Monday, September 25, 2017

Boxcar Bar + Arcade, Raleigh

We visited the Boxcar Bar + Arcade in Raleigh as a bit of nostalgia and to expose our kids to the culture of our youth. While we didn't drink as children, we did spend a lot of time at the arcade playing classic coin-operated entertainment cabinets.

Boxcar Bar + Arcade

My son was naturally attracted to the origins of Mario. They had the ultimate origin, Donkey Kong, which he enjoyed. We also played Mario Bros. which is not as easy as I remember it. 

Donkey Kong!

I got my son and daughter to play one of my favorites from my arcade days, Rampage. In it, players are big movie monsters (like Godzilla and King Kong, though not named so) who destroy buildings, smash up cars, and eat anything moving. The game is cartoony enough that it isn't as anti-social as it sounds.


Playing at being monsters

In the back are more classical games like skee ball which we all tried.

Brothers working together

We had an epic game of foosball pitting daddy and toddler versus the older children. The fight was tough, especially when the toddler decided to throw in all the balls at once.


Sibling non-rivalry

"What could make this more interesting?!?"

"Uh...why are their two balls?"


The toddler also discovered a home favorite available at the arcade.


We ended the visit with some air hockey on a very smooth and fast table. We had a lot of fun slamming the puck around.

Son ready for action

Daughter ready to strike back

Game in action

I did take advantage of the bar part of the experience and tasted the lovely Trophy Milky Way (salted caramel sweet stout), which indeed has a smooth, caramel flavor that drinks so sweet. I loved it. Too bad it isn't available in bottles or cans. I've looked!

When we got back to the hotel, the kids returned to their home screens with renewed vigor, if not energy.

Relaxing in the hotel

Friday, September 22, 2017

Book Review: Fairy Tail Vol. 12 by Hiro Mashima

Fairy Tail Volume 12 by Hiro Mashima

The Tower of Heaven storyline (including Erza's backstory) concludes as the Fairy Tail crew take out the remaining wizards from the Assassin's Guild and Erza takes on her former friend Jellal. Jellal's plan to raise the evil wizard Zeref is on the cusp of completion even as his twin brother Sieg finally convinces the Magic Council to use the Etherion weapon (a massive amount of destructive power) to destroy the Tower of Heaven. Can Erza finish off Jellal and escape in time? Or does she have other plans? And why isn't Jellal worried about Etherion?

The story has some interesting twists (though one big twist is very predictable) and an epic scale. Erza's story is fascinating and her growth as a person and a magical warrior is inspiring. The conclusion hits just the right note, emphasizing the importance of friendship and perseverance.

I read this before seeing the anime and after watching, they are still virtually the same--both enjoyable.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Movie Review: Life (2017)

Life (2017) directed by Daniel Espinosa

A soil sample from Mars is delivered to the International Space Station for analysis. The astronauts/scientists discover an inert life form and are able to revive it. It starts to grow and becomes the MOST IMPORTANT DISCOVERY EVER!!! An accident happens and the Martian (named "Calvin" by a randomly-selected American elementary school) goes back into hibernation. Desperate to wake it again, they eventually try electric shocks. Calvin comes back to life and becomes highly aggressive. A mission of discovery rapidly becomes a mission of survival.

While not an original premise, such a movie could still be fun with charismatic acting, clever writing, or campy shenanigans. The performances are surprisingly low-key, with the exception of Ryan Reynolds who plays the station's maintenance man. Each character is given a touch of humanity but not enough for the actors to make them truly sympathetic. It's as if the characters are just doing the job, not living their life. Considering they are scientists (even Reynolds's character), they are not very smart. The writing is also disappointing. The story gives typical techno-babble that isn't as convincing as in other films. The plans to contain Calvin never make complete sense and the surprises are highly predictable and boring. Some of the action sequences are exciting and the movie delivers some scares, but not enough to make it more than passable fare.

Weirdly enough, Life needs more life in it.

Not recommended.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Hunt Library, North Carolina State University

We visited the Hunt Library at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. It's a high tech wonder.

The Hunt Library, NC State University

The library is named after former Governor James B. Hunt, Jr., who governed from 1977 to 1985 and again from 1993 to 2001.

Portrait of James B. Hunt, Jr.

 The library has stored its books in their bookBot. The machine has 18,000 metal bins with a capacity of 2 million books. Currently it only has 1.5 million, so they have room to grow. A forklift retrieves the correct container when someone requests a book. While it is an amazing technological innovation and does save room, I would miss being able to walk among the books and browse at leisure. Web surfing just isn't the same.

bookBot bins

The lift

Upstairs is an Emerging Issues Commons with some interactive displays and ways to give feedback on issues impacting the university and the state. We did not give feedback but did enjoy the area.

A wacky bench

Touch screens that provide information and make music

Headlines twisting their way upstairs

The savings on shelving are put to good use with lots of open space for reading and study, as well as many lounges, labs, and creative spaces (including a game lab for Game Design students to work on and study video games). 

Reading area

View of same reading area from one floor up

The library's brochure also brags of the eighty some odd different types of chairs in the library, including some very odd ones indeed.

A twisty chair

Another angle on the twist

I'm more impressed with these combinable tables

 The top floor has a green roof to help absorb rain, as well as terraces with views of Lake Raleigh and the academic oval, a green space surrounded by dorms, academic buildings, and the occasional coffee shop.

Green roof

Lake Raleigh (slanted horizon provided by toddler)

Academic oval

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Raleigh Rockin' Report

Our hotel in Raleigh had a deal with a fitness center across the street. Guests could use the facility for free during their stay. We took advantage, which mainly took the form of rock climbing for the older kids. They'd done a little bit at school carnivals but this was much more serious. After getting a proper harness and getting strapped in, they were ready to climb.

At first climbing was a bit challenging but my son especially grew into it. We took some pictures on the second day, when we remembered to bring the camera.

Daughter with a head start

Son catching up

My daughter found the ridge a bit daunting and headed back down but my son kept going.

Bungee back to bottom

Daughter makes a second effort; son nears top!

Whoa, I'm high up!

My son did make it to the top on the "green" track but had similar problems on the "pink" track my daughter tried. He did get higher, but not all the way.

Happily for us, rock climbing has not become a hobby back at home. I'm not sure we parents could take the stress of watching!

Monday, September 18, 2017

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is an impressive downtown museum that was fun for us to visit on our Raleigh vacation in August.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, with a boy running across

Awesome quote on the way in

The ground floor shows many flora and fauna of North Carolina, including cute animals, adorable insects (like butterflies), and pretty birds. Naturally, we were drawn to the items below...

Venus fly trap

Red bat

Massive shark jaws

Fierce feline predator

Unassuming red drum fish

The first floor also shows some of the local sea and water life, including aquariums with fish, crabs, and other swimmers.

Water and land collide!

Tank with a hermit crab, among others

The second floor features a large room showing the various inland regions of North Carolina, including wetlands, savanna, and piedmont forests.

Beaver dam display is not too exciting to the toddler

Interactive exhibit!

They also explained the geology of the area, along with common minerals, like quartz and emerald, found in the region. They even explained what's in soil!

4 food groups of soil--Water, Air, Weathered Rock, Organic Material

A nearby tree was hollowed out and had a mirror up top so visitors shorter than me could see what it looked like to be a bat.

In the tree

More fun posing

Nearby was the most amazing exhibit of all--an exhibit about museums! It explains the collecting and processing of various items. The history of the museum is also explained. 

What is a museum?(!?)

Old-fashioned processing of specimens

Old-fashioned collecting of specimens

We found a favorite part of the museum, the dinosaur exhibit. One of the first items is a tyrannosaurus rex skull, which my children found off-putting.

T-rex about to get us

 The exhibit shows lots of skeletons in action.

Prowling predator

We even found a chart showing various species and their differences.

Divvying up the dinos

More dino action

Big foot of an herbivore

A special room has an exhibit on a locally-discovered dinosaur, the Acrocanthosaurus. The skeleton is only 54% real bone but it is the most complete example extant. Scientists studied the bones and saw the many different injuries that helped flesh out the lives of predators in the Cretaceous period. 


On the top floor we found an exhibit devoted to insects, which was a bit scary for everyone.

Either pretending to be bugs, or hiding from bugs

Since the insect world is so small, many exhibits blew them up like a 1950s sci-fi horror film. We were not amused.

Bees defending their honeycomb

The top floor also has a living conservatory where many South American animals live. We saw a sloth, a tarantula, and a host of butterflies. We were told not to touch anything (easy to follow with the tarantula). The toddler was a little worried about the butterflies landing on him. Older brother and sister both had landings for which they were excited. The young one was happy to get out unassailed.

Butterfly garden

Tarantula behind glass

Hard to get a butterfly in focus with a toddler tugging on you

Butterflies, including a blurring flying one on the bottom left

We went back downstairs and watched Museum Alive 3D, a fun and imaginative look by David Attenborough at the contents of the London's Natural History Museum. The 3D glasses were too much for the toddler. When he's older, he'll appreciate them more.

Ready for the show

Me in 3D glasses over my regular ones

The poster

We had a fun visit to the museum, even without seeing the whole other wing across the street (with the space and genetics stuff). We did find a copy of the Liberty Bell on our way back to the car.

Inspiration for a Philadelphia trip?