Paul

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This is the second installment in the series on our recent trip out east.

I don’t recall the fine details of the trip out to D.C. when I was a teenager. I signed up for a program in high school called “Close Up,” which was designed to let us government nerds geek out on an intensive week of touring and seeing government up close with other kids from around the country. My family drove out and while I learned stuff, my parents and sister wandered the city doing who-kn0ws-what. But I know that I had a great time for that week because this was such a unique city–built entirely around its history and role as the seat of national government.

And I looked forward to my family’s days there, as well: so much history and government, and all of the museums and memorials. It was, as it turned out, too much to try to cram into a few days. But we still got around to the highlights, and hit things the kids really wanted to do.

But when in Washington, you need to get a picture like this, right?

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At least it proves we were there.

And while there, Patrick and Jenni discovered that when in the presence of all of that government, you really become the little guy:

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We went to the International Spy Museum, where Patrick ran into a little…shall we say, entanglement?

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And that’s part of what makes that place so interesting: as much as it’s a celebration of the James Bond films, it actually has real spy equipment and some discussion of the history of espionage on display. So by the time you get to the Bond stuff, you really realize how much the movies, while fake, aren’t too far off the mark. Also on display was the original Aston Martin from Dr. No.

That same day, we went to the National Archives and waited in line to see the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The girls were unimpressed. And while the parent in me really wanted to chastise them for feeling that way, I knew better–someday this might be important to them, and at least they could say they’ve been there.

Later on, we went to the National Cathedral, which, while it’s being repaired as a result of the earthquake a few years ago, is still a gorgeous building. Patrick even found the Darth Vader gargoyle. You know. Because he’s Patrick.

But on top of it all, the family learned about using what really is a very nice subway system. By the end of Sunday, we were all pros at riding the Metro.

But Monday was yet to come, and with it, lots and lots of planes. Well, tons of bus-riding, as well, but mostly planes.

See you tomorrow.

 

 

This begins a few posts talking about our recently completed family trip to Washington, D.C. and New York City. Enjoy!

You know that feeling of irrational paranoia and terror that’s welling up deep inside you while the rational parts of you are saying there isn’t a problem?

That was going on inside of me over a week ago, as on that Saturday, all five of us took our packed bags, piled into two cars driven by my parents, and headed to the airport at some ungodly hour of the morning.

We’d discussed and decided to take the trip months earlier. It would be a week-long trip to Washington and New York–places where most of the family had never been before. It was to be a grand adventure, seeing sites only seen on television and in pictures.

We had been booking hotels, purchasing air and train tickets, and prepping for all the trip had to offer for months. And, Jenni and I were working on steeling our kids for their first airplane flights. Couple that with the need to feed five people through the hassle that is the TSA security line, and you may begin to see the source of my distress.

We made the conscious decision to get to the airport early in order to make sure we got through security in time, just in case there were hassles. And thanks to all of us waking up earlier than planned, and my parents arriving earlier than planned, we found ourselves in the screening line nearly two-and-a-half hours before takeoff.

The kids were tired and obviously anxious, but Jenni and I bookended them in line to make sure we went through pretty much as a group. Everyone was given their boarding pass, and then we got to the front of the line.

Boarding passes were scanned. IDs for the adults were closely reviewed. Shoes were removed. Belts were shed. Pockets emptied. Liquids placed on top of carry on bags. Plastic bins were filled. And then we went through the backscatter machine.

After all that worry that somehow, something would happen with the kids going through the line, it was me. I was the only one who raised any kind of problem. The backscatter scanner saw something on my back…Thickness, sweat, some sort of spectre, who knows. I was summarily patted down, cleared, and reunited with my stuff and my family, all of whom sailed through the process without so much as a beep.

By 8:12 a.m.–almost exactly two hours before departure–we were cleared and walking through the concourse in search of breakfast. And a place to sit until boarding.

But finally, our “zone” on the plane was called, and we got on, found bins to stash our luggage, and settled in for the flight with Jenni and I at the windows, and the kids in the middle and aisle seats so that they could be a little more insulated from the anxiety of a first airplane flight.

Eventually, the plane was pushed back. We taxied to the runway, and then accelerated for takeoff. Zoe–my seatmate–looked at me with a big grin, and an even bigger one once we lifted off the ground. By the time we arrived in D.C., all three kids decided they liked flying.

They got the window seats on the way home…

See you tomorrow for more from Washington, D.C.

One of my dad’s favorite TV shows when I was growing up was The Gong Show, which, in retrospect, is about as representative of the ’70s as you could get: it made no sense, and people loved it either because or in spite of it.

For the uninitiated, The Gong Show was ostensibly a talent-based game show where acts would come on and perform to try to impress the three celebrities who made up the judging panel. If any one of the judges didn’t like the act, they could hit the gong to end the performance in its tracks. The result was that you, as a viewer, wanted to see an act tank more than you wanted them to succeed.

The acts were strange, and that was the whole charm of the show: it was off the wall and loved to push the envelope of sanity, probably because the host of the program, Chuck Barris, pushed the envelope of sanity, sobriety, and good taste to its limits all on his own.

But tonight, I was doing a YouTube search for some videos from one of my favorite bands of the ’80s, and found this:

The Mystical Knights of the Oingo Boingo would later simply shorten things down to Oingo Boingo–a hard-charging brass and guitar heavy dance band. And yes, they would move on from this display of … whatever it is to pen a couple of big hits that would be used in several movies, including Weird Science:

But here’s one of my favorite songs of theirs. And apparently it was used in the soundtrack for a Rodney Dangerfield movie…Go figure:

And another one, which apparently didn’t have an official music video:

Oh. And just in case you’re wondering, that lead singer for the band? The crazy eyed and haired guy? It’s Danny Elfman. Still not ringing a bell? He’s scored a ton of movies over the last 20 years, including Chicago, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the recent version of Alice of Wonderland, and just about everything else that Tim Burton has made.

Guess that big break on The Gong Show really helped.

See you tomorrow.

Up until my late teens, I spent at least a week a year in a town that I affectionately referred to as the “armpit of civilization”–Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

At the time, it was a medium-sized town, trying desperately to become something much bigger and better, while still maintaining some of that small-town feel. Plus, being the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, it felt more like a suburb, as all of the action in town was out on the strip by the shopping mall, leaving downtown dead and decaying.

But now, looking back, I realize a few things: it never was that bad. My grandparents lived there. My father grew up there. The town was boring to a point, but could be interesting if you let it. And being a kid, I wouldn’t let it be more than a place I had to go to see my grandparents a couple of times per year.

I’ve been there a couple of times since my grandparents died. It is getting bigger and a little more cosmopolitan. And when a place is locked in your mind, you always notice the changes–the things that aren’t there or are now there that weren’t before. And it’s the changes that hit you.

CaptureSo somehow, (and trust me, you don’t want to know what I was actually looking for when I found this) I stumbled across this site: Greetings From Sioux Falls, a kind of paean to the town that Sioux Falls was back when it wasn’t what it is today.

It’s filled with commentary, old photos, postcards, and the like of some of the key sites and buildings in Sioux Falls’ early days. And as an aside, the guy who runs it has a book (that he’s happily advertising on the site) of old Sioux Falls photos and the like. And he’s got at least one companion Facebook page dedicated to the same with links to at least a couple of other Facebook pages focusing on at least one current theatre restoration project in town.

So drop by and check it out. And maybe later, I’ll share the TV sign-off and test pattern information I was actually looking for…

See you tomorrow.

 

 

I’m embarrassed to say that the last I posted was on May 27th…That Lincoln review below was the topic. And since? Bupkus. Zilch. Nada. Not even through the momentous events of the last few weeks, which are so brilliantly documented in those postage stamp-sized photos to the right. I have spared you nary a drop of verbage, dribbled out of my unkempt mind onto the bits and bytes of this website.

I have come to one unescapeable conclusion: I’m a horrible blogger.

I apologize. I shall try better. Or at least shorter and more frequently. Or something like that. Or I might just find this is the new pattern: a non-existent, sporadic pattern.

So tomorrow I’ll start a new feature that I hope to regularly share with the class: a look at websites I stumble across that I find interesting, and think that at least one or two of you out there will enjoy as well. Look for it tomorrow! Or next week…Or sometime. Soon?

In the meantime, I’ll just note the big events of the last couple of weeks: Hannah and Zoe have “graduated” from eighth grade and are now, more or less officially, high school students. And, to add to it, they’re leaving the only school system they’ve known for nine years and heading back into the Minneapolis Public School system to go to a high school that I think I made myself promise at some point in my life I’d never send any of my kids to: Edison High School. But the school seems to have its act together, and the girls made most of the decision to go there on their own, in spite of leaving most of their friends behind. So I’m proud and excited for them.

Patrick graduated from Roseville Area High School. He’s settled and mostly enrolled at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, and has actually even started working a regular, part-time, paying job. So we’re proud and excited for his next steps.

So there’s the quick update. Look for more stuff starting tomorrow. I’ll try harder! Promise! Maybe.

See you tomorrow.

Lincoln_2012_Teaser_PosterThe Steven Spielberg film Lincoln is exactly what you expect: a tight, interesting, well-written docudrama about an extraordinarily important but frequently over-simplified part of American history. So points for helping to bring that back to the forefront for those willing to watch it.

But, surprisingly, it isn’t really that much about Lincoln. And while the Civil War is central to the story as a catalyst, the movie is about his push, fresh off his reelection in 1864, to get the 13th Amendment passed to abolish slavery in the United States.

Sure, it’s a Hollywood docudrama, simplifying some aspects, embellishing others, and taking some liberties with the truth, but generally sticking to the important points of the history. Which might cause problems for those who don’t understand the politics of congress which still largely continue to this day.

There are a lot of assumptions made in this movie: that you know a lot of the history of the time, that you know about Lincoln’s life to that point and some of the demons he’s had to face throughout that life, that you understand his relationship with his wife and sons, and that you fully grasp the deeply divided nation and congress. But at the same time, you’re shown just how similar our government of today is to that of 150 years ago–votes are still bought and sold, divisiveness is a given, and rancor between the sides is expressed publicly.

This is a Spielberg film like Schindler’s List, where he tells the story powerfully and lets the visuals take a back seat to the acting. So many of the interior scenes are dark and grey and smoky that it’s jarring when there are outdoor daytime shots–and that seems to be by design. The Civil War is a major player in the story but isn’t fully visible–we see battles only from a distance or after their conclusion, and see the scars and pain all too clearly in brief displays scattered throughout the movie. And slavery–and more importantly, prejudice–is a constant throughout the film, which causes Lincoln to ask an important question about the 13th Amendment: what happens after it’s passed and ratified?

The acting is excellent. It’s easy to forget that Daniel Day-Lewis is acting as Lincoln. Sally Field portrays Mary Todd Lincoln more brilliantly than I’ve seen elsewhere. And there are so many other top name stars in the film that are either nearly unrecognizable or nicely understated that you don’t give them a second thought.

There isn’t “action” in the film, but it isn’t paced so slowly that you get bored–and even the long scenes are important enough that they move along and keep the story going. But if you’re one of those people who grades a film based on the number of things blowing up on-screen, you won’t find that here. In fact, even Lincoln’s assassination happens off-screen.

If there’s a flaw here, it’s that I think in all of the political discussion and trying to win votes, there isn’t a clearer discussion of why the amendment was important–Lincoln explains several times, but it’s always in that way that leaders do in movies: through parables, anecdotes and riddles. Some people will get the point, but sometimes, it’s just good to hit someone over the head with the point just once.

Four out of Five Stars. 

See you tomorrow.

Actors release musical albums all the time. Some are talented and can carry the weight of an entire album’s worth of songs in their voice or performance. Others, sadly, cannot.

Tonight, for your enjoyment, I present the singing…um…talents of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Bonus points: Nimoy actually is sort of in his Spock character for one of his songs.

CD_spaced_out_01Imagine this, though: somehow back around 1968, someone came up with the brilliant idea to have both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy record music albums–separate, individual albums. In these albums, this music exec had them sing some ballads, some current tunes, and who knows what else, just because I’m sure that the thought was that their names would sell these things. Heck, maybe it came from some conversation with the pre-teen son at the dinner table, where he was talking about that new show: Star Trek.

What makes this better is that a few years ago, someone decided that these needed to be preserved forever in a “best of” album, thus negating the need for us to have to wade through the clearly lesser songs the two put out.

Ho boy…Your ears stand warned now. Any damage to them is on your own head. Crack a beverage, pack your ears with cotton, and go ahead and read on. Good luck!

I don’t know what’s worse here: the feeling that Shatner is either stoned out of his head, totally convinced that he’s supposed to perform way over the top, or the thought sitting in the back of my mind that he might just be trying to do this straight. Actually, it’s the thought that I ended up paying something for this album at one time. It’s all just too terrifying to comprehend. But, to let you share in my misery, I give you this: William Shatner performing Mr. Tamborine Man.

If you haven’t yet gouged your ears out, try this one from Mr. Nimoy: If I Had A Hammer. 

Not exactly Peter, Paul and Mary, right?

We’ll switch gears and let Shatner go balladier on us with the Sinatra hit: It Was a Very Good Year. 

Not to be outdone, Nimoy steps into his Spock suit and gives us Highly Illogical. Which may just try to explain this whole album. Because this song is almost as offensive in parts as the concept for the album is.

And, just as a final bonus, the sci-fi musical equivalent of jumping the shark: Nimoy performing The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins. Yeah, you read that right. The problem is you’ll be singing this to yourself for a week. I promise you that.

Yep. I think this just killed this segment.

See you tomorrow.

The_Sapphires_posterIs it wrong to say that the entertainment value in a movie is just as strong as the educational value in it as well?

The Sapphires is a story based very loosely in real life of an Aboriginal singing group in the late ’60s who end up travelling to Vietnam to entertain the American troops stationed there. That’s really the story, but under it all is the history lesson–one that I only vaguely knew, and one which was set up against the racial struggles in America at the time.

In the first minute of the film, we are given about all of the history we need to understand the racial conflict between white Australians and Aboriginals: they weren’t recognized as anything other than “flora and fauna” until the early ’70s, and before that, the lighter-skinned Aboriginals were taken from their families–”stolen,” was the term used by the tribes themselves–and raised in white Australia to try to help wipe out their culture.

We’re introduced to three sisters, all of whom grew up singing, and they go into the nearby town to try out for a talent show that Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd)–an Irish soul musician/producer wannabe–is holding in a pub. The sisters clearly win the contest with an American country tune, but because of their race are not given the win by the white owner of the pub. But the girls talk Dave into taking them on and he gets them an audition to perform in Vietnam for the American Military.

They go to Melbourne, where they find their cousin, who was one of the stolen children, and convince her to join the group. They practive, then audition, and are sent to Vietnam to perform. While there, their act catches fire with the troops and a couple of music producers, and things look like they’re on their way to America to become stars, but when one of their last performances is attacked and Dave is shot, they end up deciding to head home.

This is an astoundingly light and heavy, simple and complicated, and comedic and loving story, all at the same time. The racial undertones are always there, but not stressed. And the characters are remarkably filled out while we haven’t been given much information about them–Dave’s a down-on-his luck drunk until he falls in love with Gail, Gail’s the protective older sister with the musical dream, Cynthia is the twice-jilted middle sister still devastated by the man who dumped her, Julie is the youngest sister with a baby at home, and Kay is the stolen cousin who is having a hard time finding her place in the “black” world of her cousins.

The movie is well written, straight-forward, and uncomplicated which makes it really easy and fun to watch. Four out of Five Stars. 

See you tomorrow.

 

At brunch today with the extended family and my mom, she leaned over to me and told me there was a problem with my website.

Or, I think that’s what she said. It was more like “when I go to your site, I get a lost something.”

A lost something? My mind went to the classic “404 Not Found” error when a website can’t find a page. But it wasn’t that. Or it shouldn’t have been that. “What?” I asked.

“When I go to your site, there’s a message saying lost something and for me to click on something and I don’t click on things online.” Good to know my warnings about reading things before clicking have gotten through in some fashion–now instead of clicking, she just doesn’t. It’s like trying to get my kids to do something…Maybe she’ll read the page next.

So I went to my website on my phone and found the problem: some test software I put on my page had taken over the default path for the site. Except there was no message about a lost anything. The header talked about Joomla, the software I installed.

Okay, so I knew what I had to do to get it back to this form. And it made me realize something: my mother–heck, my parents, actually–should be interface testers for websites all over. I mean, I’ve heard from mom over the years when one of her frequently visited websites rolled out a redesign that she couldn’t find things, or it was made more difficult to use. And I’ve had to walk her through some of those, and once she gets it, she understands how to use it, if the site was designed well and sensibly.

So, as she’s kind of retired (sort of) again, maybe I can offer her services to websites to tell them when they’re not working properly or have a design that really sucks.

At least, that service worked for me. Thanks, mom!

See you tomorrow.

 

I’d like to think that three weeks away were due to some important, life-changing set of circumstances that will help fill the page here for months. But alas, no such luck. April, May and June are shaping up to be overwhelmingly scheduled with Events–yes, those momentous occasions that cause titles to be capitalized–and that leaves the weeks in-between as times to refresh and retool, and not to sit and try to unload thoughts onto the computer.

But I’ll try.

My wife has regaled the family with the story, so now it’s my turn…Along with some minimal defense.

But keep in mind that I tend to buy my shoes from Target. Or Famous Footwear (where we have a frequent buyer card). Or somewhere equally cheap. And why do I buy cheap shoes? Because I have big feet, and big shoes tend to cost more and are harder to find. Because I don’t spend money on myself simply as a matter of course–I buy what I need for myself and don’t tend to go for extravagances so that there’s more to go around for the family. And because I’ve pretty well decided that I can live my life with three pairs of shoes: winter boots, tennis shoes, and a dress pair. When one of those wears out, then I “need” another pair.

I don’t hold the same thought when it comes to my family. “Need” has different meanings there. If I can afford it in the budget and they want to buy something that will serve a purpose in their life, then it’s as close to a “need” as I can get. So when Jenni decided that she needs new Birkenstocks because I can’t remember the last time we bought the pair she has, I did honestly consider that a need. And since we’ve become big fans of Schuler Shoes, we go there for a lot of our shoe needs.

So on Friday, Jenni and I headed to Schuler to get her sandals. And while I had been thinking about needing to fit in a purchase of new tennis shoes for me, it still wasn’t fully on the radar–my tennis shoes didn’t have holes, were moderately comfortable, and served the purpose of covering my feet whilst out in public.

But the hitch in shopping for shoes at a good shoe store with actual knowledgeable salespeople is that our sales guy looked at my feet and began lecturing–or selling, or explaining…take it as you will–about how the support I wasn’t getting from my two-year-old tennis shoes wasn’t worth anything. So we looked at shoes for me.

I came away with a dress pair–which feel as comfortable as almost any shoes I’ve had for a long time–and a pair of tennis shoes.

But they aren’t just tennis shoes: they’ve got extra support, a “roll bar,” cushioning, breathable fabric, a 12-volt power system, roof rack, and fog lights. All they need is an airbag.

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Yes, this an example of the actual shoe, minus the fog lights, 12-volt power system, and roof rack. But it does have a roll bar.

And for the first couple of days I wore them, they hurt. My feet, unaccustomed to how actual podiatric support was supposed to feel, were uncomfortable with the extra attention, and came out sore. But today, the comfort is noticeable.

So now I’m thinking about sandals. After all, it is almost summer. But then Jenni will need something else, too.

See you tomorrow.

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