Dave Finally Watches: 12 Years a Slave (2013), American Hustle (2013)

You’re never going to want to sit down and watch a narrative about slavery. No one comes home from work and says, “Time to settle in for some trafficking of humans!” But I wanted to see 12 Years a Slave, so what better place than on an airplane, where I was sort of forced by circumstance to look? Sure, it lost something by being on a small seat-back monitor, not to mention being on the way to a pleasure trip across the ocean, but it was literally being placed right in front of my eyes.

As imagined, it was a brutal film. I know that’s a weak understatement, but it really was harrowing. There is a scene, and those who have watched it know the scene, that is one of the most terrifying, horrific, and agonizing scenes I’ve ever viewed, and it just goes on and on, each long second making it worse, and the thing is, nothing is happening. And that’s only about halfway through.

A younger, dumber me would have said of this movie, “I don’t need to watch a movie to tell me that slavery is bad. I’m already on board with it.” And while it’s true that no one with a brain and a conscience will get their eyes opened by this, it’s still something that needs to be seen. As we get further and further away from America’s shameful past, we’re getting more and more comfortable with it, more dismissive of it, treating it like youthful indiscretion. Having it shoved into our faces regularly is required, I think.

Besides the topic, it’s also so well done. I liked that while Solomon is enslaved the only ambient sound is the constant droning of cicadas. Birdsong only returns when he gets back home. Lupita Nyong’o is incredible as Patsy, and Michael Fassbender does what he does best. It’s also, if I may be heavy handed, a gentle reminder of what our current ruling class would like to get back to vis-a-vis management and labor.

On the flight back I went with something a little more upbeat. What I’d heard about American Hustle was all over the spectrum, but I was curious, so I checked it out. One of the best movies of the year? That I’m not so sure about. But goddamn it is hilarious. Jennifer Lawrence steals the show despite Amy Adams’ cleavage, and Louis C.K.’s small role had me dying every time. It’s not a great movie saying deep things, but it’s the kind of movie people should be talking about when they talk about “a fun ride” instead of brainless explosion marathons.

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Back From London and Paris!

Sorry to have abandoned you like that, but we had a great time over in Europe. Here are all the things we did and saw:

PART ONE: LONDON


This was in our hotel room and I wanted to buy it.

Southwark Cathedral

Ruins of Winchester Palace

Tate Modern

Finding this:

National Gallery

Cabinet War Rooms

Serendipitous bus ride down Rossmore Road:

Kew Gardens

Hampton Court Palace

Jeeves and Wooster in “Perfect Nonsense”

PART TWO: PARIS

Sacré Cœur and Montmartre

Musée de Cluny

Sainte-Chapelle

Descartes Game Store

Archaeological Museum

Louvre

Arc de Triomphe

Eiffel Tower

Musee d’Orsay

Shakespeare & Co.

Place de Concorde

Notre-Dame

Père Lachaise

PART THREE: LONDON (REPRISE)

St Paul’s Cathedral

Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies

British Museum

British Library

Somerset House

Temple Church

Forbidden Planet

Whew! That’s a lot! But we’re glad to be back!

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Off to the Old Country

We’re headed off to London and Paris!

I wanted to do more this week before we left, but work kept that from happening. I wanted to set up some things to happen while we’re gone, but work kept that from happening. So we’ll be shut down for a little while here.

Cheers and à bientôt!

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Cappy and the Pool

It can get pretty hot and humid up here during the summer, and Cappy really feels it. He’s got black fur an a short snout, so he heats up easy and has trouble cooling down. We try to limit the amount of time he spends in the sun, but the little guy needs his exercise.

One way he cools down is chomping at the sprinkler, but we thought he might like a pool to run through. More importantly, we thought it would be funny to see him run through a pool.

Not a big pool, because he is a dense (literally) little guy and would almost certainly sink like a rock. But we picked up a cheap plastic kiddie pool and tried to get him interested.

As usual, our plans for his (and our) entertainment didn’t quite go as we intended, but we’ll keep trying!

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Lego Set 70816: Benny’s Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP!

As a person who really dove into Lego with the 1978 Classic Space sets, the character of Benny in The Lego Movie, the 1980-something spaceman with the cracked helmet, really appealed to me. I loved those sets and have done new creations that hearken back to them.

When they released the spaceship that Benny finally gets to build as a set, I knew I had to get it. Sadly, my Legos are lying abandoned these days, but the spark is still there. Benny’s spaceship is very much a throwback to the Classic Space era, and I was ready to go back there again. I built it this weekend.

My intention was going to be a post full of photos, illustrating the various steps, but most of the pictures I took with my camera didn’t come out well. Enough did, though, that I can give you a good account.

The set is a big boy, with 940 pieces. At $100, it goes a little over the base dime-per-piece cost, but not terribly so, and as we’ll see, there’s a lot you get here.

There are seven bags of pieces, two instruction manuals, and a sticker sheet.

Here are the results of bag #1. Let’s zoom in on the minifigs.

Wyldstyle is in a rocking Classic Space version of her outfit (the “hood” part of the hoodie is actually a separate neck piece, so now any blue torso can have a hood!) and Emmet is disguised as a robot.

Here are the contents of bag #3, with the Classic Space logo and a good old red 2×4 brick, the best brick of them all.

I normally don’t put the stickers on pieces, but for this one, I did. Here’s one reason I usually don’t. I am terrible at stickers. I slowly, carefully line them up and then bam, they go on at a crazy angle and I have to pull them off and try again. In this case, on a clear window, the final result looks terrible.

Benny himself shows up in bag #5, the first bag of instruction manual #2. Earlier in the build you make a little place that holds tools, one of which is a wrench and the other…a hammer? “No!” I outraged. “It should be a walkie-talkie! Wrenches and walkie-talkies were what the Classic Space astronauts had!” When Benny showed up with a walkie-talkie, all was once again right in my world.

This was a cruel, cruel trick, Lego. Two stickers, on two different sloped bricks, that were intended to form a continuous line between them. And I had to do this twice!

…and then, as you can see here, they’re separated anyway! Also, check out Space Unikitty!

And here’s the finished product (click on it to make it supernova-sized).

This ship was an absolute blast to put together. It’s full of really cool and clever connections. You non-Lego people will have to bear with me going full-tilt Lego nerd for a moment, but there is a connection involving an old school wheel that blew my mind. A thirty-year old piece being used in a way I had not only never seen done but didn’t even know was possible! And I love the use of the sideways arched windows as engine intakes.

The pieces are a great mix of old and new. A lot of stuff I haven’t seen since the old days (check the “air horns” on the top, just behind Unikitty!) and a lot of great new pieces, including some 2×2 round tiles with a stud-sized hole in the center.

There’s a lot of play value here as well. You get five minifigs, including Unikitty. The ship fires eight missiles: four flick-fires, two big yellow rubber ones, and two new (to me, at least) ones on either side of Unikitty. The cockpit opens and seats three (though the canopy doesn’t close all the way if anyone is in the very front seat.) The little spaceships on the side detach. Between Unikitty and the radar dish is a bay holding two little robots that can come out. Unikitty’s area flips up to reveal a small control area, tool storage, and a screwed up sticker on a window giving a view of the engine core or something. Pushing in and pulling out the center engine on the rear extends and retracts the wings, which can reveal or hide the yellow rubber missiles. And the bad guy robot has a little pursuit ship of his own. What’s more, this thing is built sturdy. Despite its size, it is well constructed and can stand up to play.

Do I have any quibbles? Minor ones. I’d like to have seen the yellow-black-yellow stripes seen on early Classic Space sets included here somewhere. The bottom of the ship isn’t finished off well, looking like the bottom of a Lego model. I’d like to have seen a few more classic pieces used. But none of those are deal-breakers, obviously.

And here are the extra pieces, including an extra newfangled missile to replace the one that goes under the bookshelf in 5…4…3…

If you’re a fan of Classic Space, Neo-Classic Space, or great Lego sets in general, do not pass up Benny’s Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP! There’s a good reason he’s got that great big smile on his face.

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I Had That! #19: Commodore VIC-20 and Commodore 64

By 1983 I couldn’t take it anymore. I was begging for a computer. My dad relented and somehow didn’t get me a Radio Shack one; I have no idea how that could have happened, and can only assume they were too expensive. Instead I got a Commodore VIC-20.

Even at the time this was kind of a My First Computer. It only had 5K of RAM (note: that picture of it above uses 44K) and had a weird 22 characters by 23 lines display. Let’s look at how that would look.

Even at the time this
was kind of a My First
Computer. It only had
5K of RAM (note: that
picture of it above
uses 44K) and had a
weird 22 characters by
23 lines display.
Let’s see how that
would look.

Nevertheless, I loved having it and got what I could out of it. There were games on cartridges you could get (Gorf, Radar Rat Race, an a few others), I did BASIC programming on it, and I even got a modem for it, allowing me to set foot in the world of New Orleans BBSes, which simply cannot be overstated as a factor in my development, for good or ill.

It wasn’t too long before I was outgrowing the VIC-20. Again, my folks miraculously relented to upgrade me to a Commodore 64 some time in 1984. I suppose I finally had taken an interest in something that wasn’t in their minds a complete waste of time (they were wrong).

With the C64 I was now playing with power. I continued some programming and BBSing on its sprawling 40×25 display, but the games! Oh, the games! The C64 was probably THE machine for games until the Nintendo came along. When I met Joe, who had recently moved to town and had connections to a big pirate group, My collection of games exploded. (I’d trade him my Star Wars figures for disks of games; he gave the figures to his little brother.) I could do a series just on the C64 games I liked. I got the crazy slow disk drive (it was considered a major technological innovation when someone wrote a program that could format a 5.25″ floppy disk in only four minutes), the modem, a printer, and a monitor. Also joysticks galore, since the joystick port was compatible with the Atari 2600′s and there were a wide range of available options. I broke my favorite one during a savage game of Jumpman.

(The printer story is funny. My cousin was going to sell it to me for something like $125, which was more cash than I had at the time. My folks saw this as an opportunity for me to come up with a plan for paying them, be responsible, etc. Instead I immediately sold my VIC-20, plus all its accoutrement, including the black and white TV I used for it, to a different cousin for $125. My lesson in budgeting and managing money would have to wait.)

I say I did programming on the C64, and I did, but the vast array of available games stunted my interest there. There wasn’t much motivation to create games of my own since I already had plenty of great ones to play. I subscribed at the time to Compute! magazine, which had games and things you could key in, and I did those, but I seldom looked at the programs themselves to learn more programming. The C64 had more powerful graphics and sound, but they were also more complicated to use, and ready-made games won out over the learning curve.

There’s a lot of nostalgic love for the C64, and there’s good reason for it. It was a relatively inexpensive machine that was fat-packed with potential and a wide range of available games. I’ve briefly toyed with emulators, but they didn’t really captivate me.

When did I get it? Fairly certain I got the VIC-20 in 1983. On January 1, 1984, I logged into the Y’At BBS as “Big Brother” and posted “Big Brother is watching you!” on every one of the discussion topics, and I’m fairly certain I did that on the VIC-20. And I know I got the C64 not long afterwards, in 1984.

Do I still have it? As I said, the VIC-20 got sold to my cousin Shane to finance a printer for my C64. The C64 was sold in the winter of 1986 (after I got the Tandy 1000) to my friend Charlyn. She complained not long afterwards that a lot of the game disks weren’t working anymore, and I realized this was because she was storing them on top of the monitor. She is, incidentally, a for-real computer programmer now.

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