Wednesday, August 24, 2016

State of the Blog 2016

It was a stressful year for this blogger.  The stress manifested itself physically and painfully in late May when I got shingles, an old man's disease that saw fit to hit me at 43.  It was a wake up call, an occasion to step back and take a good hard look at my life.  Stress, unfortunately, is frequently unavoidable in life.  I am a teacher, a notoriously stressful profession.  While it is possible to remove and reduce some anxiety-inducing elements, the important thing is to manage stress as it comes.  That's relatively easy to do during the summer months.

The fall will be another matter.  I'm taking on new and modified professional responsibilities this year.  While I'm taking on the added load for solid, practical reasons, stress is inevitable, especially as I continue to juggle family and personal schedules, too.  Learning to manage the stress will be crucial to my mental and physical health.  Shingles can come back - 7-10 year intervals, is what I've heard.  Having a less stressful life seven years from now seems like a reasonable life goal.  Adding more responsibilities now is probably not the best strategy but it's a long-term goal.  My life is likely to look quite different seven years from now.

So, what does any of this have to do with the blog?  Well, it's going to be tough keeping up with The Armchair Squid this fall but it's vitally important that I try.  The blog is, in itself, an escape for me and it is also primarily a chronicle of the other things in my life that I do strictly for fun.  Maintaining the hobbies will be crucial and the blog provides incentive and encouragement to do so.  That said, time will be precious.

Fortunately, I devoted some time this summer to getting ahead on things.  My Clone Wars posts are all set through November so Tuesdays are good to go.  I shall do my best to keep Fridays humming along with The Cephalopod Coffeehouse, Mock Squid Soup and miscellaneous family adventure posts.  It is likely, though, that posts will be on the shorter side for a while.  I want to keep my hand in the game and keep in touch with all of you.  I shall endeavor to do my best.

Squiddies 2016

The Armchair Squid turns seven years old today.  It's time to hand out some hardware.  And the Squiddy goes to...

Biggest Surprise: Calvin Trillin in Sleepless in Seattle
via Wikipedia
Calvin Trillin has been a star of my blog this year.  I featured his books three months in a row for the Cephalopod Coffeehouse.  Trillin writes about all kinds of things including a recent book about the civil rights movement.  He came to my attention because of his food writing - absolutely delightful.  The surprise came when I saw him sitting at the dinner table in Sleepless in Seattle!  Apparently, he is friends with the film's director, Nora Ephron.

It made for a funny family moment.  My wife explained to our daughter, "You know those books Daddy's been reading and giggling over?  That's the guy who wrote them."

Biggest Disappointment: Droid Episodes
via Wookieepedia
I love R2-D2 and C-3PO.  Star Wars wouldn't be the same without them.  They are an important link to Hidden Fortress, one of the most important films in the original's cinematic heritage.  They provide comic relief and they frequently drive the plot.  Artoo has been called a McGuffin but I don't think he quite qualifies as he serves a clear, demonstrable purpose.

But Clone Wars stories involving the droids as central characters tend to be darn near unwatchable.  Marvel had a comic book series starring the droids back in the day and those were also awful - not as bad as the Ewoks series but still embarrassing.  Clear lesson: the droids are great for the small work but let the organic beings bear the narrative heft.

Best Read, First-Time Category: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
via Amazon
I read a lot, or at least I aim to do so.  However, I rarely read anything that I immediately start recommending to everyone I know.  Such was the case for Being Mortal, Dr. Gawande's exploration of the choices we must make for ourselves and our loved ones as we age and die.  It's heavy reading to be sure but I appreciate the book's frankness and compassion.  So yes, you need to read it and get all of your loved ones to read it, too.

Best Read, Re-Read Category: Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
via Wikipedia
I first read Julius Caesar in high school - 27 years ago, I believe.  It was nice to read it again as an adult, knowing more about life, politics and so forth.  Julius Caesar is an unusual and clever story for the fact that it's never fully clear who the good guy is.  Plus the title character dies a lot earlier than he usually does in a Shakespearean tragedy!

Best Comics Find: Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

Don't go thinking I don't remember book suggestions.  I picked this one up after my blogger pal Suze recommended it to me.  I've read a lot of graphic novels about history, including several about World War II in general and the A-bomb in particular.  Trinity earns big points for the clear explanation of the science of atomic energy, demonstrating the effectiveness of the sequential art medium.  I also admire the book's attention to the reactions of the scientists once they learned the full scope of their project and realized the unforeseen consequences of using nuclear weapons.

Athlete of the Year: Seabiscuit
via Wikipedia
For the second year in a row, I choose a deceased athlete from the 1930s.  Seabiscuit was also a horse - an unconventional choice, I'll admit.  While Sports Illustrated balked at choosing American Pharoah over Serena Williams - they were very wise to make that choice, by the way, and I'm ready to defend it anytime - my equine star had few rivals on the blog this year.  Harry Potter was tempting, though he's only a fictional character and my post about him didn't address his quidditch prowess.

Seabiscuit (1933-47) was one of the great celebrities of the 1930s.  More recently, he has been the subject of a highly successful book and movie.  I read the former last September.  Seabiscuit was a late bloomer.  I always have great sympathy for those.  Author Laura Hillenbrand did a wonderful job conveying the personality of the beast, as well as those of his human attendants.

Best Family Adventure: Nova Scotia
via Wikipedia
I have come to realize an undeniable truth of my adult life: I love Canada.  I love its quiet, its friendliness, its multilingualism, its beautiful, seemingly endless landscape, all of it.  This summer's big trip was Nova Scotia, the most populous maritime province.  We stayed in the Annapolis Royal area, not far from Digby, a stretch of coast famous for its scallops and for historical preservation.  They have lobster club sandwiches there.  What more does one need?  I truly did not want to go home from this trip.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Clone Wars: Padawan Lost

My friends and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008 (as opposed to the one that started in 2003).  All are welcome to join us for all or parts of the fun.

Episode: "Padawan Lost"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 3, Episode 21
Original Air Date: March 19, 2011
via Wookieepedia
In this week's episode, The Clone Wars borrows a page from Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game."  While engaged in battle on the planet Felucia, Ahsoka is kidnapped and taken to the Trandoshan moon Wasskah.  Island 4 on that world is maintained as a game preserve by the Trandoshans.  They hunt sentient beings for sport and their prey of choice is young Jedi.  Meanwhile, Anakin is in quite a state over his missing padawan, a situation aggravated by the fact that Master Plo Koon has counseled him not to run after her.  Ahsoka's Jedi skills are put to the test, as are Anakin's attachment issues.

Soon after her arrival on Wasskah, Ahsoka falls in with a group of Jedi younglings who have managed to survive for some time.  The leader of the small band is Kalifa, a young Corellian.  Kalifa is voiced by Gwendoline Yeo.
via Yodapedia
Yeo was born July 10, 1977 in Singapore.  She graduated with honors from UCLA at age 20 and also received a degree in classical piano from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.  She also learned to play the guzheng, a traditional Chinese instrument and played it on her own one-woman radio show on NPR-KCRW.  Her stunning beauty certainly hasn't hurt her career either.  She was crowned Miss Asian America in 1995 and Miss Chinatown USA in 1998-99.
via Wookieepedia
In addition to her voice acting career, she has had recurring live action roles on both Desperate House Wives and General Hospital.  Big screen credits include Night Skies, Freeloaders and The Jane Austen Book Club.  Kalifa is one of six different roles she voiced for The Clone Wars.

If you would care to join us for all or part of our travels, sign on to the list below.  Please visit the other participants today.  Next week: "Wookiee Hunt."


Friday, August 19, 2016

On the Road: New Paltz and Smuggs

Lucky reader, I have more vacation slides for you today!  Since our last screening, we have spent a weekend in New Paltz, New York for a family wedding and one at Smuggler's Notch in Vermont for a lovely gathering with friends.  Dim the lights and pop the corn.  The kids are staying up late tonight...

New Paltz
Our protector at the New Paltz Hostel

My breakfast at Main Street Bistro

A drink invented by one of my new cousins: The Beet Goes On
Smuggler's Notch

Homemade pizza

Aviation, prepared by The Playwright

I bet you didn't know August 6th was National Root Beer Float Day!

A funny exchange with my daughter regarding the aforementioned holiday...

DAUGHTER: I can't believe there's a National Root Beer Float Day.

ME: There's a day for everything.

DAUGHTER: Root beer floats are not just anything!

Our gathering, with English Prof and The Playwright joining us from Worcester, was not merely about food and drink, though I can see how the photos might lead one to believe that.  There was also swimming, hot tubbing, movies and Olympics watching.  It was a most relaxing weekend.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Clone Wars: Citadel Rescue

My friends and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008 (as opposed to the one that started in 2003).  All are welcome to join us for all or parts of the fun.

Episode: "Citadel Rescue"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Season 3, Episode 20
Original Air Date: March 11, 2011
via Wookieepedia
The Citadel story arc comes to its conclusion.  Anakin, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka and their accompanying clone troopers are struggling to get Jedi Master Even Piell and Captain Tarkin out of the Citadel, a high security prison.  Unfortunately, the ship the rescue party came on has been destroyed.  Plo Koon is leading a task force through Separatist defenses in order to evacuate them.  This culminating episode of the arc wasn't quite as compelling as the first two for me but the budding friendship between Anakin and Tarkin continues to intrigue.
via Wookieepedia
Jedi Master Adi Gallia appears in "Citadel Rescue" as a member of the Jedi Council.  She made her first appearance in The Phantom Menace, played by model Gin Clarke.  Gallia is a Tholothian and her headdress with the long, fleshy tendrils is traditionally worn by Tholothian women.  In The Clone Wars, Gallia is voiced by Angelique Perrin.

If you would care to join us for all or part of our travels, sign on to the list below.  Please visit the other participants today.  Next week: "Padawan Lost."


Monday, August 15, 2016

On the Coffee Table: Jules Tygiel

Title: Past Time: Baseball as History
Author: Jules Tygiel
via Amazon
Jules Tygiel was a history professor at San Francisco State University and a lifelong baseball fan.  In Past Time, he collected nine essays relating developments in the game to parallel changes in American society.  The nine are arranged chronologically, covering topics from the 1850s to the 1990s.

While I enjoyed the book for the most part, the essays were uneven.  I learned a lot from the chapters about the rise of radio and the efforts to survive the Great Depression.  The material on segregation was good, too, though I've read better books on the subject.  The weakest chapter was about early 20th century baseball, focusing on the careers of Charles Comiskey, Connie Mack, John McGraw and Clark Griffith.  I'm convinced all four were giants of the game but Tygiel tried too hard to link them together.  He would find common threads between two or three but rarely all four.  I'd rather have read a separate chapter about each man.

Somehow, Tygiel also completely missed the point of the film Bull Durham, claiming it was about fans, not players.  Really?  Did he actually watch the movie?  Or was he so dazzled by Susan Sarandon's admittedly wonderful performance that he was blind to the rest of the narrative?

If you want to tackle a lot of baseball material quickly Past Time would be a reasonable place to start.  The writing is informative and easily digestible.  If you have the time for Ken Burns's Baseball documentary, though, it covers a lot of the same topics and more effectively.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Mock Squid Soup: September 2016 Blog List

MOCK! and The Armchair Squid are proud to present Mock Squid Soup: A Film Society!

Next meeting is Friday, September 9th.  As announced last month, the plan for this month is for each participant to pick someone else's movie from our ever-growing society library.  I maintain a list of those movies here, also to be found on my page list as "Mock Squid Soup Film Library."

The signup list: