Archives For December 2015

the end of a tumultuous 2015

December 31, 2015
snooze buddies lucy and max

Lucie and Max, March 2015

I can’t think of 2015 without thinking of the two little characters who left this year, Lucie my cat and Max my Lab. I still haven’t written my final farewell entry for Max because there’s so much packed into his 15 year lifespan with us that I don’t know where to start. Trying to write all that down is further complicated by the fact that his passing is still quite painful six months on. Lucie’s passing was equally painful and shocking, but her life with us at seven years was “only” half as long.

I follow science fiction author John Scalzi’s blog Whatever. In one particularly short but poignant entry (for me) written yesterday, he summed up the entry with the sentiment “that pets come and go and you love them while you have them.” There’s nothing truer than that. He lost two cats this year, and then filled their void with a pair of kittens, or scamperbeasts. I’m about to do something similar.

rowdy bunch 2

Very Tiny Rowdy Bunch, November 2015

Life goes on. Everyone and everything that leaves through death’s door makes room for the newly born, the next generations. Tomorrow I travel up to see my oldest daughter in Gainesville and take responsibility for a pair of ginger male kittens (seen rolling around above), who I’ve taken to calling Greebo Og (left) and Ponder Stibbons (right). If you’re a Discworld fan then those names should ring some bells. I thus start 2016 with two new little lives.

They are but two out of a litter of five. The other three are calico females; all the females have been placed. I look forward to traveling up tomorrow to visit and then to return with two new lives. I’ve never had kittens come to live with me before, so this should be interesting.

Before you ask, they make a trip to the vets next Wednesday to be neutered.

metal locusts

This was taken at the Tama Zoological Park, just outside the main building of the Insectarium. I thought these two were interesting the moment I saw them. But they also triggered the memory of a short science fiction story I’d read decades ago, about a lone man, a lone woman, and their lives together in the aftermath of a nuclear war in New York City. The story started about the man finding the woman, and progressed about the two of them slowly growing closer. As their story was being told, there was the back story of odd happenings in the city. The story ends when one day, after hearing strange noises coming from Central Park, the two find that the Alice in Wonderland statues have been re-carved into insect forms. It’s at this point the two realize their end may be a lot closer than they realize.

I don’t remember the story’s name nor the author, only that I read it sometime back in the 1970s. It had come as part of an anthology from the Science Fiction Bookclub. Or at least I think it did. I may be mis-remembering all of this.

a grinchy star wars christmas

December 30, 2015

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has by any measure you want to apply been an incredible financial success. As of today, 30 December, it’s crossed the $600M gross receipts mark, breaking yet another record time-wise in its unstoppable (it would appear) race to $1B and beyond. Everywhere you look, everyone is gushing over how Star Wars has boosted not only its own sales, but the overall North American box office gross receipts to $11B+ for the year.

If I’m lucky I hopefully won’t add to the growing pile of cash surrounding this Star Wars movie.

I have for decades taken a dismal view of the entire Hollywood Industrial Complex. I can’t remember how far back my dark view goes, but it was kicked into high gear with the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998, which essentially made making copies, any copies, felonious behavior, by the “dissemination” of means and methods for breaking digital rights management, or DRM. It went so far to criminalize the mere act, even if no actual infringement (especially for profit) takes place. And that was used to lard up digital systems with hardware and software in our electronic devices to enforce it.

This incredibly invasive law and the incredibly abusive system that that has grown up to enforce it since then has motivated me to avoid just about everything the HIC can produce, from music to movies. The only thing I buy in any quantity anymore are dead-tree books, if for no other reason that they can’t be erased or recalled, unless the Firemen come to claim my books.

It further inflames my passions against the HIC when I read all the stories trumpeting 2015’s record ticket sales of just over $11B. And this isn’t the first year with such records. This year’s record breaks the last record set a mere two years ago in 2013 of $10.9B. So it’s not like a few record years in the midst of many poor years, like the US car industry for example. The HIC has been stepping from record to record each year, riding abusively and heavily on the backs of the US citizens, helped with the gross enforcement of the DMCA and other similar actions. When you see such a colluding, abusive marketplace, investigations usually take place and people get sued. But not the HIC. Instead, with their carefully bought legislative drones, they make billions, talking out of one side of their mouths about how wonderful it is, while at the same time talking out the other about how they’re being driven to the poor house by copyright abusers. The only real copyright abuse is with the HIC, who are masters at it. And so I do as little as possible, personally, to help put money into a system that abuses me in so many big and little ways. I don’t buy tickets, I don’t watch movies at the theaters if I can help it, and I don’t stream anymore (I streamed very little to start with), especially music.

I’ve a confession to make: when the first Star Wars movie was released in 1977 I saw it 24 times. That’s right, 24 times. That’s because the last good science fiction movie I saw with space ships was 1968’s “2001.” That period from 1968 to 1977 was a vast cinematic wasteland for me, so when the first Star Wars film was released I was incredibly motivated to see it as much as possible (it also helped that I was 23 at the time, a key age for such oddball behavior). I kept going back to tease out how the special effects were created (I was heavy into film still photography back then, and nursed the ambition of going into film making; we all know how that turned out). Key to supporting this behavior were ticket prices in 1977. I could afford it back then because tickets cost $2, dropping to $1, per showing. That is literally an order of magnitude less than today.

I’m not the only one not buying tickets. In spite of all the record breaking money made, the number of tickets sold has declined to levels not seen since 1996. That’s because the cost of tickets, driven by new gimmicks such as 3D and IMAX screens, has pushed single ticket sales well above $10 in just about every market across the country, especially for 2015’s Star Wars movie.┬áThink about that for a moment. The number of tickets sold is at a level not seen since three years before the DMCA was passed. Number of tickets sold has been dropping steadily for years now, driven in part by a poor quality product as well as ever higher prices. Lest you think that this current Star Wars release is some artistic wonder, think again. There are many vocal critics who aren’t all that keen about the movie, such as this example at Forbes, and for many good reasons. The drive to see the movie is due in no small part to just how bad the last three movies were, not how good this one is. Remember that this movie was directed by JJ Abrams, the same auteur who gave us 2009’s Star Trek reboot.

While there are a few tongue-in-check movie reviews scattered around this blog, there are only a few. It seems like every time I break my vow of non-viewing I come away disappointed. I think I’ve finally learned my lesson; to avoid future disappointments and an appreciably lighter wallet, I’ll stay away. Not just from Star Wars, but all the other hyped science fiction films headed my way.

christmas in denver

December 29, 2015

the rockies near bolder the rockies near bolder

I spent a quiet Christmas in Denver with my youngest daughter. I’ll spend New Years Day with my oldest up in Gainesville. Such are the logistics of keeping track of adult children scattered across the country. These two photos were taken just east of Bolder, looking west towards the Rockies. It was cold (lows in the single digits) and it snowed Christmas day to give my wife one thing she wanted, a white Christmas.

The Sunday before we left my wife and I drove in the general direction of Estes Park, stopping around Bolder to do a little sight-seeing and for me to grab a few long distance photos of the Rockies. I had a new lens with me, the M.Zuiko 14-150mm Mark II. I had it mated with my E-M5. That lens, and the 17mm f/1.8 were the only pieces of camera gear I took with me besides spare batteries and a charger. I left everything else at home and depended on my iPhone 6s+ as my backup camera. The top photo was taken at 150mm, while the bottom was taken at 14mm. The one body, one zoom and one prime kit is the most practical I’ve ever taken with me on travel, and it’ll probably remain that way indefinitely.

One reason I wanted the long view of the Rockies is as documentation of what snows look like on the Rockies. With all he talk of climate change I wanted a small remembrance of what snow looked like on those peaks before it melts completely away. While it got cold while we were there both the cold and the snow were short lived. When we left the following Monday it was starting to warm up to temperatures above freezing towards the end of the week. Back here in Orlando the temperatures during the day have been in the low 80s. We do live in interesting times, don’t we?

tama zoological park

December 29, 2015

indian elephant pair

Once the Yama Sakura portion of the trip ended I traveled by train back towards Tokyo and Tachikawa, one of the suburban areas of Tokyo. On a Sunday, my birthday, I took the Tama Monorail to the Tama Zoological Park and spent about three hours just roaming and looking at the few animals that were in the park. The day was cold and cloudy, not the best time of year to go and see the park. But I went because I felt it was better than staying in the hotel, or walking around the train station and its stores.

lonely zebra

I went to all the major sections of the park, and found all of them interesting. But of all the animals I saw I like the bigger animals the best.

galloping giraffe

To me the most thrilling thing to see were the running young giraffes in the African section of the park. Tama is very big, and it appears they’re trying to give the animals as much natural space as possible. While I was there I noticed hey were working on a large section, which I can only assume will expand the park space even more.