Monday, April 23, 2018

Federal Hill Park, Baltimore

After visiting the Maryland Science Center, we went after a nearby geocache, Guns to Bear on Baltimore. The cache is located on top of Federal Hill in the aptly named Federal Hill Park. It's only a five minute walk from the Science Center, so the trip was easy, except for the cold, damp, windy weather.

Federal Hill, Baltimore

The steps

The climb was not too hard but leg-length definitely made a difference for how fast the kids got up the hill.

First to the top

The cache was fairly easy to find except that it was not for the vertically-challenged or immature. I was able to spot it and just about reach it.

Nearby is a statue dedicated to Samuel Smith, a merchant and politician who served in America's Continental Army during the War for Independence from Britain. He served as major general (his highest military rank) during the War of 1812 when he organized the local defenses during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814. He also served as a congressman and senator before and after the War of 1812, finishing his political career as mayor of Baltimore (1835-1838). He died in 1939.

A patriotic composition

Samuel Smith

Smith's view of the Inner Harbor

Another memorial is dedicated to George Armistead. He was the officer in command of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and led them through the bombing that inspired Francis Scott Keys to write The Star Spangled Banner.

Armistead memorial

Off to the side of the hill is a fancifully-decorated American Visionary Art Museum. Maybe we will visit it someday.

American Visionary Art Museum

Another view of the Inner Harbor (Science Center on left)

The hill was made into a fort in 1861 to keep the pro-Confederacy part of Baltimore's population under control. The fort had 42 guns and could house a thousand soldiers if needed. Only one gun remains today.

Our little regiment

Gun's eye view

Vintage flag from the War of 1812 days--fifteen stars!

The park also has a very nice-looking playground. The cold and damp kept us from playing there, but surely when we visit the Science Center under better weather we will try it out.


Walking back to the car, I saw some neat local buildings. Living in this neighborhood would be fun but probably very expensive.

Row houses that go all the way back

More modern construction--I would be on those roof-top viewing areas all the time

Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Review: Green Lantern Earth One Volume One by C. Bechko

Green Lantern Earth One Volume One co-written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, art by Gabriel Hardman, and colors by Jordan Boyd

Hal Jordan is an ex-NASA astronaut working with a small company surveying asteroids, hoping to find a valuable and sizable chunk of metal. He and partner Volkov stumble upon something even more valuable than raw metal--a space ship that crashed seemingly hundreds of years ago. A large, broken robot is inside along with a desiccated alien corpse who has a ring on his finger and a glowing lantern nearby. Jordan and Volkov take the lantern and the ring as proof of their find. As their small ship goes to dock with their larger mothership, Volkov slips on the ring and accidentally destroys their ship. Jordan winds up with the ring just as the robot comes blasting off the asteroid. The ring keeps him from dying in space and gives him some powers that he doesn't know how to use. He barely survives a fight with the robot. He wakes up on another planet where an alien with a ring becomes his first ally in discovering what the ring and robots are all about.

I'm usually not a fan of reboots of characters but this one works really well. Instead of just transplanting a hero's story to modern day, this volume moves the story into a credible future. Jordan's character is more disgruntled than hot shot, a nice twist from the standard version of Hal Jordan. A lot of the usual Green Lantern history is woven into the story (the planet Oa, the Guardians, the Manhunters, other individual Green Lanterns, etc.) with enough twists and wrinkles to make the story fresh and interesting. I didn't think anything could top Geoff Johns's run on the Green Lantern comics but this is a very promising start.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) directed by Taika Waititi

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is desparate enough to prevent Ragnarok (the Asgardian apocalypse) that he'll do just about anything. He fights fire demons, threatens to behead his brother, and tries to save his father Odin from shuffling off his apparently mortal coil. His evil, imprisoned sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), goddess of death, is released and causes pandemonium on the planet Asgard. Thor gets tossed off the Bifrost (the bridge between Earth and Asgard) and falls to a dump of a planet where unloved things go to be exploited. He's reunited with more than the Hulk as he schemes his return to Asgard and save the day. Because that's what heroes do.

This movie is a classic case of throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. The story ranges all over Asgard and a bit of the universe. The movie is dripping with CGI spectacle. Jokes are ubiquitous and aimed at practically everyone. Visual references and gags aren't limited to the Marvel Cinematic Universe--everything from Willy Wonka to Lord of the Rings gets a nod, homage, or rip-off. The frivolity is only occasionally tempered by dramatic moments, though many of those can't keep a straight face for very long. The tone is very frivolous, almost to a fault. The actors do a great job and keep the movie from becoming too cartoonish. This is not great storytelling but entertainment for entertainment's sake.

Recommended, though it is very light-weight and visually overblown. This movie is possibly the exact opposite of the dreary and self-important DC superhero movies coming out in the past few years.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Review: A History of the Church in 100 Objects by Mike and Grace Aquilina

A History of the Church in 100 Objects by Mike and Grace Aquilina

The Catholic Church has existed for nearly two thousand years. Its history is rich and varied. Mike and Grace (his daughter) Aquilina provide an interesting overview of that history. They look at one hundred different objects spanning the time from the first century AD (a Jerusalem paving stone, item #2) to 2006 (a Polish bank note featuring John Paul II (#98)). Each item relates to a significant event or person in the Church's history.

The objects run a wide range. Some are famous, like Gutenberg's printing press (#52) or the American Declaration of Independence (#70). Some are obscure, like flasks and holy water bottles (#22, 24, 32, 44, 77). Some are great works of art, like Michelangelo's Pieta #57) or the Rose Window of Notre Dame (#43). Some are mundane tools, like pins (#97, 89), pens (#83), and parking passes (#92--the ones used at Vatican II since Roman parking was at a premium). They all provide a rich way into the story of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church is the oldest and most physical of the Christian Churches. It has survived persecutions (see Peter's Chains (#9) or a guillotine from the French Revolution(#71)) and heresies (#18--a Ravenna mosaic that shows Christ as merely a man according to the Arian heresy). It clings to the Faith that Christ is still physically present with us in the Eucharist, a trust that has only been more refined and more certain through the ages (witness the earliest First Communion cards from the 1910s (#82) after Pope Pius X encouraged parents and pastors to allow young children to receive communion; he also encouraged frequent communion by all the faithful as spiritual nourishment and medicine). This book mirrors the historic and physical reality of the Church in a beautiful way.

The book is also an easy read. Each object gets a full-page picture and two or three pages of text, detailing the object's history and significance. It reads well as individual bits or as larger representations of an age. I learned lots of little bits and made some larger connections between things. Each item also has two books as recommended reading for further study of an item, issue, or age.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Daughter's Art on Display (Again!)

See my daughter's previous art display here.

My daughter's school art made the grade and is (or was, depending on when you read this) on display at The Mall in Columbia. The mall hosts a Spring Student Art Exhibition from the county schools, so there is a lot of art on display from all the elementary, middle, and high schools. Oddly, the high school displays had few people wandering around them. The middle and elementary school displays were mobbed on the night we went (which was the reception night, featuring free juice and cookies for the kids).

Middle school display with middle-sized crowd

The cookie and refreshment sign

My daughter and her work

Little brother picks a drink at the reception

The local community college also made a pitch for student to come to their summer camps and programs. The school's mascot, a red dragon, was there to draw the children closer. He was happy to give high-fives and hugs to visitors. And then hand them a brochure.

Waving to our young one

Slap me five!

The display is up through April 23, so go quickly if you want to see the fabulous art. The cookies were a one-day-only deal, so don't expect them.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Maryland Science Center April 2018

We took advantage of our annual membership to the Maryland Science Center to visit over the Easter holiday. Some sections were still unexplored by us and the center has plenty of roving/spontaneous exhibits for our enjoyment and education.

The first thing we saw was one of the spontaneous exhibits--a collection of skulls. My prescholar was interested. The guy showed us a human skull and a chimpanzee skull among others.

A skull exhibit

Another nearby skull

On our way upstairs to the Science & Main exhibit, we discovered another spontaneous bit of science. This one was a number location guessing game. The green cups hid numbers in ascending order. The kids had to guess where a specific number was. After picking one cup, it's easier to make an educated guess where the number might be (higher or lower, unless the right number is picked first).

I was worried there was a pea under one cup

My daughter zeroes in on eighty-two

Three-cup problem for the under-five customers

Three-cup solution

Nearby in the Science & Main exhibit, we tried having a balanced meal using trays on pivots! Our youngest son's idea of a balanced meal is to have a bit of everything.

Learning to balance

The music and sound exhibits showed us how an organ works as well as what sound waves look like.

Trying out a small organ

Longest keys ever?

Making sound waves

The foam block construction area had all sorts of challenges posted on the wall. My oldest son thought this was some sort of area control game. He made a long, short fence.

Great Wall of China II?

Other projects started

My daughter started building a house for herself.

Precision craftsmanship

Nearby was a display on making paper airplanes along with a machine to throw them into the air. Sadly, we didn't get good pictures or video of the planes flying, though they were quite impressive. You'll just have to go try it out for yourself.

How to fold a paper airplane (at least, one model)

Another exhibit demonstrated how balls bounce on different surfaces (carpet, foam, and hard plastic) with different angles to get different trajectories. The boys loved this and probably would have spent the whole day at this one station.

The joy of bouncing

The cups guy came over and announced another spontaneous science demonstration downstairs. I took a look from up above.

More science going on

The kids finished up their building projects, including chairs.

An easy chair made by my son

House with furniture

Working on a roof

Cosy inside

No visit is complete without experiencing Newton's Alley. My daughter tried out the can crusher, which slowly depresses a trash can with every crank of a small wheel.

Adding a couple of turns

The can getting crushed

Upstairs, our toddler was fascinated by this display that made sounds of digestion, which includes everything from chewing to elimination. It was a bit gross but he is a boy, after all.

At least it doesn't provide smells

The other children were busy trying out a display with mirrors. I never got a close enough look to see what it was all about.

Mirrors make science fun

We tried out the "put a skeleton together" as a nice ending to a trip that started with a bunch of skulls.

From skull to skeleton