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L. Frank Baum’s magical land of Oz has been loved for generations.  Ever since the his original series of books entered the public domain, others have taken temporary possession of Oz and run with it in gleeful abandon.  Authors such as Ruth Plumly Thompson and John R. Neil wrote books in keeping with Baum’s original vision; others, most notably Gregory Maguire, imagined alternate versions of the world.  The video game we finished this weekend, Emerald City Confidential, is another wonderful addition to the alternate realities of Oz.

Much is good, and very little is bad! )

Emerald City Confidential is available for Mac and PC on Big Fish and PlayFirst Games (and several other web stores, all of which seem to offer 1 hour of free play) for $6.99 for members ($9.99 for non-members) and through the Mac App Store for $9.99.
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As the daughter of not one but two former English teachers, my vocabulary has always been something of a point of pride with me.  Pile startled me: how could something that appears to be a children’s picture book send me to the dictionary multiple times?  All I can say is, Brian W. Aldiss has a vocabulary that one needs must look upon and marvel at.

Aldiss is probably best known for his award-winning science fiction writing.  In a departure from his usual fare, Pile could perhaps be described as dystopian verse.  It follows the adventures of Prince Scart in the city of Pile, a city that has forced out every bit of nature.  The pages are mostly taken up by Mike Wilkes’ intricate black-and-white pen and ink drawings of Pile and its inhabitants.  Wilkes takes his inspiration from M.C. Escher and various real-world locations - readers should have fun playing ‘spot the landmark’ throughout the book.  Below the engrossing illustrations are the no less fascinating verses of Aldiss, who nods to such sources as Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, Shelley’s Ozymandias, and (I honestly believe) Bob and Ray’s Car Talk.  

But be warned: this is no children’s book.  While the destruction of a city is not an unreasonable subject for wee ones, you probably don’t want your five-year-old asking what “whores of reassuring potency” are.  Nor, unless you have a child who’s willing to be caught up completely by the musicality of Aldiss’ verses, do you want to be interrupted after every verse by someone (besides yourself) wanting you to stop and explain what Aldiss just said.  But for folks with a little more patience, Aldiss’s altogether strange and convoluted writing will puzzle and delight. 
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When I was a kid, I loved what was then L'Engle's Time Trilogy: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.  The kids of the Murry family went on wonderful adventures: instant interstellar travel to a brave new world, an attempt to fix a human body from the inside a la Fantastic Voyage or Innerspace, and travels through time to remove a future threat of nuclear war was all great stuff.  Several years later, my husband-to-be introduced me to Many Waters, written after the original trilogy but clearly tied to it, in which the two 'normal' siblings of the Murry family spend a year with Noah and his family.  While never particularly hidden, L'Engle's connection to the Christian faith came more obviously to the forefront in that fourth book just by nature of the adventure of the twins, but both the grand adventure and the moral choices presented were happily engrossing.

A few months ago when Borders was going out of business, I spotted An Acceptable Time, discovered it was the fifth book in the Time series, and picked it up on the cheap.  Sadly, L'Engle is not at her best.  Young Polly O'Keefe, one of Meg (Murry) O'Keefe's children, visits her grandparents.  She accidentally crosses circles of time 3000 years apart and visits a world of the distant past in which a small handful of druids from Great Britain crossed the sea and joined the American natives.  So far, so L'Engle.  The problems lie in several aspects ranging from poor science (albeit referred to only indirectly) to character discontinuity from previous books to having characters present that the book would have been better without.

Read the gory details here )

Were these issues complete deal-breakers?  Well, no. The story is still a page-turner, and I did generally enjoy it.  But be warned that An Acceptable Time is far from L’Engle’s best work.
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You may remember a little over a month ago I tried out Android's movie store and player and came to the conclusion that watching a movie on a laptop would probably work better. For our recent trip to Boston I decided to give Apple's Itunes movie rental service a go.

Thumbs up! )
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One of the nice things about having been on vacation for the last several days has been the opportunity to see a couple of movies while they're still in the theaters.  On Wednesday, we saw Nine; we'd wanted to see it anyway, and the showtime made it a quite acceptable substitution for The Princess and The Frog, which was - astonishingly - sold out.  We then caught Princess and Frog on Friday.  While I have thoughts about Princess and Frogl, I've written sufficiently about Nine to call this an entry on its own.  (It's rather longer than [ profile] jab2 's concise summary of the film, I'm afraid.)

About Nine )
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We finished watching our DVD of Ratatouille Saturday night. It was the perfect thing to see before visiting Straits Cafe, a marvelous and amazing restaurant specializing in Singaporean cuisine. They are more than happy to serve their dishes to a group family-style, encouraging everyone at the table to sample every dish. That worked out extremely well last night: the four dishes we had complemented each other very nicely indeed - and completely by accident, too!
What we ate and how good it was )

I can't recommend Straits heartily enough to anyone who likes really good Asian cuisine.  Overall, it's about the same price as or slightly more expensive than, say, Max's (main dishes range from around $10 to $36).  Well worth it if you live in the area and want something a bit different and extremely tasty, and worth spending a meal here if you're visiting the area.
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- The Ginger Peach Tea jam sold by Republic of Tea is really quite excellent.  (I ordered some for my mom, in the assumption that it would arrive sometime while we were visiting.)  There's a strong ginger flavor to it that really makes the jam.  I can't taste the tea in it, but that's okay.

- There's a free iPhone app specifically for browsing and downloading Librivox titles called Audiobooks.  From what I've heard, it's got a fantastic interface for browsing, downloading, and listening to LV books.  Go to the App store, or visit this website for more info.

- We spent time with animals the first few days here.  Sunday night, my brother and his family (two nephews, age roughly two and five) visited us, and Monday we saw a muskrat and a heron.  (Tuesday we got hopefully passable pictures of the muskrat.)

- Watched the Star Trek movie Tuesday night (had lots of fun as promised by virtually everybody) at the Somerville Theater.  Yay for old-style movie houses with front-row balcony seats!  Though it would have been nice had my seat bottom not parted company with the rest of the seat several times.
     - Adjunct 1: there will be a Star Trek movie post later with amused snarkiness
     - Adjunct 2: the crepe place 2 doors down from the Somerville Theater knows how to do strawberries and dark Belgian chocolate.  Yum!

- My bro lent us the Get Smart movie on Sunday, which we watched Wednesday night.  Apart from a few moments that were Absolutely Not Necessary (e.g. upchuck in the fighter plane), it was surprisingly enjoyable.  It was rather refreshing to have Agent 86 be really quite competent as a field agent!  It was a good choice, I think; it would have been difficult to carry off an entire movie-length period of bumbling-incompetent-somehow-saves-the-day-anyway.


May. 23rd, 2009 04:57 pm
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• Suave's so-called lavender and lilac-scented shampoo smells to me neither like lavender nor lilac while using it. It smells quite distinctly of apple.

• Had a lovely (and productive!) day with [ profile] nezumiko  yesterday.  Acquired new sneakers, new jeans, and new tea and adorable teacup.  Then we went back to her place, watched the last four episodes of Fruits Basket, and made Tea Drinks!  We need to name them though.  The recipes are below.

My drink:
    Brew a cup of Teavana's Rooibos Key Lime tea.  Add a dollop of Bacardi Limon and enjoy!  If you wish, you can also add a small amount of honey, further smoothing out any edge that the alcohol might have.  But mostly it doesn't have any in the first place.  It's a quite refreshing drink, and I bet it would be simply lovely over ice.

Nezu's drink:
    Brew a cup of Teavana's Earl Grey Creme.  (Straight Earl Grey would probably work too; if you do it that way, add a little vanilla extract to the mix.)  Add a jigger of Tuaca (it's an Italian liquer) and enjoy.  It's quite good just like that; add a spoonful of honey to turn it into liquid candy, and some half-and-half on top of that to turn it into a drink you could seduce someone with.  (This is the drink that really needs the name.)

We're now hanging about waiting for Super Shuttle to turn up, which they should do in another hour or two.  We'll be in Boston tomorrow through early Friday, then down to the Ancestral Homeland for Huz's reunion.  See you!

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I satisfied a minor itch Sunday night by purchasing the soundtrack to Coraline.  I did the minimal homework and found that, yay, the full album was cheaper as a download on Amazon than it was on iTunes by a buck (and came with no DRM on Amazon; I couldn't tell just by looking whether it was DRM-free on iTunes as well).  (Edit: as of actual posting time, the Amazon price had come down to $5.00!)  Hey, a buck is a buck and might buy me a soda later this week.  So I downloaded Amazon's digital download manager, paid for the album, and started downloading.

Amazon's downloader could stand some work. )

I like the soundtrack though! )
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I have stuff that I want to write up in some serious detail, but I am way too busy to do so right now.  (And I've had other writing I have done/need to do: a brief reflection on a Biblical text for our church's Lenten meditation book, and something-or-other for a memory book that one of my paternal aunts is putting together for the other one, who turns 70 next month.)  So I'll just note here, in very brief form, the main points that I wish to make.

1.  Coraline the movie was really really good.  Coraline the book was also really really good.  The movie did some things differently from the book, but they all work surprisingly well (including the generation of an entirely new character).  But because there are some things in the book that didn't get into the movie (including my very favorite scene which, admittedly, would have been difficult to film), you should read the book as well as see the movie. 

2.  Sweeney Todd had his beginnings in a penny-dreadful serial called The String of Pearls that was recently recorded at Librivox and which we just finished listening to today.  The story is essentially a mystery - what's happening to the customers who enter Todd's barbershop and are never seen again?  The modern reader likely knows the answer already, of course, but that doesn't stop the original tale from being interesting, mildy horrifying, humorous (intentionally or otherwise, sometimes it's hard to tell), and at times even pretty well-written.  This recording is a collaborative effort, and there's a wide variety of styles and abilities of readers ranging from folks for whom English is not their first language to professionals.    The catalog page is linked above.
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We live within easy walking distance of a Whole Foods grocery, and (until recently, for reasons completely unconnected to this post) have done most of our grocery shopping there. For fresh goods, both the price and quality regularly beat the local big-box grocery contender Safeway. The same is even true for some prepackaged things: Traditional Medicinals tea is a fair chunk less per box at Whole Foods than in Safeways organics section for no reason that I can imagine. Boxed cereal and canned goods, on the other hand, tend to be cheaper at Safeway. None of which has much to do with the discussion at hand, but is here anyway.

There are also some things that Whole Foods just does better than Safeway: their fresh-baked stuff, for example. In-house breads and (in particular) cakes at Whole Foods range from very good to fantastic. Perhaps with this information in mind, we've tried a few of their house brand of prepackaged baked goods - alas, with much more mixed results.

Sandwich bread, English muffins, naan, and pizza crusts )

So... overall, Safeway is better for prepackaged baked goods too.  Oh well!
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One of the ways I entertained myself during the Cold That Would Not Die was by reading.  I've had the great good luck to read three quite good fantasy novels.

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The huz and I just got back from watching the Sweeney Todd movie.  For the most part, we were quite pleased with it.

The gore )

General impressions: If I hadn't been so completely familiar with the story going into the theater, I'm certain I would have been considerably shell-shocked by it.  It's such an incredibly violent story, and most of the surviving characters are so clearly going to need serious therapy for the next several years, that an uninformed viewer could hardly help being walloped by it.


Nov. 18th, 2007 09:48 pm
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If it were earlier, I might post at some decent length about the two theater bits we've seen this week. 

Thursday night we saw the final dress rehearsal of Opera San Jose's production of Werther.  The very short version: Charlotte, a mezzo-soprano, is a Slave of Duty (tm).  Werther, a tenor,  is a depressive twit.  They sort of get together, but things end badly.  The music was good, though, and the voices were really quite good - especially the woman singing Charlotte the night we saw it.  I'm quite certain she could outsing any two of the other primary cast members.

Then today, we saw the Lamplighters' Annual Gala, in which they write their own show and put new lyrics to Gilbert and Sullivan tunes.  This year's show was entitled "Harry Patter and the Willing Suspension of Disbelief (or, A Series of Unfortunate Musical Numbers)".  It was... cute.  It should not have been interrupted with 15-20 minutes of live auction at the end of the first act which was then followed by a hideously long intermission (this is the Lamplighters' big fundraising event, and the intermission was for a silent auction).  And it really didn't need 2 different songs about Harry's scar.  Plusses: Equating Gilderoy Lockheart with Bunthorne from Patience was inspired.  Voldemort was rewritten as Wal*de*Mart (it's a long story; if people want, I can write up a summary later), and sang a version of "When the Night Wind Howls" from Ruddigore that involved the chorus of Death Greeters replacing the ghosts' "Haha"s in the original version with "Chu-ching!" (cash register noise).

[profile] nezumiko - that's where we were rather than being home to accept your invitation to an organ concert.  We ended up not getting home till 8:30.  (The show started at 4:00.)

Home.  Bed now.  G'night!
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The huz and I just finished listening to two audiobooks available at Librivox, both by H.G. Wells, and both on a subject that I would not have expected him to write about: games.

Floor Games is a brief (45 minutes) essay about the games Mr. Wells played with his sons on a large cork floor.  They use boards, toy soldiers and animals, and common household objects to create islands, cities, parks, and other inhabited landscapes.  Then the imagination of the boys, both old and young, is let loose to create events and act them out.  It's a droll, well-written set of general instructions on how to have fun with your kids.

Little Wars is a slightly longer (1 hour 45 minutes) booklet which should be of interest to anyone who's ever played a turn-based tabletop-style combat strategy game.  While I haven't done the research to make sure, I rather think that Mr. Wells' 1913 publication may be the first time that someone had published rules for a game that would eventually evolve into the tabletop games we know today.  The writing is clear and often amusing.  The instructions themselves are fairly brief, and much of the work is a detailed description of a short campaign between himself and another middle-aged gentleman of his acquaintance.  Wells devotes a brief section at the end to thoughtfully commenting on the connections between Little Wars and what he terms Great War - the wars that humanity fights out in the real world.

Both works are narrated by one of my favorite readers on Librivox, Mark Smith.  He has a great sense for the text and for making the most out of the drama and humor in both works without overdoing either aspect.  I recommend both books to people who like to play games of every sort.  :)
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My apologies to one and all for filling their Friends pages with mostly Zelda-related drivel over the past couple of months.  I didn't intend that to be the bulk of my LJ entries, I truly didn't!

I therefore present:   A serious post!  With real content!  Let there be rejoicing!

A while ago, [personal profile] stolen_tea posted about the music of Karl Jenkins.  Jenkins is probably most widely known for his compositions for his group Adiemus.  He's also written somewhat more traditional choral works, including a requiem and a mass.  The huz and I were lucky enough to sing his The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace back in August of 2005. 

This happened to be, amusingly enough, the first FULL performance of the piece in the U.S., even though it was written some years ago and has been wildly popular in Europe.  Jenkins really really wanted the U.S. premiere of the piece to be in Carnegie Hall, and the powers that be at Carnegie Hall finally agreed - at which point, the person in charge of directing the local community summer chorus said, "Yahoo!  We'll perform it here a month after that!"

Well, there was a performance at Carnegie Hall. But for reasons unknown, they decided to do only the 'pretty' movements out of the mass, leaving out the darker (but highly effective) movements.  So we did the first full performance.  :)

It was quite possibly one of the most emotional choral singing experiences I've ever had, and I feel very fortunate to have been introduced to the piece. 
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The Bean Scene Cafe may be physically convenient to the Mountainview Center for the Performing Arts, but boy are they sloooooooooooow.  We ordered around 6:20 or 6:25.  There was one order ahead of us, consisting of two dinner crepes and a salad.  It should not have taken nearly half an hour for the single guy who was there to put together that order plus our two sandwiches.  There are several places nearby which would probably take an equivalent amount of time to get to, acquire and order food, and return to the MVCPA by showtime which we will investigate next time around.

Theater:  We went to a show that was part of a local New Works theater last night and saw Equivocation, by Bill Cain.  It was very good: Will Shakespeare is asked to write a play about the 'true' (well, official, anyway) story of the Gunpowder Plot.  There's lots of reference to recent/current events (Robert Cecil, the Prime Minister, cannot produce the 36 barrels of gunpowder because the powder has been dispersed - after all, together those barrels could kill a lot of people.  Old weapon of mass destruction, ya know) and the writing is almost Shavian in its witty and biting humor.  The second act tends to drag a bit, and will likely be the focus of future rewrites.  Perhaps we'll get to see it in its final form in a year or two!

Zelda happiness: Finished the Forest Temple earlier this afternoon!  It took a lot of tries to successfully use the monkey-swing, but once in the room I beat the end boss in only one go! 
Now, admittedly, I drank all three doses of healing that I had with me.  And after every cycle of defeating the two sub-creatures, the boss just kind of stood there and didn't do anything harmful while I attempted to deliver bombs to its  head.  And I had to hunt for heart-pots later on, and I had the huz looking on and offering very helpful advice... but I did it!  And I have a fourth heart container!

Rayman sadness:
The huz had been working on day 11 (I think) of Rayman, and had essentially just completed a somewhat nasty task... when the console crashed.   This is one more reason to dislike games that won't let you save any time you want to (or at least, any time that you've completed a task, but not a day.)
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[profile] nezumiko gave my husband and me this lovely book for Christmas. In brief, it tells the story of a solitary man living in Provence, visited a few times by the narrator over the course of decades (1914-1950-something), who gradually and singlehandedly plants a forest over the previously desolate and desert-like countryside. We believed that the tale was true - until we read the foreword and assorted afterwords present in the 20th-anniversary edition we were given. I was terribly disappointed by this revelation.

Why? What led me to believe that a book with "a story by" in its title would enclose anything but fiction? Why did I want the tale to be true?

Read more... )
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Normally I don't read biographies - I'm much more into the fiction/fantasy/sci-fi side of things. But a fellow from my husband's company who was leaving had lent it to my husband, and I picked it up after my husband had read a few bits out of it to me. I had to read it fairly rapidly, over the course of only a few days, because the loaner would need it back before leaving at the end of last week. Fortunately for me, the book reads very quicky!

Steve Wozniak is, of course, the founder of Apple Computer. He also wrote the very first version of the game Breakout - the solo version of Pong, where you bounce a ball against a bunch of 'bricks' and thus break them. He was also building things that looked a lot like computers a lot earlier than most other people.

(There. That should serve as an introduction.)

Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith met over 50 times, for a 2 hour session each time. Many of those were recording sessions in which Wozniak would tell stories about his life; later sessions were (presumably) for editing, to get the sound of each paragraph right. The result is a book that reads as if you've got this very bright computer whiz guy hanging out with you and some buddies at a neighborhood barbecue, shooting the breeze and telling stories of the years gone by. The style is highly conversational, peppered with "well"s and "you know"s and (my favorite) "Hah"s (when he laughs at himself or at his own jokes).

The first couple of chapters gave me the strong feeling that this book was largely going to be a case of self-aggrandizement, and I wasn't sure I wasn't going to like it because of that. But after all, writing one's memoirs takes an ego to do in the first place, doesn't it? Once I came to terms with the sense of Wozniak being a bit of a bragger, I was able to lean back and enjoy the stories.

Wozniak, in conjunction with Smith, is a good storyteller. Whether he's giving an account of how he built the Cream Soda Computer in high school or how he created Brickout in only four days (sleep was not an option, he was working towards a deadline), his style is direct, informal, and engaging. He makes a point of (mostly) talking to the average, reasonably intelligent person, and at only one point did he become too technical for me to follow. And because I was working on a deadline, that instance was probably more my fault than his.

I enjoyed this book; I might read it again. As it happens, my husband's co-worker gave my husband the book as a going-away gift, so I'll have the opportunity to if I so desire.

Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Random note: After having finished this book at high speed, I then picked up another book that I was working on, Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet. (I've always enjoyed Rushdie for his amazing use of language, and will post thouoghts/review of the book once I've finished it.) This was the first time I'd had a distinct taste sensation come from reading a book: After Wozniak's perfectly adequate language, reading just a couple of paragraphs of Rushdie left me with the sensation of a small piece of fruity dark chocolate melting on my tongue.


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