December 31, 2006

Guilty Pleasure of the Week: The Princess Diaries

Posted in Books, Movies at 8:36 pm by Calico Jack

Of course, I’m referring to the book series, not the dreadful pair of films which unleashed their poison a few years ago on an unsuspecting populace. Normally I wouldn’t ever pick up a book like this, let alone read it…but I work in the children’s department of a library, and it happened to be lying within easy reach one evening when I was rather bored. Much to my surprise and initial consternation, the first novel was pretty engrossing. Well-written? Nope. Full of profound insights? Alas, none to be found here. Worthy of any best-of list? Probably not. But The Princess Diaries had a solid hour’s worth of enjoyment between its covers, largely due to author Meg Cabot’s perpetual inclusion of pop-culture references and droll passages:

Only in a culture as screwed up as ours, where girls like Christina Aguilera are held up as models of beauty when clearly they are in fact suffering from some sort of malnutrition (scurvy?), would Lilly ever be considered fat. Because Lilly isn’t fat. She is just round, like a puppy.

Now, I don’t know any fourteen-year-old girls who talk that way. I will guess that those same girls also don’t write that way, although I don’t have access to their journals to make a more informed statement. Still, the first three entries in the series (The Princess Diaries, Princess in the Spotlight, Princess in Love) have entertained me for at least three hours, which are three hours that I didn’t spend wasting my life watching Deal or No Deal with my parents. I would throw myself off a cliff if these books ever won a Newbery award, but as a mindless diversion they serve quite admirably.

One note for parents: these books aren’t really appropriate for younger children. The movies weren’t appropriate for anybody, but the novels have some content in them from which the more innocent kiddies should probably stay away.

December 26, 2006

Kerry’s Kristmas

Posted in Politics at 10:37 pm by Calico Jack

I find this fittingly hilarious:

This is a true story…..Check out this photo from our mess hall at the US Embassy yesterday morning.  Sen. Kerry found himself all alone while he was over here.  He cancelled his press conference because no one came, he worked out alone in the gym w/o any soldiers even going up to say hi or ask for an autograph (I was one of those who was in the gym at the same time), and he found himself eating breakfast with only a couple of folks who are obviously not troops.

Even better, there’s a picture:

Nope, never could have seen that one coming…

December 24, 2006

Dinosaurs!

Posted in News, Random Oddments at 9:15 pm by Calico Jack

This gets my inner dino-geek going:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Scientists in Spain have found the fossilized remains of one of the largest animals ever to walk the Earth, a gargantuan plant-eating dinosaur up to 125 feet long and weighing as much as seven elephants.

Turiasaurus riodevensis, named for the region and village in Spain where it was found, lived about 145 million years ago and was a sauropod, that familiar kind of dinosaur with a long neck, long tail and massive body that walked on four stout legs…

Alcala said Turiasaurus weighed between 40 and 48 metric tonnes and was between 118 and 125 feet long — longer than an NBA basketball court. By comparison, Tyrannosaurus rex was about 45 feet long and six tonnes.

The humerus, the bone in the front leg that extends from shoulder to elbow, was as big as a full-grown man.

Turiasaurus rivals the size of the largest known dinosaurs, all sauropods, and its remains were more complete than those of many of them. These include the African giant Paralititan, Seismosaurus in North America and Argentinosaurus and Puertasaurus in South America.

Is it embarrassing to admit that I’m familiar with each and every one of the dinosaurs mentioned?

December 22, 2006

Happy Holidays from your basic cable channel!

Posted in Random Oddments, Television at 5:53 pm by Calico Jack

Ah, Christmas. It’s that time of the year where everyone gathers together to celebrate the season, open gifts, gain twenty pounds from eating too much, which leads to a panicky New Year’s weight-loss resolution. But Christmas is also the time for those ubiquitous made-for-television holiday “specials.” I’m not quite sure why they’re special, since every single one of them shamelessly rips off the Christmas classics. I have no idea how people get suckered into watching these saccharine, derivative timewasters; but there are evidently enough to justify producing thirty more every year — and replaying all of the ones from years past. To cash in on this craze, how would you like to create your very own made-for-television Christmas movie? Courtesy of Washington Post writer Paul Farhi, here is a visual aid for contributing to this season’s cheer/depression, depending on who you are (click on the thumbnail for the full picture):

Christmas Movie

December 21, 2006

A 24 Christmas

Posted in Television at 12:44 pm by Calico Jack

I can’t believe I haven’t seen this before — enjoy!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Posted in Books at 12:38 pm by Calico Jack

According to the BBC, that’s the title of the seventh and final Harry Potter book, which is supposed to come out next summer (although knowing Rowling’s penchant for delays, I wouldn’t place any money on it right now.) On first glance, I’m not really loving this title. Unlike Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, there isn’t anything here that will give plot-hungry fans much to discuss. I don’t ever remember reading about the Deathly Hallows in a previous book, although I’m not nearly as much of an uber-geek about Harry Potter as some are. If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will correct me.

Between the final novel and the fifth movie, next summer should be quite enjoyable for Harry Potter fans. It’s hard to believe that this series which has shaped children’s reading habits for so long is now coming to an end. All good things…

December 20, 2006

Space Marines!

Posted in Random Oddments, Technology at 11:06 pm by Calico Jack

From Popular Science:

As any battlefield commander will tell you, getting troops to the fight can be as difficult as winning it. And for modern-day soldiers, the sites of conflict are so far-flung, and the political considerations of even flying over another country so complicated, that rapid entry has become nearly impossible. If a group of Marine Corps visionaries have their way, however, 30 years from now, Marines could touch down anywhere on the globe in less than two hours, without needing to negotiate passage through foreign airspace. The breathtaking efficiency of such a delivery system could change forever the way the U.S. does battle.

The proposal, part of the Corps’s push toward greater speed and flexibility, is called Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion, or Sustain. Using a suborbital transport—that is, a vehicle that flies into space to achieve high travel speeds but doesn’t actually enter orbit—the Corps will be able, in effect, to instantaneously deliver Marine squads anywhere on Earth.

This really excites my inner military geek, regardless of how practical the idea Space Marines really turn out to be. For one thing, the cost must be astronomical for this kind of insertion. And once the Marines are on the ground, they’ll need a way to extract themselves (the spaceship rides on a carrier aircraft which takes it out of the atmosphere, allowing the spaceship to gain high speeds before igniting its propultion system.) The Corps expects to have a working prototype in fifteen years, and possibly a production model by 2030.

I don’t care if this never ends up working out; how cool is the idea?

December 19, 2006

Advice for the Panicked Shopper

Posted in Writing at 5:18 pm by Calico Jack

I was fortunate enough to discover the writing genius of James Lileks over a year ago, and he instantly became one of my daily must-reads in my Bloglines list. Lileks is a daily humor columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, as well as writing his own very popular blog, where he literally makes me laugh out loud almost every single day, such as this line from today’s entry:

[I’m] still jazzed from 24 season 5 (It’s President Twitchy McNixon vs the Terrorists From The Unnamed Homeland!)

His “Daily Quirk” Star-Tribune column is also a regular source of hearty laughs. Sunday’s Quirk provided advice to men searching for last-minute gifts for their wives and familes:

Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year, so you can forget about the delivery truck showing up to save the day. If you are a bad husband, you will run to the mall, NOW. First, some lingerie from the Victoria’s Secret Early 20th-Century Prostitute Collection (or the shapeless loungewear from the Not Tonight Collection, if you wish), then the department store for a faux-fur-handled electric windshield scraper. She’ll need an extension cord for that — hey, three gifts already!

And that’s only the first paragraph. Add Lileks to your RSS reader; he’s funnier than just about every other columnist writing today.

Update: Lileks does it again.

December 18, 2006

Window in the Skies

Posted in Music at 5:06 pm by Calico Jack

U2 just released their music video for the single “Window in the Skies.” Some poor editor spent way too much time making the video, although the results are quite impressive. How many artists can you name?

Book Review: The Ruins

Posted in Books at 4:56 pm by Calico Jack

I picked up this book on the recommendation of Stephen King, who called it “the best horror novel of the new century.” I’m not quite sure I would agree, especially since I think The Egyptologist (another book on his top-ten list for 2006) is more cohesive and richly narrated. However, The Ruins grabs you in a way that I haven’t felt since reading King’s own Misery a few years ago. I literally read this book in one sitting over the space of a couple hours. From the dust jacket:

The Ruins follows two American couples, just out of college, enjoying a pleasant, lazy beach holiday together in Mexico as, on an impulse, they go off with newfound friends in search of one of their group — the young German, who, in pursuit of a girl, has headed for the remote Mayan ruins, site of a fabled archeological dig.

This is what happens from the moment when the searchers — moving into the wild interior — begin to suspect that there is an insidious, horrific “other” among them…

Smith writes from the point of view of all four main characters, providing an interesting look into each of their minds and how they react to the situation facing them. There are no chapters, only point-of-view changes, which almost requires the novel to be read in one or two sittings. As with many horror novels, The Ruins requires the reader to have a slight suspension of disbelief, although there is a revelation two-thirds of the way through the novel that weakens the story somewhat.

Regardless, The Ruins works — and works well — because of Smith’s ability to convey an ever-increasing sense of dread and hopelessness as these young turists make their way through the depths of the Mayan jungle. Once the antagonist is revealed, the setting never changes through the end of the book, giving the reader a very real sense of literary claustrophobia. Honestly, this book has many parallels to the excellent film The Descent, from the complete lack of backstory about the antagonists to the incising exploration of human nature when people realize that they are helpless against pure evil. Both of these works excel at putting you in the moment and never letting go, as well as sharing a strong fondness for gore. The Ruins is not a book for those who like their horror subtly displayed; some passages are absolutely gut-wrenching in their intensity. But for those who aren’t afraid to take a journey into the darkness, The Ruins is an engrossing, horrifying read.

I wouldn’t recommend reading the reviews on Amazon, as many reviewers give away salient plot points. Just pick it up from your library and curl (wrong choice of words there) up with the book one evening for a few hours. Just remember to breathe.