Didn't do anything special for New Year's Eve, but went to the Plaisted/Aldrich open house this afternoon. A joyful madhouse as usual, and there was as much mustard on the roast lamb as tradition requires.
Film: (DVD) The Family Man Brett Rattner, 2000This is a charming film, somewhat reminiscent of Big. Nicholas Cage is a hard charging arbitrageur and a swinging bachelor--until he finds himself in an alternate reality, as a married paterfamilias tire salesman living in New Jersey with college sweetheart Téa Leoni. The film is obviously schmaltzy, but the acting is terrific, especially little Makenzie Vega. Highly recommended.
Drove over to Winthrop, for a fine Mexican dinner at Harriet's old friend Connie's house. A very pleasant evening.
Book: The Dancing ChainFrank Berto, Ron Shepherd and Raymond Henry, 2000This history of the derailer (derailleur ) bicycle is not for the general reader, but indispensable to anyone who's seriously interested in the history of the bicycle in the 20th century. Highly recommended for my fellow gearheads.
Film: (DVD) At Home Among Strangers, A Stranger Among His Own Nikita Mikhailov, 1972DVD pickings were pretty sparse at the library when I picked this up, even though I couldn't read so much as the title of the DVD.
This rather crude late Soviet era film is in many ways like a classic western. Set during the civil war of the 1920s, it involves two train robberies, much back stabbing and a lot of interesting scenery. It's a bit hard to follow, involving Cheka agents (the good guys!) cossacks and White Russian partizans...or are they bandits?
The film is mostly in color, but evidently they couldn't afford to do the whole thing on color stock, 'cause it jumps back and forth between color and B & W for no other obvious reason. All in all, I didn't much like this film.
Concert: Boston Symphony Orchestra BrucknerBernard Haitink guested. The concert opened with some tinkly Mozart piano concerto, which I almost fell asleep on. After the intermission, however, was a very fine performance of Bruckner's Seventh Symphony, a favorite of mine.
This concert was also special because Mihail "Mike" Jojatu, who used to work at the shop has joined the 'cello section, and this was his first concert.
Film: (DVD) Billy Elliot Stephen Daldry, 2001This was pretty good, but rather depressing. I'm getting tired of coming-of-age-in-a-depressed-British-Isles-coaltown films. This wasn't as gloomy as Angela's Ashes (which I saw recently but evidently failed to record.)
Surrender and EscapeI've lately been musing on the morality of escaping POWs. In the Western tradition, at least, when your opponent has you at on your back with his sword point touching your windpipe, he can kill you, or, you can surrender and save your life. If he accepts your surrender, that means the fight is over, and you lost. If he then turns his back for a moment and you whack him in the head with a rock, you've violated the implied contract of the surrender that saved your neck.
Now, extend this concept to modern warfare. Some say that it is the duty of a POW to try to escape from prison camp and get back to the fray. If this is so, where does the transition occur between the non-belligerency implied by the act of surrender and the point at which it is legitimate to escape. This is an issue that arose recently in Afganistan, were Taliban POWs briefly took control of their prison. My understanding is that they wer then massacred pretty much to the last man for this violation of their surrender.
Certainly the circumstances alter cases. To take a couple of examples from WW2, while we love to watch Steve McQueen and his buddies in The Great Escape, how would we react to German prisoners held in the U.S. staging a breakout like that?
At the other end of the spectrum, under the Japanese bushido code, the concept of honorable surrender was a contradiction in terms. Thus, I don't think anybody would dispute the morality of an attempt to escape from the Bataan Death March...but where do you draw the line?
I don't have any answers in this, only questions...
The Gods didn't want me to drive my car to the Library today, and, with my new Carradice saddlebag I have room for a full library run, so I rode the B.a.S.S.. The Olympian Ones rewarded me on the way back with a great road find, a top-of-the-line Leatherman Super Tool!
Film: (DVD) Lawrence of Arabia David Lean, 1962Certainly a spectacular piece of filmmaking in the pre-digital age. I was surprised to se Peter O'Toole as Lawrence, eating with his left hand. All star cast includes Sir Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn and Omar Sharif.
TV/Video: (DVD) The Sopranos 1999I don't have HBO, so I didn't get to see this show over the cable, but thanks to DVD I'm making up for lost time. So far I've seen the first episodes, and it's as fine as everybody said!
My current favorite dramatic TV shows are Once and Again and The West Wing . Close behind would be NYPD Blue and Boston Public . I also enjoy Enterprise, Smallville, The Practice, and am somewhat into Philly, The Guardian, Alias, Law & Order and L & A SVU.
For comedies, now that Third Rock from the Sun is gone, Malcolm in the Middle reigns supreme, closely followed by The Simpsons. I also enjoy Will & Grace and Just Shoot Me. Earlier in the season I was enjoying Fraser and Scrubs, but they are now in conflict with NYPD Blue and Smallville. I still watch Ally McBeal, but it's clearly in decline.
We had Connie over, sent out for Chinese food. She brought along:
Film: (VHS) Memento Christopher Nolan, 2000
Film: (DVD) Rear Window Alfred Hitchcock, 1954Classic Hitchcock, what more is there to say? You'd never believe the set was a set, not a city block.
Film: (DVD) Much Ado About Nothing Kenneth Branagh, 1993This is the third time I've watched this film, and probably won't be the last...a thing of beauty is a joy forever.
I was somewhat disappointed that the DVD doesn't have any commentary or other special features, but the film is a wonderful as ever.
Book: Union Forever William R. Forstchen 1991This is the second volume in the series begun with Rally Cry. A regiment of the U.S. Army has been mysteriously transported to a distant planet, where they find other small groups of Earthlings of various provenance (medieval Russian, Roman, Carthaginian in this episode) and carnivorous giant nomads who consider humans to be "cattle" for their nourishment. This one involves battles between crude ironclad steamers, as the Yankees and their Rus allies expand and come into contact with an outpost of the Roman empire. Not for everybody, but I enjoyed it.
Film: A Beautiful Mind Ron Howard, 2001Ron Howard has come a long way from Happy Days! This is quite a good film about a mathematician's struggle with schizophrenia. Nash is the only mathematician to ever win the Nobel prize (in economics--there is no Nobel for mathematics, because Nobel hated mathematicians after his wife ran off with one.)
Film: (DVD) Blade Runner-Director's Cut Ridley Scott, 1982I've seen this before, but not the "director's cut" nor in widescreen format. It is a good film, but quite grisly. Despite being set in 2029, in many ways it harks back to the "films noir" of the 1940s. Indeed, the women's hair styles (though not their costumes) show a sort of '40s revival. Indeed, it occurs to me that Harrison Ford may be the Humphrey Bogart of our time.
While the film is fascinating, especially the visuals of a very dystopic Los Angeles, the gloom and doom attitude is not really to my taste. I love science fiction, but prefer the more optimistic strains.
I still have no idea of the significance of the title.
Amazon.com 1, SonicBlue.com 0Back in December I bought a nifty gadget, a Rio Volt SP250. The Rio Volt SP250 is a portable CD player that plays, in addition to normal audio CDs, data CDs with MP3 music files. Thus, the Rio Volt SP250 can play up to 20 hours of MP3s on a single CD. I've got one CD with all of Der Ring des Nibelungen plus Tristan und Isolde!
Unfortunately, within a few days of buying it, my Rio Volt SP250 started acting up, and soon became inoperative. I had bought it from Amazon.com, but had not saved the original packing material, so I figured it would be easier to deal direct with the manufacturer, Sonic Blue.
I started by filling out a form on their Website.
Sonic Blue replied with an automated email message "RE: Rio Volt SP250 question" which asked for details about model number, serial number, my coordinates, etc. They offered expedited warranty service for an additional charge of $27.95, but I chose not to select this option.
I replied to this email, with the requested information on Saturday, January 12. I immediately received an auto-response informing me that:
We have received your message which has been queued for manual processing. Messages are processed in the order they are received and should be answered within several business days.My understanding is that they are supposed to reply with information on where I should send my defective Rio Volt SP250, they would examine it and if they decided to honor the warranty, they would ship me a new one within 5 business days.
When I hadn't heard back by Tuesday evening, January 15, I phoned their customer service number. I was referred to a different number (on my dime) for the service department. This number gave me a recording with another number to call, again on my dime. That number turned out to be for service of "legacy" products, and the guy I talked to couldn't help me. He said that the department that handled repairs on current products was too busy to take my call, but that he would get it taken care of.
On Thursday, January 17 I received another email from Sonic Blue, saying that my unit appeared to be defective (d'oh!) and that I should reply to the email with the same information I had sent on the 12th. Interestingly, that email quoted my own response of the 12th, with all of the information that was asked for all ready filled out!
I then received another copy of the message quoted above, and my patience ran out. I decide to try to work through Amazon.com.
I went to the Amazon.com Website, where a bit of surfing revealed a form page. I filled in the form, asking them to send me a new one so I could return the old one in that packaging. I figured they could charge my credit card, then issue a credit once they got the defective unit back.
The next morning I had an email from a customer service person at Amazon stating that as soon as they could get another unit, they'd ship it to me via 2 day UPS.
The next day, Friday the 18th, I received an email informing me that Amazon.com had shipped a unit UPS 2day, at no cost to me. Due to the long weekend it didn't arrive until today, but it's here now, I'm listening to it as I type. They even enclosed a postage-paid return mailing label.
I still haven't heard back from Sonic Blue, 10 days after I sent the information they requested!
To sum up, I'm as pleased as can be with Amazon.com's excellent service. I've been a longtime Amazon.com customer for books and the like, but this is the first time I've bought hardware from them. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them to others.
As for Sonic Blue, however, I'd urge caution and patience on anybody considering buing a RioVolt SP-250 or any other Rio product from them. I sure hope this one lasts longer than the first on! If you do buy a Rio product, make sure to get it from a reliable retailer, because if you need support, you can't count on Sonic Blue.
In case you're wondering why I mentioned the full name of the Rio Volt SP250 so many times, that's to make this report easier for folks using search engines to find!
Epilogue: Sonic Blue finally emailed me the return authorization February 4!
Film: (DVD) Moulin RougeIf you ever need an example to explain the word "frenetic" the first half of this film be just the ticket! It plays like a cross between Pee Wee's Playhouse and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Set in Montmartre, 1900, it mixes in late 20th century pop music with a very elaborate set and blitzkrieg editing. The second half slows down into a rather more conventional love story, with Nicole Kidman dying of consumption. Jim Broadbent is fabulous as the propretor of the eponymous nightclub. Great fun, though the second half drags a bit.
Film: (DVD) Remains of the DayHow did I manage to miss this one? My two favorite actors, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson together as butler and housekeeper in the Stately Home of Lord Darlington, a pro-German nobleman in the late 1930s. This is a film of great subtlety, a true masterpiece.
Antony Hopkins' character is somewhat reminiscent fo Hugo's Javert in his blinkered, single-minded devotion to his profession to the exclusion of any human feeling.
Film: (DVD) Kundun Martin ScorseseA biopic of Tibet's Dalai Lama, from his childhood through his flight from the Chinese. Wonderfully colorful and exotic, an excellent film in all respects.
Film: (DVD) Forget ParisA mildly amusing romantic comedy.
Film: (DVD) North by Northwest Alfred HitchcockI'm sure I saw this many years ago, but didn't recall how fine it was...one of Hitchcock's (and Cary Grant's) best. James Mason is wonderfully creepy as the villain. Lots of familiar faces in the cast.
Parts of this film made me nostalgic for train travel. My father worked for the New York Central railroad, so our family had a free pass, and I traveled quite a bit by train in the '50s. Unfortunately, the pass wasn't good for the 20th Century Limited, so I never got to ride on that premium run, but did spend more than a few nights in roomettes and compartments. I've never slept as well anywhere else as I do an a nice bed in a moving train.
Tova is 21! Talked to her on the phone, things seem to be going well for her out in San Mateo, but we do miss her.
Film: (DVD) The Big ChillVisor Prism
Back in 1997, a humorous email message called "101 Reasons Why biking Is Better Than Blading" made the rounds of the Internet. I thought it was amusing, and contacted the author. He gave me permission to put it on my Website, so I did.
In January, 2002, a mention of this apparently was featured in a skating magazine called "Daily Bread." I received a flurry of email messages from outraged, humorless roller skaters. These messages show a surprising level of reasoning and articulateness.
Democratic caucusThe Robert Reich for governor campaign is heating up, and Harriet and I went to the local Democratic caucus meeting for our ward today. This is the first time either of us has gone to a caucus. It was jammed, mostly with fellow Reich supporters, and he won the 9 ward delegates in a walkaway.
Film: (DVD) Apocalypse NowMartin Sheen before he became presidential, and Harrison Ford in a bit part, before he became famous. **** as the skipper is excellent...took me a while to place him as the judge on Ally McBeal. Couldn't tell to look at him, but his voice is very distinctive. Lots of familiar faces in this one, but back when they were young.
Film: (DVD) UlyssesHorrible clinker starring Kirk Douglas.
Film: (DVD) A Man for All Seasons
Finally, after almost a month, I received the return authorization from Sonic Blue to return my defective Rio Volt SP250 CD/MP3 player. Lord only knows how long it would take those clowns to actually get me a working unit, considering how long it has taken just to get a return authorization. Fortunately, Amazon.com came through for me in stellar fashion, and I've been enjoying the replacement unit they sent me almost two weeks ago!
See the January 22 entry for more of the Rio Volt SP250 saga.
Book: Left Behind Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, 1995This caught my eye at New England Mobile Book Fair. It's the first of a series of "Christian science-fiction" books, though it might be more apposite to call it fantasy. The premise is the Last Days. In the twinkling of an eye, every born-again Christian in the world disappears, leaving little piles of clothing and jewelry, and in some cases, careening driverless vehicles. From this point we follow the adventures of an airline pilot and a magazine reporter as they come to grips with the fact that the book of Revelation is literal truth, and prepare to do battle with the Antichrist during the 7 years of tribulation that will precede the onset of the Millennium...
Written in a style somewhat reminiscent of Tom Clancy, it is moderately entertaining if you can buy into the premise, but I don't think I'll continue with the series.
Film: (DVD) The Mosquito CoastThis was in some ways reminiscent of The Poisonwood Bible, except that the whacko paterfamilias (Harrison Ford) is a secular humanist inventor, not a missionary. Quite a good film, but rather a downer. Helen Mirren plays the mother, first time I've seen her as an American.
Auditoned for the upcoming production of The Gondoliers at M.I.T. Saw lots of old friends. Audition fright as bad as usual, singing only so-so. I read a bit of the dialogue for Don Alhambra, and think it went well. Since they have a student-preference policy, I don't think my chances of landing a lead are all that good.
They'll have me in the chorus, but I don't know if I'll do it...depends on what happens with Revels.
Film: (DVD) The Lion in Winter
Auditioned for the Spring Revels--I'd particularly like to do it this year, because it'll be featuring John Roberts and Tony Barrand, a couple of my very fave folkies. I sang one of their songs "I am the Man, the Very Fat Man, that Waters the Workers' Beer. I flubbed the second verse a bit.
Went to the annual Bikers' Banquet at the Taqueria in Waltham. Had a grand old time, ate a scrumptious steak burrito and drank a bit too much Carta Blanca. I rode home along the bike path by the river, which was deserted on this winter night. Flushed a couple of flocks of ducks, who were startled to have a cyclist ride by.
Book: A Tramp Abroad Mark Twain, 1878This sequel to Innocents Abroad is uneven in quality, and generally inferior to that marvelous book. It seems to fluctuate between being a humorous entertainment and a conventional travel book.
Most of the book is devoted to Twain's travels in Germany and Switzerland. He describes his intention of making a walking tour of Europe...but every time he decides to make a major move, he loads up his pack, grabs his alpenstaff...and then decides to take a train, or a boat or a carriage. It definitely has its moments, but if you haven't already read Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee, Huckleberry Finn, read one of those before this.
I got the letter from Revels, Inc. I'm in! I'll be performing in the Spring Revels along with John Roberts & Tony Barrand! I'm so excited! Unfortunately, this means I'll have to drop out of The Gondoliers, but that's the way it goes.
Film: (DVD) 2 Seconds
Harriet took George north for skiing, so I had an extra ticket. I invited old friend and former employer Steve G. It was veery nice to see him again, and we had time to reminisce over old times and commiserate over the difficulty of finding good help. Then we went in to Symphony Hall for:
Concert: Boston Symphony Orchestra Dvorak, Wuorenen, Mozart, Ligeti, SchumannJames Levine conducted his first BSO concert since becoming "music director designate" last fall. This was a very varied program, opening with a brilliant performance of Dvorak's Carnival Overture, closed with Schumann's Symphony #2. (I had not previously noticed the strong kinship between the first movement of this and the first movement of Haydn's #104.)
Levine has redone the seating, putting the basses on stage right, and actually having some of the second violins sitting with their backs to the audience!
Book: The Miocene Arrow Sean McMullenThis is the second volume of the Greatwinter Trilogy begun with Souls in the Great Machine. Set about 20 years later, in 3961, the scene shifts from Australia to the mountain west of North America. The isolated survivors have preserved/reinvented more of the old technology, including diesel-powered aircraft and machine guns. The patrolling satellites have enforced a de facto limit of 30 feet for the largest dimension of any vehicle, and a maximum speed of 150 mph, so their aircraft are functionally just a notch or two above WWI technology. The society evolved has developed on a feudal, chivalric plan, where wars only affect the aristocratic "wardens" who participate, mainly in the form or set-piece air duels.
This stable system is disrupted by the arrival of visitors from Australia, but I'll avoid more detail for fear of spoilers.
As with Souls in the Great Machine, this takes a bit of warming up to, mainly because there are so many characters to be introduced (and they all have strange names.) Once you get into it, however, it's quite good.
Film: (DVD) The Manchurian CandidateThe ultimate cold-war paranoia film. I saw this years ago, forgot how good it is. The acting isn't wonderful, but much of the dialogue is. A classic.
Film: (DVD) The MexicanAn amusing "caper" comedy starring Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. We had just finished watching the last of the Sopranos DVDs, and were suffering a bit of withdrawal, so it was a treat to see James Gandlfini (Tony Soprano) in a major role not unlike the character he plays on HBO.
This film seemed to me to owe a bit of a debt to The Big Lebowski. While it wasn't as screamingly funny as that film, it was quite good nevertheless.
|November-December, 1998||April-May, 1975|
|Books reviewed on this page:|
|Union Forever||William R. Forstchen||1/18/02|
|The Dancing Chain||Berto, Shepherd & Henry||1/7/02|
|Left Behind||Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins||2/5/02|
|The Miocene Arrow||Sean McMullen||2/24/02|
|A Tramp Abroad||Mark Twain||2/13/02|
|Films reviewed on this page:|
|Apocalypse Now Redux||February 2, 2002|
|At Home Among Strangers, A Stranger Among His Own||January 8, 2002|
|A Beautiful Mind||January 19, 2002|
|The Big Chill||January 27, 2002|
|Billy Elliot||January 11, 2002|
|Blade Runner||January 21, 2002|
|The Family Man||January 5, 2002|
|Forget Paris||January 26, 2002|
|Kundun||January 25, 2002|
|Lawrence of Arabia||January 12, 2002|
|Moulin Rouge||January 22, 2002|
|Much Ado About Nothing||January 16, 2002|
|North by Northwest||January 26, 2002|
|The Remains of the Day||January 23, 2002|
|Music reviewed on this page:|
|February 21, 2002||B.S.O., James Levine||Dvorak, Wuoronen, Mozart, Ligeti,Schumann|
|January 10, 2002||B.S.O., Bernard Haitink||Bruckner: Symphony #7|
|November 29, 2002||Lorraine Bracco||The Graduate|
|November 23, 2001||Helen Mirren, Ian McKelln||The Dance of Death-August Strindberg|
|September 30, 2000||Tova/Black Box Theatre, Cornell University||The Maids-Jean Genet|
|May 30, 2000||Kelsey Grammer/Colonial Theatre||Macbeth|
|May 26, 2000||The Huntington Theatre Co.||King Hedley II|
|September 3, 1999||The Publick Theatre||Nine|
|August 21, 1999||Orange Tree Theatre, Ithaca, N.Y.||Sonata|
|August 13, 1999||Firehouse Theatre, Ithaca, N.Y.||Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All For You|
|May 22-29||Newton South/North High Schools||Richard III|
|December 18, 1998||Newton North High School||The Bone Violin, May F lies|
|November 12, 1998||Newton North High School||To Kill a Mockingbird|
|November 21-24, 2007||Plantation, Florida|
|September 25-28, 2007||Las Vegas, Nevada|
|August 18-25, 2007||Truro, Cape Cod, Massachusetts|
|November 22-26, 2006||Plantation, Florida|
|September 25-28, 2006||Las Vegas (Interbike)|
|June 10-20, 2006||Santa Cruz, California|
|May 5-7, 2006||Aurora, Indiana|
|November 23, 2005||Plantation, Florida|
|September 26-29, 2005||Interbike, Las Vegas, Nevada|
|August 26-28, 2005||'Bentride 2005, Bath, N.Y.|
|July 21-24, 2005||Family Reunion, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.|
|April 29, 2005||Cirque de Cyclisme, Greensboro, N.C.|
|February 16, 2005||Indianapolis|
|November 24, 2004||Plantation, Florida|
|October 8, 2004||Santa Cruz, California|
|October 4, 2004||Las Vegas, Nevada|
|June 8, 2004||France, England|
|December 22, 2003||Halifax, Nova Scotia|
|November 27, 2003||Florida|
|October 31, 2003||Potomac, Maryland|
|October 10, 2003||Las Vegas, Nevada|
|September 21, 2003||New York, N.Y.|
|November 27-30, 2002||New York, N.Y.|
|October 8-13, 2002||Evanston, Illinois|
|October 4-8, 2002||Las Vegas, Nevada|
|July 3-9, 2002||Canso, Nova Scotia|
|May 24-27, 2002||Long Island, New York|
|November 21-24, 2001||New York City|
|October 16-19, 2001||Cape Cod, Massachusetts|
|September 29-October 3, 2001||Las Vegas, Nevada (Interbike Show)|
|June 16-23, 2001||Nags Head, North Carolina|
|October 5-14, 2000||Evanston, Illinois|
|September 30-October 2, 2000||Ithaca, New York|
|June 22-25, 2000||Urbanna, Virginia|
|October 7-13, 1999||Chicago/Evanston, Illinois|
|August 19-28, 1999||Ithaca, New York|
|August 12-13, 1999||Ithaca, New York|
|July 23-25, 1999||Bridgeton, Maine|
|November 25-28, 1998||Fort Lauderdale, Florida|