April 30, 2009

Yet again, straight to H-E-Double Hockey Sticks

Anybody know where I can get a copy of this movie without dropping the $13.49 on amazon...or even for the $5 (including shipping) via ebay?

I think I need to put together a list of the best midget-based movies. Here's what I've got off the top of my head...
  • The Terror of Tiny Town
  • Time Bandits
  • Under the Rainbow
  • TipToes
  • Station Agent
  • Willow
  • Snow White & the Seven Dwarves
  • Freaks
  • For Y'ur Height Only

April 29, 2009

For want of a couple of letters

CoachSullivan pointed out an odd little quirk of the intertubes this past weekend.

If you were to type in idtim.blogspot.com to your browser, you would be directed here, site of the awesomest blog on the intertubes.

If, instead, you switched a single pair of letters and typed in idtmi.blogpsot.com, then you would be directed here, a "Mega site of Bible studies and information".

An interesting coincidence...

April 28, 2009

Um, that would be me...

...that's whose birthday it is.

And I think I can do what Michael does at 2:50 better than he does...and his 6:15 tricks, too.

And thanks to Occasional Superheroine for the video.

April 27, 2009

Ah, the science of it all...

Check out...

A magnet falling through a copper pipe...

...and even cooler...a floating water bridge...via Neatorama...
When exposed to a high-voltage electric field, water in two beakers climbs out of the beakers and crosses empty space to meet, forming the water bridge. The liquid bridge, hovering in space, appears to the human eye to defy gravity.

Upon investigating the phenomenon, the scientists found that water was being transported from one beaker to another, usually from the anode beaker to the cathode beaker. The cylindrical water bridge, with a diameter of 1-3 mm, could remain intact when the beakers were pulled apart at a distance of up to 25 mm.

Why water would act this way was a surprise, Fuchs told PhysOrg.com. But the group’s analyses have shown that the explanation may lie within the nature of the water’s structure. Initially, the bridge forms due to electrostatic charges on the surface of the water. The electric field then concentrates inside the water, arranging the water molecules to form a highly ordered microstructure. This microstructure remains stable, keeping the bridge intact.
Sorry, folks...I'm a little buried this week, so 'til I catch up, there may be a bunch of link blogging.

April 23, 2009

A glimpse into my almost past

I can safely say that the above picture from DorkYearbook.com is not me.

It's the right age to be me. It's got the right chubby smile to be me. The glasses are about right. The polo shirt, the pants, the belt, the backpack nearly the entire ensemble.

But my shoes had a red Nike swoosh on them when I was that age.

So it's not me.

April 22, 2009

Advice from the right wing

I can't believe that I'm doing this, but today I offer up fifty pieces of advice from Right Wing News. The compilation of advice is titled Fifty Things Every 18-year-old Should Know, and I can safely say that I agree with nearly all of them. In particular, I recommend that everybody keep these in mind:
1) If you are buying something that you will use often and for a long time, never go cheap. You'll end up replacing it sooner or paying more in maintenance costs than if you had spent more on good quality in the beginning. Plus, you'll enjoy the nicer product throughout its lifetime, rather than cringing every time you use something that is falling apart.

23) When you move, sell, throw away, and give away as much as possible or you'll just end up moving boxes from one closet, where they have been sitting for five years, to another closet, where they'll be sitting for the next five years.

30) When you're 18, you worry about what everybody is thinking of you; when you're 40, you don't give a darn what anybody thinks of you; when you're 60, you realize nobody's been thinking about you at all.
Check out the rest, folks.

April 21, 2009

Thanks to RuffRyder

At Joey's recommendation, The Girl and I tried New Orleans To Go down in the Tri-County area.

I went down to New Orleans a couple of summers ago - as the guest of the LLS - and found out that there are two types of New Orleans food. There's the streetside po boys and sidewalk beignets and open-front bar hurricanes. Then there's Emeril's NOLA, the fancy and formal version of the same foods.

There isn't a place in Cincinnati - at least not that I've found - that fits the second, more formal type of New Orleans food. Admittedly, it's not something for which I'm actively searching, but would like to think that I'm at least casually open to finding such an establishment. The closest I've found is Knotty Pine on the Bayou in Northern Kentucky, and that's not exactly formal, but it certainly is a sit-down, take an hour or more cajun restaurant.

But the first type, the cheap and quick, casual and everyday almost fast-food New Orleans is something that I've been more actively hunting - unsuccessfully - for a few years. Thanks to Joey, however, I do believe that the hunt is now over with the discovery of New Orleans To Go at the intersection of Kemper Rd and Northland Blvd.

The restaurant sits at the end of a fairly typical - if updated - strip mall, and the inside is in cuisine-appropriate green, purple, and gold with one whole wall taken up by the updated menu. The menu breaks down into po boys (crusty bread sandwiches - wider than French bread - with some fried seafood on the bread), lunches, and platters. The po boys come with waffle fries and a drink, and the owner suggests mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, and glaze on the sandwiches. In fact, when The Girl declined the mayo, the owner acted as though a stake had been driven straight into her heart, asking that The Girl at least let her butter the bread before putting the sandwich together.

The Girl didn't decline the glaze on her fried shrimp po boy, however, and I am thrilled that she didn't because that meant I got to try the glaze. Dear lord was it tasty. They actually forgot to glaze the sandwich, so they brought the glaze out in a small, plastic cup. The glaze looked like a combination of sugar syrup, white wine vinaigrette, and sweet and sour sauce. Flakes of red pepper floated in the glaze, and the taste was revelatory - sweet, hot, saucy, wonderful. We both ended up pouring it onto our seafood, and even brought the extra home for leftovers the next day.

I went for the Mardi Gras Platter - fried shrimp and fried catfish with sides of red beans and rice and sweet potato fries. The fried catfish was marvelous, nicely spiced and light while still maintaining enough weight for an excellent catfish fillet. The shrimp were wonderfully battered and fried, made even better when dipped into the glaze. The red beans and rice were thick and heavy, enough beans having broken down to make a rich gravy into which the rice had sunken. The sweet potato fries - often so easily turned chewy or burned - were thin and crispy, excellently cooked and served with a small cup of apple butter. My only complaint about the sides would be that the fries needed a little more spice - both sweet and hot - on them.

The entire meal came in just over $20 for the two of us, and we both were pleasantly full with a full fillet for me to bring home.

We'll certainly be coming back to New Orleans To Go.

Thanks, Joey, for the rec.

Now, if they would just update their online menu and website like the page says they will - by May of last year - I'd be thrilled.

Check another review if you want to hear another opinion.

April 20, 2009

I'm Lt Paul Jennings, and I'm made of chemicals

If I had to count the number of times that I bought something to assuage my sweet tooth while simultaneously knowing that the item was going to be horrible, I certainly would have a bit of a task in front of me. It's an admitted weakness of mine - the semi-constant cravings for sweet treats. Where The Girl will content herself with a smallest morsel of high-quality chocolate, I'll be equally as likely to turn to a half gallon of ice cream that I would classify as "just okay." It's not a good trait, but it's the kind of thing that leads me to trying new-to-the-store product like Kroger's Cupcake Kit - Slice 'N Bake.

I offer the following review so that no others will have to follow me down this dark path.

The cupcake kit was $2.79 - for six cupcakes, so a fair bit higher than a standard box cake mix from which you can get something in the range of 24 cupakes with a bit of stirring and pouring rather than the simple slice 'n bake method shown below. So, if you're going to be paying more, you'd better be getting either a whole lot better results or a whole lot more convenience.

The package laid bare. Clockwise from top right, the box...nine paper cupcake wrappers...multi-colored sprinkles...the icing tube...the batter tube

The cupcake batter tube split and peeled away. The batter is oddly neither as firm as cookie dough nor as runny as batter should be. It's like cutting room temperature butter. And it's not tasty to lick off of the peeled tube.

Six cupcake "squares" in their tin in the toaster oven. No reason to heat up the full oven for today's experiment. I need Calen's cool camera with the aquarium setting to take pictures through the glass better.

With slightly better lighting and a few minutes of heating (the package calls for 18-20 minutes, but this was after about 15 minutes, and I only went for 17 total before pulling the cupcakes.) Notice the weird cracking of the top - more like a corn muffin than a cupcake - and the weird color differences between the darkened top and the still pale innards.

Pulled from the oven after 17 minutes. The toothpick came out clean, so I pronounced them done.

In all their iced and sprinkled glory. Admittedly, they could have been more neatly iced, but I was in for the tasting and devouring, not for the artistry.

I will absolutely give the cupcakes points for ease. I had no clean-up other than a couple of knives, and if it weren't for the photography (better photos than mine can be found here), I would've had these things in the oven in about three minutes, waited seventeen minutes, then had 'em iced in about two minutes once they were cooled some.

As for the taste, I can only describe the taste as chemical, not something for which most folks strive in making their baked goods. I tried the batter baked and unbaked, and the chemical taste was present in both batches. The sell-by date hadn't yet been reached, so I can only assume that this taste is real and going to be present in any of the cupcake kits that you buy. The chemical taste of the cupcakes, however, was luckily drowned by the even stronger chemical taste of the icing.

I tried a couple of tastes of the icing straight from the tube and ended up throwing most of the unused tube away. As someone who has bought tubs of pre-made icing from the store and eaten them over a few days with a spoon, I can safely say that the icing had to be horrible to convince me to throw away a large portion of it rather than downing it, and the icing certainly was horrible. It wasn't bland, inoffensive, or even a pale imitation of freshly-made icing. It was simply an abomination to the frosting family, which surprises me considering that any number of companies have managed successfully in the frosting market.

The consistency and mouth feel of the cakes and their icing were fine, and the cakes were cooked correctly. They just tasted horrible.

To the numbers...

On a scale of 1 to Marvelous, one being the worst, these rank as a blech.

Steer clear, folks. Nothing to eat here.

Thanks to cyber erik for the nice, clean product photo at the very top of the page.

April 19, 2009

April 17, 2009

Fluer of Sco-land...

Just Chewin' the Fat today, boys and girls...

I do love the Scottish accent.

April 16, 2009

Enjoying the Global Eye

National Geographic's got a semi-regular feature on their blog called Global Eye in which they pick some of the best reader-submitted photographs in Flickr.

Each photo is presented with a few lines about the subject and a few lines about the photographer & technique.

They're gorgeous and certainly worth a check or RSS feed...

April 15, 2009

Princeton Pride

It was officially announced this morning, but I thought I'd pass along that Princeton's Pasta for Pennies campaign raised $38,378.46 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society this year.

We don't know our national ranking just yet, but this brings PHS's ten-year total to over $311,000 for the LLS. I never in my life would have thought I'd be involved in something that raised more than a quarter of a million dollars like this, and I continue to be amazingly proud of our students, staff, and community members.

It was an interesting campaign this year as we ran into hurdles and headaches but still managed to raise more than - I feel confident in saying this - nearly any other school in the nation in those three or four weeks.

Some thoughts...
  • I hate the Girl Scouts.
  • That's not really true. I hate the fact that the Girl Scouts have an air-tight commitment from the regional Kroger office and we don't have such a thing. This year was particularly frustrating here as we had commitments from individual Kroger stores that were overruled and canceled by the regional office without any contact to us or apology to us. We had students show up at stores on a Saturday expecting to collect and get told that they had to leave. I got to make a couple of really uncomfortable visits to Kroger stores to talk to their managers about those mornings, and it wasn't pleasant for us...or for them, honestly.

    The only way to deal with it, however, is to try to get the same air-tight commitment for Pasta for Pennies, and that's a task for the last part of the year and into the summer...'cause otherwise I'm just going to spend the next few years griping about the Girl Scouts rather than actually solving the problem.
  • I haven't eaten a Girl Scout cookie in like three years. I'm just sayin'.
  • Sometimes it's tough to balance our push for wanting more time, more effort, more whatever for the campaign with the school's rightful push toward academics. When the principal wants a week of state test prep practice, we shift our campaign - because academics are supposed to take precedence over everything else - but it's frustrating at times because that decision probably cost us a thousand or two dollars because it put us into direct competition with the Girl Scouts.
  • I don't understand how some teachers don't get involved in the campaign. I sometimes struggle to understand how some classes don't donate even a few bucks as a class, because I care about the campaign, I give every single thing to this campaign.

    And I know that I pass by a half dozen other campaigns that matter the same way to other people in the school. I pass by the HOPE Club; I pass by the United Way; I pass by other people's important things because they aren't mine. And from time to time I need to remember that.
  • We raised $38,000 this year. It's a total that I feel fairly safe in saying that there won't be more than one or two schools that match it this year...that has only been beaten nine times in the last nine years by any school in the nation. And the reception by the students was sort of non-plussed. They applauded and gave an impromptu drum roll. They did everything they were supposed to. But there was a definite lower level of enthusiasm from them - or at least I was reading it that way, possibly because I had a little bit of it myself. It's weird to be honestly impressed with what the kids and the school have accomplished and also to not be quite excited enough about it because it's less than we saw last year and kind of in line of where we expect to be every year.

    I'm thinking that this is what it feels like to be great at something (and here I'm saying that Princeton is great at something, not that I am) because at some point a high level of success becomes expected, becomes almost assumed, and the challenge shifts from creating something great and into maintaining that something great.
  • I am still prouder of this campaign and my involvement in it than I am of anything else that I do.

April 14, 2009

Wilco coming to town

Thanks to Each Note Secure, I now know that Wilco's coming to the Aronoff in Cincinnati.

Pre-sale tickets go up on April 22nd, and apparently the boys are using a new service for the pre-sale tickets. Make sure to sign up for an account in advance so you're ready.

The pic is from Wilco's website and is of them playing the Ryman, source of their upcoming DVD Ashes of American Flags that comes out this weekend, in honor or Record Store Day.

Thank you, Rodney Dangerfield

As we head back to school, wrapping up Spring Break, today, I offer you a blahbitty blah of linkity blinks...From Andy's blog...

April 13, 2009

I dunno...reviews...er...sumpin...

Buncha reading lately...'cause it's what I do...

First up, Invincible Iron Man: The Five Nightmares...
  • Echos the film, allowing Marvel to connect with new readers who might come to the comics thanks to interest in the movie.
  • In spite of this, it's a heck of a good read.
  • Good artwork, interesting story of Obadiah Stane's son plotting to kill Stark & Stark Industries.
  • Pepper Potts pretty front character, again, echoing the movie.
  • Stark still head of SHIELD but showing cracks of trying to hold that all together - SHIELD, Stark Industries, general superheroing, women, etc.
Next up, Batman: RIP...
  • Here's another review - more from the middle of the story arc
  • I dig the art style - nice lines, very vibrant colors, brilliant colors honestly.
  • The impressionistic story-telling style, though, was a bit off for me. You really had to pay attention and make a few leaps between the story bits as the writer certainly wasn't leading you by the hand or making anything terrifically obvious for us.
  • Love the use of Bat Mite as Batman's last bit of reason speaking in his head.
  • The weirdo lack of resolution is frustrating to me and just drags the whole storyline out further than it needs to be.
  • We're dropped smack dab in the middle of the story with Batman/Bruce Wayne already being in love with and having revealed his identity to Jezebel Jet - making it even tougher to follow things. Maybe this has all been building in the regular series for a while, but for a wait-for-trader who's picking this up without knowing all the background, it's really tough to follow.
  • Apparently the rest of the storyline is being collected in Batman: Heart of Hush - maybe that'll help me understand what's happening.
Then there was Death of Captain America vol 1...vol 2...and vol 3...
  • Spreads over three trades, taking up eighteen issues from the whole series.
  • Opens with Cap's death in the first issue then goes through the huge plot - Red Skull, Dr Faustus, Kronas, AIM, Hydra, lots more - to kill Cap & throw the US into total chaos.
  • Very interesting read and one that would've produced a lot of drama if I'd had to wait a month for each next issue to come out.
  • I agree with the various reviewers who point out that Cap won't stay dead and won't be permanently replaced by Bucky, but who cares? It's a good story, and that's what I'm in for.
  • Marvel's done a nice job of keeping the pro- and anti-registration heroes at subtle and sometime open odds with each other. Here the existence of two separate wakes for Cap works well, especially with a couple of heroes having to split time between the two.
  • Good to see Falcon back as an active part of the Cap world. His presence has been on the wane since the early 80's, and he's an active part of this.
  • Dig the Black Widow's connection to both Stark and Bucky here. Sets her up as a nice bridge between those two characters.
  • The more I read of the after effects of Civil War, the more impressed I am with the plotting that went into and has come out of that event.
And Catwoman: Crime Pays
  • The aftermath of Catwoman/Selina Kyle after giving up her baby in the previous arc had so many possibilities...and this volume lets 'em all slip right away.
  • I actually had to cover this issue up with other trades while I was checking things out of the library because of the stupid and pointless cleavage on the cover. It's embarrassing to read a comic like this - especially considering that the character is supposed to be a world-class gymnast - a demographic not known for being particularly pneumatic.
  • Two story arcs in this collection, making it less cohesive than most collections. First one is simple if lightweight Catwoman stuff - bad guy stalking Catwoman trying to kill her to establish his credibility. Second one ties in to Salvation Run with Catwoman taken off-planet with the rest of the DC villains.
  • The second one, in particular, is much too far from the core of this character as being a part of Gotham City, particularly of her semi-protector roll in the East End. The Catwoman character simply works better on the small scale as thief/Gothamite. Whenever she's taken to the JLA satellite, to a distant planet, to the Injustice League's helmet-shaped headquarters in a swamp, the character and the entire series loses its focus.
  • It's a shame that this series has been canceled because it's been a highlight - even having one of the finest collections from DC in the past half dozen years: Relentless.
There's Green Arrow/Black Canary: Road to the Altar
  • This one's a bit of all over the place as it's collected from disparate issues in different series.
  • The Birds of Prey issues in which Canary & Babs talk (too slow) and then Sin is written out of the series are the strongest of the collection.
  • There was no way to keep the adopted daughter in the picture of a superheroine who's part of the Justice League, and the writers did a nice job writing out that character but making the ending mean something.
  • I'm more okay with the choice of Canary to marry Arrow "because I love him" than some are, but I think that's because the writers have been writing GA as much less of a playboy/ass since he came back from the dead. He's been a mayor, a father figure, and a true hero since his resurrection, and that makes the choice of Canary to say yes much more acceptable in the framework to me.
  • The last issue - the wedding planner thing - is truly embarrassing as it vacillates between Canary being too preoccupied to plan a wedding and being a thorough girl - something we've rarely seen in this character - and taking her super girlfriends lingerie shopping - which is very weird to read, by the way.
The worst comic this week is Superman: Camelot Falls vol 2
  • I would be happy if I could never again see these cliches in a comic book...
    • Superman doubting himself because of something a supervillain says.
    • Superman resolving that doubt only after he saves a cute kid from dying (typically from falling out of a window.)
    • A character getting information from the future about an event he wants to prevent and then somehow setting that very event's creation in motion by mistake in the course of trying to prevent it.
    • Zatana in a pair of thigh highs and a corset - not her costume, just some sort of kinky lounging around outfit.
    • Superman flying above the world trying to clear his thoughts.
    • A superhero looking into the eyes of a monster that he's fighting and recognizing - via the eyes - that the monster is really one of his friends who's been transformed by magic/science/plot.
    • An alien who's pissed off at humanity because of how he's been treated/experimented on and killing people the whole time while announcing that he's pissed off at humanity because they experimented on him.
    • An alien getting kicked in a place where human gonads are. (Sorry, that's not in this volume, but it's still annoying to me.)
    • A last panel revelation that what the hero had made sure wasn't happening was actually really happening, just in a deeper cave than the one the hero searched.
    • A collection that is made up of singular issues, all of which contain a one- or two-page recap of the main story arc.
  • This story arc bored me.
And the last one is Neil Gaiman's Eternals
  • Love Neil Gaiman's work...love it.
  • Love the first three quarters of this volume, too.
  • The basic set-up is that the Eternals (with whom I'm not really familiar but about whom enough background is given in this volume that I was okay with) have been tricked into forgetting that they're Eternals. So they're living regular, if a bit higher than average, lives.
  • The artwork is very blocky - typical Romita, Jr. stuff - and works well in this Kirby-based work and world.
  • The revelations of the characters' discovery of their true nature make for a bit of mystery feeling that works well.
  • The ties to the Eternals' masters - whatever they're called (had to look it up, they're the Celestials - work well, too, as the true natures of the Celestials and the Eternals are also presented in dribs and drabs.
  • The appearances of the Iron Man and other Marvel heroes ties this in to the 616 world more than I expected it to as I began the volume.
  • Then comes the final volume. All of the Eternals have been awoken. The Golden Celestial has risen but hasn't woken up yet. And we're ready for a big climax...that never comes. Instead, we get the impression that the whole story arc has been building up to a craptacular ending of "and we'll go exploring to see what happens..." It's the anti-ending. It's the line at the end of the movie that effectively negates all the suspense that's been building and says "we'll meet again." It's the end of the crappy Anne Rice witches book that I read.
  • I recognize that it's a set-up for an ongoing series, but that's not how the whole volume reads up 'til the last few pages.
  • Gaiman sets things up marvelously, but he clearly wasn't able/allowed to end them well at all. There's not even any sort of dramatic mini-climax as in the ending of a lot of first-part movies (see Fellowship of the Ring among others).
And the only non-graphic novel this week: Netherland...
  • I love this introduction to a review from The Atlantic...
    On the face of it, the story of an expatriate Dutchman obsessed with playing cricket might not seem to have the makings of a quintessentially American novel. But at its heart, Joseph O’Neill’s new book, Netherland, is about rehabilitating one’s life and chasing the American dream, albeit at a time when that dream has lost a bit of its gloss.
  • I picked up Netherland after hearing it described on NPR as "a story about post-Sept. 11 New York City as viewed through the scrim of F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece, The Great Gatsby."
  • Having visited NYC last summer made this resonate even more for me as I knew the layout of the world in which the story took place.
  • Describing the plot of Netherland is a tough challenge as little happens in the traditional rising action-climax-falling action sense of plot. Instead, it's a book about a Dutch-by-way-of-London man in New York City whose marriage falls apart in the aftermath and fear of September 11th and who finds himself swept up in the wake of a force of nature immigrant hoping to bring the glories of Cricket to New York to save the country and make a few bucks.
  • It's a story to be read not for the plot but for the words, for the glory and poetry of the prose. There were a number of times when I - listening to the novel on cd - found myself losing the narrative thread and just floating away on the words as read by the marvelous reader, Jefferson Mays.
  • The book can be a bit tough to follow at times because it isn't necessarily arranged chronologically but rather almost as a stream of consciousness laid over a thread of chronology. The main character relates the story in a series of often stacked flashbacks and remembrances. For example, from The Washington Post...
    Netherland doesn't turn on plot. In both form and content, it questions the idea that a life can be told as a coherent story. It is organized not chronologically but as a series of memories linked by associations. For example, Hans remembers a day during his last cricket-playing summer in the city:

    "This time Chuck drove. It was a fine day. The East River from the Brooklyn Bridge was a pure stroke of blue.

    "I thought of my mother, whom I thought of whenever I crossed that bridge.

    "Two weeks after Jake was born, she made her first and last visit to America."

    Hans goes on to recall bicycling with his mother to Brooklyn, a memory that summons his boyhood in The Hague delivering papers, his mother filling in for him on the route and meeting her "gentleman friend," Jeroen, which then evokes an encounter with Jeroen after his mother's cremation, upon which Hans returns to Chuck, who is still at the wheel and headed for Green-Wood Cemetery.
  • The book is marvelous and gorgeous and beautiful, full of longing and memory and absolutely perfect.
  • It's easily the best work of today's reviews.
  • My favorite passage from the book, late in the book as Hans's (the main character) wife questions his friendship with Chuck Ramkisoon, the cricket-promoting Trinidadian immigrant:
    [O]ur dealings, however unusual and close, were the dealings of businessmen. My ease with this state of affairs no doubt reveals a shortcoming on my part, but it’s the same quality that enables me to thrive at work were so many of the brisk, tough successful men I meet are secretly sick to their stomachs about their quarterlies, are being eaten alive by bosses and clients and all-seeing wives and judgmental offspring, and are – in some – desperate to be taken at face value and very happy to reciprocate the courtesy.

    This chronic and - I think – peculiarly male strain of humiliation explains the slight affection that bonds so many of us, but such affection depends on a certain reserve. Chuck observed the code, and so did I. Neither pressed the other on delicate subjects.

April 11, 2009

Free movies for my students

Well, for ten of my students, anyway.

The local Staples has been carrying Flexplay DVDs for a year or so, and what started as a $4.99 "rental" is now down to $0.99 each. (As an aside, I miss the cent symbol on the keyboard. Used to be right there above the 2, I think, but it's been replaced by the @.)

In case you don't know the details about Flexplay, it's a company that offers rental DVDs that you don't have to return. The way it works is that you buy the DVD for whatever price (currently $0.99 at Staples, if I haven't mentioned.) The DVD comes in a cardboard sleeve, within which the DVD itself is sealed in a plastic envelope. Once the envelope is opened, a chemical on the weirdly red DVD begins to react with oxygen. After about forty-eight hours, the reaction has moved far enough along that the red DVD has turned purple/black, and the DVD player will no longer be able to read the data, hence, the movie is dead. Here's some more details about the process.

The idea came about a few years back when movie studios began to find that the preview discs they sent out to Oscar voters - before the movie was officially released on DVD - were beginning to show up for sale on ebay and other places. It's kind of a neat idea, and I appreciate that they acknowledge the recycling issue with just buying and then throwing away the DVDs all the time. Their recycling program's a little vague as they don't mention what # of plastic the DVDs are, but they do give a few other possibilities.

In class, recently, my honors chemistry students studied rates of reaction - how to speed up and how to slow down reactions through various factors. This sounded like a great chance to apply that knowledge, and the $0.99 price made it feasible for me. So I picked up ten movies - two for each of my classes, all PG-13 or lower - and am offering them to my students...with one condition. Anybody who takes a disc has to be willing to take part in a little experiment trying to adjust the rates of reaction. They'll have to watch the movie, then treat the disc in various ways, then try to play the movie a few more times over the next few days (every 12 hours or so if at all possible).

Simple enough, eh?

Well, if you're a current student of mine reading this blog, you get first choice. I'll let two people from each class take a movie, and I'll let the students choose which experiment they're going to try on that DVD disc.

Here are the movies I bought. If you're one of my current students, leave a comment or email me as to which movie you want - if, of course, you want to play along:
  • Charlotte's Web
  • Cloverfield
  • Invasion
  • The Love Guru
  • Drillbit Taylor
  • August Rush
  • Mythbusters
  • Te Golden Compass
  • The Kite Runner
  • No Reservations
The DVDs are pretty bare bones with no extras on them - at least the two I've watched have been.

April 10, 2009

Today's dose of blues

A little electric blues for the soul's sake...enjoy it folks, especially CMorin...

And not quite the blues but still wonderful...

April 9, 2009

Review: Monster Mini-Golf

So, I've got a thing for mini-golf.

Don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I've put together a rubric for rating courses (because ya have to have number to rate anything) and I once put together a website for mini-golf in the Cincinnati area.

I mention all of this just as an introduction to my review of Monster Mini-Golf in West Chester. I'd been looking to try out the relatively new course since it opened about a year ago (I pass it every day to and from school), and The Girl's school had a family fun night with a couple buck discount for each adult. So to the Monster we headed.

I dig the concept of the indoor mini-golf course. In a climate like ours here in Cincinnati, any outdoor miniature golf course gets a solid three or four month season plus a dicey month or two on either end of that season. Moving the course indoors extends the season year round, but such a course needs to find a different way to draw in casual customers, those who might drive by an outdoor course and choose to drop in for a game. If the indoor course doesn't have that steady source of walk-by traffic, what they gain in year-round playability, I think they'll trade off for decreased visibility.

Monster Mini-Golf's gimmick then, is a game played under black light and an amazingly efficient use of their interior space. The front of the store is taken up by a half dozen fluorescent games - air hockey, video games, typical Chuck E Cheese stuff - and two party rooms available for birthday parties and sweet sixteens (catering to a demographic more in line with the decorations and mood of the place).

From there, every inch of the back half to two-thirds of the store is taken up with the course itself. The holes are bordered by landscape timbers (maybe 6x6") that have been sponge painted with fluorescent paint. Framed on these are simple boxes as bumpers and angled barricades. These are also important as without them, there would be no places to stand off course, to avoid being in someone's field of play as every single inch of the course is part of the eighteen holes.

Within the holes are monster-themed obstacles - rattling cages, glowing pumpkins, fluorescent haunted houses - all of which glow under the ultraviolet lights. The walls are hung with fluorescent monster vignettes on black fabric, and the corners are taken up by a DJ booth and a scene of Frankenstein's monster who rises up and scares the patrons at the worker's bidding.

It's a neat theme and makes for a festive atmosphere, something probably more suited to teens than to lower elementary kids - not because the artwork is particularly scary but because of the music choice being a little more aggressive and a little more Green Day than Jonas Brothers.

As to the playability of the course itself, I found it largely boring. The carpet that the course uses runs a little fast but true, utilizing a slightly shaggier and lighter-colored carpet for the "sand traps". The tee mats are monster-paw-shaped with LEDs marking their presence, but the mats aren't flush with the carpet so they actually end up being a hindrance to the putting. We avoided the tee mats entirely - and even got a visit from an employee trying to make sure that we understood that the tee mats were there.

The style of play, then, is also boring as there are no elevation changes and no real variation in the obstacles. Every hole plays as a flat rectangle with a few forty-five degree angles built into the rectangle. There are no slopes to roll across, no round edges to play against, and very little variety at all on the course. Two of the holes have any slope at all - the finishing hole into the clown's mouth - but that's a very easy hole in one - and the corner hole into Frankenstein's monster. The Frank hole allows players to take risk versus reward up a ramp toward the monster, but it cops out by providing a significantly easier straight path around the ramp.

It's a course for people who care more about the atmosphere than about the actual playing experience.

I'll admit that the rubric is built more for outside courses than inside, but let's check the numbers...
  • Upkeep - 10 of 10 - The course could have opened a week before we got there, and I'm not sure I would have been able to tell the difference. The lack of weather wear and tear clearly helps them here.
  • Difficulty - 3 of 10 - Most of the holes were simple par two's with only a very few requiring more than two for a good player (I was mostly in the three's and four's, admittedly). The raised tee mats actually made things harder as it was tough to get a true roll from them, though the location of the tee mats were in the best places to start most of the holes.
  • Course Creativity - 5 of 10 - It's an artistic course in terms of attractiveness of the barriers, but every hole plays largely the same - hit it against the back wall or angle and bounce around the barrier. Same walls, same angles every time.
  • Surrounding Attractiveness - This category doesn't work at all in an indoor course as it's all based on the natural and planted surroundings. Honestly, the attractiveness of the decoration is pretty high. I'll give it a 7 of 10 here.
  • Equipment - 6 of 10 - Scorecards were available but didn't list any pars. No card holders were present anywhere on the course. There were three putter lengths - including kiddie. Pencils were prevalent.
  • Cost - 4 of 10 - $7.50 per person regularly with short people (not just kids) being cheaper. $25 "season" passes (good for 3 months) are available.
  • Bonus points
    • Mechanized hazards +0
    • Employees +1
    • Hole options +1 (one hole had a cut-through)
    • Multiple-level Holes +0
    • Lighting +0 (no bonus for having lights inside)
    • Unifying Theme +1 - decorations, yes
    • Non-mini Golf Entertainment +1 - arcade, yes
    • Snack Bar +1 - minimal options available
    • Edging Material +1 - it did provide consistent bounces
    • Course Length +0
    • Course Material +0
    • Souvenirs +0 - no labels on the pencils?
Overall Points - 41 out of 90 possible

Most of the points are due, in large part, to the place's newness and decorations. I'd rather play a course that's fun and ugly than one that's really boring and has neat prettily painted walls.

I won't be going back to Monster Mini-Golf of West Chester.

April 8, 2009

Kent's Chemical Demonstrations

After checking out Kent's Chemistry Demos, I'm thinking I want to get a video camera. I don't know that I do any demo that are amazingly awesome or that anybody hasn't done anywhere else, but if I'm going to work on being famous to my fifteen people, then I'm going to need to get video of myself online somewhere.

While you're waiting for me to get my cool videos online - and that's going to be a fair wait - check out Kent's Chemistry Demos like this one...

Imaginationland Creatures in a Vacuum

April 7, 2009

The Girl's recommendation of the day

The Girl was showing her elementary students - she's a librarian about a mile from home - some functions on various website. She was showing them things like forms and radio buttons and webcams. She came home and was telling me about he day and mentioned the National Zoo's website with twenty webcams that run twenty-four-seven.

Check out the panda-cam...naked mole rat-cam...ferret-cam...most impressively, octopus-cam.

In one of her classes, she had octopus-cam projected onto her SmartBoard while the kids were checking out books. At one point, then, a single tentacle tip began to slink its way across the camera, followed by suctions cups and the entirety of the tentacle, after which the rest of the octopus worked its way over the camera and began to feed. She said that the entire class sat in rapt, silent attention.

I'm hoping to catch a little of that cool octopus action when we get to the National Zoo this summer.

Got the apartment rented for the ten days, and we've got the tickets bought for all three baseball games. Now it's just to getting the train tickets.

April 6, 2009

A hit to my productivity

Any afternoon productivity that I used to have has taken a severe hit recently as I found that scrubs plays from 5-6 (yeah, two back-to-back episodes, I know!) on WGN. Turns out that my über-limited cable has an hour of scrubs.

Good lord, I love this show.

I'm thinking that by midsummer, I'm going to be the owner of the full seven seasons on DVD.

I love Janitor.

I love the inane dream sequences.

I love the periodic serious notes.

I love the on again, off again JD-Elliot thing.

I love their music - especially "Poison" and Collin Hay.

I love that they've set up the hospital as an extended family.

I love that the goofy JD has dated some phenomenally attractive women on the show.

I even love that I'm starting to pick up the occasional Dr Cox speech pattern in my daily dealings with some students.

April 5, 2009

And this, too...

Sugar - good early reviews...

And I promise, no more videos for a few days so your computer won't crash.

April 4, 2009

Just because...

Found this one while searching the interwebs and watching Michigan State take UConn apart.

Wanna see it

April 2, 2009

Our Year of Living Steakishly: March, The Celestial

Things are getting tight at Our Year of Living Steakishly. We're down to the final half dozen steakhouses, and half a point separates our three highest rated restaurants so far: Embers (45), Carlo & Johnny's (44.5), and Mitchell's (44.5). The best value so far is Mitchell's, and the best overall steak was at Ember's.

That last statement was put to a bit of a test this month as we headed to The Celestial, where our waiter - in touring us through the menu - mentioned that many people say that their steak is the best in town, better than any of the Jeff Ruby restaurants, for example.

Well, if you're going to throw down that kind of a gauntlet, we're going to pick it up and see just what your steaks are made of. And they'd better be made of meat, because otherwise we're going to be really annoyed...and surprised.

Other than Guenther's - and the less said about that place ever again, the better - the Celestial has easily the least elegant entryway of any of our steak restaurant places so far. Its location is high atop Mount Adams, but the entry side presents a view of the condominium building of which the Celestial is the majority of the first floor. We passed by a recumbent security guard enjoying the second day of the NCAA tourney and headed down a hallway of mirrors (tempting me to scream bloody mary thrice) opening onto a smallish host area with the bar - the Incline - to the right.

The location at the bottom of what looks like a simple, inelegant apartment building - badly misplaced among the rest of the homes in Mt Adams - certainly doesn't inspire confidence. Admittedly, from the host area, we headed down a short hallway to the main dining room, a two-level affair with little decoration save for floor to ceiling windows allowing an excellent look out upon the river and the eastern side of downtown including the backside of the P&G pyramids. The view (seen in rotation on their website) is outstanding and the clear drawing power of the location.

Our table was against the windows - all of the two-person tables are. The tables for four were on a level a foot or so above us, allowing all diners an uninterrupted vantage point. The restaurant's layout is remarkably similar to Prima Vista's on the opposite side of downtown, though The Celestial goes for a much more natural feel with wooden paneling on the lone non-window wall and an older style of table and chair.

We were greeted by our waiter David, who offered us drinks and a menu that certainly introduced the restaurant as something not to be trifled with - he referred to it as a tome, and that was appropriate. The depth of the menu wasn't necessarily stunning, but the physical mass of it did leave a distinct impression. He took a moment to get us drinks and returned to offer up the day's specials as well as a few recommendations depending on where our tastes seemed to be heading.

It's rare that I'll note anything about the waiter, but this one deserves a mention. David was entertaining all evening long without ever nudging anywhere near officious. He was knowledgeable about the menu and sang the praises of the food, all of which turned out to be absolutely spot on. At the end of the meal, he asked us to come again and to ask for him by name. When we return to The Celestial - if we return - I certainly will ask for him by name. It was kind of a neat touch.

Simple presentation of bread in dimming sunset light with cute flowers of butter

The bread was presented on a simple, gold-rimmed plate with an accompanying square plate with four flowers of butter. The bread was similar to a chabatta bread but a bit sweeter and a little less crusty. It had a nice chew, and the unsalted butter balanced it nicely.

The delectable tomato and Mozzarella tower with smears of balsamic reduction

None of the appetizers tempted us, so we headed a little further down the menu to take in a starter - the tomato and mozzarella tower split presented on two plates for us at the offering of our waiter. The starter was outstanding. Two layers each of tomato and cheese found their way onto our plates, topped with light greens resembling clover in appearance but providing a nice, clean background against which the bit of balsamic reduction on the plate. The reduction took on a syrupy consistency so that even the small bit held tightly to the tomato as we smeared across it. Through the magic of concentration, the typical tangy of balsamic morphed into a sweetness almost reminiscent of blackberries. This was one of the best salad/starters that we've had in our tours.

The rest of our individual orders:
  • The Girl
    - Gorgonzola and pear salad
    - Filet Mignon, 8oz, medium rare plus
    - Sour cream, horseradish whipped potatoes
  • ChemGuy
    - hearts of Romain salad
    - Kansas City strip, medium rare
    - lobster potatoes
  • Shared
    - spicy green beans (side)
    - Crème brûlée (dessert)
ChemGuy's hearts of Romain salad

The croutons atop my hearts of Romain salad had been rubbed with garlic and toasted - sadly taking it a bit beyond just crunchy to hard. That, however, was the only off note on my salad as the hearts of Romain were whole leaves of tender Romain lettuce - my choice at home or in a restaurant - topped with a Caesar vinaigrette and Romano cheese. My salad was excellent and simple, and The Girl's was also excellent but far more involved. She went with the Gorgonzola and pear salad, coming out to her with a nicely sliced pear resting partially atop a salad of mixed greens, dried cherries, candied walnuts, and Gorgonzola cheese crumbles. The slightly bitter greens and cherries were balanced marvelously with the sweet pear and walnuts, and all the ingredients were nicely tied together with a vinaigrette coating the greens. The Girl reported that the salad was easily the best she had enjoyed on our tour.

The Girl's Gorgonzola and pear salad

Kansas City strip and lobster potatoes

David brought our entrees, mine on two separate plates (see just above), The Girl's on one larger plate, and our green beans set between us. The smell was amazing as was the crust on each steak. These were steaks clearly cooked at the high temperatures that Red was missing. These were crusts to make mouths water, and they certainly did that to mine. The bone in mine was a bit off-putting, and I would likely choose the New York strip rather than the Kansas City cut when we go back to the Celestial. There was also a strip of fat on the side opposite the bone, but everything between the two was outstanding. The center was a perfect red, the outside a masterful brown-black. This was a perfectly prepared steak.

The Girl's initial thoughts were that her choice of medium rare plus was a bit too far as the center redness was a faded pink in her first few bites, but the center's glory began to reveal itself after a few more bites. Her steak's crust was also perfect and the meat significantly smoother than mine. The initial reservations were cleared up, and The Girl and I both agreed that David's comment that the steaks at The Celestial were the equal of any in town - at least any that we've tried so far. I give Embers a half point on The Celestial's steaks, but that comes from the slight over cooking on one end of The Girl's filet and imperfect edges of my strip.

My biggest issue - and one worthy of a full point deduction on my rankings - was the low quality of the steak knives at The Celestial. A steak of this quality, a steak that is to be the finest cut available shouldn't be hacked and grabbed with a serrated knife worthy of the Outback. This level of restaurant should be providing straight-bladed knives honed to razor sharpness. Cheap, serrated blades simply are not acceptable at this level.

Spicy green beans - half of which were consumed

Our sides were of a mixed level. The Girl reported that her whipped potatoes were outstanding, tangy with horseradish but leveled with the sour cream within. The horseradish put them entirely beyond my tastes, but she's a horseysauce kinda Girl. so she thought they were outstanding. My lobster potatoes were very tasty with a slight taste of the shared base with their lobster bisque. My potatoes had been cooked in the thick, flavorful sauce and had a subtle flavor that was very much enjoyable. The green beans were - at first bite - wonderfully flavorful, having been sauteed and then coated in a sauce of soy and hot pepper. The sauce was reduced and thickened to coat the green beans. After a few bites, however, the soy reduction became far too salty for either of our tastes. The flavor was good in very small doses, but between the two of us, we couldn't finish the green beans.

Shockingly, crème brûlée with a strawberry garnish

The crème brûlée was nicely firm and flavored, but the crust on top was easily more blonde than the golden brown that results from thorough caramelizing. Not the finest dessert we've had on our tour, but a solid entry with a very simple accompaniment of a sliced strawberry centered atop. Plus, it wasn't in a stupidly shaped bowl.

To the numbers, intrepid readers:
  • Appetizers/Dessert - 8.25 - The crème brûlée topping wasn't as dark as it should be - still more blond than burnt (7), the mozarella/tomato tower was fairly well perfect (9.5)
  • Steak - 8.5 - Outstanding...excellent crust, good flavor, mine perfectly cooked with a little more fat than I would have appreciated (8)...The Girl's a little more done than she would've liked but otherwise spectacular (9).
  • Side dishes - 7.3 - both potatoes get an 8, and the green beans a 6.
  • Atmosphere - 9 - Obviously, great view, well laid out dining room, good atmosphere.
  • Cost - 3 - Our bill was $114 - minus $6.50 for a reasonably-priced Manhattan plus a solid tip because of the next section.
  • Service - 9.5 - We agreed that this was our favorite waiter - they lose a half point because my glass got low on water a couple of times.
  • Minus 1 - horrible steak knives, serrated and not effective in cutting the steak. Very bad.
  • Total score - 44.55 (out of 60)