Tuesday, November 28, 2023

More Alpha Geocaching 2023

A geocacher has released an ongoing series of caches following the alphabet, with twenty-six caches leading to a final cache using the numbers hidden in all the other caches. I've been working on the series on and off for about two years and am finally getting close to the end!

I found Alphabet I (Inside) - Redux inside of a tree in the park and got another clue for the final find.

Typical trail in the woods

I finished out the series with Alphabet E (Evergreen) - Redux a few days later. Making the find wasn't too hard since it was still early spring and the nearby pool was not in use yet...not even close! This series was weird, because each letter had coordinates online, but only some of them were correct coordinates for the find. These others had to be calculated from information in the other caches. It was a bit of a headache to sort out but I finished it up.

Spring had barely sprung

Then summer happened, shutting down the alpha-caching until the fall, when the woods are less thorny and weedy. Sure, the fallen leaves make a challenge. I feel they are an easier challenge to deal with.

I started up again in October with the S-T-U-V Redux series in a park in northern Columbia. They are all on one trail though in a bit of a mixed-up order. Luckily, my father-in-law was there to help. My first find was Alphabet T (Turtle) - Redux which was just off the trail. The turtle was too small to see from a distance but I did spot the container fairly quickly. The trail had a crazy big tree on one side, so I took a photo with it.

Amazing tree

Me for scale

Next up was Alphabet S (Stick) - Redux which was a tricky and fun container in a tree. While the alphabet seemed to be going backwards, the next find was Alphabet U (Under) - Redux, much further along the trail and much further from the pavement. My father-in-law made the find here and was a big help in figuring out the coordinates for the final cache, Alphabet V (Very) - Redux. Happily, ground zero was back by where we parked. Unhappily, construction was going on just off the trail (reinforcing the nearby pond?). I felt suspicious enough looking around for the cache so I didn't take any pictures. A bicyclist on the trail stopped and came over to the spot where we had just been. He seemed like he was only looking at the construction, not at the hiding spot. At least I hope so.

A river runs by it

I finally made a second search of Alphabet-I (Inside) and made the find, only to discover an empty bottle! There was no log, no number for I, and no lid. I messaged the owner. On the way to ground zero, two deer spotted me. Can you spot them?

Easy find

Less easy find

Uneasy find

The W-X-Y-Z series still awaits as does the final Alpha cache. The cacher has not created a Redux series for the end of the alphabet yet (at least as I write in November 2023).

Alpha series completed this post:
I of E-F-G-H-I
E and I of E-F-G-H-I Redux
S-T-U-V Redux

Previously completed:
A-B-C-D (and the Redux)--see this post
E-F-G-H-I, but not I--see this post
E-F-G-H-I Redux, but not E or I--see this post
J-K-L-M (and the Redux)--see this post
N-O-P-Q-R--see this post
N-O-P-Q-R Redux--see this post
S-T-U-V--see this post

Monday, November 27, 2023

Book Review: Batman Adventures: Cat Got Your Tongue?

Batman Adventures: Cat Got Your Tongue? written by various authors and illustrated by various artists

This collection of seven tales provides a scattershot view of Catwoman, the famous foe and friend (and romantic intersest) of Batman. Some of the stories feature their relationship, others just hint at or nod to it. She is an expert thief who often uses her skills for good causes but not in good ways. Her moral ambiguity is interesting and well presented. One story has her attacking a beauty products company because they use animals, especially cats, unethically in experiments. Her noble motivation is skewed by her operating outside of, and occasionally against, the law. Such behavior naturally brings the interest of Batman, who is debatably also acts outside of the law for noble motivations.

The art follows the style of Batman: The Animated Series, with its noir overtones and sharp contrasts. A lot of different authors and artists worked on this, it is surprising how tonally and visually united the set is. Though Catwoman is romantically interested in Batman, she is not drawn provocatively or graphically and readers see nothing more than a modest kiss, making this okay for kids to read. Batman is less interested in her (or less aware) and sticks to his code of honor. He's no perfect role model (something Catwoman points out more than once). They do make a fascinating pair.


Friday, November 24, 2023

Movie Review: Prey (2022)

Prey (2022) co-written and directed by Dan Trachtenberg

Naru (Amber Midthunder) is a young Comanche woman who wants to prove herself by the tribal tradition of hunting a great prey. Her mother and brother are mildly indulgent, with her mother wanting Naru to focus more on healing and cooking arts while her brother wants to keep her safe. It's 1719 in the Northern Great Plains when the biggest threats should be mountain lions and bears. Unfortunately, a Predator has landed in country and is doing its usual thing--fighting an opponent that seems worthy or hostile. The Predator fights some snakes and bears before it move on to human prey, both the local Comanche warriors and the French trappers who happen to be in the area (and provide some extra villains for Naru and the Predator to fight).

Moving the narrative to a historical, primitive setting is an intriguing idea for a Predator film. Too bad the execution does not match the creativity of the premise. Instead of something fresh, viewers have to go through a lot of typical Hollywood tropes. The natives are good at tracking and living in the wilderness and being unseen when they want to (or the story requires it). The female character is looked on as weak by everyone but herself until the end when she returns to the tribe in triumph. The white European males are almost entirely piggish villains that the filmmakers are happy to kill off and expect the viewers to root for their deaths. The only bright spot is the tender and nuanced relationship between Naru and her brother--they genuinely love and care for each other. They both are less appreciative of each other at the beginning but grow in understanding and interdependence. The Predator is little more than the standard hard-to-kill serial killer, any motivation or explanation of what it is doing depends on knowledge from previous films.

Not recommended--originally, I was going to have The Flash as my Thanksgiving Cinematic Turkey this year, but Prey managed to take over the "worst movie I've seen this year" position.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

TV Review: Bodies (2023)

Bodies (2023) created by Paul Tomalin based on the graphic novel by Si Spencer

The same mysterious dead body shows up in the same London backstreet in 1890, 1941, 2023, and 2053. This story follows the four police investigators as they try to figure out the murder while dealing with personal and professional problems. The corpse is strange--the left eye has been shot but no bullet is inside the skull and there is no exit wound. A scar above the eyebrow and the tattoo on the wrist provide clues that are inexplicable to the investigators. Viewers get more connecting threads than the characters, making for an interesting drama that naturally turns over into science fiction as time travel enters into the narrative.

The premise is quite intriguing. How can the same body be in four different times in the same place? Who is this murder victim, or is it murder victims? Will the detectives have to work together in some clever way across the span of 163 years? What narrative thread is going to complete the pattern and resolve the mystery? I found the convolutions the plot has to go through to reach an ending a bit too contrived and not very compelling. The actors do a good job with their roles but their characters, in spite of a lot of narrative detail invested in them, turn out to be more gears in the plot mechanism. The resolution is mostly satisfying but the path to get there is not very coherent. The time travel element is not very convincing or consistent and does not ultimately deliver a valid reason for the happy ending.

Not recommended--this show is okay if you don't think about it but not thinking about it is hard to do, for me at least.

Currently (November 2023) available streaming on Netflix.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Some Science at Home

We used some science kits at home to do classical experiments. The first one was the potato battery, an idea that turns out to be far too restrictive. We tried a bunch of other fruits and vegetables, along with even more exotic items.

Equipped for science!

In the classic experiment, two metal sticks (copper and zinc) are stuck in a potato and connected by wires to an electrical device, such as a light or a digital clock. The kit we had contained two sticks of each metal, making a longer circuit and more electric flow. We wired up the potatoes and were able to get the clock to display the classic 00:00 flashing image. The chemical properties of the two metals cause a flow of charged particles (ions) between them but the metal sticks can't be touching. The potato allows the ions to flow from one strip to the other, creating a small electrical current. 

After trying and succeeding with both potatoes and sweet potatoes, we moved on to other items like fruit to see if they would act as conductors for the electric flow.

Behold! The power of lemons!

Oranges caused some weird display

Any conductor works. If a person holds the metal strips, a small current flows.

Using my children as batteries! Maybe The Matrix was right?

Even soda will work to conduct electricity.

I wonder if Powerade would be stronger?

The kids were happy to drink the soda. We turned the potatoes into hash browns. 

Power for human consumption

We had another science kit that was supposed to make a salt-powered robot. Building the battery out of charcoal and salt water did not work quite right, even using a rubber band to reinforce the wire connections. If we squeezed the battery between our fingers to hold the wires in place, the wheels would spin. But it would not run on its own.

Needs the patience of an Edison

The kids enjoyed the battery a lot, the robot not so much. Now if I can only get them to advance into the mad science genre...

Monday, November 20, 2023

Book Review: Frankenstein: New World by M. Mignola et al.

Frankenstein: New World story by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, and Thomas Sniegoski, art by Peter Bergting, Colors by Michelle Madsen, and letters by Clem Robins

In this sequel to Frankenstein: Under Ground, the Monster has been living for decades, maybe centuries, as an oracle to the small colony of humans who made it into the hollow earth before the surface world was overwhelmed. He's been sitting around getting old. Things change when a young girl's prophetic vision shows her a doom coming for them. Defying the tribe's elders, she approaches Frankenstein, who sets out to investigate the girl's claims. She tags along (against the wishes of both the elders and Frankenstein). Their fantastic journey leads them into a conflict between some frog people and some fish people. A deeper problem is hinted at as a new enemy, hungry for the power that makes Frankenstein immortal, appears.

The deeper problem is only hinted at, as if preparing readers for a sequel. Unfortunately, that's the most interesting part of the story. The world looks amazing but the story is very so-so. If the conflict got going later on, I'd be interested in more. 

Barely recommended. I hope there's a better sequel coming.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Movie Review: The Flash (2023)

The Flash (2023) directed by Andy Muschietti

The Flash (Ezra Miller) is frustrated by being low man on the Justice League totem pole. When a team of criminals steal a lethal virus from a hospital, Batman (Ben Affleck) chases them while Flash rescues people at the hospital as it is collapsing. He does a great job but it is not the main job. He discovers he can run fast enough to go back in time. Realizing he can save his mother from being killed and his father from being framed for it, he changes one seemingly insignificant detail that prevents the random killing of his mom. His return trip does not come all the way back to the present--he is pushed out by a mysterious figure and winds up when he's eighteen. He goes to check on his parents, who are happily alive and together and as he eats lunch, he sees eighteen-year old Barry Allen (his secret identity, also played by Ezra Miller) coming home. He interrupts his other self and winds up explaining some of what's happened. Older Barry goes to Younger Barry's apartment that he's sharing with college students and quickly discovers how flippant his younger self is, especially without the tragedy of losing his parents as an eight- or ten-year old. He makes an even more disturbing discovery. There are no other meta-humans like Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, or Cyborg around. Batman is a childhood memory for the college kids. He's been retired since Gotham is one of the safest cities in the country. The weird situation becomes a problem when General Zod (Michael Shannon) shows up demanding the Kryptonian or he will destroy the world. In fact, Zod wants to convert the world so Kryptonians can live on it, meaning the death of all of humanity. In Older Barry's memories (and in Man of Steel), Zod is beaten by Superman (Henry Cavill) who is absent in this new timeline. The two Barrys head off to Wayne Manor in search of help.

Time travel creating a multiverse is an interesting if already familiar idea (this movie even calls out Back to the Future). When they get to Wayne Manor, Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton--a surprise switch that was revealed in the previews, commercials, movie posters, etc.) does a good job explaining the "rules" of this DC multiverse. Both Barrys are obsessed with making things better though their actions only cause more complications and problems. Bruce explains that he wouldn't change his past because he wouldn't know who he would be, the implication being it is a bad choice to change the past. Younger Barry never gets it and Older Barry doesn't quite accept it, even by the end of the film.

The film has two big problems. Barry's character is not very heroic at the beginning and does not grow enough by the end. He starts off a bit whiny and is perfectly happy to use his powers to steal beers from his neighbor or snatch clothes off of people on the street without any sense of right or wrong. When he runs into his younger, more spoiled self, he sees how annoying and unfunny his younger self is but is only barely aware of his own brattiness. Miller is not a strong enough actor to work the material into a more sympathetic and likable character, which could be done by the right performer. So the main character is unsatisfying.

The other big problem is the excessive use of CGI. Naturally, the time travel bits are visually amazing and provide the chance for lots of cameos and creativity. Unfortunately, most of the fights and big battles look like they were only done in CGI, sometimes cheaply, making the film less believable and more like a cartoon. Barry's immature sense of humor underscores the cartoony quality and makes him less fun to root for.

Not recommended--there are some good creative ideas here (and a fine performance by Keaton) but the execution is unsatisfactory.