Saturday, February 27, 2016

Books: Brush Up Your Shakespeare!

"Brush Up Your Shakespeare!" is a celebration of some of the most famous quotes from the Bard.  The book, written by Michael Macrone, quotes a famous passage from a Shakespearean play or sonnet, explains what it means in the context of the story, and then tells you how it is used (correctly or incorrectly) nowadays.

The book is organized alphabetically by the most memorable word of a particular quote, so you can easily look up chestnuts like Get thee to a nunn'ry (slang for a brothel), The lady doth protest too much, methinks (with "protest" meaning "vow" or "declare," not "object" as most people think) and Now is the winter of our discontent (which has a different meaning in "Richard III" because of the second line, Made glorious by this son of York). Charming illustrations by Tom Lulevitch show the literal meanings of these quotes, often to hilarious effect:

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Miscellany: CRKT Otanashi noh Ken review

Martial arts instructor James Williams has collaborated with CRKT on a number of knife designs, but the Otanashi noh Ken might be the most "martial" of them all. It's basically a folding, pocket-size osoraku zukuri tant┼Ź made for military and law enforcement use:

I like that the knife has a big 4-1/2" AUS 8 blade and a neutral handle that works with a variety of forward and reverse grips. You can't cheat physics, though - the placement of the thumbplate and the balance of the blade made it difficult to flick the knife open without wrist action. It's also not something you would ever use for mundane utility tasks - this is strictly a one-dimensional "tactical" knife, albeit a good one.

Despite its weight (more than 6 ounces) and length (over 10 inches unfolded), the Otanashi noh Ken is surprisingly easy to carry and conceal,.  Both the G10 scales and steel frame on the knife are thin, and the knife sits very low in the pocket thanks to a deep-carry tip-up clip that's reversible for left pocket use. The knife slides in and out of a pocket easily, and I imagine it would have no problem being clipped onto a soldier's LBE or other gear.

The Otanashi noh Ken uses CRKT's manual LAWKS safety system, a small pivoting bar intended to keep the framelock from accidentally disengaging. It doesn't really enhance the strength of the knife, but it doesn't hurt, I guess.

The Otanashi noh Ken is one of those knives that you'll enjoy owning and messing around with, but will probably never carry.  There are certainly worse ways to spend 80 bucks.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Movies: Room

Usually, I post the trailers for movies featured here at Shangrila Towers.  All the ones for "Room" spoil the plot, though, so here's a clip from the film:

"Room" is about a young woman named Joy (Brie Larson) who has been kidnapped and trapped for years in a dilapidated, tiny shed. Her only companion in this prison is her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who was born in the room and was fathered by Joy's captor, an abusive man known only as "Old Nick." Joy does the best she can to give Jack a normal childhood, but conditions deteriorate after Old Nick loses his job. Can Joy and Jack escape the room? And even if they get out physically, will they ever recover mentally?

As you might suspect from the description, this is one of those movies that lives and dies by the performances of its leads, and thankfully, both Larson and Tremblay do fantastic work here. Joy and Jack display the entire range of human emotion - depression, happiness, anger, fear, and love - in a way that seldom feels cloying or artificial. The only thing that lets the actors down is the story, which makes some decisions I wouldn't (no spoilers), and which lacks any real structure.

Rating: 8/10

Miscellany: Shark Valley

Sometimes, when the workday world hems you in, it's best to get somewhere with wide-open spaces and hungry critters. That's why I visited Shark Valley, a site in Everglades National Park, and bicycled along its famed 15 mile tram road: 

There are trams for those physically unable to bike the path, but if you can do it, I recommend cycling. That way, the only sound you hear is the whir of your tires on the pavement.

Confusingly, Shark Valley is not really a valley, and it has no sharks. There are plenty of other animals, though.

If you go during the right months, you are guaranteed to see gators - lots of them. I saw several sunning themselves by the road, and one of them in the road. Needless to say, steer clear of the gators unless you want to reenact that scene from "Eraser."

At the halfway point, there is a tower that provides spectacular views of the surrounding park. You can see for miles on a clear day:

All in all, it's a great trip. In the early morning, before the crowds come, it might be the closest you get to being all by your lonesome in South Florida.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

TV: Fixer Upper

What's the #1 show on Tuesday night cable television? Some gritty prestige drama, or maybe a celebrity reality show? Nope, it's "Fixer Upper," a relaxing hour of home sales and renovation hosted by Chip and Joanna Gaines, the proprietors of Magnolia Homes:

Like most HGTV shows, "Fixer Upper" is a meditative experience with an unchanging structure - each week, a client chooses from one of three Waco-area houses, the dilapidated house gets redesigned and remodeled by Chip and Joanna, and there's a big reveal where everyone lives happily ever after.

Of course, you've seen this formula on dozens of other HGTV shows, but what makes "Fixer Upper" special is the Gaines family itself. Goofball Chip and straight-woman Joanna complement each other perfectly, with the kind of hilarious chemistry that only comes from a loving marriage and years of in-jokes and asides.

This all means that outtakes of "Fixer Upper" are funnier than a lot of network comedies, not that that's a high bar to hurdle: