Monday, October 31, 2011


While an undergraduate at BYU, I was involved with a book club. As October rolled around the book club president, Jonathan, solicited us to write some horror fiction for Hallowe'en. I've never been one to get into reading or watching horror, but I decided to see if I could come up with something. That month I wrote not one, but six horror stories. But this one was the first. It was inspired by a book my roommate, Michael, had me read.[1] It was written by an LDS man who was claiming that aliens were actually artificial bodies created by evil men for Satan's angels to inhabit. (Let me say right now that this is not mainstream LDS theology.[2]) Read on if you dare! Happy Hallowe'en!

NOTE: I've annotated this story, but I recommend you read it all the way through before reading the notes.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Summer Garden

Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons [1]) are encouraged to be as self-sufficient as possible. This is broken down into an unofficial hierarchy where the individual should try to provide for their own needs (and the needs of spouse and children) as much as possible. When their own efforts are insufficient they should turn to friends and family for help. Only when those resources have been exhausted should they seek financial help from the Church.[2] One of the things that many LDS families do to be self-sufficient is to grow a garden. Since Leann and I were married we've had a garden every summer.[3]

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Product Review: Doritos Tapatío chips

While I was in México as an LDS missionary [1] I had, on a few occasions, a hot sauce called Valentina. When I got back to the States I spotted some at the grocer store and bought it. Even though I don't like tuna or macaroni [2], I was able to eat tuna casserole for a while by putting Valentina hot sauce on it. That eventually ceased to be the case, I stopped using the Valentina, and eventually I (or my mom) threw it out. Tapatío is pretty similar in appearance to Valentina. According to Wikipedia [3] Valentina has been produced in Guadalajara since the 1850s. Tapatío has been produced in California since the 1970s [4], but the recipe comes from natives of Guadalajara. So I suspect that Tapatío is a modified recipe of Valentina.

Product Review: Doritos Flamas

With a name like Flamas (the Spanish word for "flames") and a picture of the product wreathed in fire, this bag of chips is almost insisting that you are too wimpy to handle it. Well, I picked up that gauntlet and it was a rough duel indeed. But at the end it was I, not the bag of chips, who was still standing.

Product Review: Barcel Takis Crunchy Fajita

I seem to have gone about this all backwards. Rather than review the original flavor first and then the variety flavors [1], I've saved the original flavor of Takis for last: Crunch Fajita. Takis are rolled up corn chips which are covered with a flavoring powder with a distinctly south-of-the-border taste.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An Afternoon Drive

Last Friday, when I got home from school/work, I picked up my girls (wife and daughter) and we went for a drive up Provo Canyon to see the fall leaves. I didn't really plan it this way, but we made two stops: Bridal Veil Falls and Squaw Peak. I'd never been to Bridal Veil Falls and Leann had never been to Squaw Peak (every time she's tried before now the road was still snowed in).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Product Review: Les 3 Comtois Morbier Cheese

Morbier cheese (pronounced MORB-yay [1]) was first developed in Franche-Comté, a region of France near the Swiss border.[2] Farmers there made Comté cheese (the French equivalent of Gruyère [3]), which is pressed into large molds. In the evening, if they didn't have enough curd to fill another mold, the farmers would sprinkle some ash over the top to prevent the curd from forming a rind.[4] The next day, after the morning milking, the rest of the mold would be filled up, trapping the layer of ash in the center. This layer of ash through the middle of the cheese is one of the distinctive characteristics of Morbier cheese.

Product Review: Mitica Juni Cheese

This cheese is actually a Toma Brusca [1] from the northern part of Italy.[2] However, during the cheese making process, they added juniper berries (which is the inspiration for the name Juni). Some comments I read online said this cheese reminded them of a gin and tonic.[3] I presume this is because juniper berries are the main flavoring agent in gin, but I wouldn't know for sure since I've never tasted gin or any other alcoholic drink.[4]

Product Review: Appleby's Cheshire Cheese

Cheshire cheese is one of the oldest recorded cheeses in England [1] and at one time was the most popular English cheese on the market.[2] In fact, both William the Conqueror [3] and Queen Elizabeth I [4] proclaimed it their favorite cheese and in the 1800s it became a staple in the diet of English navy.[5] Some varieties of Cheshire cheese have annatto added to them to give them a redder, more cheddar-like appearance. The wedge that I bought was a red Cheshire.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Social Interaction

In the last week or two Lillian has started interacting with us socially, as they say. All that means is that she's starting to smile, giggle, talk, and stick her tongue out when we stick our tongues out at her. I don't have any videos of her giggling [1], but a few days ago I pulled some childish slapstick on Leann while holding Lilli, who immediately laughed. Now, I'm quite sure that Lilli didn't know what I'd done—the timing of her giggle was simply serendipitous. However, Leann's having a hard time living down the idea that Lilli laughed at what I did. Even though I don't have any videos of Lillian laughing, I do have some videos of Lillian sticking out her tongue and talking.[2]

Friday, October 21, 2011

Product Review: Postobón manzana soda

Postobón is a soft drink company based in the South American country of Colombia.[1] I found some of their soft drinks for sale in a South American tienda in Orem, Utah. I went in hoping to find Nestlé Sublime chocolate bars (which I did [2]), which my Dad grew fond of while he was serving an LDS mission [3] in Peru. The store was small and I was about to leave because I hadn't spotted the Sublime bars, yet. I felt bad leaving without buying something, so I grabbed a can of manzana-flavored (apple-flavored) soda. At the register I finally spotted the Sublime bars but by then I was committed to try the Postobón soda.

Product Review: Martinelli's Prickly Passion Lemonade

I'm not really fond of passion fruit because it tastes too much like guava fruit.[1] But I was surprised to see that this lemonade also had juice from prickly pear fruit. In México the name for prickly pear fruit is tunas. While I was a missionary in the city of Matehuala, San Luis Potosí [2][3], I ate a lot of tunas. In fact, on one P-Day [4] we visited the ghost town of Real de Catorce.[5] The hillside up there was covered with fruiting prickly pear cacti, both the red and yellow-green varieties. I ate until my lips and fingers were too full of the tiny little spines to go on.[6] Since returning to the United States, I've found tunas in a few Mexican stores, but only rarely. So naturally I was intrigued to see them as an ingredient in a lemonade.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lillian's First Birding Trip

With Lillian's early arrival [1] Leann and I haven't been out birding, lately. But since the fall migration is almost over, we thought we should get out before the number of species bottoms out. So we put Lilli in her car seat, gave her a copy of The Sibley Guide to Birds of Western North America [2] and some binoculars, and set off. (For some reason her hair looked reddish in this photograph and turned out even more so when I manipulated it in the GIMP.[3] In reality her hair is light brown or blondish.) We went out to the Provo Airport Dike since it's close but it still offers a variety of water and shore birds. That way if Lillian started getting fussy, it wouldn't take us very long to get back home. Things were pretty quiet when we reached the dike—most of the birds had already flown to warmer climes. As we got out to the edge of Provo Bay we started to see and hear some fowl.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Product Review: pitaya

The pitaya is usually sold at the grocery store under the more exotic name dragon fruit. Indeed, the name for this fruit in most Eastern languages incorporates the word dragon in some way or another.[1] This fruit is native to Central and South America and grows on a cactus. However, they're so popular that the cultivated variety (Hylocereus undatus) is now grown commercially in Hawaii, East Asia, and Southeast Asia. You will often see them touted for their health benefits.[2]

Product Review: Horned Melon

This fruit (Cucumis metuliferus) has many names: blowfish fruit, cherie, English tomato, gaka, gakachika, hedged gourd, horned melon, horned cucumber, jelly melon, Kiwano, Melano, and métulon.[1] It is native to Africa and is related to several more familiar fruits: honeydew, cantaloupe, and cucumber (and, to a lesser extent, watermelon, squashes, and loofah). In 1982 cultivation of this fruit began in New Zealand and from there has spread to several other locations around the world, including Israel and California.[2] It's no wonder this fruit generates curiosity—it looks like something you'd find growing on an alien world.

Product Review: marañón

We're all familiar with the cashew nut. But until recently (i.e. within the last few years) I didn't know that the cashew nut grows at the end of a fruit—the marañón or cashew apple. You only get one cashew per marañón, which is part of why it's more expensive than other nuts. The cashew tree is related to the mango, but because the marañón has a delicate skin it's mostly unsuitable for international trade (I had to buy them frozen).[1] The marañón can be yellow (like the ones I bought) or red.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Unlikelihood of Peter Wiggin

It has been one year exactly since I started blogging.[1] Including this one, I've made 433 posts. Some of them have been silly, some have been banal, and some may even have a hint of intelligence to them. As of this posting, my most popular post is my review of LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1–4, with 1,670 views (as of writing), all from people searching for a map of Hogwarts. And while the stats compiler tells me I've had visitors from Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Italy, Malaysia, México, Russia, and the UK, my dedicated readership hasn't really increased that much.[2] So while it's true that your voice can be heard on the internet regardless of who you are, that doesn't guarantee that very many people will hear it.[3]

Monday, October 17, 2011

Movie Review: Secretariat

I can't say that I've ever really gotten into any movie or television series that features a horse as one of the main characters. But most (if not all) of my sisters went through a period in their childhood that can only be described as a "horse crush".[1] Leann felt good about watching this movie since 1. she had a "horse crush" of her own as a child and 2. due to the many horse books she read during her "horse crush", she already knew that Secretariat won the triple crown (i.e. she knew it had a happy ending). The movie is about a race horse, named Secretariat, and the woman who managed him, named Penny Chenery.

Movie Review: The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)

The Sorcerer's Apprentice has a long history. It was first conceived as a ballad by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1797 (the German title is Der Zauberlehrling).[1] One hundred years later the French composer Paul Dukas composed a scherzo based on the poem (the French title is L'apprenti sorcier).[2] In 1940 Walt Disney Studios released the animated film Fantasia which featured Mickey Mouse in the role of the apprentice, set to Dukas' music. The most recent incarnation of The Sorcerer's Apprentice (and the subject of this review) is an adventure film directed by Jon Turteltaub (who also directed the National Treasure films) and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Bruckheimer's involvement, in particular, makes me suspect that Disney was trying to duplicate the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.[3]

Movie Review: Ball of Fire

I added this movie to my Netflix queue because it was labeled as a screwball comedy and I've sampled very little of the genre (e.g. Hitchcock's Mr. and Mrs. Smith [1]). Some of the tropes commonly found in screwball comedies are: eccentric secondary characters, reverse class snobbery, barbed and witty dialogue, farcical situations, and plots involving courtship and marriage—especially where one character is uptight and the other is carefree.[2] Ball of Fire manages to hit all of these points. It is about a philologist who is writing an encyclopedia article about American slang who has the shock of his life when he meets a woman of the streets only to discover that he knows nothing at all about the current state of American slang, thus rendering his article obsolete. In this case the eccentric secondary characters, his fellow professors/encyclopedia article writers are based on the seven dwarfs of Snow White fame.[3]

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Movie Review: Funny Girl

I was surprised to learn that there was actually once a real Fanny Brice and that this movie was loosely based on her life. I guess it was inevitable that Barbra Streisand played the lead since both women were Jewish and both were popular singers in their day. A significant story arch in this movie is the turbulent relationship Fanny has with the dashing Nicky Arnstein (played by the Egyptian, Omar Sharif [1]), who she meets as a result of her rising stardom. As it turns out, though, the real Nicky Arnstein was a rascal from the get-go, but they whitewashed him for the film to avoid a lawsuit since he was still alive.[2]

Movie Review: Samurai Spy

The Japanese movie Samurai Spy (異聞猿飛佐助 Ibun Sarutobi Sasuke [1]) is actually about many spies. The movie takes place during a simmering rivalry between the ascending Tokugawa Shogunate [2] and the recently deposed Toyotomi clan. Both clans have infiltrated each other with spies. Thus both clans are overwhelmed with paranoia. Who can be trusted? Who is an impostor? What is the other clan planning? Given that the film was released in 1965, during rising tensions between the USA and the USSR, there's probably some allegory to be had here.

Movie Review: Hancock

One thing that makes Hancock different from a lot of other superhero movies is that the destruction caused by his powers come back to haunt him. In chasing a van of bank robbers during the opening scene he causes millions of dollars in damages to the city of Los Angeles. But that's all just setting. The story really starts when he saves the life of Ray, who is trying (with no success) to convince several large corporations to get involved in a scheme he calls the 'All-Heart'.[1] Ray decides to become a PR consultant for Hancock, which throws Hancock's life into a spiral.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Product Review: Rye Street Kettle Cooked Parmesan and Garlic

One afternoon at work I didn't feel like making and eating the lunch I'd brought (Maruchan Instant Lunch) but I needed to eat something since it was getting late in the day. So I popped down to the vending machines on the 4th floor of the WIDB. I decided to get these since they came in a one-serving bag and if I didn't like them, I wouldn't be committed to a full-size bag.

Product Review: Dalmatia Orange Fig Spread

I originally bought this hoping that it would offset the flavor of Limburger cheese.[1] It did not. Fortunately I was not limited to that one purpose. Before going to México on an LDS mission [2], the only experience I had with figs was Fig Newtons. But the part of México I served in (the states of Coahuila and Nuevo León) had the right climate for figs, so at some point in history they were introduced. There really is nothing like eating fresh figs right off the tree, the wasp eggs notwithstanding.[3]

Product Review: Cadbury Wunderbar

In the United Kingdom and Ireland the Wunderbar is called the Star Bar and the Moro Peanut Bar, respectively.[1] But in Germany and Canada it is marketed as the Wunderbar. I think this is rather clever since it's a play on the German word wunderbar ("wonderful") and the bar in candy bar. They don't actively market these in the United States, so you'll usually only find them in specialty stores.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Movie Review: Under the Greenwood Tree

Under the Greenwood Tree is based on a book by Thomas Hardy. I haven't read it, yet, but I have thoroughly enjoyed two of his novels (Far from the Madding Crowd and The Return of the Native).[1] The title comes from Shakespeare's As You Like It, Act II, scene v. It is a snippet of a song sung by the character Amiens. As nearly as I could tell, the title has absolutely nothing to do with the plot of the novel. In reference to the title, the film features several extended shots of a tree with its limbs blowing in the wind. But nothing ever happens under it. It was just filler material. So I was very careful in choosing the picture I would display with this post. I wanted it to capture the relative importance of that oft-overlooked character, the greenwood tree.

Movie Review: Julie and Julia

In 1961 Julia Child defied many boundaries placed on her by the culture she grew up in and published a book called Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It presented 524 haute cuisine [1] recipes in such a way that they could be understood and carried out by the average American housewife. She struggled to get the manuscript published. This is portrayed in the movie in parallel with the efforts of a New York blogger, Julie Powell, to make all 524 recipes within one year (and blog about it) and the strain this puts on her and her marriage.

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II

When I got back from my LDS mission to Monterrey, México [1], the first Harry Potter movie was already out. And everyone was ecstatic about it. So, for whatever reason, I was stubborn and refused to read the books or watch the movie. (But my family watched it so many times that I eventually saw enough excerpts to reconstruct the entire movie.) When the second movie came out, my roommate Ryan (a.k.a. "Dirty Ryan" [2]) asked if I wanted to go to the midnight showing with him. On a whim (and perhaps with a mild glee that I might be able to tease my sisters that I got to see it before them) I said yes. I liked it. After that I raided the Harold B. Lee Library on BYU campus and read all of the extant Harry Potter books. So I think it's fitting that this was the last movie that Leann and I went to see in the movie theater before we brought Lillian home and began restricting our public outings.[3]

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's Official

One of the ways our Church (the LDS Church, often called the Mormon Church [1]) differs from some other Christian faiths is that we don't practice infant baptism. We do, however, perform a ceremony where we give babies a special blessing. In our Church all worthy adult males are given the Priesthood, which we define as the power and authority given by God to men to perform his work on the Earth. Men who hold the Priesthood form a circle, hold up the baby in the center, and one of the men (usually the father or grandfather of the baby) pronounces a blessing over the baby. At this time the baby is also given a name so it can be recorded on the records of the Church.[2] This ceremony is not required for the baby to be saved in the Kingdom of God.[3] Yesterday we gave Lillian her name and a blessing.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Movie Review: Fitzcarraldo

This movie is about a white man, the eponymous Fitzcarraldo [1], who is obsessed with the famous tenor, Enrico Caruso, and frequently plays a record of his singing on a phonograph.[2] As the movie starts Fitzcarraldo arrives in a motor boat, quite exhausted from his trip down the river, only to learn that the doors of the opera house where Caruso is singing have already been closed. He manages to finagle his way in, but he decides that it would be easier to be on time if he builds his own opera house in the town where he lives: Iquitos, a Peruvian town deep in the Amazon. But to do so, he needs money. So he decides to become a rubber baron. But the only tract of land still available is crammed between impassable mountain ranges, a treacherous set of rapids called Pongo das Mortes [3], and the territory of the Jivaro Indians who are headhunters. The solution he comes up with is to drag a steamboat over a low section of one of the mountain ranges into the river upstream of the rapids.

Movie Review: Jane Eyre (1944)

Carew Castle
I have yet to read anything written by a woman of the name Brontë, so I really had little idea what to expect. My best guess was that this would be in the same vein as the works of Jane Austen. (I haven't read any Jane Austen, either, but most of the film productions of her work are distasteful to me.[1]) So I was surprised to discover that this was a Gothic novel, rather than the "comedies of manners" of Jane Austen. By the time this film was released, color film had made its appearance. Given the Gothic themes, I find the use of black-and-white film stock to be the right choice. Orson Welles, who played Edward Rochester, was the one to suggest the use of long shadows and ambient fog [2], both of which add to the eerie and sometimes menacing atmosphere of the story.

Movie Review: Catfish

The movie Catfish is supposedly based on real events (though this is disputed [1]). It starts with a New York photographer, Nev Schulman, who receives a painting in the mail based on a photograph he recently published. The painting was done by an eight-year-old girl, named Abby. Astonished by the artistry of her painting, he strikes up a friendship with her through Facebook. Eventually he becomes friends with her Mom, Angela, and her older sister, Megan. Nev is quite taken with how beautiful Megan is and begins an online courtship. But then strange things start happening and Nev starts noticing inconsistencies in their stories.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Movie Review: Unknown (2011)

The premise of this movie is that a man wakes up after four days in a coma (due to a near-fatal car accident in Berlin, Germany) only to discover that someone else has seamlessly assumed his identity. Not even his wife will acknowledge that he is who he says he is. Even though many people are independently able to convince him that he is confused, he is persistent in trying to establish the veracity of his claims. Eventually they start getting to him. He's almost convinced of his mistake when an assassin comes after him at the hospital. He escapes the assassin, but now he's more sure than ever that his identity is being stolen.

Movie Review: Tron: Legacy

If you read my review of the original Tron [1], you know that my primary motive for watching it was to see if it overlapped significantly with a story idea I have. I had seen fragments of it before on TV and the special effects looked downright disastrous. (We've come a long way since then.) The first movie didn't really match the story idea I have, but there was still the possibility that this one did. And it looked like it had higher production value.

Movie Review: Australia (2008)

For some reason I was expecting this movie to be a musical. Perhaps this was because it's by the same director who made Moulin Rouge.[1] Or perhaps I conflated it with a vague memory I have of seeing a television spot about a new musical that was going to star David Moscow (think: Newsies) and was set in Australia.[2] Either way, this isn't a musical. Sure, there's some aboriginal singing, but there aren't any dance-and-song numbers. Instead, it's a drama/romance set against the backdrop of Australia during World War II (particularly the Bombing of Darwin).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mr. Yates

When I arrived in High School, my Freshman English Teacher was Mr. David Yates. He was a rather avuncular fellow who liked to stroke his chin and grin when he was about to say something that he thought was clever. It was a source of endless frustration to him that I could talk to my neighbors, distracting them, but still pay attention to his lectures.[1] He also lived in the same LDS ward [2] as several of my friends, which meant we knew where he lived. Thus we put this information to good use: we toilet-papered his house.[3]

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Samurai Sudoku

I was recently rear-ended by another driver.[1] Even though I had an easy time finding my registration and proof of insurance, I decided that it was time to clean out the glove box. There were coupon books from 2007 and 2008, registration and safety inspection certificates dating back to 2006 (when I bought my car), and over a dozen old proof of insurance cards, a menu from Pier 49 Pizza, and a printout of an incomplete samurai sudoku [2], all of which no longer needed to be in the glove box. But I couldn't help myself—before throwing away the sudoku, I had to finish it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Television Review: Prison Break, Season 1

It surprises me that this series, Prison Break, made it through four seasons. I was originally under the impression that each season had a new cast of characters and featured a new prison break. But I've since been disabused of that idea. I'm curious to see how the subsequent seasons maintain the theme of prison breaking. The main actor, Dominic Purcell, seems to do a lot of his acting by squinting his eyebrows, but then opening his eyes as wide as possible.[1] Leann and I couldn't help but make the comparison with Robert Pattinson of the Twilight movies. (We've never seen any of those movies, but we like to characterize Robert Pattinson's acting as consisting entirely of moving his unusually bushy eyebrows around for dramatic effect.[2])

Television Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender, Season 1 (Water)

I intentionally waited to watch the television series until after I'd seen the movie [1], since movies are generally less impressive than their source material. Just to be sure I was being fair, I went back and watched The Last Airbender again after finishing the first season (also called Book 1: Water). My principal suspicion about the movie proved to be true: the plot was rushed because they were condensing 10 hours of television (20 episodes) into not quite 2 hours of film (103 minutes, to be exact). I was surprised, however, to see how much the personalities of the characters were altered in the movie. And I was baffled by some of the plot points that they chose to change.[2]

Television Review: EUReKA, Season 3

There are two major story arcs in Season 3 of EUReKA. One involves the arrival of a corporate fixer, named Eva Thorne, to oversee things at Global Dynamics (the fictional company where all the scientists in he fictional town of Eureka, Oregon work). She's reputedly fixed more Fortune 500 companies than anyone else living and she's bent on streamlining the company (though there's no evidence ever given that this has any positive effect). The other involves the arrival of Sheriff Carter's pregnant sister, Lexi. A few other smaller developments include Tess (a new love interest for Jack [1]), Andy (a robotic sheriff [2]), the death of a major character, the pregnancy of another major character (besides Lexi), the approach of a ship transmitting a mysterious signal to Earth.