Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Book Review: Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 14 by Hiromu Arakawa

Fullmetal Alchemist Volume 14 by Hiromu Arakawa

The Elric brothers are in custody of the bad guys. Prince Lin from Xing is with them and volunteers to become a homunculus so he can be immortal. Too bad he's taken over by Greed, who doesn't want to give up the body and certainly doesn't want to go back to Xing and rule. The Elrics have a hard choice when they face King Bradley (seemingly the head of the bad guys), who wants to keep them as a valuable resource. If they agree to the king's demands, they will have to stop fighting the homunculi. Can they do nothing about the homunculi conspiracy and still find a way to get Al's body and Ed's arm and leg back?

The story is still exciting and deals with more complicated issues than you'd expect. The debate over the morality of using the philosopher's stone (which is created by mass murdering people and putting their souls into the stone) is interesting and creates more tension. I'm happy it's got more going on than the typical action and jokes in other manga.


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

MN Geocaches 2019

We found a bunch of geocaches in Minnesota during our summer vacation.

320' and 3" Fair was a fun baseball-themed cache, even down to the container for the log. Often a mico-cache is either a film canister (for those who can remember when personal cameras had 35mm film), pill bottle, or other tiny container that can fit a rolled up log sheet and nothing more. This container was very creative and very photogenic.

Looking for the geocache

Posing with the geocache

Where the log is hidden

 I'm pretty sure it's illegal in professional baseball to drill out the middle of your bat and add something inside, but this was perfectly awesome.

We went walking along the Mississippi River and found a cache on the edge. The Ugly is part of a series of caches, so the name isn't really related to the location.

Not an ugly location

The cache was another micro-container hidden away in a creative spot.

We visited South Saint Paul and found a few caches. One classic hide was behind a tire shop. We found Robert Fun 4 almost instantly. We went to lunch nearby. Plenty of restaurants are in the area!

The cache was obvious to us, but not from this picture

We also visited a park in South Saint Paul where we had cached before, probably about ten years ago. Two new caches were added to our finds--Marthaler Park #3 and Marthaler Park #2.

Number 3's location

Number 2's location

The park has a fun playground where the kids played with the grandparents while my wife and I found the caches.

Geocaching is a great summer activity and we were happy to go exploring new and familiar areas in Minnesota.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Walking in Minneapolis

My wife and I went for a walk in Minneapolis on July 4, hoping to find a geocache and a snack. We walked over to Boon Island Park (the cache's location) but far too many muggles were out picnicking and waiting for the fireworks to start. We couldn't search stealthily among the shrubs and bushes by the water. The small, pretend lighthouse was a fun discovery.

Me and a lighthouse

We followed a trail that led us from Boon Island to Nicollet Island. The island is home to some very fun houses and DeLaSalle High School, a Catholic school that was too impressive to photo. I liked to think the school was some sort of reform school and the island was cut off from the main land so the students couldn't escape!

A cool purple house

3/4 view

The island also has railroad tracks crossing it, part of the line leading in to Target Field, where the Twins play.

Railroad tracks cross the Mississippi River

Tracks in the other direction

Further on, we saw the back of a sign and couldn't guess what was on the front. Was it some sort of head or face?

Mysterious sign

We found a car/pedestrian bridge that let us get back to the west bank of the Mississippi. The bridge looked very impressive from below, and also when we got on it.

Another bridge

Closed for the Fourth?

Built in 1990, this fine structure replaced a previous bridge built in 1855. The pillars even had a nice marble plaque explaining the history of the bridge.

Bridge info

The bridge also let us see the other side of the mysterious sign!

Wouldn't have guessed that!

We wound our way back through town, looking for a place for an evening snack. We found the train tracks again and could see the ball field in the distance.

Good thing we didn't cross the train bridge, looks like no way out

We eventually did find a bar that was open and had our evening snack. Black Sheep Pizza turned out to be very close to our hotel. The selection of beers was great and we shared an ice-cream cookie sandwich. No pictures because we were too busy enjoying the treat!

On the way back to the hotel, we saw some fireworks going off. The walk was long so we just headed off to bed. It was a fun adventure.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Movie Review: Frankenstein's Monster's Monster, Frankenstein (2019)

Frankenstein's Monster's Monster, Frankenstein (2019) directed by Daniel Gray Longino

This mockumentary depicts David Harbour (of Stranger Things fame and Hellboy infamy) as he searches to understand his acting father, David Harbour Jr. (also played by David Harbour, who is called "David Harbour III"). Young David has found some old tapes in his mom's attic, tapes of a made-for-TV play called "Frankenstein's Monster's Monster, Frankenstein." Old David is clearly based on Orson Welles, with the oversized ego and the desperate late-career advertising gigs that finance the play. The play has Doctor Frankenstein trying to get financing for his experiments while he pretends to be the monster he created, so that he can convince the financier of his success (the actual monster died before the play started). So the play naturally mirrors the plight of Old David trying to get the made-for-TV play into production.

The play makes no sense, even as a satire of an ego-driven drama. It has really cheap production values meant to make fun of 1970s television, even including the fake sponsors. The mockumentary has Harbour recreating his father's office and interviewing the actors and others from the play, hoping to get insight into his father. The overall show is meant as a comedy and the premise is creative. It would be fun if it skewered the pretentiousness of art house cinema. The execution just isn't funny. Harbour does a passable Welles imitation but it's not enough to carry the rest of the show, which is just bad. It fires at so many targets but fails to take aim, too often missing the funniness by a mile. This was painful to watch. Even the poster (see above) is lazy.

Not recommended.

Currently (July 2019) streaming on Netflix.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Book Review: Secret Coders Vol. 5 by G. L. Yang et al.

Secret Coders Volume Five: Potions and Parameters by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes

See my reviews of volumes one and two onetwothree, and four!

The trio from Stately Academy find Hopper's dad. They are too late, however, because he's been fed Dr. One-Zero's Green Pop. It makes Dad perfectly staring at the color green and nothing else. They also discover One-Zero's plan to poison the city. Unfortunately, they lose the most powerful turtle--a robot made of light that can build things from solid light. Now the trio has to travel to a strange world to get a replacement with which they can continue the fight against the evil doctor's schemes.

The story takes a fairly fun twist, revealing the background of Professor Bee (the adult good guy) and explaining why he has no nose. The programming is getting progressively harder and readers still have the chance to practice their own coding skills before the characters write their program.


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Book Review: The Anglo-Saxon World by Kevin Crossley-Holland

The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology by Kevin Crossley-Holland

This book is an anthology of writings from the Anglo-Saxon period of British literature. The texts run the range from allegories and sermons to heroic epics and legal documents. Of course, excerpts from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are included. The highlight is a full translation of Beowulf into modern English.

The period run from AD 400s (when the Romans departed from the British Isles) to 1066 (when the Normans made their conquest). The book is not in chronological order, however. Different topics are grouped together. The book contains plenty of non-fiction, including slightly boring legal documents which do give interesting insights into how people thought and what they expected in that time. Letters and histories also show what people were like. Poetry both heroic and Christian (though not always both at the same time) show the society's ideals of manhood and decent behavior. A bigger picture emerges from the variety of writings.

Several themes emerge from the texts. The Anglo-Saxons had an ongoing tension between their pagan roots and the Christian influence begun by Augustine of Canterbury, who started evangelizing in 597. The pagan notion of Fate, a fixed outcome for everyone's lives and for certain events, is put alongside divine providence, where the Judeo-Christian God lets people choose their actions freely but with the aid of grace. Beowulf is fated to fight Grendel, Grendel's vengeful mother, and a dragon, though he is empowered by his Christian faith to fight these demonic forces. Even with these elements, the epic poem is not Christian propaganda, just a rollicking good story of an amazing hero. The contrasting elements are held side-by-side and only make the story more intriguing. Legal documents invoke the Lord's blessing and ancient law and custom as they lay down legal precedents, land claims, and marriage contracts. The Anglo-Saxon society was a fascinating blend of cultures and ideas.

This book is a a great survey of primary sources from Britain's Anglo-Saxon period.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Minnesota Twins Baseball

While we visited the Twin Cities, we took in some local baseball fun.

One little known item is that the Mall of America is built on the former ball park for the Minnesota Twins. Metropolitan Stadium stood from 1956 to 1981. The home plate’s location is commemorated in the mall’s amusement park.

Where the home plate was

Way far away from home plate is a marker for the longest home run in Metropolitan Stadium. Harmon Killebrew knocked one into the stands, a feat marked by a sign and a lone remaining stadium seat attached to the wall.

On the wall over the log chute

We also went to a game at the new stadium, Target Field. It was a Friday night game, a night that had rain in the forecast. We walked over to the field hoping that the game would start on time.

Almost at the field

It was nice to be a ten-minute walk from the stadium. We saw that the light rail goes right to the stadium, so it must be very convenient for locals who don't want to drive. When we got inside, the field still had a tarp on it showing lots of rain still falling.

Not conducive to playing a game

The rest of the stadium is nice, with a lot of outfield seating and a really cool sign.

Outfield and stands

A fun sign

We bought some cotton candy and saw the announcement that the 7:05 game was delayed at least until 8:20. We hoped the rain would stop in time and saw some guys squeegeeing off the tarp.

Getting rid of water

By the time 8:10 came around, they started moving the tarp off the field and getting it ready for action. We were very happy.

Folding a large tarp is a large job

The fans file in as the field is finalized

The game started around 8:20 and was very exciting, with the Twins scoring six runs in the second inning before the Texas Rangers had any score.

Game start

The first six innings saw Texas scoreless. During one of the inter-inning intervals, they had the mascot come out and shoot t-shirts into the stands. We didn't catch any.

Free t-shirts

At the end of the sixth inning, they had the "kissing cam" where the jumbo-television showed various people in the park, expecting them to kiss. It worked for just about everyone (they showed one set of teenagers that looked more like siblings--they didn't kiss). The finale was a guy proposing to his girl, who said yes. They were both Texas fans. That next inning, Texas scored five runs. They were still behind 9-5, but it looked like a comeback. The bottom half of the inning had another three runs from the Twins, so things looked okay. We left at the beginning of the eighth inning when the score was 12-6.

The next day we found out the final score was 15-6, so we didn't miss an upsetting ending. The park is great and we had a fun time. It's the fourth major league park that my son visited, hopefully we can get more parks in as we travel.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Minnesota Fourth Avenue North Playground

We discovered a fantastic playground near our Minnesota hotel. Just a few blocks away was the Fourth Avenue North Playground. The theme of the playground is logging, which is very unusual in our experience.

A sweeping view of the playground makes it look fairly ordinary. Sure there's the fort/woods look that a lot of playgrounds have, but closer perusal discovers more specific details.

Climbing, slides, swings--all standard stuff

A bit more loggy in this park

Climbing one of the log ladders or staircases would have been easy, but our prescholar wanted a bigger challenge. He went up a chain ladder that was mostly horizontal!

Going up!

One of the slides had rollers for the main track, making descent both more bumpy and faster than usual.


Going down

They have a nice variant on the covered slide with this hollowed out log beauty. Our youngest took several trips down.

Massive environment-friendly straw?

Coming out

After a few games of "the ground is lava" the kids went back to climbing challenges. They all tried to go up the rollerslide with varying success. Several rope bridges looked like they would be too difficult. Our youngest persevered, impressing mommy and daddy.

A careful crossing

It's a fun park to visit and not too big, so it's easy to keep an eye on multiple kids at one time. After we finished, we walked on to the Mill City Museum, a topic for another blog post.

Thanks be to donors!

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.


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.