November 27th, 2014


An Interesting Post

DSL may not be as fast as cable Internet, but it appears to be more secure and more reliable -- for my money -- which is the only requirement I have. Except on some Friday nights, DSL is fast enough we have no problem streaming Netflix. Those damned neighborhood kids on my subnet hogging all that bandwidth! (grin)

So it was a bit of a surprise when I got some pauses on Amazon Cloud Music this afternoon. Maybe the kids were home early from school? Then Mrs. Dr. Phil pointed out she was doing a big update on her work laptop. Okay... My theory was that Amazon's servers were getting slammed by people buying stuff.

But this evening my Kindle Fire HD informed me that there had been a big update of the Fire OS. Two big updates? Okay, that could eat into things.

Anyway, one of the more intriguing aspects of the update was that it added an app -- for the Washington Post. Free access for six months, editions posted at 5am and 5pm.

Now there have been online text only newspaper systems for some thirty years? And web based ones more recently. I get the paper Grand Rapids Press, which only comes thrice a week -- Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday -- but I get access to the daily online replica. It's an utter pain in the ass to use. Or at least it was when my Kindle was new. I've had no reason to try again. Mlive is run by the conglomerate of Michigan newspapers, and it is nearly useless unless you get an "in" somewhere. For me, that's the email service that updates a couple of times a day. That has some utility.

But the new Washington Post app actually looks good. Read a couple of articles scrolling along. Haven't tried any features yet.

I'll get back to you on this Washington Post thing. Might be the first online paper I'd consider passing a few bucks to.

Or not.

We'll see.

Dr. Phil

Big Wet White Flocking

Thanksgiving Begins With Th Just Like Thursday

This fact always amused me when I was little. Many other holidays float, and Easter Sunday and Good Friday have their days of the week embedded -- Labor Day does not and we have have a passel of (Observeds) which now happen on Mondays.

In 2014-15 we get what little kid Dr. Phil considered the perfect trinity -- Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day all follow on Thursdays.

With both of us at home yesterday -- and Mrs. Dr. Phil hitting the grocery store -- it was very much a Saturday. Except today isn't Sunday and tomorrow isn't Monday. Ah-hhh.

When we got up, the world was white again. Furry from the aforementioned big wet white flakage. Then it started snowing more. Realizing it was after 9am on Thanksgiving, I linked the Kindle to WLAV-FM as they the first of their annual airings of Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant Massacree, one of the great rock shaggy dog stories. And a fine Thanksgiving tradition for those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s.

Tomorrow is Turkey Day for us. Shortly we'll be off to see the Stephen Hawking biopic.

Mrs. Dr. Phil points out, listening to the NPR headlines, "So Wall Street is closed today, but Wal*Mart is open." I would grouse further on the Christmas militarization of Thanksgiving, but I'll give you a break.

Enjoy the day if you can, with turkey or Tofurky -- its 20th anniversary I guess -- or whatever. We'll have Campbell's Tomato Bisque and grilled cheese sandwiches tonight. (evil-grin)

Dr. Phil

Gimp Physicists United

Back when Studio 28 still existed, we spent many a Thanksgiving Day there, usually doing a double feature. We weren't the only ones. We used to see the Chinese family which ran China Chef in Standale between shows as they used their one day off to catch up on everything. Still, doing the big cooking on Friday or Saturday means a leisurely holiday, without having to leap into it all, even if we hadn't taken Wednesday off as well. (grin)

It was still snowing when we left, but as predicted, this was just a minor bit. The roads were relatively empty coming and going. The theatre complex was not particularly crowded -- our show had about ten patrons.

The Theory of Everything [PG-13]
Celebration North Theatre 2, 11:35am, 2×$8.50

Physicist Stephen Hawking is famous for his book A Brief History of Time, his crumpled figure in a wheelchair and American computer voice -- and for some twenty years holding the same Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge as Sir Isaac Newton. Also his dogged determination to keep working on difficult problems even today, as well as enjoying a certain amount of cult status, even leading to his guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The film is familiar territory to anyone who has watched British TV and cinema. Cambridge in England is not the same sort of school as a Harvard, Northwestern or even Michigan. The peculiarities from the American point of view are not explained, they just are. Not a problem for longtime fans.

Of course I was wondering how one could bill this a love story, around a paralyzed man who managed to leave his wife for his nurse... But it turns out that this is based on Jane Hawking's Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, itself an updated version of a 1999 volume Music to Move the Stars: A Life with Stephen -- copies of the latter seem to be selling for $160 to $650. And to their credit, they manage to skate dangerous waters quite well. In a way, this is a reversal of sorts of the love story of Richard and Arline Feynman in Infinity.

This is a beautiful movie, taking a bit over two hours to run from graduate school to collapse to marriage to decline to, well, everything else. The characters are three-dimensional, having feelings and especially humor, even in the face of terrible conflict. It is a very human movie, which also touches briefly on the Physics and the age-old debate between religion and science. The latter is done in a rational manner, not frothy.

The score is very much like the one in A Beautiful Mind, adding a great deal to the lush cinematography and the closeup of the emotions of the stars.

As far as the cast goes, who is this Eddie Redmayne? He is marvelously thorough as Hawking and looks convincingly afflicted as time goes on. Wikipedia reports he was Marius in the movie of Les Miserables and will show up in the big SF movie Jupiter Ascending, slated for February. As for Jane, I've heard the name Felicity Jones, but we've not really seen any of the things she's known for, including the current Spider-man reboot. (I kept thinking she could be cast as a little sister to Minnie Driver.) Among the others portrayed are a number of famous physicists, including Roger Penrose and Kip Thorne, who was the Physics consultant to Interstellar. David Thewlis appears, which makes one wonder how long will it be before British films don't feature someone from Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings in their casts? (grin)

Finally, I have to point out that it was both hard for me, currently using canes and walkers, to watch Hawking struggle and deteriorate, and at the same time be once again reminded that I don't have it so bad. A little perspective is sometimes a good thing.

This is an exceptionally good film.

MOST HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION -- See this if it's your area.

Trailers: The Vatican Museums 3D should be something to see. The Vatican has one of the most amazing collections of art assembled from over a thousand years. As I am unlikely to go rubber necking in Vatican City any time soon, it is big screen productions like this which should ground my perceptions of what they have. Chappie is a real Robocop movie. Looks like some young kids -- I was thinking British but it's from the guy who did District 9, so I'm thinking South Africa -- who take a blue police robot and give it an AI brain. Raise it. Set it free. And the adults immediately want to kill it. Parts look good. Parts look, well, Chappie wanders around and gets bling and learns the slang. It worked in District 9, I'm hoping it works here, too. The Imitation Game is the one we really want to see. Benedict Cumberbatch (PBS' Sherlock) is Alan Turing, who is tasked to breaking the unbreakable German Enigma machine during WW II. Keira Knightley helps build the first computer, but she's not destined to be Turing's love interest. In the Heart of the Sea looks equally wonderful as Ron Howard tells the tale which spawned Moby Dick -- the sinking of the American whaler Essex in 1820. Unbroken, longer trailer about the POW in the Pacific war. Opens around Christmas.

There was also a trashy TV ad for something called The Royals, a dreadful looking parody of the British Royal family -- my only question is which side of the Atlantic it's from. If it's British, then it comes from a long line of satire -- if American, it's merely crass. Painfully reminiscent of I Want To Marry Harry from the summer. Which of course we didn't watch either.

Dr. Phil