Friday, July 19, 2019

Book Review: My Hero Academia Vol. 7 by Kohei Horikoshi

My Hero Academia Volume 7 by Kohei Horikoshi


Hero killer Stain is in a big fight with a bunch of heroes and a few students from UA. Midoriya is one of those students. They work together to defeat the bad guy but not before he gets to make is evil manifesto that is rebroadcast by the media. Will there be a massive upsurge in villainous activity? Will a lot of ne'er-do-wells join in the League of Evil? And can the students score well enough on their final exams to avoid summer school?

The story is very exciting and moves along at a good pace. I am still enjoying this a lot and will read more.

Recommended.


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Movie Review: Overlord (2018)

Overlord (2018) directed by Julius Avery


A World War II paratrooper unit goes behind enemy lines on the eve of D-Day to take out a Nazi radio-jamming tower. After a harrowing trip, five of the original force make it to the town. They wind up with a local woman who has a young brother and a mysteriously ill aunt. They hide in her house as they plan to blow up the church which the Nazis are using for their tower. The US soldiers slowly discover there's more to the Nazi base in town. Many locals have been kidnapped and/or killed as the base's Nazi scientist (complete with round glasses) works on his secret project in the lower levels of the church.

What starts as a standard D-Day action film turns eventually into a zombie horror film. The transition is gradual enough that it doesn't seem fake or forced. The church basement is the standard creepy subterranean mad doctor laboratory and works well. The fights with the Nazi soldiers in the town and at the base are exciting enough, except for the occasional conveniently-timed deaths that seem more dictated by movie storytelling conventions than good writing. The cast does a good job acting though the writing gives a lot of two-dimensional cliche characters. The overall story is an interesting idea but the interesting part gets drowned out by the paint-by-numbers plotting and the excessive gore.

Slightly recommended, if you can handle high levels of gore and predictable storytelling.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Mall of America Amusement Park

During our Minnesota trip, we went to the Mall of America. Since we had the kids and they are all younger than teenagers, our focus was on the indoor amusement park to the exclusion of all five hundred and fifty-five stores. The park is called Nickelodeon Universe and has lots of rides themed after the shows on the kids’ network.

The fancy sign

Us walking in

We tried to go on the Backyardigans Swings, but the ride was temporarily shut down for mechanical problems.

Empty swings

I and the two older children switched to the Avatar Airbender, though more likely it is a stomachbender. The ride takes the classic boat swinging back and forth and adds two spinning ends, so riders are swung up and down while spun around at the same time.

Cool entrance

The track, empty

The track, with the car

Getting strapped in

We liked that ride a lot in spite of the scariness factor. Our next ride was the Fairly Odd Coaster, based on The Fairly OddParents show which we had never even heard of. This was a standard roller coaster with a car that spun around as it went.

Coaster with a longer track

The car spins!

Getting strapped in

We rode the log flume ride (a ride that seems to be at every amusement park ever made). The prescholar came with us on the ride. He was okay for most of it, except the big dips (two of them) at the end. He decided he did not like the Log Chute and is ready to debate anyone on its merits.

On the hidden line

"I object"

The pro photo that came out great

Closeup of our faces

We rode the Splat-O-Sphere, a ride named after one of those Nickelodeon game shows that kids enjoy. There was no slime here, only a quick ride to the upper reaches of the four-story mall and a quick drop back to the ground. They picked us up and dropped us several times, with varying pauses between drops. One time I was trying to pick out our next ride (the view from the top is very handy for that) but we were dropped before I could ask my children what they thought of a nearby coaster.

Get ready to drop

Going up?

The twistiest ride was surely the Sponge Bob Squarepants Rock Bottom Plunge. My daughter tried not to watch the riders in front of us getting on and being dragged up and dropped into mayhem. The ride is one with shoulder harnesses, leg braces, and foot bars. The car does several inversions (the fancy way of saying “going upside down”) and twists. It was fun but intense.

Looking from the line at all the twists

Steep drops

A car barely hanging on

For a more sedate experience, I rode with the prescholar (who didn’t ride the big rollercoasters) on the Ghost Blaster. Patrons ride through a fun house. The car is equipped with a shooting-gallery gun that shoots light beams. We were able to shoot at the ghosts and make them go away as we rode from room to room. The car also has a score meter which, happily, the young one did not check when the ride ended. My score was a lot higher than his.

Not a copyright violation

We rode the Pepsi Orange Streak, a roller coaster that didn’t do any fancy moves but did take us all over the amusement park. When my older kids were done, they had a secret conference about something.

A less twisty track

Going all over the park

Consulting at the end of the ride

Our final ride was the Brainsurge, which had us strapped into rolling contraptions that let riders turn themselves forwards or backwards as the ride went around. I was riding with my daughter and she took great glee in making us go every which way possible.

The brain is in the middle

My wife loved the amusement park for two reasons. First, she didn’t have to do any of the scary or tough rides. She rode with the prescholar on the carousel, the ferris wheel, etc. Second, since it was indoors, the amusement park had air conditioning! No hot sun and yucky humidity to deal with! The rest of us liked it a lot, though it does suffer from the common problem of slow lines.

On the other hand, the number of places to eat lunch was great, parking was free, and everyone had a good time.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Geocaching in Ohio 2019

Our summer vacation this year started with a road trip to our travel destination, Minnesota. On the way, we stopped in Maumee, Ohio. The main attraction was its location--about half way to where we wanted to go. We had a fine drive with little napping, so everyone but me was zonked out after we ate dinner. While everyone else went to bed, I went out to find some geocaches near the hotel.

With the end of June comes plenty of evening sunshine in Ohio. We were in the western end of the Eastern Time Zone, so the sun seemed to be up even later. America does daylight savings time, so the clock is shifted to have more evening sunshine. I was able to find five geocaches in a little over an hour and still get home before sunset.

Still plenty of sunlight left

The first find was Telecom MMXII, which was a small cache I expected to be in one spot but was in different location. The cache's write up warns of high muggle activity in the area. Geocachers call non-geocachers "muggles," and hope not to be discovered by the uninitiated. Or worse, to be reported to the authorities for suspicious activity. Geocaching does often lead to poking around in odd spots, I can see how the activity looks questionable. At any rate, things were fairly quiet on a Saturday evening.

I always hang out around power boxes, don't you?

The second discovery was While in the area IV - Long horn, which is clearly part of a series. This cache looked like it would have more muggle trouble. It's situated between two sit-down restaurants, which were fairly busy on a Saturday night. Luckily, that section of the parking lot didn't have too many people wandering around. I've found caches hidden like this before, so I had a quick find when I discovered ground zero was in the middle of the lot.

More cars means more exposure

The log book in the cache was cool--micro-pages connected with a small bolt. Finding the next empty page was easy!

A cool log book

The third cache was Dem Bones. This hide was also right by a parking lot for a busy restaurant, so I used some stealth. Again, the location was a classic that I have run into before, so it seemed pretty obvious where to look. The find actually does have some cover from muggle eyes.

Good cover from muggles

The fourth cache was a bit further away in a business-park area, so no worries about muggles. Second or Sixth - it's all in how you look at it. is nicely hidden in a spot that would be exposed to prying eyes during the work week. All the parking lots around me were empty, so no muggles to cause struggles.

Items in question

The fifth and final cache was Indianwood. Whoever designed the business park was nice enough to leave a fairly big wooded park in the middle. A couple of trails lead into the park, I think I found the spookiest looking entrance.

Good design, poor maintenance?

After wandering around the trails and wondering if the daylight would hold out, I wound my way to the right spot. The cache was fun to find but I was a little concerned about the vegetation growing around it. I was in short pants and thus exposed to any poison ivy or other potentially harmful plant. Nothing had grown too high yet, so I was okay.

Innocuous-seeming trail

A tough choice made easier by following my GPS

The park really did have a creepy atmosphere at twilight. I kept expecting some creature to leap out of the trees at me, hopefully only a deer or some such benign being. I found a gazebo that the forest was slowly reclaiming. Yeah, this area could definitely be the setting for a quality low-budget horror film.

Just the place to take a date...with whom you want to break up!

The worst of the critters I encountered were flying and biting insects. I made my way out of the woods by trying more trails. Happily, I made it out okay.

A fork in the path

My exit is not very visible

This was a fun area for geocaching and it was nice to get an hour or so of walking in after a day of driving in the car.

Monday, July 15, 2019

TV Review: Doctor Who: Robot (1974)

Doctor Who: Robot (1974) written by Terrance Dicks and directed by Christopher Barry


The Third Doctor (John Pertwee) regenerates into the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) inside a UNIT facility. The Doctor wants to take his new face for a spin but the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) convinces him to investigate some robberies on the premises. The plans for a disintegrator ray and some circuitry needed to build it have been stolen. The Doctor is intrigued enough to hang around. Pretty soon they run into the titular robot, who is quite conflicted about the murders it has to commit while it is doing tasks for a group of scientists who have their own grand evil scheme.

Baker is wonderful as the Doctor, even here in his very first episode. He has the quirkiness, comedy, and commanding presence needed. The other actors work well with him and do their jobs quite well. As is often the case, some of the special effects aren't so special, though they are charmingly tacky. The story moves at a good pace and the Doctor manages to get off the Earth by the end, on his way to even more adventures.

Recommended.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Book Review: The Walking Dead Vol. 31 by R. Kirkman et al.

The Walking Dead Vol. 31: The Rotten Core written by Robert Kirkman, penciled by Charlie Adlard, inked by Stefano Gaudiano, and gray tones by Cliff Rathburn


Rick takes the Governor of the Commonwealth on a tour of the various communities he's allied with. She is impressed and wants to open up trade and even unify. The Commonwealth has big goals--taking back the country and even the world from the zombies. The only problem is the highly stratified society of the Commonwealth. As the leader, the Governor rules with a small army of men in riot gear who look an awful lot like stormtroopers from Star Wars. When they get back to the Commonwealth, Rick is ready to make the alliance but others in his group see a big problem: the Commonwealth is more or less a police state. Some of Rick's people want peaceful integration; others want the next big war. Some of the citizens in the Commonwealth seem open to an overthrow, making things even more complicated.

The main problem of integrating the two communities is interesting. There's a bunch of soap opera side stories about people hooking up which are pretty uninteresting and seem like the creators needed to make a page count. Sticking with the main story would have been much better.

Slightly recommended.


Friday, July 12, 2019

Movie Review: John Wick (2014)

John Wick (2014) directed by Chad Stahelski


Ex-assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has the worst day ever. His wife (who was his motivation to quit the assassin business) has died. She had a puppy delivered to him so that he would have someone else to love and take care of. Too bad John bought gas on the way home from buying dog food. Some Russian thugs admire his 1969 Mustang and offer to buy it. He refuses. Later that night, the thugs show up at his house, beat him up, kill the dog, and steal the car. The thugs don't know he is John Wick, but as soon as they try to unload the car at a chop shop, the first of many underworld "businessmen" realize John Wick is involved and want no part. Wick shows up at the chop shop later to find out if his car is there and who the thugs are. The head thug is son of a Russian crime boss, who is understandably upset at his son for angering a grieving ex-assassin of Wick's caliber. The revenge trail is long and action-packed as Wick gets drawn back in to the old life.

The underworld Wick runs through is impossibly posh and stylish, though that fits with the rest of the movie. Most action scenes are brutal with a hard-driving sound track. The plot is strictly paint-by-numbers but is executed with great precision and enough humor to lighten the very dark mood. It's just barely believable but that's not the point in a film like this. Raw action and excitement are what's expected and what's delivered.

Recommended for hard action fans.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

Book Review: The Art of Drew Struzan by D. Struzan and D. J. Schow

The Art of Drew Struzan written by Drew Struzan and David J. Schow


Drew Struzan was a poster artist working in Hollywood starting in the 1970s and continuing all the way up to the late 2000s. He's had an illustrious career, working on many franchises, like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Police Academy, and Back to the Future. He also worked with directors like Guillermo del Toro and Frank Darabont (who wrote the introduction for the book), creating poster art for their films and DVDs. Sadly, later in his career, the Hollywood dream factory became more factory and less dream. Struzan had a lot of jobs where his work eventually wasn't used or was photoshopped around to create something to sell tickets rather than to be art.

Struzan goes through a bunch of projects, he couldn't possible go through everything because he worked on over 200 films. He describes the creative process and the business side of the work. Sometimes he had to work with little information (like on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, where the script and production were highly secretive) and sometimes with a tight deadline (his iconic John Carpenter's The Thing poster that he literally did overnight!). The stories are very interesting, even if the narrative arc leads to his retirement from a career that became more and more disappointing as the work became more and more corporate.

The Thing from the artist's website, where you can buy it!

The art is fantastic and it is interesting to see various concept pieces that led to the final work. As a movie lover and an art lover, this is a great and fascinating book.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Geocaching June 2019

June saw the return of some geocaching. I went to Howard County's Western Regional Park which has quite a few caches inside. I did not find them all, sadly, but it isn't too far away. If we are out in the neighborhood for other reasons, we will definitely try to finish them.

A short series of caches were created by a Girl Scout as part of her Silver Award project. The first one I found was Caramel deLites, just off a trail near playgrounds and ball fields. To an experienced cacher, the location seemed obvious.

The location is somewhere in this picture

 The cache was a small box, so I was able to sign the log and trade some stuff. I had some Where's Waldo buttons so I left one and took a cool little gem.

The cache and contents

Plastic gem with this year's date!

Not far away was ThinMints, a microcache that's hidden in an obvious spot. My only problem was my phone GPS pointing in the wrong direction. I could have saved a bunch of time if I had just trusted my instincts. 

On the trail of ThinMints

 My next cache was All Aboard!!, which was supposedly 0.2 miles from ThinMints. Unfortunately, that distance is as the crow flies. The park trails never pointed directly to the cache, so I spent a lot of time circling around on the 0.2-mile perimeter. I finally made progress when I hit a path going straight to a fire department station.

The cache, ahead in 0.1 miles!

Sadly, I got to about two hundred feet from the cache when the path ended and turned into a rather thick downhill bushwhack.

What the forest!?!

Since it was getting late (I had to pick up my son and his friend from a training class), I decided to head back to the car and try again on another day from another direction. Or bring longer pants and maybe a rope?

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

FantasyWood Festival 2019

The FantasyWood Festival is a celebration of all sorts of fantasy. Visitors are encouraged to come in costume or learn how to create a costume at the festival. We didn't dress up but saw some tall people in the parking lot who were part of the festival.

Walking in from parking, naturally their longer legs made them faster

As we walked in, we saw several princesses who were happy for photo ops. My children were shy at first but got more into the spirit as we continued on.

The first princess and someone else's kid

My son and a pink princess

My daughter with a rain-ready princess

We saw a unicorn/pegasus hybrid. The line for petting was a little long so we decided to move along and come back later. Unfortunately, we forgot to come back later!

The horn looks less impressive when it's pointed right at you

We met the king of the gnomes who told us about some things to do in the area. He also had a pet who could tell if children were good or not.

Gnome and friend

The pet gave my daughter a hug and then licked her! He made a big deal that she tasted bad.

Getting licked!

The gnome said that it was a sign she was a good girl, because we all know what tastes bad is good for us!

We visited the medieval combat area where the guy showed off his various weapons. My daughter was quick to grab a sword and he was impressed with her skills. She had taken fencing lessons before.

Caught off guard with her en garde

Posing together

Down near the Chrysalis we saw a dragon who was smoking but not belching fire.

Dragon

The witches cauldrons were ready to make some lunch, but the only thing left on the menu (we came on Monday of the Saturday to Monday festival) was children.

Cauldron

The witches keep fresh supplies in a nearby cage.

Lured with candy to their doom!

It is better to lick than to be licked

Near the stage was a Hobbit house that was too small even for the four-year old to make it in without ducking.

A fun little house

My daughter is taller than the house!

The main stage had many pay-for-play events, including a Tardis that cost five dollars per person to get a photo. Our group was six, so we did not want to pay that much. We did find a mysterious statue that would occasionally move. Mom had gone to the bathroom, so by the time she caught up with us she didn't know the statue could move.

A living statue?

The four-year old tried to convince Mom it was moving, but she never looked when it moved, even when the statue winked at my son. He was happy to pose with the statue nonetheless.

Clearly in a different pose

One of the star attractions of the festival was the mermaid tank. When we were there, a dragon mermaid was swimming around. For five bucks she'd collect an oyster from the bottom of the tank and kids could get a pearl. For extra money, the pearl was attached to a necklace. We didn't pay for that either, just looking was fine.

Mermaid greeting visitors

Swimming

More swimming

A touching moment

Up the hill a blacksmith was working and discussing his craft. I was fascinated.

Using a portable forge

Cooling the part of the metal he doesn't want to bend

Hammering to reshape the metal

Making a hook

View of the chrysalis from the blacksmith

Another shop sold dragon eggs and other decorated eggs, including some inspired by Star Wars.

More than one painted egg

Impressive

We saw a display of fantasy outfits that were very imaginative.

Not sure what kind of critter that is supposed to be

In a field, a lady was helping kids make gigantic bubbles. My son and daughter were totally into it.

Getting the bubble mix

Starting a bubble

A big one

My daughter doesn't need help

A popper approaches

Megabubble!

We enjoyed our time there but thought there were too many things that charged after we paid to get in. They had a scavenger hunt that cost ten dollars. Only one of the kids wanted to do it, so we decided to get lunch at the nearby mall. I'm not sure we'll go back next year.