Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Responsible Environmentalism

A little over a year ago I finished reading Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail by Jared Diamond.[1] In the introduction Diamond admits that he set out writing the novel with the intent to show that environmental damage was the only major factor contributing to the collapse of ancient societies such as the Maya and Angkor Wat.[2] However, his research [3] forced him to conclude that there were other variables which could not be ignored: climate change (such as El Niño or the Little Ice Age [4]), hostile neighbors, friendly neighbors/trade partners, and how a given society responds to environmental damage.[5] His tone throughout the book is generally panicked, though ends by claiming "cautious optimism" about the future of global society. At the end of the book he encourages everyone to engage in efforts to improve the environment, both globally and locally.[6]

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Movie Review: Edward Scissorhands

In essence, Edward Scissorhands is a unique take on the tale of Beauty and the Beast. Instead of Beauty going to the castle to be a prisoner, the Beast (who is very meek despite his dangerous hands) comes down from his castle to live in the village. His complete isolation up to this point, and his nonstandard origins, give the filmmakers a vehicle to put middle class suburbia under their microscope (and under their own "scissorhands"). But eventually the film comes back to its fairytale roots and by the end the villagers are storming the castle, looking to destroy the Beast.

Movie Review: Inkheart

The so-called Inkworld trilogy (which I have not read, yet) was originally written in German, by Cornelia Funke. Her first novel to be translated into English was Herr der Diebe [1], which I also have not yet read. She was discovered by Barry Cunningham (the same fellow that discovered J. K. Rowling) after an 11-year-old bilingual girl wrote to him to ask why her favorite author wasn't available in English.[2] Inkheart kicked off her second series to be translated into English.

Movie Review: Ramona and Beezus

I can remember reading some, if not all, of the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary when I was in grade school. However, when this movie came out in theaters, I would've been hard pressed to tell you what they were about—except that Ramona was a trouble-prone little girl, her older sister Beezus [1] was obnoxious, and at some point Ramona emptied a tube of toothpaste into the sink. It's too bad that Ramona often gets in trouble for things that aren't her fault.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Rolling, Grasping, and Giggling

Lilli has been rolling front-to-back and giggling for weeks, now. But catching it on film has proven surprisingly difficult. As soon as the camera comes out, she stops performing. She seems to have an uncanny knack for knowing when to play coy. In fact, she seems to tolerate tummy time for a lot longer if there's a camera turned on.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Our Little Thanksgiving

Because of Lillian's vulnerable immune system [1], we've been encouraged by her various pediatricians [2] to avoid taking her into settings where there are likely to be sick people (e.g. Church, the grocery store, family gatherings, etc.) So for the first time we've spent Thanksgiving by ourselves instead of going to spend it with extended family. Despite our isolation we had a good time and ate plenty of delicious food.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Spanish Fork Fiesta Days Rodeo

While Lillian was still in the hospital, we attended the Spanish Fork Fiesta Days rodeo. Under the circumstances, we wouldn't have chosen to do this, but we had already purchased the tickets since we didn't anticipate her early birth.[1] Much to our surprise, one of Lillian's nurses (in fact we had her as a nurse for most of that week) turned out to be the wife of one of the organizers of the rodeo.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Television Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender, Season 2 (Earth)

In the television series Avatar: The Last Airbender, the character of the Avatar is the only person in the world capable of manipulating all four of the Classical elements (Air, Earth, Fire, and Water). He (or she) is born into one of those disciplines and then must learn the other three in a particular order. In the case of the current Avatar they are: Air→Water→Earth→Fire. Each of the three seasons of the show focus on one of those remaining three disciplines. In this season Aang and his friends travel across the Earth Kingdom so he can learn earth bending (the power to move and manipulate the element Earth). This proves difficult for him since Air is the opposite of Earth in the compass of the Classical Elements (i.e. it is furthest away from his natural aptitude and original training). He is also preparing the Earth Kingdom for a decisive battle with the Fire Nation.

Television Review: EUReKA, Season 4

In the season finale of Season 1 ("Once in a Lifetime") [1], Henry Deacon, distraught over the untimely death of his girlfriend, Kim, travels back in time and saves her. The episode takes place four years in the future when everyone's lives seem to be idyllic. But then the fabric of time and space begin to unravel because of what Henry did. Eventually Sheriff Carter figures out what Henry did and has to go back in time himself to stop Henry from saving Kim. The verdict? You cannot change the past (at least in the fictional EUReKA universe) without destroying everything in existence.[2] The season premier of Season 4 ("Founder's Day") takes several of the main characters, sends them back in time (where they change a few things), and then brings them back again (along with a stowaway). Does the universe collapse? No. Are they even worried about it? No. Thus season four gives the creators of the show the chance to rewrite all of the characters that didn't travel back in time.[3]

Television Review: Prison Break, Season 2

One of the things depicted in the first season of Prison Break, which I didn't mention in my original review [1], was that the worst thing about prison is the other prisoners. Most of the violence depicted is between prisoners. However, the show also portrays the prison guards as having the same quality of character—they're merely on the other side of the bars. In fact, several of the prisoners are portrayed as the heroes and the guards are portrayed as the villains (many of the prisoners are villains in their own rights, though). This theme continues after the breakout. Several of the prison guards who have been fired for misconduct become bounty hunters who are chasing the escaped prisoners. And they engage in all sorts of criminal behavior to try to achieve their goals. Fortunately the justice system eventually takes notice of their misdeeds.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Summer Walks

Before Lillian was born Leann and I often went on walks around Provo.[1] After she was born [2], we still went on walks, but I had less time to post pictures from our walks. Now its getting too cold to go on regular walks—especially with the baby. So, here are some highlights of the walks we've been taking for the last few months.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Product Review: Isigny Ste. Mère: Mimolette Cheese

If you've been following this blog from the beginning, you may recall that I've mentioned mimolette cheese once before.[1] It is a hard cheese that has an appearance similar to a cantaloupe. What makes it unique is its rind. The cheesemakers will actually put a special variety of mites, called cheese mites [2], onto the outside of the cheese. The mites eat the exterior of the cheese as it ripens, to a depth of about a centimeter. Aficionados claim that this endows the cheese with a unique flavor. Several websites I checked assured me that by the time the cheese is sold, the cheese mites are no longer alive (and you're not supposed to eat the rind where they're found anyway). Some even claimed that it is illegal to sell the cheese in the U.S. if the mites are still alive (I haven't been able to verify that claim.) But, being an amateur entomologist, I just had to check. So I popped a suspicious-looking section of the rind under a confocal microscope and took a look.

This is what I found:

Product Review: Istara: Ossau-Iraty Cheese

Ossau-Iraty is a French cheese made using sheep's milk. Most websites I've looked at refer to it as ewe's milk, but then don't say that goat cheese comes from nanny's milk. So I'll defy convention and call it sheep's milk. Ossau-Iraty can only be made in the French Pyrénées Mountains, just like the P'tit Basque I tried a while back.[1] In fact, it's name comes from the two regions it is produced: the Ossau Valley (which is in the French province of Béarn) and the Iraty Valley (which is in the French province of Iparralde), where it has been made for at least a thousand years.[2] It also requires the milk of specific breeds of sheep: Manech and Basco-Bearnaise.[3]

Product Review: Mitica: Sottocenere al Tartufo cheese

The name of this Italian cheese actually tells you something about it instead of telling you where it was first made (Venice [1]). The word sottocenere means "under ash". This refers to the gray rind which is made of ash with a blend of spices, including anise, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fennel, and nutmeg.[2] The second part, al tartufo, means "with truffles". Throughout the cheese are little shavings of black truffle and the ash rind also has white truffle oil in it.[3]

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dirty Dash 2011

Ever since my brother-in-law, Gavin, did the mud run called the Jailbreak [1], several years ago, I have wanted to participate in a mud run. At the beginning of this year my friend April pointed out that the Dirty Dash [2] would be in Salt Lake City, Utah, in September and asked if I wanted to do it. Since I had not yet divulged that I was pregnant (and due three weeks before the race [3]), I made up some lame excuse for why I couldn't. Fast forward several months to August, when Matt brought home a newspaper with an advertisement for the Dirty Dash. I had forgotten all about it and since Lillian came early [4], I could now enter the race. So with only three weeks before the big day, my trusty companion, Jordan, and I signed up for the 5K and started training. Now, you may recall that I did my last 5K in just over 28 minutes.[5] Our first training run took us over 40 minutes. It was my first time running since May (when I was 24 weeks pregnant). After three weeks of training, my best time was 32 minutes.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Halomonas titanicae

I'm just going to get it out of the way right here at the start: what makes Halomonas titanicae interesting is that it is the bacterium that is slowly eating the wreck of the RMS Titanic.[1] Yes, you read that right. A bacterium at the bottom of the ocean is munching on that ill-fated passenger liner (which never had a passenger named Rose Dawson). As bacteria oxidize the wrought iron hull, it forms stalactite-like formations called rusticles.[2] This consumption is proceeding at such a rate (exacerbated by frequent visits by tourists in submersibles [3]) that it is predicted that the RMS Titanic wreck will completely disintegrate in the next 30–50 years.[4]

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Product Review: Cheez-It Colby Crackers

A while back (I've been unable to determine exactly when) Cheez-It crackers held a promotional on Facebook [1], where they let consumers decide what new flavor of Cheez-It cracker they wanted to try. At the end of the contest the winner was Colby cheese.[2] I can't say I've ever had straight Colby cheese (only Colby-Jack), so I wanted to try these out.

Product Review: Cheez-It Asiago Crackers

A while back (I've been unable to determine exactly when) Cheez-It crackers held a promotional on Facebook [1], where they let consumers decide what new flavor of Cheez-It cracker they wanted to try. At the end of the contest the winner was Colby cheese.[2] However, they also produced (for a limited time) Asiago crackers exclusively for Wal-Mart (apparently because Wal-Mart shoppers as a sub-group desired the Asiago crackers).

Product Review: T.G.I. Friday's Cheeze Pizza Chips

I haven't had a lot of success with pizza-flavored snacks. Doritos Pizza Supreme [1] tasted like olives (which I hate) and Pizzeria Pretzel Combos [2] were okay, but not good enough to capture my attention. And I'm sure there are pizza-flavored snacks out there that are really just basil-flavored snacks.[3] But pizza itself is great. So I keep holding out that there is a snack out there that actually tastes like the pizza it claims to emulate.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Musical Similarities

Back when Lillian was still in the NICU [1] I heard the song "New Soul" by Yael Naïm (יעל נעים) on the radio in my car.[2] I'd heard it before (most notably on the commercial for the Apple MacBook Air), but never bothered to listen to the whole thing. When it reached the end, I was surprised to hear the music switch to a choral strain that sounded eerily familiar. I immediately turned off the radio before another song could come on and interfere with my ability to analyze what I'd just heard. After batting it around in my head for a while, I decided that it reminded me of "It Was Always You, Helen", which Philip Glass wrote for the movie Candyman.[3] See if you agree.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review: Moving Mars

Many months ago I bought some books at a sale at Pioneer Books in Orem. They put restrictions on which books could be bought as part of the sale, so a lot of the authors I regularly read weren't to be found or were off-limits. But the pricing on the books was irresistible, so I decided to try a few new authors. One of them was Greg Bear. From looking over the Hugo [1] and Nebula [2] award winners, I knew that this book caught some attention. I decided to find out why.

Book Review: The Masks of Time

In an introduction he wrote for his own book, Robert Silverberg lauds himself for deviating from his "past transgressions" of writing sci-fi pulp and foraying bravely into the new frontier of literary sci-fi. What makes it literary? I can't tell. But I have some candidate details: it's quite accepting (and possibly even encouraging) of all forms of sexual behavior [1]; it treats Christianity (all religion, for that matter) as nothing more than a pernicious variety of mass insanity; it's anti-capitalist [2]; it doesn't really have a plot; and because, in his words, the main character is Jamesian.[3] It details the life of one man assigned to accompany a time traveler (named Vornan-19 [4]) as he explores the world of (his) past (which is roughly our present). They keep thinking Vornan-19 has some other purpose, but his pure hedonism and unwillingness to discuss anything about the future eventually convinces them that he's just a tourist.[5]

Book Review: We Are Not the First

Andrew Thomas starts out by dredging up a series of pseudo-historical, pseudo-scientific claims about 'out-of-place' artifacts [1] and events that suggest that ancient civilizations were once at least as advanced as we are, if not more. For him the rise and fall of civilizations isn't just that, it's evidence that aliens once visited the Earth and imparted their wisdom and technology (which we've since lost and are only now rediscovering). I'll give him this, he did a lot of research. But he's wholly unable to approach anything with any skepticism. Anything and everything is potential evidence for him. And if it's evidence against, he happily discards it.[2] He also often fails to reason through his ideas.[3]

Friday, November 4, 2011

Recipe: Chiles en Nogada

We got a lot of Poblano Peppers from our garden this year [1] and I needed something to do with them. While I was an LDS missionary [2] in Monterrey, México, I frequently ate peppers stuffed with picadillo. Picadillo is essentially "mincemeat" in the sense of finely chopped meat. In the case of chiles en nogada ("[stuffed] peppers in walnut sauce") it is mincemeat in the fullest sense: finely chopped meat and fruits with spices. Poblano peppers that have been cleaned out and stuffed usually have just a little heat left to them, but not a lot. The one time I had a chile en nogada in México, I had the misfortune of picking a pepper that was still very spicy. So until I made this recipe, I had no idea what a chile en nogada actually tastes like. (Be warned: this took me 3–4 hours to make.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Product Review: La Michoacana Mamey Popsicle

I only tried the fruit called mamey (or sometimes mamey sapote) once while I was in México.[1] And that time didn't go very well. My companion wanted to make a mamey smoothie. Unfortunately the mamey that we bought was still unripe. So it was flavorless and didn't blend into a smoothie—the blender just chopped it into slivers. So I never really got to know the taste of mamey while I was down there. That makes my current fondness for them all the more puzzling. I first spotted these paletas (Spanish for "fruit bars" or "ice cream bars") a little over a year ago at one of the stands at Provo's Fourth of July Freedom Festival. I bought one and shared it with Leann. Now we can't stop (except during the winter when the Mexican tiendas stop stocking them).

Product Review: La Michoacana Vainilla con Membrillo Popsicle

The Spanish word membrillo stands for 'quince'. In Central and South America it is common to make a paste out of the quince and eat it as candy, which they call dulce de membrillo. As it is dried down into a paste, it takes on some of those unique flavors common to many dried fruits.[1] This popsicle has little chunks of dulce de membrillo embedded throughout.

Product Review: La Michoacana Eskimal de Fresa Popsicle

By deduction I've determined that the word esquimal (stylized here as eskimal), besides meaning "Eskimo", means "covered in chocolate". Or, at least it does when referring to popsicles. This is probably derived from the Nestlé Eskimo Pie [1], which is a vanilla-flavored popsicle covered in chocolate. This particular popsicle is a strawberry (fresa) ice cream bar covered in chocolate.

Product Review: La Michoacana Arroz con Leche Popsicle

Arroz con leche is Spanish for "rice with milk". It's basically a rice pudding eaten in Latin America. There are several regional varieties [1], but I've only had the Mexican sort. I had arroz con leche a few times in Spanish classes during Junior High and High School. But the majority of my experience with the dessert was during my time as an LDS missionary in México.[2] When I went looking for mamey-flavored popsicles [3] earlier this summer, I discovered that no one was carrying them—much to my dismay. Thus I decided to give this flavor a try.

Product Review: La Michoacana Mango Popsicle

I can't recall ever having a mango before I went to México on a mission for the LDS Church.[1] Down there all the mangoes I saw were long and yellow (like these). Upon returning to the US I was surprised to see that mangoes are available in most grocery stores, but the mangoes I've found here in the US are usually round and green with a red tinge (like this one). Most of the mangoes I had in México, however, I was able to pick right off the tree. Alas, they don't grow around here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lillian's First Hallowe'en

Since we live in an area that's mostly inhabited by college students, there aren't that many trick-or-treaters to begin with. That coupled with the growing popularity of 'trunk-or-treats' [1] meant that we had two trick-or-treaters show up at our door—and they were actually delivering treats to us! One was a friend of Leann's (who came as Justin Bieber) and the other was a neighbor in the same apartment complex as us. Since she's not old enough to eat candy, and she can't go to parties, Lillian was skeptical about the whole holiday. But she decided to give costumes a try.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Movie Review: Bringing Up Baby

The title (Bringing Up Baby) refers to a trip taken by the main characters (played by Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant) to deliver a tame leopard, named Baby, to Connecticut. I read on Wikipedia that this movie was the inspiration for What's Up, Doc? (which is one of Leann's family's favorite movies). So I ordered this from Netflix so we could compare. Several scenes (particularly the scenes involving torn coats) were obviously duplicated in What's Up Doc? One difference is that Katherine Hepburn's character in Bringing Up Baby comes across as a complete nitwit, while Barbara Streisand's character in What's Up, Doc? comes across as intelligent, though unable to control the events she intentionally sets in motion.

Movie Review: Bedtime Stories

I thought that Leann would want to watch this movie with me since she is stricter about what she views. This movie is rated PG, which means very little offensive content. So I thought it was going to be an easy sell. But a week or so before it arrived from Netflix Leann announced that she'd seen a snippet of it at the doctor's office and hated it (mainly because it has Adam Sandler in it). Well, so much for that. I was surprised that Adam Sandler would ever appear in a movie that wasn't PG-13. Some of the other actors were surprises. The love-interest from The Sorceror's Apprentice reappears as a ditzy, rich socialite.[1] I was shocked to realize that the woman at the main desk of the hotel was played by Lucy Lawless (a.k.a. "Xena, Warrior Princess" and "Cylon Number Three").

Movie Review: Clash of the Titans (2010)

This movie is a remake of a 1981 film of the same name. And just like that movie, neither features any of the mythical Titans. In Greek mythology the very first deities were the Prôtogenoi.[1] Two of them, Gaia and Uranus, produced twelve offspring.[2] These twelve and some of their offspring [3] were considered the Titans. They were overthrown by some of their descendents, now known as the Younger Gods or Olympians.[4] This is called the Titanomachy. The word Titanomachy has been variously interpreted as "war of the gods", "war in heaven", "battle of the Titans", "battle of the gods", "the Titan war", etc.[5] In other words "clash of the Titans". However, this film, like its predecessor, is a loose (and sometimes fanciful) interpretation of the life of Perseus, who waged war against the Olympians, not the Titans.