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Sheldon Brown's Journal

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January 2, 2001

Film (DVD) Chicken Run Nick Park, Peter Lord 2000

A very entertaining "claymation" cartoon. It's a takeoff on the classic POW camp movies of the '50s, such as Stalag 17, The Great Escape, etc. The prisoners are chickens, the Nazis are the farmers.

January 4, 2001

Film (DVD) The Color Purple by Stephen Spielberg 1985

I almost gave up on this one 1/3 of the way through it because it was so full of misery and cruelty, but I can't resist Whoopi Goldberg, so I stuck it out. It's a fine piece of work, but mostly awfully depressing.

January 5, 2001

Film (DVD) 12 Monkeys Terry Gilliam 1996

I'd seen this before but forgotten it. A highly dystopic time-travel tale starring Bruce Willis. Too gloomy for my taste.

January 6, 2001

It occurs to me that since the opening of the Chicago Sanitary Canal in 1900, everything east of the Canal/Des Plaines River/Illinois River/Mississippi River system, and south of the St. Lawrence Seaway is now an island, separated from the rest of the North American continent...but what is the name of this island? I'm open to suggestions, but, since it doesn't appear to have been named by anybody else yet, I'm leaning toward "Sheldonia."

Music: Districts

Mass. Association of Music Teachers Northeastern Senior District concert, this year in Lowell. George was first chair trombone in the Concert Band. They played Wm. Schuman's Chester, from the American Triptych, along with a couple of other pieces that I didn't care for so much.

Music: B.S.O., Hans Graf conducting, Gil Shaham violin

The program opened with the Schubert Overture in E minor D 648, a charming piece that I don't recall to have heard before. This was followed by Shaham with the Brahms violin concerto. The Schumann "Rhenish" ended the evening, my favorite Schumann work. A very satisfying concert.

January 9, 2001

Film: (DVD) Being John Malkovich by Spike Jonze, 1999

This was great fun, featuring a tunnel from the 71/2th floor of an office building to the brain of a minor actor, and thence to the Jersey Turnpike...

January 10, 2001

Film: (DVD) Red River, Howard Hawks, 1947

This is one of the archetypical Westerns, with John Wayne and Montgomery Clift on the first cattle drive up the Chisholm trail. There's a lot of resonance between the post WWII spirit of can-do optimism and the films setting just after the War of the Rebellion. Everybody who cares about movies ought to see this once.

January 12, 2001

Book: Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague de Camp, 1936

A novel in the mode of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (was that the first ever time-travel novel?) Martin Padway, an American archaeologist is zapped back to 6th century Rome, and does his darnedest to prevent the Fall of Rome, partly by "inventing" modern arithmetic, printing and the semaphore telegraph; partly by getting involved in local politics with the benefit of his historical knowledge of events before they happen. A treat for fans of this sort of thing (which definitely includes me!)

Film: (DVD) Six Days, Seven Nights by Ivan Reitman, 1998

This is a bit of fluff, a very predictable romantic comedy/adventure starring Harrison Ford and Anne Heche, shipwrecked on a desert island between Tahiti and nowhere. Mildly amusing, hardly plausible. Would have been better with a bit of nudity.

January 14, 2001

I've long been a bit ashamed of the guilty pleasure I've derived from the music of Rimsky-Korsakov. I know it's not cool, this sort of music is generally regarded as pure kitsch, but I can't get away from the fact that I like it! I've not previously mainlined R-K, despite a great fondness for the Russian Easter Overture, and the Dance of the Comedians--but a few days ago I couldn't resist picking up the 3-CD Kirov Opera version of The Legend the Invisible City of Kitezh at the library. Now I'm seriously hooked. This is lush and gorgeous from beginning to end. I haven't actually sat down with the libretto yet, and I have the impression that the actual story is too Christian for me, but the music sure is seductive.

January 15, 2001

Film: (DVD) The Philadelphia Story, George Cukor, 1941

One of the all-time classic hollywood comedies, starring Cary Grant, Kathryn Hepburn and James Stewart. A real treat. In addition to the big stars, I particularly enjoyed the Kid Sister, can't recall the actress's name.

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January 17, 2001

eBook: David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens 1849-50

I've been plugging away at this off and on for a couple of months in my Handspring. The last few days I've been reading it pretty intensely. I probably would have gotten into it faster had I not recently seen a video version. It is certainly a classic for good reason, with some very memorable characters, most notably the charming Mr. Micawber and the reptilian Uriah Heep.

Lebensraum! I sent my iBook off to California 8 days ago to get a new, larger hard disc installed (from 3 to 20 gb.) I sent it to a company called MCE. Actually, the timing was particularly good, because the day before I planned to ship the machine off to them I went to a Shimano tech seminar, where they gave out CDs with a screen saver...that crashed and trashed my drive! I couldn't boot, and was very worried that I had lost the contents. I had backed up the most critical stuff to another machine, but there was a lot of other stuff that would be difficult, though not impossible to replace. When the machine came back, they had succeeded in saving and transferring everything that had been on the old disc, save the damaged boot sectors. I'm very, very pleased and would highly recommend MCE.

January 19, 2001

Film: (DVD) Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper, 1969

My kids had never seen this before, so it was an essential part of their education. One of the most important and influential films ever made.

January 20, 2001

President-designate Bush is now President Bush. I have to admit that I was very impressed by his speech, it was quite a fine one.

The Marine sergeant who butchered "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "God Bless America" ought to be court martialed though! What a travesty!

Film: (DVD) Deep Impact, Mimi Leder 1998

I only picked this up because it was a free rental. I guess it was almost worth the price. Pretty dumb film, though the special effects at the end with tsunamis smashing New York City were kinda fun.

Film: (DVD) Liberty Heights Barry Levinson, 1999

This was a good one, 4th in Levinson's semi-autobiographical series that began with Diner. Set in 1954-55 Baltimore, the main focus of this film is the divisions caused by class, race and religion, in that order. Highly recommended.

January 21, 2001

Finally got around to putting together a version of my On-line Gear Calculator for Internally-Geared Hubs

Film: (DVD) Man on the Moon Milos Forman, 1999

Jim Carey isn't nearly as funny as Andy Kaufman was, even doing his material.

January 23, 2001

A treat to listen to the Shostakovich Orgy on WHRB

January 24, 2001

eBook: Mother of Demons, by Eric Flint

Bæn Books has a new "free library" feature where they make some of their books available on line. They mainly do this with the first volumes of series.

Much as I enjoyed Flint's 1632 I probably wouldn't have bought this because of the title, which suggests the "swords & sorcery" sub-genre to me. I would have been wrong. This is actually a rather good piece of hard SF. On a planet of Tau Ceti, there's a race of intelligent beings of a form related to mollusks...picture a clawless lobster the size of a buffalo, with the tentacles of a squid. Their atmosphere is perpetually overcast, so they have no knowledge of astronomy, and when a ship from Earth crash-lands, the human crew appear as "demons" mainly because they can move much faster than the natives. The natives are not a monolithic culture, but are divided up into various tribes, nations, empires, practicing varying religions. The human castaways and their children form an alliance with one of these groups, and various cultural and military results ensue. I'll certainly wind up buying subsequent volumes in this series, which was quite enjoyable.

January 25, 2001

Film: (DVD) Joe the King

A rather pointless, gloomy story about a 14 year old boy in a dysfunctional white trash family in upstate New York. Picture Malcolm in the Middle, only not funny and not as well made. The leads were at least acted well, but the acting of the minor characters was pitiful, though much of the blame for this probably belongs to the director.

New software: Le Petit Robert.

This is the premier French dictionary. We've had a paper copy for years, but it's a big, rather cumbersome book that we rarely found it worth the trouble to refer to. The CD rom version, however is fast and easy to use. It even has pronunciation of some 9000 words. I'm a bit bummed that it doesn't seem to want to run except from the CD. I'm hoping that there's a way around this so I don't have to pop it in my CD drive every time I want to use it. I guess I'll have to RTFM (Read The French Manual.)

January 26, 2001

Film: (DVD) Hook by Stephen Spielberg, 1991

Robin Williams as Peter Pan, Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook--how could you go wrong? That's what I thought, but, while this film does have its moments, the overall mawkish tone and story were a bit icky poo for me. The sets were fabulous (but that was true of the late, unlamented Cats too!) and the special effects were good. It was interesting to see Charlie Korsmo, as Robin Williams's son, because I performed in an M.I.T. production of H.M.S. Pinafore in which Charlie, then an M.I.T. student, played Ralph.

Film: (DVD) Charade Dir. Stanley Donen, Wr. Peter Stone 1963

Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Paris...What's not to like! I've seen this a few times before, but it was a treat to see it again, in an excellent DVD transfer.

January 27, 2001

Tova is 20! We celebrated with a nice family dinner at a Chinese Restaurant near M.I.T.

January 29, 2001

eBook: A Traveler from Altruria, by William Dean Howells 1892-93

This is a tale of a visitor from the imaginary island of Altruria, coming to visit Gilded Age U.S. I had enjoyed The Rise of Silas Lapham so much that I was eager to read more Howells, and this sounded like a winner from the description. In fact, however, it is a very much inferior work, basically a political tract hung on a thin scaffolding of fiction. Altruria is a utopian paradise, where they've given up money, everybody has to work 3 hours a day at physical labor, everybody is equal in every sense, and the inhabitants live in blissful commune like an enormous family. Howels contrasts this with his robber-baron era U.S., setting the action in a New Hampshire resort town, with a banker, a manufacturer, a professor, a dowager socialite presenting one side of the story, various struggling local townspeople the other. At the time this book was written, New England farmland was virtually worthless, and New England family farms were finding it impossible to compete with the newly evolving "agri-business" of the west. Previous generations had the option of going west and homesteading, but by this time all of the good homestead sites had been taken, and the remaining New Englanders were in a nasty fix indeed.

The book is mildly interesting as a period piece, but I wouldn't recommend it to the general reader.

January 30, 2001

eBook: Les Forceurs de Blocus (The Blockade Runners) de Jules Verne, 1863

This is a rip-roaring tale of an English blockade runner, with a fleet 500 horsepower, twin screw steamer that can outrun anything the U.S. Navy has to offer. The skipper, James Playfair is apolitical, but when one of his "crewmen" turns out to be the daughter of a Boston abolitionist imprisoned by the rebels in Charleston, he is persuaded to rescue the captive. There's no science fiction in this short novel, but it's a good sea story, and interesting in that it was, I believe, written while the Rebellion was in progress and the result unknown.

I had been a bit put off of Verne by Cinq Semaines en Ballon, but this restored my fondness for him.

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February 2, 2001

Film: (DVD) Topper Returns, Roy del Ruth, 1941

I grew up watching Topper on TV in the early '50s, always liked it. I saw the original 1937 Topper film a few years back on video, enjoyed it very much. Topper Returns is the second sequel, and lacks some of the panache of the original. The acting and cinematography are crude and amateurish, but it has considerable camp and silliness value, and was quite amusing to watch one time. "Rochester" (Jack Benny's African-American sidekick) is as politically incorrect as one might expect from a Hollywood "B" move of the era.

February 3, 2001

A few days ago I got some software called "Spring Cleaning" which is intended to help get rid of duplicate and obsolete files on one's hard disc. I knew I had a lot of duplicate files, so I ran it--with moderately disastrous results. My Palm-related software was a bit of a rat's nest of different folders, different versions, partly because I've run two different Palm OS units from my iBook. Anyway, I evidently deleted the wrong versions of some of the files, and it has taken me several hours to get things back up and running properly. I particularly had a lot of trouble with AvantGo, and, ultimately, had to delete every AvantGo file on the Mac and reload the software from the Website.

Concert: Harvey Finstein School of Music

George played really well in this, unfortunately I did less well, because my camcorder battery croaked halfway through the last of the three numbers his band, Swing Thing, performed, and I missed one of his best solos.

Concert: Boston Symphony Orchestra

James Levine, who is currently the front runner to succeed Ozawa when he retires conducted a fabulous reading of the Mahler 3rd symphony. I've heard this work any number of times, but never like this! Levine has been a favorite of mine for quite a few years, and I certainly hope the B.S.O. lands him!

February 4, 2001

Operetta: The Zoo by Rowe & Sullivan--M.I.T. Gilbert and Sullivan Players

This one-act comic operetta was new to me. Rowe is no Gilbert, and it's far from Sullivan's best. M.I.T.G.A.S.P. did a creditable workshop production.

Film: (DVD) The Bridge on the River Kwai, David Lean, 1957

What a masterpiece this is! The complex interactions between the Japanese and English martial cultures, and the complex obtuseness of Alec Guiness's Major Nicholson make this one of the great films of all time.

February 5, 2001

A nasty snowstorm hit, nasty enough to cause Sonny to close the shop a couple of hours early. Ron gave me a ride home in his car, which I was glad to accept.

eBook: Anthem, by Ayn Rand, 1945

I've never read any of Rand's work before, but rather enjoyed this one. It's SF, set in a distant dystopian future where a completely collectivist system has snuffed out all forms of individuality--even to the point that singular personal pronouns are extinct and forgotten. The protagonist, named "Equality 7-2521" is assigned to be a street sweeper, but has secret (sinful!) aspirations to something more. The novel is a glorification of Individualism and a condemnation of Collectivism--which is depicted here as a bit of a straw man, more extreme even than Orwell's 1984.

February 6, 2001

Film: (DVD) The Great Escape John Sturges 1963

I dunno how I missed seeing this classic 'til now, but I hadn't seen it before, though I've seen other films of the same genre. George quipped "Oh, isn't this the one that was based on Chicken Run?"

An amazing all-star cast including Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn, David McCollum, Donald Pleasance, Charles Bronson... Curiously, it appears that the filmmaker must have made a conscious effort to avoid depicting swastikas in the film, there are hardly any to be seen, which seems strange for a film set in Nazi Germany.

February 7, 2001

I've been involved with lots of different types of photography over the years, but today was my first experience with sigmoidoscopy. Got to see amazing color images of my innards. This was a routine checkup, and the doctor found a polyp that ought to come out, but not right now. I've got an appointment for July to go in for a more thorough colonoscopy, when they'll remove this and any others that they may find as they go higher up my colon.

eBook: The New Atlantis, by Sir Francis Bacon, 1623

This early utopian novel treats of a mysterious island/continent in the north Pacific, where all is for the best, in the best of all possible worlds. It's not too well organized by modern fictional standards. Too much of it is just a listing of various items that the inhabitants of Bensalem have invented or discovered. It does describe their methods and techniques, and in many ways is prophetic of the development of what we know as the scientific method. If the Mormon genealogical database is accurate, I'm a distant relative of Sir Francis.

"The end of our foundation is the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible."

Film: (DVD) Mighty Aphrodite by Woody Allen 1995

Woody, a sports reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper is married to an art gallery owner. They adopt a newborn baby, and all goes well until Woody is overcome with curiosity about the boy's birth parents. He tracks down the mother, a prostitute and porno actress, (excellently played by Mira Sorvino) leading to all sorts of complications.

Allen makes amusing use of a Greek chorus as a bridge between sections, a nice conceit. He also seems to get off on making fun of various lower-class characters, in a somewhat mean-spirited way. This is far from the best of the Woody Allen comedies, but it has its moments.

February 8, 2001

Harriet forwarded a pointer to the hilarious Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation, check it out!

February 11, 2001

Made my first off the air CD today. Yesterday I taped the B.S.O. U.S. premiere of La Pasion Segun San Marco, a very cool new composition by a Newtonite originally from Argentina, Osvaldo Golijov. Really nifty piece, a Latin American take on the St. Mark Passion. I taped it on VHS-HiFi yesterday, then transferred it to the iBook today, using my new iMic adaptor and SoundRecorder software. I did some editing with Sound Studio 1.5.3, and Toasted it onto a CD. The piece is too long to fit on one CD so I didn't get about the last 7 minutes.

I've also been switching over to BBEdit for my HTML work. It really is superior to the old freeware HTML/Edit I had been using, but it appears to lack the automatic date function.

Film: (DVD) The Caine Mutiny Edward Dmytryk 1954

A classic, Humphrey Bogart as the paranoid Captain Queeg, one of the great WWII films.

February 14, 2001

Sometimes when I'm in my car I like to think about how it would look to somebody from, say, the mid 1800s.

First of all, there's the shape (this is a 1997 Chrysler minivan) which looks like nothing else my time traveler would ever have seen. It probably wouldn't even be obvious at first glance that it was a vehicle--the wheels are so much smaller than wagon wheels.

What is this strange little house made of? Parts are too thin to be wood, too curvy and large to be metal, just plain mysterious.

So, I invite my traveler in, he sits down on a seat that is more comfortable than any chair he's ever sat on or even heard of...then I show him the power controls...!

Is it cold? The heating system is way better than anything in my time traveler's world. Is it hot? The air conditioner offers comfort not available to kings and emperors.

So then I explain that it is, in fact a vehicle, and can be driven on public roads, safely, at speeds in excess of FOURTY MILES PER HOUR! (I'm understating here, because I'm sure he wouldn't believe that human life is even possible at speeds routinely reached on the highway. I don't want to strain his credulity too much.

So, if this isn't enough, I pop in a CD and suddenly there's a symphony orchestra in there with us. My time traveler is reduced to catatonic babbling...

It's really true, compared with all previous generations, even royalty, we live lives of unparalleled luxury. What a time to be alive!

February 15, 2001

Tova and I auditioned for the new M.I.T.G.&S.P. The Grand Duke. I sang "I Stole the Prince from" The Gondoliers

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February 17, 2001

Well, didn't get leads, but Tova and I will be in the chorus of The Grand Duke. It should be fun. I've never seen this show in the flesh, but know most of the music from the London CD.

Film: (DVD) Do the Right Thing Spike Lee, 1989

A lively and entertaining film, set in Bedford-Stuyvesant on a very hot summer's day. Lee's characters were very believable, as was the tragic race riot that ends the film.

February 18, 2001

First Grand Duke rehearsal.

Film: (DVD) Bonnie and Clyde Arthur Penn, 1967

The kids hadn't seen this before. Certainly a classic.

Opera: (DVD) The Cunning Little Vixen Leos Janácek; Mackerras, Theatre de Chatelet 1995

I'm a long-standing Janácek fan, but had never seen nor heard this charming opera before. Based on a comic strip, most of the characters are anthropomorphized animals. A very fine production, well sung, with excellent sets, though I didn't find the costumes too attractive.

February 24, 2001

Film: (Video) Thelma & Louise Ridley Scott, 1991

I don't know how I managed to miss seeing this one before, I knew I would like it. One of the classic "buddy" films. Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) are an Arkansas housewife and waitress, respectively, who decide to go for a short vacation together...which gradually turns into a crime spree across the Southwest. Highly recommended.

Book Colonization: Aftershocks Harry Turtledove, 2001

The sixth volume in the Worldwar series, in which Earth is invaded by rather sympathetic lizard-like aliens in 1942. We're still the early 1960s, but since the Third Reich got knocked out of commission at the end of Colonization: Second Contact things are a good deal more peaceful in this volume, though the stalemate continues. As with others in this excellent series, the characters are varied and well drawn. Highly recommended, but you should start with Worldwar: In The Balance

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November-December, 1998 April-May, 1975


The overall Booklist has been moved to a separate page.

Books reviewed on this page:
The New AtlantisSir Francis Bacon2/7/01
David CopperfieldCharles Dickens1/17/01
Lest Darkness FallL. Sprague de Camp1/12/01
A Traveler from AltruriaWilliam Dean Howells1/29/01
AnthemAyn Rand2/5/01
Colonization: AftershocksHarry Turtledove2/24/01
Les Forceurs de BlocusJules Verne1/30/01


The overall film list has been moved to a separate page.


The overall music list has been moved to a separate page.

Music reviewed on this page:
February 18, 2001 Theatre de Chatelet (DVD)Janácek, The Cunning Little Vixen
February 4, 2001 M.I.T.G.a.S.P.Rowe & Sullivan, The Zoo
February 3, 2001B.S.O., James LevineMahler Symphony #3
February 3, 2001George and his band at Harvey Finstein School of Music


November 29, 2002Lorraine BraccoThe Graduate
November 23, 2001Helen Mirren, Ian McKellnThe Dance of Death-August Strindberg
September 30, 2000Tova/Black Box Theatre, Cornell UniversityThe Maids-Jean Genet
May 30, 2000Kelsey Grammer/Colonial TheatreMacbeth
May 26, 2000The Huntington Theatre Co.King Hedley II
September 3, 1999The Publick TheatreNine
August 21, 1999Orange Tree Theatre, Ithaca, N.Y.Sonata
August 13, 1999Firehouse Theatre, Ithaca, N.Y.Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All For You
May 22-29Newton South/North High SchoolsRichard III
December 18, 1998Newton North High SchoolThe Bone Violin, May Flies
November 12, 1998Newton North High SchoolTo Kill a Mockingbird


November 21-24, 2007Plantation, Florida
September 25-28, 2007Las Vegas, Nevada
August 18-25, 2007Truro, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
November 22-26, 2006Plantation, Florida
September 25-28, 2006Las Vegas (Interbike)
June 10-20, 2006Santa Cruz, California
May 5-7, 2006Aurora, Indiana
November 23, 2005Plantation, Florida
September 26-29, 2005Interbike, Las Vegas, Nevada
August 26-28, 2005'Bentride 2005, Bath, N.Y.
July 21-24, 2005Family Reunion, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
April 29, 2005Cirque de Cyclisme, Greensboro, N.C.
February 16, 2005Indianapolis
November 24, 2004Plantation, Florida
October 8, 2004Santa Cruz, California
October 4, 2004Las Vegas, Nevada
June 8, 2004France, England
December 22, 2003Halifax, Nova Scotia
November 27, 2003Florida
October 31, 2003Potomac, Maryland
October 10, 2003Las Vegas, Nevada
September 21, 2003New York, N.Y.
November 27-30, 2002New York, N.Y.
October 8-13, 2002Evanston, Illinois
October 4-8, 2002Las Vegas, Nevada
July 3-9, 2002Canso, Nova Scotia
May 24-27, 2002Long Island, New York
November 21-24, 2001New York City
October 16-19, 2001Cape Cod, Massachusetts
September 29-October 3, 2001Las Vegas, Nevada (Interbike Show)
June 16-23, 2001Nags Head, North Carolina
October 5-14, 2000Evanston, Illinois
September 30-October 2, 2000Ithaca, New York
June 22-25, 2000Urbanna, Virginia
October 7-13, 1999Chicago/Evanston, Illinois
August 19-28, 1999Ithaca, New York
August 12-13, 1999Ithaca, New York
July 23-25, 1999Bridgeton, Maine
November 25-28, 1998Fort Lauderdale, Florida
1988-89France, England
1980Yucatan, Mexico
1975England, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Turkey

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