 as old but I don’t think of myself as old.

50 years is both a long period of time and a short one.

It’s funny to look back.  I don’t really think of a time before computers and after.  Computers didn’t meaningfully  exists – to me – until I was about 12.  Maybe that’s too young to matter.  Cell phones didn’t exist until I was about 30.  I don’t really think of a time before cell phones and a time after – they are just something that happened along the way.  I do distinctly remember being handed a cell phone and not knowing how to use it.

It’s funny the things that happened that I don’t think about.  Everyone knows that cell phones are recent.  But I mentioned to a “young” co-worker that I skied growing up and he asked if I meant skiing or snow boarding.  I explained that snow boarding did not exist – and that was a revelation to him.  Is that what it is to be old?  To know when things came into being?  To have experienced transitions that younger folks don’t realize happened?

Looking externally, the world has changed much more and much less than one might hope.  Growing up, the threat of nuclear annihilation was absolutely real.  Just a given.  Not so much any more.  Russia was the big enemy.  Germany was divided.  South Africa was under apartheid.  None of that was going to change without a lot of bloodshed.  But it all did and with practically none.  When I was born we were at war with Vietnam.  Nobody had walked on the moon.  The world population was about 3.5 billion.

The year before I was born – 1967 – there were still 15 states with ‘Anti-miscegenation laws’ (barring interracial marriage).  Which is crazy from both perspectives.  As a nation we argue about the validity of complaints about the treatment of people of color, but anyone older than 60 can remember a time where it was illegal in about 1/3 of the states to marry someone ‘of the wrong race’.  On the one hand it’s nice to think we should just get over it.  On the other hand it’s shocking to think that we should already be over it.

50 years before I was born it was 1918.  It was WWI.  Airplanes were brand spanking new.  Automobiles were very recent.  Nobody had climbed Mt. Everest.  Television was not a thing.  Plastics were not a thing.  Interracial marriage was illegal in most states (which  did not yet include Hawaii & Alaska).  Women did not yet get to vote nationally.  The theory of continental drift was roundly rejected (pun intended).  The world population was about 1.9 billion.

There are people that are 100 years old.

150 years ago – just 3 of my lives back to back – it was 1868.  5 years into the reconstruction after the American civil war.  Radio is not yet invented.  The electric bulb is not yet invented.  I guess people read a lot.

This country is just short of 250 years old.  That seems like a long time, and maybe it is.  But it’s just 5 of my life spans back to back.  Maybe I’m old and that’s a really long time.  But that’s not how I feel.  I feel like there have been a lot of changes very very recently and we really don’t have all that much experience.

I look back and I’m impressed with all the progress we’ve made.  I’m aghast at where we started.  I’m shocked at how well things are going in general.  I’m frustrated that they aren’t going better.  I’m hopeful because we haven’t all killed each other and in general most  things really do seem to be going in the right direction.  Slowly, and yet insanely quickly.

Is being old the ability to blather on for a long time?  If so, I’ve been old for a while 🙂