Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review: The Walking Dead Vol. 21 All Out War Part II by R. Kirkman et al.

The Walking Dead Vol. 21 All Out War Part II by Robert Kirkman and others

The war between Rick's people and Negan's gang continues in this issue. Negan had just fire-bombed Rick's compound, forcing them to flee to the Hilltop. Rick regroups there and makes plans for his next move while Neegan discovers the ammo-making place that Eugene had set up. So both sides are restocked with bullets and Neegan has potential to negotiate. Things go back and forth for a while until the final confrontation at the end of the book.

The tactics used on both sides are fairly interesting and exciting. The ultimate resolution is unsatisfying. As a villain, Neegan is little more than a sweary version of the Governor. He's brutal and comes up with some tough tactics. His crazy, over-the-top routine eventually wears out the loyalty of his followers. Rick's big speech before the final confrontation also seems like it was cribbed from the speech he gave to the Governor on the TV show before their final confrontation at the prison. I was experiencing some deja vu, and not in a good way. Rick's final decision about Neegan is a big change but I worry the writer did it more to drag out the drama than as to put an interesting new angle on things.

The next volume doesn't come out till November 2014 and I'm not sure I will read it. I guess I'll get it from the library but The Walking Dead comics are no longer a high priority for me.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

British boarding schools have a bad reputation in literature. Maybe Hogwarts is okay, but Jane Eyre and the Orphans of Chaos had some very terrible experiences. Never Let Me Go is another story that involves children growing up at an isolated English boarding school called Halisham. The story is told by Kathy H., a Halisham student who has no memory of life before the school (like all the other students). She tells the story of growing up there and quite a bit of her life afterwards.

Life at Halisham is both nurturing and mysterious. The children growing into adulthood go through the typical social dramas of life--cliques form and transform, shy or awkward students get bullied, interest in the opposite sex blooms. Most of the teachers take good care of them but some are frigid to or frightened of the students. The students' future is not clear. In fact, it seems ominous. One teacher, Miss Lucy, almost blurts out the secret but is removed. Meanwhile, the students are encouraged to make art and the head mistress collects the best to take away somewhere. The student have all sorts of theories about why she is collecting their works.

After they complete their studies, Kathy and some of her class mates move to the Cottages, an interim spot from which some of them will become carers and others donors. Social interactions are still their primary interest but they also wonder even more about their future and their past. Students from other similar schools are at the Cottages and they have lots of questions about how well the Halisham pupils were treated. Life after the cottages for Kathy is one wandering around Great Britain caring for various donors. She tells us about her closest friends, Ruth and Tommy, as they go through the donation process.

The big revelation of the mystery at the end of the book is not so surprising. Kathy and her friends make several wrong guesses about their lives which provides the characters with some pathos and motivation.

The interesting part of the story is seeing them work through their ideas and emotions while their lives move along. Ultimately, they are dealing with a fate chosen for them, trying to understand it and make the most of it (but strangely enough, not change it). Kathy is a sympathetic character even if she isn't the brightest bulb in the pack. Ultimately, the unease of Halisham carries through the whole story. The students, even in their special circumstances, deal with issues in their lives similar to what all of us deal with--what is our place in the world, how we should treat others. The book is interesting but not great.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

New addition!

My apologies to all my loyal readers out there. With all the activity this summer, I neglected to mention that we are expecting. Or, rather, we were expecting. The big day has come and Nicholas Robert was born at 11:59 a.m. this morning (if you are reading this as I post on Wednesday). He is eight pounds nine ounces and twenty and a quarter inches. Mommy and son are doing well.

First photo

His feet!

Jacob and Lucy were able to visit (thanks Granny and Grandpa) and see newborn Nicholas up close.

Jacob and Nicholas

Lucy, Jacob, Mommy, and Nicholas

My son and I

Two of the aunties and one cousin came to see him, but Nicholas was awake only for Auntie Maryellen to hold him.

Nicholas and his auntie

A good final shot for day one

There's sure to be more posts soon!

Magna Science Adventure Centre, UK--Part II

Continuing our visit to Magna Science Adventure Centre, we went down the main walkway to the Fire Pavilion, with various displays and interactive exhibits about fire and energy. The favorite by far for the kids was the flame tornado, seen below.

Jacob in flames!

Lucy in the firefighter display

From the Fire Pavilion, we retraced our steps down the long walkway and saw the Big Melt show, which demonstrated how steel was made in electric arc furnaces. None of those pictures turned out, except for this shot of the plant floor.

More of the steel works

We went on to the Air Pavilion, housed in what looked like a dirigible. The exhibits there were especially fun, including an air cannon.

Back of the dirigible

Lucy mans the air cannon

Firing at a flexible wall

Classic communication tubes

Jacob uses air pressure to play music on water jugs

The smoke tornado was interesting but not impressive compared to the fire tornado

From the Air Pavilion, we proceeded to the Water Pavilion. The path had a bit of rain which Lucy and I ran through.

Wet way to Water Pavilion

The water exhibits

The water cycle

Jacob loved the water wheels, which came in three varieties--undershot, breastshot, and topshot. The names indicate where the water is striking the wheel. Topshots are the most efficient energy users, though setting them up really depends on where the water source is.

Various water wheels

More cannons were available and used in the Water Pavilion.

Water cannons and targets

Lucy mans the water cannon

The final visit was to the Earth Pavilion, where the children learned about rocks and sand and mining and such.

Ian, Jacob, and a big tire

The examples of mining tunnels were a little too little for me but Jacob found them fascinating. By "fascinating," I mean "echo-producing."

A sample mining tunnel

Always popular--the sand table

The industrial area of the Earth Pavilion has plenty of levers, pulleys, and inclined planes for use by children. Lucy found a spot where a video showed quarrying with dynamite. The explosion would happen on the video and then foam rocks would fall from behind the screen. Those rocks could be taken in little wheelbarrows to a conveyor belt, which took the rocks up to a hole in the ceiling, where presumably they restocked the dynamite video display.

The kids took the work quite seriously.

Hard working blokes

We finished our visit with some lunch and a brief look at the gift shop. Nothing struck our fancy so we headed home.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Magna Science Adventure Centre, UK--Part I

Magna Science Adventure Centre is located in Rotherham, UK, inside an abandoned steelworks building. Manufacturing stopped there in 1993. The main building has been preserved as a tribute to its industrial history. Even the outside retains a very industrial look, with only the sign and the playground across the road indicating the more child-friendly changes that have happened since the 1990s.

The "M" is the big addition to the front

Still looks like a steel mill

The playground was wet so we didn't go

Inside, the first exhibit we saw was the "Face of Steel." It described the life of the steel workers and the various products they made.

The World War I memorial

A steel engine

Model of an electric arc furnace

Lucy and the steel tea set

The back of the exhibit includes some of the tools that the workers used and some interactive exhibits. Jacob and Lucy loved interacting.

Robotic arm!

A warning sign

In one activity, visitors could use a long pole to catch a weighted cylinder which could then be swung around to bang into pipes, producing musical notes. Jacob tried it out.

Jacob guides the pole

The other end with the "bells"

Jacob and Lucy worked together on some smaller metal tubes to make music.

Easier to hit

Jacob gets distracted

Lucy managed to play a solo...

From the "Face of Steel" exhibit, we went up some stairs and found the main walkway across the building. The walkway has several displays (many interactive) that tell the stories of steel and of the workers at the mill.

Jacob drags the screen around to see more about the story of steel

Lucy learns steel mill vocabulary (technical vocabulary, that is)

Great big hooks

Great big coffee

Some of the mill floor

The indoor picnic area

I think that's supposed to be the Grim Reaper

In the next post, we'll go down the main walkway to the Fire, Air, Water, and Earth Pavilions to learn more about the natural world!

Monday, August 18, 2014

TV Review: The Fades (2011)

The Fades (2011) created by Jack Thorn

British teenager Paul has a troubled life. His dad left the family a while back and Paul is having nightmares of the apocalyptic variety. He and his friend Mac are the biggest nerds at school (though Mac is always quoting 1980s movies, so he might be the nerdiest of all). Even Paul's sister can barely stand them. He has a strained relationship with the school counselor/therapist. If all that wasn't bad enough, now he can see dead people, called the Fades.

Luckily, he runs into a group of people who also can see the Fades (they call themselves Angelics) and who have been working to keep the Fades from causing trouble. New trouble is brewing because some of the Fades have taken to eating human flesh (which doesn't make sense since they don't interact with the living in any other way), which causes them to be "reborn" into bodies. Naturally, the Fades think they are the next step in evolution and pursue their agenda with gusto. Can Paul stop them and fix up his broken life?

The story is told over six hour-long episode, so there is plenty of time for character development, major plot twists/reversals, scares, and chases. The premise is fairly unbelievable but the characters are interesting enough and the writing sharp enough to make it enjoyable. The last episode finished the story but left open more developments. That is unlikely to happen since the series finished in 2011 and there's no sign of a second series being greenlit.

Parental Advisory: There's a bit of swearing and a lot of sex (though only shadowy nudity) in the show. Also, it is a bit gory when they fight and when the Fades are "reborn." Recommended for late teens and up.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Esglesia de Sant Vicenc d'Espinelves, Spain

In the small hamlet of Espinelves in the heart of Catalonia is a church dedicated to St. Vincent of Saragossa. The church was consecrated in the 12th century, following the Lombard traditions dominant in French and Catalonian architecture. It sits on top of a hill in Espinelves, making it a little tricky to photograph outside.

Esglesia de Sant Vincenc d'Espinelves, Spain

The interior is small but nicely intimate, with a simple altar in the central nave.

Central altar

To the right of the altar is a small chapel featuring a crucifix; to the left is a lovely statue of Our Lady. The church was re-dedicated to Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary in the 15th century after the victory of Don Juan of Austria at Lepanto.


Madonna and child

At the back is a rather tall staircase leading up to the bell tower. Jacob and I were tempted to climb but we were there for a wedding, so there was no way to be subtle about sneaking around.

Would be nice to explore...

For the wedding, one of the guests did ring the bells at the beginning and the end, which was lovely but not easily heard inside through the stone walls. The wedding was quite beautiful and we all had fun at the reception afterwards (though I criminally forgot to take pictures at the reception; I guess I was enjoying myself too much).

Happy couple exiting the church