Drinking In Euroland

November 18, 2018    

Have to start by saying Europe, I’m a big fan. Tremendous culture, etc.

But outside of the big cities (and even at many places in the big city) they just don’t run bars the way we do in the U.S. of A. – correctly.

Two stories, of Scotch and Martinis…

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First Man

October 16, 2018     ARTS

This great (fictional) story of Neil Armstrong’s journey to the moon only suffers from the same failures of expectation as the great Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. Dunkirk is a cinematic masterpiece of mood, photography, and editing, never intended to be a history lesson – and immediately criticized for not explaining history, e.g. for not including Churchill or Parliament or Germans. Correct but beside the point of the director.

So, First Man is the story of the world’s most famous man working through his most private grief. As such, the film has some of the best at home family snapshots, seemingly improvised and looking like super-8 home movies. Interspersed, of course, with NASA and the Apollo teams milestone-by-milestone dangerous march to the Moon.

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Solo

May 26, 2018     ARTS

Feels great to talk about a Star Wars movie without having to deal with family legacy, the qualities of The Force, or the great arc of the universe. Solo – or in full, Solo: A Star Wars Story – is just a fun film that does decent enough justice to the franchise. // small spoilers here…

I saw the film on a preview screening Tuesday night for the RobinHood charity. Luckily, a few stars were on hand and young Lando himself, Donald Glover, was on hand to introduce the viewing.
Donald Glover

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Two Film Catchup

April 24, 2018    

Queen Of The Desert

Ran across Queen of the Desert the other night. Looked somewhat interesting - then I read that it’s directed and written by Werner Herzog. OK, ready for crazy, but its nowhere to be found. For those who’ve seen the Herzog filmography - Aguirre, Kaspar Hauser, Stroszek, Woyzeck, Fitzcarraldo, etc - you expect a certain level of strained reality, deep angst, and inner turmoil. Here, the Queen is Gertrude Bell, an early 20th-century free-spirited English woman who turns to travels and archaeology in the middle east. The film is pretty conventional but somewhat uninspired. The oddest part is that the historical gimmick about Bell is that she is supposed to have superior insights into the people and politics of pre-modern Arabia and may have been a key player in setting down the current set of nation-states and their inherent tensions (to put it mildly).

All in all a fine premise but Herzog just scratches the surface of this potential political intrigue. Nicole Kidman does a great job of keeping you interested in what is just a vague outline. And the conventionally pretty cinematography (Peter Zeitlinger) and score (Klaus Badelt) keep the mood serene.

A perennial problem for such films: The actual work involved in being a smart person, doing archaeology, and writing research reports and translations, etc, is of course, quite boring. When the main character in your script is such a person, I grant that effectively showing this work ethic is rarely achieved. But please do show us something more than the odd quip or someone staring out at the horizon. The ending here, where Bell effectively annoints the new Kinds of Iran and Jordan, is setup and over much too quickly.

Ready Player One

Steven Spielberg’s latest is just so-so. I gather there’s a book that’s better but I never heard of it before this. The boy fighting corporate overlords for some McGuffin reason is a pretty tired trope and there’s nothing here that’s original. It’s supposed to be great fun to have myriad ’80s-‘90s pop, film, and video game references, but they go by so quickly as to be irrelevent. The one standout is a longish sequence taking place in the Overlook Hotel of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining - that resonated with me quite a bit. Nice quirky performance by Spielberg’s new best friend Mark Rylance as the aspergic ur-hacker of the global video game, and Ben Mendelsohn does the required evil-boss scenery chewing.

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The Last Jedi

December 19, 2017     ARTS

Wow. Never heard so much criticism of a Star Wars movie so quickly. It took months for the hate against Episode 1 to surface, and 2 and 3 were (relatively) warmly received as being better. Nevertheless, I also remember the harsh takes against “Return Of The Jedi” for its creaky script (“What I told you was true, from a certain point of view”) and apparent emphasis of marketing over believability (ewoks). The IMDB user reviews will no doubt be updated, but the day after the preview showing, some thirty or more 1 or 2 star reviews (out of 10!) were posted - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2527336/reviews

IMHO - it’s ok to like TLJ, and it’s ok to hate it. I guess I have some experience with this as I am not a prequel-hater and so have to endure pitying remarks and blank stares when mentioning all the good stuff in TROS, AOTC, and yes, TPM. (Apologies but I’ll be using galactic standard movie abbreviations herein: TPM, AOTC, ROTS, ANH, TESB, ROTJ, R1, TFA, TLJ, SOLO, and EIX for the next episode (see glossary ).

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

For me, the first viewing was pretty overwhelming, so much stuff crammed into the movie which was already 2-1/2 hours long. And with the ending of Luke’s physical story along with knowing that Carrie Fisher would not be returning, it was all pretty sad. After reading various posts, mostly negative, and after two more viewings, I’ll say that the better parts of the film far outweigh the bad, and it’s gets a lot easier to forgive the bad stuff.

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Cpt. Jesse Campbell

November 11, 2017    

… and the 17th Aero Squadron in The Great War

I’ve finally completed scanning and transcribing my grandfathers diary and a few letters. They’re all available at http://www.richardcampbell.com/jdiary/

Not quite definitive, I’m still tracking down some names and other info, but I think that the map I’ve included in interesting, showing the airfields and areas of combat that Jesse writes about. Very interesting to compare and contrast with other diaries out there - see the Notes section for other info.

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Eclipse

August 21, 2017    

Besides the genealogical tour of Savannah, we also drove up to Charleston to see the eclipse. A couple days of beautiful – but very hot! – weather, then the clouds started to roll in Monday morning. We were invited to a friend-of-friend’s house on a river a ways north-east of the city, practically on the centerline of the eclipse…

We watched with our eclipse glasses as more and more of the sun’s disk was covered by the moon. The clouds did provide enough cover for some zoom-lens photos, especially closer to totality…

The clouds grew darker and completely covered totality. We all cheered on the dark clouds as they kept moving and within about half-a-minute a clear section broke out…

You can clearly see Regulus. I’ve been an amateur backyard astronomer for 45 years; this was my first total solar eclipse. Though shaky, I’m very happy to have a couple pictures of totality.

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Ad Blocking Rationale

August 11, 2017    

Seeing a bunch more discussion about the use of ad-blockers for news/content web sites. Here’s a good link with interesting data about why people use ad-blockers

You’ll see that the main criticisms from people is that a lot of ads now are “annoying”. News sites (as I’ll call them for simplicity) are now responding with different kinds of pop-up notices whining about the use of ad-blockers, how it takes away their revenue stream, hence they won’t be able to provide their content, etc.

My reason for using an ad-blocker is simple – without an ad-blocker I can’t read a news sites content, period. There are plenty of sites I would love to read, but when I see a link to an article hosted at that site, I usually don’t click on it, because the user experience is horrific. I happen to have a pretty modern, multi-core CPU, 16GB DRAM, and SSD local disk – yet when I click in to many sites, my machine grinds to a halt, I can see literally hundreds of TCP connections flying in and out, and the CPU cooling fans squeals in to high-gear.

Meanwhile, as you all know, the ads and banners start popping up and I start to play the modern version of a first-person-shooter trying to hit hidden “x”s , stare at blank content spaces while some slow ad content provider is failing to load, and by now have totally forgotten what it is that I was trying to read. This is akin to reading a good book and having someone yank it out of your hands every time you turn the page.

The problem is not with ads but with ads that are so deliberately intrusive that it makes reading the content unbearable. Leaving aside privacy concerns about ad tracking, to some degree I would want some ads to be targeted to my (or at least my demographic). The primary concern (see the data linked above) is just that – to repeat myself – I can’t read the content.

News sites should recognize that their primary function is being destroyed by the wanton use of these new unbearable ad techniques. Similar issues have cropped up in other media, but with much simpler solutions – it’s very easy to mute the “extra-loud” commercials for the minute or so they are on, and when reading a magazine we all have learned to shake out the embedded insert cards before reading. Modern advertising web tech has gone ridiculously over the top at inventing new ways to stand between the purpose of the new site and the user.

Solutions? Not sure, sorry. Probably something like a micro-payment system, so that it’s easy (and seemingly inexpensive) to pay for content piece by piece. Otherwise we may need some browser tab container policies such that any new view only get so much RAM/CPU/Network, and after that they have to pay me for the right to use my computer to show their ad pop-ups, -unders, slide ins, autoexpanders etc.

FWIW, like most, I use https://adblockplus.org/ which does have a policy for allowing acceptable ads to be shown.

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Way Too Much Nest Battery Info

August 5, 2017    

Some extended notes and description of Nest battery and HVAC issues…

My story

Very quickly - Nest thermostat installed two years ago. Last night, no A/C on at all, Nest appears dead, little green blinking light. Call Nest, check voltages, suspect odd bevior from blower electricals, recharge the Nest via USB. Repeat. Call local A/C team to check on blower/system, they say the Nest NiCad battery is dead, need to run a Common wire, which will cost $427. Whoa, what?!?

Background

First, residential HVAC wiring, especially, older wiring, is very basic. That helps to keep things simple and working, but also means that it is not a great match for slapping on an “internet of things” smart thermostat.

Traditionally, older HVAC may have simple wiring designed to just turn on and off the A/C (or blower) or heat/furnace when the mechanical thermostat says to. All well and good.

The Nest, however, is a (very) small computer that likes to actually run its electronics all the time (and connect to the internet and do various things). That means it needs electricity all the time but unlike a real desktop PC, it has no large wall plug and cable. Instead it has a (very) small (and flat) lithium-ion battery (No local A/C team, not a NiCad!). Normally, the Nest computer actually runs off power from its lithium-ion battery , not from any house power source. The bad news is that the Nest computer needs more electricity than a small battery can hold for very long. So keeping the battery charged up is key.

If the battery somehow gets to a low charge state, then it will shut most of the Nest computer itself off (and with it, shut off the A/C or heat), so that it can conserve the last remaining dregs of battery. A little green dot will blink at the top of the Nest; meanwhile the screen will be blank. At this point, you and I will panic and try to find out why the HVAC is off. One short-term fix is to take the Nest off the wall and re-charge the battery via the Micro-USB charge port on the back. This is the fail-stop re-charge solution and works, though it takes maybe 45 minutes to 2 hours for the battery to get fully charged.

But why would the battery get in to that low charge state?

How does the battery get charged?

Turns out there are two ways the Nest get extra electricity to keep the battery charged. If the HVAC wiring in the home is somewhat recent (within 10 years, 15 years?) or was built by an electrical nerd, then it may have an extra wire available which can provide a little bit of power all the time. This wire is confusingly called the “Common” wire. If you have a Common wire, then when you install a Nest, you’ll attach that to the “C” wire port, and that will be used to charge the Nest battery continuously.

(Digression: Of course, if there’s a constant source of power from the Common wire, why have a battery? In case of power outages. Oh, OK. Except the battery only lasts several hours anyway, so long-term outages mean you’ll have an HVAC outage to deal with no matter what. Sorry.)

The other way that the Nest handles charging the battery is by “stealing” a bit of electricity from the A/C or heating wires when they are running. Usually, during the summer or winter, there’s enough time that some system is running that there’s plenty of time to get the battery charged during day or night. Sometimes, however, the HVAC systems will not have run in a while, the battery charge will drop, and the Nest will respond by turning on the A/C, blower, or heater for a while, for the sole purpose of re-charging the battery. (Digression: Yes, this is an odd thing indeed from a device that advertises that it can save you energy with fancy awareness and learning algorithms.)

Now, there may be some random set of temperature circumstances such that the Nest battery just doesn’t get charged enough by “stealing” electricity. As mentioned above, in this case you may need to Micro-USB charge the Nest to get it to reboot and re-activate your HVAC.

Anyway, as long as the lithium-ion battery is getting charged, say through the Common wire or enough cycling of HVAC, you’re all set.

But if there’s a systemic problem – if the A/C or heating unit isn’t cycling properly or turning off prematurely, or the Common wire has snapped, or the HVAC circuit breakers have tripped – then the Nest battery will get drained. In this case, you’ll probably be trying a few things with no success until you realize that it is the A/C or heater or whatever that is actually broken and needs fixing before you can even worry about the Nest. (Digression: And note how complicated it is to try and fix your HVAC components when there’s no reliable control switch to turn things on/off ! The Nest should have a little manual on/off switch on the mail wall bracket for just such an occasion.) Once you’ve fixed whatever system was broken, then the Nest will be able to re-charge itself, or you’ll want to do a Micro-USB re-charge.

Come to think of it, it would have been great if the Nest did have a real wall plug and cable!

BTW, it’s a special lithium-ion battery – see the iFix battery replacement

BTW, if you install your Nest thermostat yourself, there’s a 2-year warranty on it.

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Grim Visag'd War

August 5, 2017    

Chirstopher’s Nolan’s Dunkirk is a masterpiece, best of the year. Two main points:

Dun-ception

Turn’s out that Nolan’s Inception wasn’t just a movie, but re-introduced a new way to frame story-telling, not with flash-backs, but with multi-track, multi-timescale story lines. That’s sounds bizarre but it enables three different stories, with three different time-spans to be told and intercut in one linear narrative. In Inception, that was just a cute plot gimmick, weird and fun. Here it is the critical form of the movie, driving forward the function of the film’s dramatic tension.

(I say re-introduced in order to acknowledge Last Year At Marienbad which uses a similarly inter-mingled multiple time-signature style to tell it’s story of a rekindled (or not) romance)

Symphonic Variations

A criticism of the film is that it doesn’t tell enough history. Correct - it’s not a history film, and not even driven by characters. It’s actually a symphony of sound and vision designed to overwhelm you with a story of war. There’s a hint of a moral arc, a touch of development, some glimpses of success, but mostly just the brutal truths of terrible wars fought at great cost.

Nolan and composer Hans Zimmer use their technique of extremely slowed down music, turning Elgar’s Nimrod Variation in to the films droning crescendo of victory, barely recognizable but still, somehow, totally effective.

This bravura and confident filmmaking makes the film strikingly compelling in all dimensions.

Meanwhile, disaster after disaster, breathtaking moments of Spitfire dogfights (that puts shame to Spielberg and Lucas), sand-swept and grey-skied dunes littered with bodies and lines of waiting soldiers as the fate of World War II unfolds.

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Must See Movies ofthe '80s

July 28, 2017     ARTS

Out with the gang a couple nights ago, rambling on about good movies, I mentioned “Body Heat” as a must see and got blank stares from the rest of the table. One asked sarcastically if it was in black and white. SMH as they say. At that point I was challenged to put my list of such films in to IMDB. So… MustSee Movies of the ’80s

No real order or importance to the list, I mostly stayed away from the top money-makers that you’ll have seen. And I didn’t go too far in to foreign films. As such the sweet spot on my list of 30-some films happens to be Woody Allen, with three films.

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Choices...Architects

November 22, 2003     TBD

November 22, 2003

Choices…Architects

Interviewed three architects this week

  • Chris - mainly drawings, expiditing
  • Rob - one-man shop, design work, whatever. Nice guy.
  • Michael - medium-sized shop, does soup-to-nuts, expensive design work if needed, otherwise an assembly line for people combining NYC apartments

Rob and Michael are the choices. The first would be more fun and individual; the second would be very quick, precise, and knows a bit more about dealing with NYC.

Hmmmmmm…

Posted by netrc at November 22, 2003 03:23 PM

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Mockba

November 20, 2003     TRAVEL

November 20, 2003

Mockba

Visited Moscow for business Nov 14 - 18. Fascinating, odd place to be.
Lots of construction downtown; many new (expensive) restaurants and shops;
extravagent and bizarre casinos; along with the same grimy, broken down older buildings and courtyards.

Visited the Tretyakov Gallery , the Kremlin, and finally got in to see Lenin, still dead after all these years. (More info than you may want on the mausoleum.)

Red Square

Posted by netrc at November 20, 2003 06:14 PM

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