• Category Archives cultural ramblings
  • Books, movies, music…

  • A Wrinkle In Time

    Anne and I saw this last night. Meh — I was not impressed. I’ll grant that it was pretty close to (a simplified version of) the book, and that I am not the target audience for the movie (or the book for that matter) by about four decades, and that I did enjoy large stretches of the movie, but there were other large stretches that just left me annoyed. On the whole, the movie left me with the same, sanctimonious  “oh the wonder of it all!” vibe of a 90’s era computer advertisement, one targeting parents for their kids’ education, full of photogenic kids staring rapt at math-ey and science-ey graphics. I was seriously rolling my eyes by about 20 minutes into the movie…

    The casting was also kind of spotty, and in a weird way: the more likely I knew an actor, the worse they were here. That is, the kids were all pretty good, but Oprah was awful — more of that sanctimony, maybe.

    Anne kinda-sorta agreed with my “meh, kid stuff” assessment, but she didn’t think it was as bad as all that. She read the book as an adult though, reading it to/with Ben and Emmi and seeing it through their eyes, so she may have been more sympathetic.

    Anyway, it was a night out, and I actually would recommend it for tweens, especially fans of the book.

  • Watching The Snow Fall

    The last storm (on Wednesday) came with a lot of hype, and I was disappointed to wake up with no snow on the ground, just rainy surfaces rather than the advertised snowpocalypse, but then snow started falling midmorning and it came down all day. It was a heavy, wet snow, but there was nowhere as much as they were calling for: we got maybe 4″ on the ground rather than the expected 12″ — the storm tracked east of us, apparently, and we missed the brunt of it, though areas west and north of us got some accumulation. Go figure.

    I got out Tuesday for a nice, pre-snowpocalypse ride on the towpath, which was in great shape — conditions had been improving, and I expected this would be the last chance this week for a decent ride. I rode down to the waterfall in Easton and back, really pleasant. After that I got my act together then went over to Southside — a little early, so I could get a few photos, for some OpenSteetMap mapping at the new parking garage — to meet Anne for dinner at La Lupita before going to see Colson Whitehead talk at Zoellner Arts Center.

    That was really good: he started with “I was born a poor black child” à la Steve Martin, did several readings from The Underground Railroad, talked about his career, his writing process, and writing as a part of his life in general. The Underground Railroad was the subject of a number of workshops at Lehigh; the event was well-attended by students as well as the usual bookish crowd, and the Q&A afterward was pretty decent.

    Wednesday was spent waiting for snow, watching snow from inside while I did computer stuff and Anne did her spinning, and then watching the storm peter out… I got in another bike ride yesterday after some trivial shoveling, just going over to the CAT office to help Scott move some shelves, the first step in his office reconfiguration project. It was a bit chilly, but the air felt fresh and very spring-like.

    Today I woke up and looked outside — snow flurries.

  • Annihilation

    I saw this one on Sunday, with John R and Brian & Katie. Verdict: pretty good, with an interesting story and some good visuals, but in the end it was a disappointment, especially after seeing Black Panther.

    The story here is that, after a meteor crashes, in the middle of a state park in the southern US, the crash site becomes the center of a slowly-expanding area, with ominous, anomalous behavior and an odd rainbow-like light. The secret researchers call it “The Shimmer,” but no one and nothing sent into the zone has returned.

    Except one guy, a soldier who reappears at his home, a year after his mission, with no memory of how he got there. He immediately becomes sick, he and his wife (a professor and cancer researcher) are taken to the secret base, and she becomes one of five women who are the next research team to enter The Shimmer.

    From there, the story is a bit like a cross between Alien and Deliverance, with a bit of Solaris thrown in. The team is attacked by mutant creatures, find evidence that the earlier teams either mutated, or went crazy and killed each other, or both, and then they start losing it in the same ways. None make it out, except the professor.

    As I think about it now, I actually liked the movie, and am definitely going to read the award-winning book on which it’s based.

  • Black Panther

    Anne and I saw this on Saturday — wow. I am not a comic book, “Marvel Universe,” or big-budget movie fan by any stretch of the imagination, but this was one of the better movies I’ve seen in a while. It helps that the story basically stands by itself, without any need to know much else about the story world it inhabits, and it also helps that the big-budget effects were done both well and tastefully, but what really made this movie was that the story it told was actually really good.

    Sorry, spoilers ahead! Continue reading  Post ID 1106

  • This Week Today

    Stopping by again…

    Mapping: I had, and still have, a few technical issues to deal with, but the full Lehigh Valley database is now in PostGIS, along with elevation data — bogus elevation data, that’s one of my technical issues — and the demo map can now route with the new database. But it’s got the slows, it’s got the slooowws… With about 3200 road segments in the “toy database,” it could route in about 1-2 seconds, but the full-map version took about 6 seconds per routing task — and there may be multiple routing tasks in each route, from start point, to via point and then through subsequent via points, and finally to the endpoint. Unacceptable!

    I did some searches online, and sure enough there are a lot of people complaining about pgRouting performance and looking to speed it up. The general consensus: there are a few things you can do, including tune your database, but the actual bottlenecks are the pgRouting algorithms. Some suggested using osm2po, another program that converts OpenStreetMap data for databases but can  also do routing: tried it and it’s blindingly fast – d’oh! (Unfortunately, I didn’t see much there in the way of customized, dynamic cost functions, so I can’t see how to turn it into the the answer I’m looking for.) I tried a bunch f the Postgres/PostGIS performance-tuning tips anyway, and they did seem to help a little.

    I eventually came across one potential solution: route only on a subset of the roads in the database, using a bounding box. For each pair of points to route between, I find the smallest rectangle that contains both, then expand it by 2000 meters in every direction (like a buffer zone); this is my bounding box, and the routing search is limited to the roads that touch or fall within that box. This seemed to do the trick: my routing times are back down to about 1-2 seconds.

    Except near — wait for it — those confounded bridges. The valley is broken up by the Lehigh river, with occasional bridges, and if there are no bridges within the bounding box for a route that needs to cross the river, no route will be found. Meanwhile, when routing points are on a diagonal, the bounding boxes are fairly big, but routing points that run mainly east-west or north-south produce long, skinny bounding boxes. I found a few “dead zones” where routes couldn’t be found, especially east-west ones north of Northampton, routes with skinny bounding boxes where the bridges are a little sparser. My original bounding boxes were expanded by a buffer that was only 1000 meters; I went to 2000 meters in an attempt to alleviate the bridge problem. This didn’t solve it entirely, but it did help, and there was no real performance hit going from 1000 to 2000 meters. I’ll probably look at distances between bridges, and revise my buffer zone to be just bigger than say, half that distance.

    Reading: I picked up Don DeLillo’s Underworld again, intending to just read the first part. I love the first chapter but never finished the book because I found the rest boring; now I am engrossed and don’t know what I was thinking back  then.

    Listening: WXPN has been playing “The 70’s, A-Z” this past week, every song they have in their library that was released in the Seventies, played in alphabetical order. We’ve been following along religiously, and it’s been fascinating and fun but they’re only up to “T,” and it gets wearing. Full disclosure: the radio is off right now…

    The only time they weren’t playing the 70’s was for their Friday “Free at Noon” concert at the Word Cafe, which this week featured Russ’s band Cherry. So, we went down to Philly with Ray and Lorraine, where we met Frank and Patricia, and Ben, and Gabby, and we all watched the show and then went out to lunch with Russ at the White Dog Cafe. As always, we spent a few minutes at Penn Books before the ride home. All the talk in Philly, among us and overheard on the street, was about the upcoming snow on Saturday…

    By the way, Saturday was Luminaria Night in Bethlehem, here is a photo of ours:

    candles in bags on sidewalk
    Luminaria Night

    One last thing: here is what I wrote ten years ago.

  • Updates on Various Things

    Just kicking back this morning, before going with Anne over to the Bike Co-op for the afternoon…

    Reading: I just finished N.K. Jemisin’s debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I took to it well enough at the beginning, but it actually became a chore to read: I put it down for a week, and read the last third in two sittings, closing the book with a sense of relief yesterday. Strange because I really liked her award-winning “Broken Earth” trilogy, and the style and voice were very similar; Anne said that maybe the author worked a few bugs out of her writing between her debut and the trilogy, and that may be so but I didn’t really see it. All I can say is that I really recommend the trilogy, but don’t feel the same about this one. I think it’s also first of two, but it’ll be a while before I read the sequel.

    Two Hours Before The Mast: I did my usual Wednesday volunteering at the Canal Museum yesterday. The canal boat is now in dry-dock for the winter, and Scott E is trying to get as much maintenance done on it (especially things like painting) in the nicer weather as he can, so yesterday I helped prep the deck for staining. Mostly this meant sanding, and the sanding I did was mostly “trim work” with a small vibrating sander, near fixtures and in corners where the bigger unit couldn’t fit — I did this for about two hours until the little sander overheated and turned off.  I thought of it as “swabbing the deck,” but showed remarkable restraint and did not talk like a pirate.

    Mapping: The routing website is now essentially — well, not done done, but the functionality is pretty complete. It routes, with a few glitches (but I added error handling so it doesn’t just choke without apologizing), it modifies routes based on user preferences for hills and visible recommended streets, and it can export the route as GPX; the final steps for website usability are to add printing capabilities for the directions, and add some explanatory content. (Finishing the job means building the real database — and finding a place to put it online.) I’m pretty happy with how this came out so far, it’s actually fun to play with.

    Listening: Not to eMusic, that’s for sure. I’ve used them for years to purchase music, and once they were both a good deal at a flat 49 cents a song (with no DRM: download it and it’s yours), and a good source for whatever I was looking for. Then in about 2010, they bought into some of the more mainstream catalogs, changing their price structure — more popular stuff became more expensive, some songs required you to buy the entire album — to accommodate the new sources. This actually  drove away many of the better and more obscure labels, leaving eMusic no better than any other generic source, at least in terms of selection. Now the major labels are gone again (I think), and the catalogs are mostly things I don’t care about. So every month I pay $15, which gives me $17-$18 in credit to use or lose that month, and I hardly ever even check in anymore to see their new offerings — and whenever I go there to search for something specific, they don’t have it. It’s time to move on.

    On the Home Front: We are busy researching ovens, in preparation for our new purchase.

  • Some Photos of Our Pittsburgh Trip

    We were out in Pittsburgh over the weekend; Anne and I went with Ben to her nephew Mike’s wedding. An awesome time (though exhausting), hanging and partying with Anne’s siblings and their kids. We drove up Friday morning, the wedding was Friday night, we went to Mattress Factory, an art museum, on Saturday, followed by a picnic at Anne’s brother Bill’s place, and drove home Sunday. Boom!

    So anyway, here are some of the pictures I took.

  • Some Photos From Our New York Trip

    I took a bunch of pictures in Watkins Glen and the Corning Museum of Glass, thought I’d show some of them here.

    In Watkins Glen, we camped at the state park, and there was a trail basically from our campground to the trails along the Glen, and then into town. It was cool and convenient, but the park was very crowded, overcrowded actually, and so it wasn’t as much fun as if we had the place (relatively) to ourselves.

    The Museum of Glass was also very cool, but it really wasn’t a museum about glass per se, with history of glassmaking, chemistry and physics of glass, etc, which I would have liked — they had that, but it was more geared for kids, and in the “kid section” — but more an art museum, and museum art history, where the common medium is glass. Early artifacts, modern creations… the craziest part was the gift shop, where I saw several items in the $10,000-$50,000 price range and fragile as, well, glass, just sitting out on pedestals where kids were running around and anyone could bump into them…

    Anyway, here are my photos

  • The View From Musikfest

    Pretty good night last night: we went with some of Anne’s orchestra friends and saw a trio (violin, piano, clarinet) doing Mozart and a few more modern classical pieces at the Moravian Church, then grabbed a beer at the Sun Inn, which was amazingly quiet compared to the street just outside. Left there, went home for some quick food, then caught Scythian — or the first half of their show anyway, thunder and lightning clearing the metal-pole tent. Doug & Lori joined us, as well as John & Donna who stopped by their place to grab some Scotch they got in Scotland. Much fun ensued, studying the relative merits of different Scotches… (This morning started a bit more slowly than we’d planned.)

    We caught another chamber music trio earlier this week, as well as a Faroese folk singer one evening; both of these were at the Moravian Chapel behind the church — these both were firsts for me, being inside these buildings. We also saw the Skatalites at Volksplatz, but other than that, and last night’s rained-out adventure, we’ve been avoiding Musikfest after dark. With age comes wisdom?

    Speaking of wisdom, I realized that my use of categories here (“the sporting life,” “cultural ramblings,” etc) has caused me to fragment my writing, trying to keep myself to one subject per post. I usually don’t have enough to say about any one thing to sustain a full post though, not on any regular basis at least, so my posting has dropped off and I’ve ended up not writing about anything. Therefore, I think I’ll make a conscious effort, to go back to my previous diary-like mishmash of whatever pops into my head, or into my life. Thus…

    Reading: The other book I read in Canada was A Gentleman In Moscow, by Amor Towles. This is the story of a Russian aristocrat who is sentenced by the Bolsheviks to house arrest for life in a luxury Moscow hotel. The novel has som many surprising twists that anything else I reveal would be a spoiler, so I’ll just say that this was a great book, and well worth reading.

    What else has been going on? I was back volunteering at the Canal Museum on Wednesday, but while there I heard that they had so many bike rentals last weekend that they needed to get some of the spares out of storage, and their tires were low on air, etc. So, I went in yesterday and went through all the bikes, making sure that they would be ready for use if needed this weekend. I also did some volunteering at CAT on Tuesday, building up a bike with Anne. In terms of actually riding bikes, Anne and I did a road ride, with lunch in Riegelsville, and Doug and I rode Jacobsburg on Thursday. Yesterday was rainy, and tonight threatens more, so if I ride tomorrow it’ll probably be a road ride.

  • The Expanse

    Just before we went on vacation I picked up James S.A. Corey’s Babylon’s Ashes, the sixth and latest in the sci-fi series “The Expanse.”  I read about half the book before we even left, and finished it not long after. Six novels so far — and last night I downloaded (and devoured) a short story in the same universe, “The Butcher of Anderson Station” — and I still can’t get enough. Now I have to wait, maybe subsisting on Kindle short story downloads, until the next installment comes out in a few months…

    The books are total “space opera” adventures in a future several hundred years away, in a well-built storyworld consisting of overpopulated Earth, independent Mars, and a hardscrabble society of “Belters” living on asteroids and the moons of the outer planets, where a billion-year-old alien artifact is found that triggers unimaginable upheaval.

    I won’t say more, but will say that I highly recommend it.