In a slightly-related but somewhat sad note, Phil the Dog, pictured above in the wife’s arms, passed away this past year. From what I understand, he was pretty old for his breed, and went comfortably in his sleep on the couch.
So, being newlyweds this year but still not living in the same country on account of the need for proper immigration channels to be followed, the wife and I decided we should at least spend our first Christmas together, together.
To that end, she flew up here to St. John’s in the midst of blizzards and storms, and spent 5 of the snowiest December days I can remember here through Christmas Day. (Her additional help in shovelling was much appreciated.) On Boxing Day, however, both of us packed and headed down to Philly to spend the remainder of the holiday break with her family.
I was greeted with this.
It took a while for him to warm up to me, since he is not very smart and forgot that we had met and played quite a lot on my previous visits. We never could get him to stay still long enough to model the bow tie I bought him, however—every time I put my camera down low enough to get a picture, he came toward the camera with his tongue ready for licking.
Anyway, we visited with all the rest of the wife’s family, ate far too much food, and went to the movies a few times, which was great—I was able to catch up on my viewing. Also, we saw Batman.
LEGO Batman. In person. Well, plastic. Sort of.
Ugh, just look at the picture.
Needless to say, I am looking forward to the upcoming Lego movie.
Anyway, while there I saw Frozen and 47 Ronin. Not surprisingly, I have thoughts on each.
Thoughts on Frozen
Disney’s Frozen has done exceptionally well for the House of Mouse, and for good reason. It is a thoroughly enjoyable movie that both feels like a classic Disney fairy tale movie while avoiding and gently skewering some of the more questionable tropes of the genre that they built.
The computer-animated visuals are fine, but rather par-for-the-course these days. While is is excellent character and visual design, I find all the 3D computer animated look largely the same. I prefer traditional 2D animation—I can think of lots more examples in that arena that simply blow my mind.
The voice work was also good. I am a fan of Kristen Bell from her, shall we say, less family-friendly work in movies like Fanboys and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but was surprised that she also sang her character’s part as well—she’s really good! Broadway star Idina Menzel’s strong singing and voice work was less surprising but no less impressive, and the film really revolved around their relationship.
Though I enjoyed Disney’s previous effort, Tangled, it felt a little too modern and Shrek-ish (which is not necessarily a bad thing, as I very much liked some of the Shrek movies) for me to reconcile its feel with that evoked by their prior classics. Frozen fits right in there among them.
The wife is good to me. From the trailers, 47 Ronin did not look like her kind of movie—it looked like it would be a kind of terrible movie with Keanu Reeves, 80 minutes of gory, over-the-top sword fighting, and 10 minutes of plot. That would have been exactly the sort of thing I would love, but no one else was interested, so she went with me.
It turns out the trailers were completely misleading. It wasn’t a bad movie. It wasn’t brilliant, but it wasn’t bad. There were cool action sequences, but they were hardly the focus of the movie—it was actually kind of slow paced. And Keanu Reeves was not the main character—or at least not the only one. Hiroyuki Sanada as Oishi—the leader of the titular 47 ronin—was the real driving force of the movie. There were large chunks with no Reeves at all.
The story is a retelling of one of Japan’s most famous legends, about a group of samurai who avenge their master despite the personal costs. This version has hidden magic, a demon-trained half-breed warrior (Reeves), a sneaky witch, and a forbidden romance woven throughout. The action sequences are brief but interesting, and the plot and motivation of all the characters was well-explained. The pacing, however, felt… loose.
The wife said it reminded her of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and that comparison is apt. In recent years we’ve seen some really well-done epic films with tight pacing and plotting. 47 Ronin seemed like it would have blown my mind if it had come out 20 years ago, but now it’s just okay. It’s not bad, it’s actually quite interesting, but it is the sort of movie that I wish could go beyond that to be awesome, but doesn’t quite. If the premise sounds interesting to you, however, it is certainly worth seeing.
The New York Visitation
So, now that I’m done talking movies, I needed a new header so that the end of my 47 Ronin discussion would be clear. It does provide a convenient segue for next bit of blathering.
On December 30th, the wife and I took the train into New York City. We saw the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center!
Unfortunately, everyone else was there to see it, too, which made getting to the Lego Store difficult. Once we made it in, I didn’t dare stop long enough to actually get anything. (Fear not, faithful readers—on the 31st we stopped into the Christiana Mall in Delaware which had both a Lego Store and a Cinnabon.)
The reason for our visit to New York was that the mother-in-law had gotten the wife and I some tickets for Waiting for Godot, starring Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen. It turns out that I did not like the play very much, as there is no plot to speak of and there’s a lot of self-indulgent monologuing, but Stewart and McKellen were fantastic. They owned their parts, they played off of each other perfectly, and occasionally even cracked each other up. During the curtain call, they even did a little dance. They made that play worth watching.
The only drawback to this New York visit was that I thinked I picked up a bug somewhere that hit me on New Year’s Eve in DC. (That happened the last time I took the train to New York and then later went to DC, too…. Hmmm…..)
This post is rather tardier than usual, but in all honesty I’ve hardly felt like I’ve done anything other than work at my job, work on my thesis, and plan my wedding all summer.
On the up side, I’ve been making decent progress on the thesis research. This has been helped by using my vacation time from work as dedicated thesis time. Even when I went to visit the fiancee in Philly/New Jersey, I got a good 4.5 days of thesis work in while she had to work during the week.
Oh! That’s right. International travel. That is something, at least. I finally got to see some of the historic sites around Philadelphia, like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Look! There are pictures!
We then spent some time in New Jersey while the fiancee was at work during the week. We did pop over to New York City one night. I have proof!
We had decided to see a Broadway show, so we looked at what was playing at a time that was convenient (and had good reviews), and so—knowing absolutely nothing about it—went to see Once. This turned out to be an excellent—if somewhat low-key—show, but was made all the more exciting because it was starring Arthur Darvill (Rory from Doctor Who!) and the dude could sing!
Possibly even more exciting than that, we also found a Lego Store in the Jersey Gardens Outlet Mall in Elizabeth, New Jersey. There was so much Lego! I wanted to roll around naked in it, but that would be both painful and frowned upon. That outing also saw a visit to White Castle, which was okay, but not as life-alteringly transcendant as I would have hoped.
At the end of that week, we headed up to the Jersey Shore. We actually didn’t make it to the boardwalk area, so it was really rather nice. I have proof!
While down in the US I also managed to see Pacific Rim, which was super-enjoyable but not as mind-blowingly awesome as I had been hoping Guillermo del Toro could make a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters. All the monster-on-robot action was great, but there was just… something missing that kept it from quite rising to the heights of his other movies like Hellboy. (Pan’s Labyrinth is head and shoulders above even that, which is why I had high hopes.)
We also took in RED 2, which was quite well executed by the charming and awesome cast, but perhaps fell a little short of generating the excitement of the first one simply because it was no longer a novel concept. As such, it didn’t feel quite as good, though it was certainly not a disappointment.
Okay, so July was actually pretty eventful. Maybe that is my excuse for being tardy.
I know it is hard to believe, but things around here have been quieter than usual lately. I’m far behind on my movie posts (and, frankly, far behind on seeing movies), I haven’t finished reading any books in ages, and I’m afraid I may be running out of prominent pizza places to feature in my Pizza Quest.
It is possible that I could have caught up on or dealt with some of these issues over the past month or so if not for a few of exciting events.
The girlfriend was upgraded to the fiancee. (Actually, so was I, now that I think about it.) I proposed in Vegas on New Year’s Eve with the help of her sister and friends, and took her completely by surprise. Since then we have been rather busy nailing down details of when and where the event will happen, and that has taken up a surprising amount of time.
I turned 34. That is rather older than I realized I was getting. I’m definitely in the mid-thirties demographic by now. Realizing this, I have renewed my efforts to finish my PhD this year. (Hopefully the sequence of events this year will be Defense -> Wedding -> Convocation.)
I was on TV! Last September, the Daily Planet show on the Discovery Channel filmed a segment about our research project at work, and it finally aired. We are in Part 1 of the January 24th, 2013 episode, which I seem unable to find online right now but was definitely there yesterday.
All of the above kept me rather busy and distracted. However, now that I’ve settled into a nice routine with work, wedding planning, and thesis, I’m hoping I can fit in more time for blogging and other fun stuff too.
I had meant to get another few movies up by now, but in the last few weeks I have apparently become something of a grown-up.
First, I decided that the bed I had been sleeping on was uncomfortable and too small, so I went and bought a new mattress. A new, sturdier bed frame is still a planned, but this definitely non-student-bed is nice.
Secondly, I bought a car! I felt rather bad after my mother’s car was wrecked (not her fault) while she was driving in to pick me up from work a few weeks ago, since if we weren’t sharing the car, she’d likely not have been driving at that busy time of day. Last Friday I finally did something about it, and went and took a Mazda3 for a test drive. It was nice. And the financing deal was good, and, well, 5 days later I own a car.
(I’m actually both appalled and impressed and how fast they can move to sell you a car. Though they weren’t open on the weekend, I certainly could have had it faster than I did.)
I think my subconscious started a rebellion against this kind of adult responsibility, however, since last Sunday I was overtaken with the urge to get myself a new yo-yo, and in the process I also ended up getting myself a Nerf gun. (I resisted the urge to get some Star Wars action figures only because I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of the check-out lines at Wal-Mart.)
So, that’s what I’ve been up to the last few weeks. More movie thoughts to come soon, as I have managed to squeeze in a few here and there.
I turned 33 a few days ago. I would have commented then, but I was rather busy as the girlfriend was up visiting and it was her last full day in town. I took the day off work, slept in, had toutons for lunch, turkey for dinner, and—of course—cake.
(It should be noted that was the third cake in some way related to my birthday, as I had a gathering the weekend before my birthday which featured a cake and there was also a potluck with cake for dessert. And cookies. Let’s just say I ate well.)
Along with the food, I got presents on my birthday! And getting presents is pretty awesome. I got a new compact digital camera (the Canon PowerShot ELPH 100HS) to replace the one I’ve been using since 2006 and that had been getting sluggish. One of these days I’ll get myself a nice DSLR, but that will only happen once I have the time to learn how to use it.
I also got a carry-on travel bag (which was sorely needed) and a number of books. The highlight was the signed, personalized copy of John Scalzi’sFuzzy Nation—I enjoy me some signed books, and he’s one of my favourite authors.
So, all in all, a good day. The week preceding it was also most excellent, what with the girlfriend visiting and all. Apart from the aforementioned party and potluck, we also stuffed ourselves to the gills at Raymonds (which was excellent), baked some cookies, went to a movie, and generally hung out.
I am a little disappointed that my PhD wasn’t finished while I was 32 (it’s such a nice number for computer engineers!), but 33 is already shaping up to be a good year. Now that I have a steady income, I’ll be able to visit the girlfriend more, and I don’t have to worry about how to pay the bills. This means I’m free to concentrate on actually finishing that PhD and getting it out of my life.
Now that my life must necessarily be more structured, let’s hope that it translates into getting things done on all fronts.
It is once again a new year, so it is time to reflect on the one just past and set goals for the one to come. I will try to keep this brief, but… well, if you read this blog, you probably know me pretty well, so you know that’s not terribly likely.
Bad Stuff from 2011
(Please note that this is in terms of personal goals, not the world in general. In general, my life is quite excellent, with little to complain about.)
I didn’t finish my PhD. Technically, I’m on leave of absence now. However, I did make some good progress.
I didn’t write enough. One of my goals from last year was to write more, and while I wrote a bit, I don’t think it was more. Unless you count Twitter, which are not the kind of words I want to write.
I didn’t see the girlfriend nearly enough. I mean, we’re kicking ass with the long distance thing, because we’re awesome, but we’d both rather like some more in-person face time, rather than just Skype.
I wasted a lot of time. I still need to break my internet time-wasting routines.
Good Stuff from 2011
My teaching skills improved. I taught a couple of courses, and my evaluations were on an upward trajectory. I look forward to some day teaching courses directly in my specialty.
I got a job. Admittedly, this came at the end of the year, but it is interesting and pays well and means I don’t have to worry about financial stuff for the foreseeable future.
I read more stuff. Perhaps not as much as I would have liked to read, but I think I’ve made a good start at reconnecting with my love of reading.
I ran. And hated it. There will be no epiphanies from me as I realize “I am a runner.” I am not. But I can do it, and it was good for me and improved my health. (Granted, I’ve let that slide over the holidays, but I’ll get back to some kind of exercise now that they’re over.)
So, in terms of last year’s goals, I more or less managed about half of them, with progress toward others. The only areas I really fell down were in reducing my time-wasting. Moving forward into 2012, I’m hoping that the absolute need to structure my life more will help on that front.
Goals for 2012
Finish the PhD. I’m close now. I know what I need to do. And now that I’m working full time, I will have to focus and use the limited time I have available rather than goofing off. I will be ready to defend in the summer, and I will convocate in November. That is my goal.
Get Healthier. While running in the winter doesn’t work for me, I’m going to try to get some more exercise of some kind. I’m going to go out and buy a scale to track my weight, and I’m going to avoid bringing a stash of junk food to work. I will wean myself off my snacking habits.
Read More. I always want to read more. I should probably figure out how much I read last year, and strive to beat that.
Write More. I need to get back in the saddle on writing. Maybe I’ll aim for 250 words per day as a minimum. Or to spend a half hour writing or revising something.
Submit my Writing. I will finish some stories and submit them to magazines or anthologies or somewhere. It’s all well and good to vomit out first drafts and view that as “writing more”, but I need to kick myself in the pants to revise stories and finish final drafts and send them out into the world.
Be More Social. I think I’ve fallen into a tendency to just sit at home, talk to people online, and avoid going out at all. This is helpful to my productivity, but probably not my sanity. I have to try and get off my ass more and go out and do stuff from time to time. (Now that I have an income, this includes the possibility of seeing the girlfriend more, though now I will be constrained by vacation time rather than finances.)
And so that’s my plan for the year to come. Mostly the same as last year. The nice thing about a lot of these is that they can never be “finished” (except for the PhD), so any progress toward them is a good thing.