When it rains, it pours
If you have any complaints which you'd like to make, I'd be more than happy to send you the appropriate forms.
Today I start my last year of law school.
The Democratic National Convention is imminent, and and some have called the designated protest area a "freedom cage."
While I agree that perhaps a closer venue could have been constructed, compare what's happening in Denver to the recently completed Beijing Olympics. In China, the government had several designated protest sites - and then denied the applications of everyone who tried to use them. Heck, it even sent people to prison for daring to apply - sort of a sting operation on free speech.
The RNC location is closer, though still behind fencing. Few complaints from protesters there. I suppose allowing some 25,000 people to congregate across the street from half the government of the United States seems pretty fair.
If you ever want to separate the true cinephiles from the wannabe movie buffs, "Scene It?" is your trivia game of choice. I never thought I was that big of a movie fan until I realized my sister and most of her college age friends had never seen movies like "The Bridge on the River Kwai," "Some Like It Hot," or even "Citizen Kane." It seems like the younger folks never get around to seeing stuff made before 1970, and this knowledge gap makes it easy for me to win games of "Scene It?."
There are a lot of different game types here, from movie clips followed by straught Q&A sessions to recognizing famous scenes from movies in caricature form. The game comes bundled with 4 "Big Button Pads" and an IR receiver that plugs into a spare USB port on your 360; having a separate buzzer for each player is a nice touch that makes this an easy sell to parties and families. Most of the games are fun (my favorite is a movie quotes contest), and the competition can get quite heated if the participants have comparable knowledge of movie trivia.
There are some frustrating omissions that keep the score lower than it otherwise would be. Downloadable content in the form of extra questions was promised but scrapped, since a sequel to this game is due to be released this fall. This means that the 1,800 questions included on the game disc are all that you're going to get, giving the game a disappointing shelf life. Even worse are the elementary UI/gameplay gripes (I don't think you can form teams, for example). Still, it's entertaining, and I could think of worse ways to spend an evening.
"Stand By Me" is a pretty faithful adaptation of "The Body," a novella by Stephen King. As in the novella, the film follows four boys as they venture off in search of the body of a dead kid. Along the way, there are moments of humor, drama, and tension, with a coming-of-age riff that stands up on its own, rather than being merely a rehash of other works.
Rob Reiner has had a checkered directorial history, with some spectacular highs ("This Is Spinal Tap," "Misery") and some recent colossal misfires ("Alex & Emma", "Rumor Has It..."). Here, he wisely chucked his own preferences for the sake of the story - the main characters smoke cigarettes in the very first scene, despite Reiner's famous antismoking bias. It must have taken a deft touch working with this many young actors, including Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell, but everything comes out pretty well.
I'd never seen this movie, and I'm sure it's seldom shown on television. Maybe it's the censors; "Stand By Me" is rated R because many of the characters spout foul language. Like "The Princess Bride" (another Reiner adaptation), the pace is brisk, the characters are memorable, and everything is coated in that halcyon late '50s style. The only flaw is the iffy ending (the one big change from the novella, not coincidentally), but overall it's a fine movie.
I never read the book it was based on (Stephen Hunter's "Point of Impact"), but "Shooter" has got to be one of the most brainless pieces of big-budget action cinema ever put to film. It follows Bob Lee Swagger (played by Mark Wahlberg), an expert sniper who struggles to survive a nefarious plot. Here's a little pop quiz to illustrate the movie's curious logic (spoilers for those who haven't seen it):
Q: You're a member of a powerful secret society that pulls the strings at the highest levels of the U.S. government. You want to murder a small-time activist bishop who is speaking out against your drilling operations in Ethiopia (you're in league with the Big Evil Oil Companies - this is Hollywood, after all). Do you...
A) organize an elaborate conspiracy to frame a former Marine sniper in an attempted assassination of the President of the United States, whilst at the same time executing the actual killing of the bishop using an equally talented sniper?
B) have some guys kidnap the offending bishop in Ethiopia and shoot him in the head?
The plot of "Shooter" is about as silly as what I've described, only with action-movie sniper antics thrown in. You'll get to see Marky Mark's character blow apart an attacking helicopter's rotor with a manually-cycled .50-caliber sniper rifle, you'll see him survive a couple gunshots and a three-story fall without needing a hospital visit, and you'll see him take down a team of mercenaries nearly singlehandedly.
The most idiotic part of the whole thing was the climactic sequence where it's revealed that the sniper's gun couldn't have belonged to Bob Lee, since he always shaves down the firing pins of his firearms so that they don't fire. To prove the point, he chambers a live round in one of his rifles and pulls the trigger while pointing the rifle at his friend. I suppose in the world of "Shooter," a primer is never seated high, or crud never gets in the firing pin channel. It's irresponsible, it's dangerous, and I seriously doubt a real Marine Force Recon sniper would ever do such a thing.
The life and times of Edith Piaf, the gravelly-voiced French singer whose off-stage circumstances were often as interesting as her performances, is the subject of "La Vie En Rose," a film directed by Oliver Dahan:
This week, I'll be taking a look at the raw materials needed for reloading, and how best to track them down.
I like to purchase primers in person, to avoid the hazardous materials fees incurred when shipping from an online vendor (I think they're $20 or so). If you're buying more than a few thousand primers at a time, though, it might be worth it to buy them online if you find a good deal.
If you don't have a place that sells reloading supplies near you, though, finding primers could be a problem. When you do get a chance to buy some, go ahead and splurge - you can buy about 3000 of them for $100, and they keep for a long time when stored properly.Powder
One of the coolest parts of reloading is that one bottle of smokeless powder can supply a lot of loads, especially when you're talking about pistol rounds. As with primers, powder may be hard to come by in an area with few reloaders, and even decently-stocked stores can lack some common powders (my nearby Gander Mountain didn't have Varget, for instance). Before buying a powder, it's important that you have a load you can use for it from some reputable source.
Once you get everything else squared away, the bullet is far and away the most expensive component in the reloading process. Avoid brick-and-mortar stores and buy bullets in bulk online. If you're loading rounds that contain fancy bullets (say, a nice electroplated hollowpoint like the Gold Dot), you can really save a ton over loaded factory ammunition. Thankfully, there's no hazmat fee or anything to worry about, though shipping will be high (you're essentially ordering a bunch of lead).
Storage and Longevity
Bullets and cases are pretty tolerant of heat and cold - I guess you could leave them out in the garage, if need be. The conventional wisdom regarding powders and primers is to store them in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight. It's best not to remove powders or primer from their original packaging. If you follow these guidelines, powders and primer should last for years or even decades without any noticeable degradation in performance.
Next week: Reloading .38 Special, start to finish
Summer reading gives you a chance to catch up on works you may have missed. I had never read "Heart of Darkness," the famous novella by Joseph Conrad. Fortunately, Barnes and Noble sells a nice, inexpensive hardcover collection of some of Conrad's short fiction (including "Heart of Darkness"). Small hardcovers are the perfect beach books (durable but easy to tote), so it was just me, Marlow, and Kurtz on the sand that day.
My friends and I all used to be hardcore "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" players. If you've never seen this computer game, you owe it to yourself to try it - it's a sterling illustration of how to make an educational game fun. It packages geography facts into a fun detective game about chasing international relic thief Carmen Sandiego. Particularly devious clues sent us scurrying to the school library encyclopedias.
...for the paucity of posts around here lately. Tropical Storm Fay is scheduled to pass by south Florida in the next few days, and Mom's in full paranoid alert mode. We're battening down the hatches as I type this. I suppose it is prudent, given that Mom's garden is filled with enough flower pots (read: ceramic missiles) to give anyone a headache should the storm veer northeast.
I like movies I can watch more than once (Shangrila Towers' movie review system is mostly based on this characteristic, by the way). There are a lot of ways to accomplish this feat: great special effects, excellent performances, an interesting premise. Heck, even a stirring score can lift a ho-hum movie into something that merits a second look.
"Lost Planet" is a third-person shooter for the Xbox 360. In the game, humanity has settled the ice world of E.D.N. III. Unfortunately, insect-like aliens known as the Akrid are native to the planet, and they continually menace the population.
The basic shooter gameplay is pretty straightforward. On foot, you have access to a standard assortment of weapons - shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, etc. The game really shines, though, when you get access to Vital Suits (think BattleTech 'Mechs with just a hint of anime-style agility). The game features many duels with opposing pilots, and landing a solid rocket hit on an enemy Vital Suit is just as satisfying as in other mech combat games.
"Lost Planet" debuted about a year after the 360's launch, and for a first-generation title, most of the visuals still hold up today. The smoke and snow effects are particularly noteworthy - watching enemy Suits explode never gets old. The overall level and creature design won't turn any heads, but it's serviceable.
The core gripe I have with the game is that combat is broad, but shallow. There are quite a few options to deal with enemies, and a bunch of different Vital Suits to pilot, but they all feel pretty similar when executed. And while I understand story is usually an afterthought in an action game, the cutscenes that play before, during, and after missions feel like a complete waste of time. Overall, "Lost Planet" is a solid shooter, but not much else.
Watching Olympic level athletes is sometimes exhilarating aesthetically, but mostly I just marvel at the lifelong dedication needed to compete at that level. Michael Phelps and Nastia Liukin probably started training when they were kids; there's little hope that the average adult could train up to those standards no matter how hard they tried.
I was working all day in Coffee Culture, and I think one of the employees had "Surrealistic Pillow" playing on repeat. It's one thing to research antitrust pleading standards, and it's a whole 'nother ball of wax to do it with Jefferson Airplane stuck in your head. Besides "Somebody to Love" (immortalized for me by Jim Carrey's karaoke rendition in "The Cable Guy"), Jefferson Airplane's only other big hit was "White Rabbit."
The Web has proven to be such a wonderful tool for learning and teaching - especially activities that are kinda obscure. The fact that the craft and art of making ammunition has been preserved in video form is a good sign for the continued vitality of the shooting sports - after all, what use are guns if you don't know have the ammo?
Here are some of my favorite reloading videos. All are instructional, save the last one:
This gentleman gives a great, easy-to-follow overview of Lee reloading equipment:
More on reloading (again using Lee equipment) - the Australian accent kills me everytime:
Here's a sideways video with nice explanation of the Dillon Super 1050 - probably the fastest reloading press commonly in noncommercial use:
Great primer seating troubleshooting vid:
This is the funniest one of the bunch - how NOT to reload:
You wouldn't think a former professional wrestling manager would be the best choice to play a beloved video game character, but "The Super Mario Bros. Super Show" is definitive evidence that even slightly washed-up WWF stars can upstage professional actors:
I know the PRC's come under heavy fire for their heavy-handed human rights offenses, as well as their involvement (or non-involvement, as it were) in the Darfur crisis. Heck, that last sentence alone might make you unable to read this Shangrila Towers post inside of China. I also know the IOC, when it comes to corruptions and scandals, is about as dirty as last month's garbage. Intellectually, I know all that, but my jaw still dropped when I watched the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in the Bird's Nest yesterday:
File this one under "great ideas that are so simple you wish you thought of them." I had seen the PedEgg infomercials on TV:
One of the first questions any beginning handloader asks is, "What equipment do I need to buy?" This installment of "The Minimalist Handloader" focuses on the bare minimum one needs to buy to get a workable portable reloading setup, aside from the components of the cartridge itself.
There's a certain genre of Hollywood films that's pure, cotton-candy escapism. It's hard to put a label on this genre, but whether they're comedies, dramas, or action movies, they all have three things in common - a sunny tropical location, a cast of photogenic young stars and starlets, and antics that involve treasure-hunting or drug dealers. Examples include "The Beach," "Fool's Gold," and "Into the Blue":
When you're reloading, especially with my portable setup, I think it's a good idea to put on a movie to relieve the tedium of doing some of the non-critical tasks (depriming brass or cleaning primer pockets, for instance). Such a movie has to be boring enough to not merit your full attention, but interesting enough to drift into and out of when the situation warrants.
Sci-Fi Channel puts out a LOT of miniseries and made-for-TV movies every month, and only a handful are worth commenting on. One of these is "The Lost Room," a miniseries starring Peter Krause, Julianna Margulies, and Kevin Pollak:
If you conceal a firearm inside the waistband, you have probably experienced firsthand the difference that being in shape has on your ability to carry. When I'm thin and svelte, my P-01 rides without a second thought. In my current condition, engorged by months of having a recuperating broken arm, I can barely get the darn holster on my belt, let alone finagle a blocky 9mm light-rail-equipped slide into the thing.
The Xbox Live Marketplace has a regular "Emerging Artists" section in its music video store featuring musical acts that are just becoming popular. Normally, the quality of the bands showcased is hit-and-miss. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I viewed an "Emerging Artists" music video from The Duke Spirit, an English band.