Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in my rear view mirror

I'm ready for 2011 to be done.  It picked up 2010's bad karma, and ran with it like Vince Young in the Rose Bowl.  Now my work situation feels better than it has in far too long, I still have family and friends that make me laugh in even the crappiest weeks, and I will make 2012 better.  How so?  Here are the (hopeful) plans:

  1. Climb a mountain.  Not scaling/rappelling or anything - gravity and I have an agreement to just not challenge each other - but hiking to a summit.  Preliminary plans point to Guadalupe Peak in the fall.
  2. Swim in saltwater on a real beach.  I grew up in Hawaii, and want to get back to this at least occasionally.  I don't know if any of the Texas coast counts, but possibly Padre.
  3. Read Wheel of Time.  All 15 books.  The author (well, second author - the first passed away after 12 books) live-tweeted finishing this series that's taken over 20 years, and I can't wait to devour the entire thing.  You may not see me much between July and September.  Some of you will note I've made this plan twice before - not my fault the author wants to "sleep" and "eat" and "see his family" instead of conforming to my schedule.
  4. Do something new every month - reading new books won't count, nor will eating at a new place.  I'd thought about doing this last week, but too many out-of-town visitors and other great people filled up my schedule. If you have an idea for something I should do (Central Texas-accessible is most likely to make the list), let me know.
  5. Write.  No reason not to have at least a few notes on any book I read or movie I see.  A few stories have been percolating, and I have a feeling politicians and others will make me mad enough to need to respond.  This won't all be blogging, but I'll try to make sure friends who are here, on Facebook, or on Twitter can find anything I make public.
  6. Get involved.  I enjoyed being HOA Treasurer this year, and I will find a new organization to play with this year.  Friends of the Library?  A new church?  Tax-Aid?  Political campaign?
That's the plan - I'll try to update each of those goals each month.

To wrap up, a couple of lists for 2011 that I think are worth mentioning:
  • Best Movies: 50/50, The Descendants, The Guard, Midnight In Paris, Muppets, Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Worst Movies I Saw: Bad Teacher, Green Lantern, Our Idiot Brother
  • Most Disappointing Movies: Bridesmaids, Everything Must Go, Hugo, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Best Books I Read: The Wise Man's Fear, Asimov's Robot/Foundation/Empire, Ready Player One
  • Worst Books I Read: The Windup Girl, Eddings' The Dreamers (I get a sour taste in my mouth just typing the title)

Monday, July 18, 2011


Rick Perry has been my governor for 11 years, and still no politician has disgusted me like the Republicans playing chicken with the debt ceiling.  The President offered up the holiest of Democratic Holy Grails to find a significant practical solution, and Cantor stormed off the playground.  Boehner and McConnell turned into actual chickens, renouncing their ability and their responsibility to manage the government's debt.  I guess that's what they call leadership.  Even Tea Party idol Reagan raised taxes when it was necessary, and he didn't get entitlement cuts out of it.

There were 2 times I was proud of President W.  The first was his diplomatic and subtle support to oust the Taliban in 2001 - for all the crap that followed, that was a quick strike that no one thought was possible.  The second was when he tried to broker a serious solution to immigration that would increase enforcement while recognizing our responsibility for the millions of illegal immigrants we've attracted and employed.  It didn't go anywhere, and probably enhanced his lame-duck status, but it was an attempt to solve a problem that was bigger than a sound bite.  It's the same way I feel about Obama's proposal to cut $4 trillion with a majority from spending cuts - only Nixon can open relations with China, and only a healthcare expander can touch entitlements.

But I'm sure everyone's now looking forward to enduring this fiasco again in 6-24 months when both sides are even less inclined to compromise.  I've never liked Pelosi or Reid, but they look like classic statesmen (statespeople?) next to these Chicken Littles.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Quick Movie Thoughts and Tidbits

Enjoyed the movie - a good capstone for the series.  McGonagall, the UnChosen One, and Snape got a little more love than the book, and Mrs. Weasley and others a little less, but two hours well-spent.  I'll post more thoughts in a week or so when everyone's had a chance to see it (and I've seen it again).

Found another blogger's post with more Harry Potter analysis than I've come up with: visit it if you dare.  (Some vulgarity if that bothers you.)

Finally saw the most awesome fact-checked journalism this morning.  These are 2 statements that were one after the other in an ESPN basketball story:

The United States, by virtue of winning the world championship in Istanbul last summer, is the only team to have qualified thus far for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Great Britain, the host nation, also has been awarded a spot in the 12-team field.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Final Harry Potter What-If

I've been asked if this is now just a reading blog.  Reading will always feature here, since you're supposed to write what you know, but I will try to get to some real-world topics.


Not today.

Today is HARRY POTTER PREMIERE DAY!!!  Yeah I'm more excited than Rowling is, and I don't get to go swimming in a freshly-filled money pool tomorrow.  I can't help it - it's almost as good as the days new books came out.  Sadly this will also be the good-bye to the regular Harry Potter What-If series.  I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have.

What If Harry hadn't friended Ron on the Hogwarts Express?  Seriously, what would he have missed?  What did Ron EVER provide that a substitute partner-in-crime (Dean? Seamus? Neville?)?  The Weasleys would all still have been in the Order, his path to Ginny would have been far more open, and I just can't see what would be missing.  Harry's foster family would be missing, although if he dated Ginny, I think they would've loved him just as much.  The locket wasn't wrong - Harry and Hermione were doing fine without him.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Today I finished a New Yorker.  Not particularly noteworthy, except I hadn't brought along any other books or magazines!  I was pageless!  I wouldn't say I panicked, but I was restless and jumpy.  Now I have my Science News, but it was an odd feeling.  I don't think I've been in that state since Laura's last family reunion when I gave a book to a cousin-twice-removed-in-law or something (who is awesome, I just can't trace the family tree) only to find out my iPhone couldn't find a network in Indiana.  That was a rough night until Barnes & Noble opened the next morning.

I have a problem.  Does admitting it help?


Only 27 hours to go - almost done with the What-If series.  Danielle made an excellent entry in yesterday's comments, which was:
Okay, here you go: What if Jo Rowling had died before writing the seventh book, presumably by being accidentally buried under one of the truckloads of cash being delivered to her house thrice daily? Sure, Alan Rickman knew Snape was good, but did he have enough detail to fill in the gaps? Would we have been doomed to crappy fanfic endings to the epic series, or would Warner Bros have protected its potential movie earnings by designating a team of highly qualified literati to write book seven? For that matter, Warner Bros could have taken advantage of Rowling's absence to carry on the series/cash flow for far longer than it should have lasted, giving us ten more volumes at a fraction of the quality.
Thank you Danielle!  My turn:

What If Dean knocked up Ginny?  Seriously, a series that includes violent death, maiming, and torture, but the most teenagers ever do/talk about doing/are rumored to do is kiss?  (Seems more like American standards than British ones.)  You've got to imagine Fred and George would've left a whole generation of ginger boys behind.  But back to this question, a pregnant Ginny might not be at the tower battle in Order of the Phoenix, and more people might have died.  Probably not much more of an effect than that, but I bet I blew your mind.


A few thoughts as I've been rereading/rewatching, and I'll have my final What-If tomorrow.

  • In the third book, when Harry dreams of missing a Qudditch match, Neville replaces him in the dream.  Seriously, foreshadowing was everywhere in the books.
  • I think the movies gave us 3 of the most awkward quasi-romantic scenes of all time (I'd say Top 3, but the Swingers phone scene is the all-time best!):
    • Harry awkwardly leaning in wanting to be part of the hug when they see Buckbeak killed.
    • Hermione wanting Harry to comfort her after bird-bombing Ron, and Harry just sitting there awkwardly without moving his arms.
    • The weirdly entrancing Harry-Hermione dancing scene in Deathly Hallows I.
    • It seems likely Deathly Hallows II will add to this category.
  • My favorite line is by Dumbledore (probably getting the wording wrong): I'm not afraid Harry - I'm with you.
  • Close second is Fred & George's "We're identical!" when they turn into Harry.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Human Nature

A number of varied experiences have led to the same summary of human nature: The Rules I Follow Should Be Enforced.  Finding this in religion and parenting didn't surprise me, but my Homeowners' Association has been most enlightening.  People cited for violations respond with "Yes, well, but did you see my neighbor?"  Not that they would want to file a complaint against that neighbor - hence the passive "Should Be Enforced".  Just a minor little rant.  I would love some counterexamples proving this wrong.


No one has suggested a What If so I'm going to have to go a bit further afield.  You have only yourself to blame.

What If Harry had learned Occlumency from Yoda?  Yoda turned a farmkid/pilot into a trained mindwarper in just one montage - what could he do with a magician honed through years of barely escaping superior wizards?  Even better would be the question of what Harry would see in Yoda's Pensieve - lust for a certain purple-lightsaber wielder?  An explanation of why Yoda hung out in a swamp for 40 years?  Just a few of the many incredible scenes this crossover could offer.

Monday, July 11, 2011

To All The Books I've Read Before (this year)

I mentioned on Facebook (which I am quickly leaving behind for Google+!) that I'd read 43 books by midyear, and someone asked me my favorite.  I decided to go for overkill and mention them all in order of preference:

The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear: Patrick Rothfuss' new series is a better new voice in fantasy than A Game of Thrones.  Looking forward to seeing how he finishes the trilogy, but it could end up as my favorite after Lord of the Rings (yes it's THAT good).
Harry Potter: Read all 7 in the last couple of weeks, and they hold up well for the 3rd time I tore through them.  Heck they kinda got me blogging again.
Most of John Scalzi's works (That Was The Millennium That Was, Fuzzy Nation (and its inspiration Little Fuzzy), The God Engines, Old Man's War trilogy): An excellently readable voice that just writes great funny stories.
Six Suspects: Murder mystery by the writer of Slumdog Millionaire - I definitely enjoyed it.
The Day After and Other Short Stories: Collection of short stories and other works to raise money for charity.  Includes pages from John Scalzi, Wil Wheaton, and Patrick Rothfuss.
Sixty-One Nails: Urban fantasy, and the first one of those I've enjoyed.
A Visit From The Goon Squad: I think this will be called an "important" book by those who think they have to have something to say about it.  Some interesting ideas, but at least 100 pages too long.
David Eddings collection: I grew up on the Belgariad, and other series.  Re-read them, and read his last series for the first time, which was a mistake - it was so bad it wasn't just boring, it was insulting to the reader.
The Windup Girl: Major award-winner and some interesting ideas and scenes, but the characters just weren't compelling.  Could make an interesting movie though.
Into The Wild: A recommendation from a friend.  Interesting story, but the author was too desperate to say "Yeah I'm just like him except I didn't die" and yanks the reader out of the narrative.  Boo bad author!


Harry Potter What-If (almost done with these):
What If Dumbledore had ever tried just telling Harry what was going on?  In the first and fifth books, Harry would have been kept from getting pummeled by Voldemort, and Dumbledore could have caught Voldemort then - that would have been better right?  Second and third books were more Harry keeping things from Dumbledore, and no one knew what was going on in Goblet of Fire.  As far as the lifelong plan revealed at the end, well, yeah, it's probably better Harry never knew that one.  If you look at the whole story, though, there's more miscommunication than a season of Three's Company.  But fortunately much less Suzanne Somers.

(Thanks Laura for the suggestion.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Beyond Newsweek: Questions for Magazine Readers

When I was a kid, my parents got Time and Newsweek.  Somewhere before high school, I decided to read one, and picked Newsweek because it had a page of quotes and political cartoons.  I subscribed to it starting in college, and continued for 17 years.  Cover to cover every week for 17 years.  And now I'm done.  A few months ago, the DailyBeast bought it and turned it into a fashion/gossip rag.  3 weeks in a row the covers were royal couple (pre-wedding), Olsen twins, and royal couple.  Not like any economic or political or even meteorological news was going on.  No news left it week.

I replaced it with The Economist thanks to a Groupon, but I've gotta say reading Economist and New Yorker each week is getting a little overwhelming.  Are there any other magazine readers out there who have any tips on how to get that done, and still read books on the side?  Any suggestions for a decent news magazine without the heft of the Economist?


What If Snape, like he does every other time for seven years, reads the kids' minds in the Shrieking Shack and blocks their curses?  Sirius gets the Dementor's Kiss, Lupin might be killed or maimed to "protect the children" (I can so hear Alan Rickman saying that line), and Buckbeak dies.  I don't think much changes in the bigger story, though - Pettigrew still escapes and the biggest players are all still in the same shape.  Besides the Time Turner would just reverse it all anyway sooner or later.

fyi I'm running out of What Ifs, but am hoping for 4 more to lead up to the movie's release.  If you have any suggestions, I welcome them!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gender Inequity in Harry Potter

I love the stories JK Rowling tells, but men, particularly dads, get the shaft in this series.  Compare what Harry gets from his dad versus his mom.  His dad gives him his hair, the Invisibility Cloak, his flying/Quidditch abilities, a godfather (although I think Sirius would have supported the Order and Harry anyway - heck Sirius might have lived without that connection), Snape's hatred.  Even James' death doesn't do anything for Harry.

But Lily, the incomparable Lily, loved by all, gives him his eyes, the cure to Avada Kedavra, a family whose home protects him, a knack for Potions (the only time he does one with Snape or Snape's book, he gets an Exceeds Expectations), Slughorn's sympathy and memory, Snape's reluctant but necessary protection - this is good stuff.

Note also that Voldemort gets the heritage he prizes from his mother, and hates his father right down to his name.  And Hermione is right pretty much 100% of the time (Half-Blood Prince is the only exception, and even that's kinda iffy).  I'm not exactly boycotting the series because of this, but I wanted to point it out.


What If Harry ever told Dumbledore what was going on?  Ya know, trust the guy who's made all these arrangements and proves his concern for Harry over and over?  Depends on when it happens:
1) Sorcerer's Stone: Dumbledore learns that Hagrid was compromised, and just carries the stone in his own pocket - who's going to take it from him?  Quirrell/Voldemort overplay their hand, and Dumbledore wins.
2) Chamber of Secrets: Dumbledore knows how to identify a basilisk, and since he knows about Moaning Myrtle's death, finds the secret plumbing passageway.  Much less pain and chaos for all involved, and Gilderoy Lockhart doesn't end up a casualty.
3) Prisoner of Azkaban: Dumbledore might have recognized the Grim as Sirius (he knows everything that happens at Hogwarts), and is able to bring him and Pettigrew in with the truth.  Voldemort's return is seriously delayed, although it could have gone worse in a post-Dumbledore world.
4) Goblet of Fire: Harry didn't really learn much before the ending, so no real answer here.
5) Order of the Phoenix: The Big One.  Dumbledore easily could have handled Occlumency, and even if it had been difficult for Harry, it seems like it would have been better than Snape's lessons, and certainly better than the Ministry debacle.  Also, Dumbledore probably would have tossed Umbridge to the centaurs sooner if he saw Harry's hand.
6) Half-Blood Prince: They finally had good communication.  I suppose Harry could have told him about the Potions book, but I doubt that would have come up.
7) Deathly Hallows: *sniff* sadly irrelevant, although I do think Harry should've worked his way into the Headmaster's office sooner to have a chat.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Larry Crowne (and HPWI)

I went to see Larry Crowne on Sunday because ... I don't actually know why.  It seemed like Tom Hanks' CD financial option - normal people don't like low interest rates on savings accounts, so we might buy a CD to get a better rate without having to do anything extra.  Tom can write, direct, produce, and anchor a movie without a ton of effort and collect all the box office, so why not?  It was actually much better than I expected - the slew of supporting characters were pretty funny in each of their 5-15 minutes of screen time.  Hanks and Julia Roberts were fine, too, but there was almost as little character arc as Transformers.  The characters make progress, but there's no real villain or obstacle - imagine Harry Potter, but without Voldemort or Snape or any Malfoys, just Filch as a "nemesis."  Might have some fun stories about wizarding school, but would anyone really care about the story?  Same problem here.

Harry Potter What-If #5:
What If Harry, Ron, and Hermione remember what their parents told them (maybe not the Dursleys), and don't get in a traincar with a strange sleeping man?  Dementors get Harry right off, but the murder of a well-known child probably turns the Ministry against dementors.  With nothing else to lose, the dementors start feeding indiscriminately, and as patronuses are apparently incredibly rare, I think they polish off Muggles and wizards in a spectacular rampage.  If the wizards defeat the dementors, the wizarding world is too weak to resist a resurrected Voldemort, but if not, the dementors take over and either slaughter the world or put together some kind of Matrix to keep breeding their food.  Either way bad news, so remember kids: trust strangers or the world will end!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Harry Potter What-If #4

What If Crouch hadn't gotten the gillyweed to Dobby in time for Harry's second task?  No significant effects here, I'm just kind of amused at the thought of any of the champions just sitting in the shallow part of the lake with nothing to do for an hour.  Kinda like LeBron in the 4th quarter of an important game.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Transformers (and HPWI)

Saw Transformers tonight, and it passed the subterranean bar of my expectations.  The highlights: surprisingly good cameos, someone actually says "Kill them all," some fun action, quasi-recognizable Transformers.  The lowlights: even given the premise, science was ignored; writing/directing/acting (as usual), the rest of the Transformers, the attempts to make it seem significant or emotional.  The story actually is worse than the first two, but individual scenes are definitely better than the second.  It will be exactly what you expect, whatever you expect.

Harry Potter What-If #3:
What If the Ford Anglia had something better to do (pretty much anything) than rush into Spider Grove and save Harry and Ron?  Harry and Ron become tasty spider treats, and OldTom sacrifices Ginny to corporealize (bad year for the Weasleys!).  I think OldTom would polish off Voldemort and his horcruxes.  Would Neville become the new Chosen One?  Maybe, but OldTom's the kind of up-and-comer who would finish what he started.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Harry Potter What-If #2

Sorry - no bigger blog post, but I wanted to keep my microseries going.

What If Snape had actually tried to protect the Sorcerer's Stone instead of writing a word problem, and put poison in all seven vials?  Hermione's dead, victim of her own faith in the educational system.  Harry is stuck in the room or dead if he tries another vial, but ... Quirrell/Voldemort probably keep trying to decipher the Mirror of Erised until Dumbledore returns, and that could give Dumbledore the chance to capture/destroy Voldemort at his leisure.  If Harry survives, he becomes just a rule-breaking know-it-all with no Impending Doom excuses for his misbehavior, and probably ends up the attendant on the Knight Bus, telling everyone that he's just waiting for his Prophecy to come true.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Bad Teacher, Worse Movie

You might think I do nothing for you, but I am about to save you time.  Bad Teacher looks funny - Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake can be hilarious.  But Cameron Diaz' black hole of unfunny expands to cover Timberlake, and Segel only has a few good lines.  It's the script that's terrible - someone thought teacher stereotypes would be funny (and in fairness, I know teachers like each of them), and forgot that a story involves a plot, or meaningful character growth/shifts - think second half of Office Space.  Avoid like the plague.  If you're desperate for movie theater air conditioning, go with X-Men or a few great independent movies like Submarine or Beginners (or Win Win if you can find it - Paul Giamatti is awesome).

An important event is coming up on July 15 as the last Harry Potter movie spells the end of my midnight movie career (except both Hobbit movies, and any future Potter movies now that J.K. Rowling is writing more books ... OK, not so much an end).  I'm rereading all 7 books, and would like to try a miniseries on the blog, so here goes:

Harry Potter What-If #1

What If anyone in the world remembered the Time-Turner existed?  Good guys win, unless Voldemort can make one too, in which case it becomes a chicken race of who will go back farther in time to shift events their way.  I await the fan-fiction entries.