Friday, February 27, 2015

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) directed by Matt Reeves


A decade after the events of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the ape-ocalypse is in full swing. The apes have built a primitive community in the hills outside of San Francisco, where they hunt and gather and speak in sign language. They haven't seen any humans for two years but that changes quickly. Two friends go fishing. As they are walking back they run into a single human male who panics and shoots one of the apes. More humans show up and try to ease the situation. The gunshot is heard by the apes, too, and a bunch of them show up and start shouting "GO!" at the humans. The humans leave but they can't stay away. They are running out of fossil fuels in what's left of San Francisco and want to repair a hydroelectric dam that is near the apes' home. Malcolm, leader of the humans, begins a tense and precarious negotiation with Caesar, leader of the apes. The humans back in Frisco want power at almost any cost (and they do have a lot of weapons); the apes in their community want nothing to do with humans. Can we all get along or will there be all out war?

The movie is very tense and exciting, filled with action and complicated themes and ideas. The apes have a law that no ape kill another ape, which of course gets broken during the course of the movie more than once to great effect. Member of both the ape and the human communities look on the others as lesser beings and as fair game. The leaders work for a more nuanced approach to the others, hoping to preserve peace and well-being for everyone involved. The moral and political tension is just as high as the action tension. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a thoughtful and exciting sequel well worth watching.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Jacob's BSA Report for February 2015

February may be a short month for the calendar but it is a busy month for Cub Scouts. Jacob's den meeting was devoted to making centerpieces for the Blue and Gold Banquet later in the month. The banquet is a celebration of Scouting, which began in February of 1910. At the banquet, most of the boys receive recognition for their achievements that year, including the most senior cubs who move from their Cub Scout pack to a Boy Scouts pack. The decorations were fun to make but, as is usual with six- and seven-year old boys, chaos threatened to take over.

Jacob finished his last requirement for the Tiger Cub badge when we visited a radio station to see how they communicate with others. We visited 95.1 Shine FM. We toured the whole building which was surprisingly small. They do have some CDs but most of the music is stored on computer servers. The main broadcasting room (where the DJ sits and talks on the radio) was fascinating. We also met an audio editor for the station who puts together jingles and commercials. He demonstrated his work by having one of the boys record "I am a boy, I am not an alien," which he re-edited into "I am an alien, I am not a boy." He even added a sound effect to make the voice sound like it was from outer space. The boys loved it.

In lieu of the pack meeting on the third Wednesday, the pack had the banquet. The highlight for us was Jacob receiving his Tiger Cub badge.

Pack leader presents patches

Unfortunately, all the snowy weather prevented the patches from arriving on time but the Pack Leader was diligent enough to print paper patches which we attached with double-sided tape. At the next meeting we'll get the official patches.

Taping patches on

The food at the banquet was kid-friendly fare--hot dogs, pizza, nachos, carrots and celery with dipping sauce, soft pretzels, and popcorn. Vendors wandered among the crowd giving out the hot dogs, pretzels, and popcorn like at the ball park.

The popcorn vendor

The highlights for the children were the activity stations. Some crafts and games were available, but most popular by far was the obstacle course which was open to siblings big enough to race.

Lucy ready to run course #1

Lucy gets some air on the trampoline

Bola toss

Ladder climb

Lucy on the other ladder (taken with the other camera)

Lucy jumps hoops while Jacob jumps rope

Frisbee toss

Jacob builds

Jacob smashes

Walking the line

Cool skateboard move

Yes, there was a skateboard!

Nicholas didn't get to play but he was well behaved, quiet, and quite charming with other people. He helped mommy win some of the silent auction items--gift certificates to restaurants!

Everyone had a good time at the banquet. We look forward to next year!
 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Review: Aristotle of Everybody by Mortimer J. Adler

Aristotle of Everybody: Difficult Thought Made Easy by Mortimer J. Adler


Writing a comprehensive and concise summary of Aristotle's ideas is a difficult task, especially if the author wishes it to be accessible not only to the average reader but also to children in middle school. That ambition is what Mortimer Adler aimed at with this book. His thirteen year-old and his eleven year-old read the manuscript and gave helpful feedback, so he certainly thinks it is a success. But is it readable for children who don't have a professional philosopher and intellectual for a dad?

The book is comprehensive, touching on all the topics in Aristotle's theoretical and practical thinking. Adler uses an easy to follow structure to work through them all. He starts with the idea that Aristotle has reflected deeply on the common sense understanding of the world, so deeply that his theories are uncommonly common sensical. Most everyone wants to be like this and that's why they enjoy games like "Twenty Questions" or "Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?". Those games naturally lead into a discussion Aristotle's taxonomy of reality, dividing it into living and non-living things, then the living into plants, animals, and human beings.

Humans, as rational animals, can be looked at in various ways. In one way, they are makers of material things like chairs and songs, leading into discussions of the four causes, changes in being, and artistic endeavors. In a second way, humans are doers of actions, looking at us as moral agents who seek a certain good not only for themselves (ethics) but for others (politics). In a third way, humans are thinkers, leading to discussions of how men know what they know, along with the nature of truth, logic, and certainty in Aristotle's philosophy. Adler concludes the book with more difficult questions on infinity, eternity, immateriality, and God. An appendix references the sections of Aristotle's texts that Adler drew upon for each discussion.

Since the scope is so huge, this book is not a quick or light read even at 200 pages. His exposition is clear but a little dry. Examples are used throughout the book but only with laser-like focus on the point at hand. Readers never come to a passage where a short story explains an idea and provides a little color for the book. On the other hand, the book does hit all the major points in Aristotle's philosophy, making it a nice substitute for or supplement to a college course on Aristotle. Reading the book is definitely worth the effort put into it. I think it would be too challenging for middle school students, but high school and up can make it through.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Walking Dead Ep. 511, The Distance

The Walking Dead, Season 5, Episode 11: The Distance


TV rating

TV-MA

ZPAA rating

Teens and u

Offensive content

The usual assortment of bloody zombie deaths; bad attitudes; one gay kiss.

Synopsis & Review

The group takes Aaron in and interrogates him about who he is and where he is from. He's mostly open and upbeat even after Rick punches him out. Aaron is sent from a large community to bring in people because humans are the most important resource to them, even more so than their massive metal walls. Rick has a really hard time buying into Aaron's story though the others are more open to a hopeful outcome.

The episode deals with Rick's pessimism about finding others who can be trusted. At one point, he admits to Michonne that he can't think of any reason why he'd join Aaron's community but he'll go to the gates anyway just to find out if there would be a reason. He still has a kernel of hope. But is this just another Terminus/Woodbury/etc.?

Fans of the comics (like me) probably have a better idea about what's coming, but that doesn't lessen the excitement. What did lessen the excitement was a couple of missteps. I was never convinced Aaron might be lying so a lot of the tension is lost there. The group gets divided at one point and then later gets back together, though how they found each other isn't clear at all. Maybe there's a deleted scene that makes the connection. Also, Aaron says that Rick's group has to "audition" to join the community but that seems like it's forgotten by the end of the episode. Unless next week's episode begins with the audtion...


Monday, February 23, 2015

Cute Kid Pix February 2015

Here's some more cute pictures of the kids from the past couple of months! We start with some bedtime leftovers from the Florida trip...

Lucy tries to get Nicholas to sleep

Peek-a-boo

Nicholas, don't pull your sister's hair!

Mug shot after the cops got involved in the previous picture

Nicholas had lots of fun hanging out over Christmas with his cousin Kira!

Kira and Nicholas

Back at home, we got some books from the library. Nicholas loves reading books!

A real page turner!

We decided to use our fireplace for the first time, a popular choice with the kids. Nothing is more fascinating than flames!

Fireplace

Fireplace fascinated fans!

Nicholas loves tummy time, but only in small bursts. Adding toys helps a lot with his endurance.

Tummy time with toys

After the snow storm last week (third week of February 2015) Jacob made a snow fort.

Jacob fortified!

Lucy enjoyed some cocoa in her fort during the second storm.

Happy to have a warm beverage

Drinking!

Nicholas does have two new teeth but is very shy about showing them.

You want to see what!?!

No show

Just barely visible

Close up of barely there tooth

GQ head shot

He finally showed his teeth in the bath tub. We had to distract him by making him laugh.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Heavy Seas Brewery Tour

Heavy Seas Brewery is just outside of Baltimore. They offer free, child-friendly tours on the weekend, so we took advantage in the middle of a cold January. The brewery has a nice tap room that serves their ales. Tour participants can pay five dollars to get a souvenir pint glass and five samplings. We arrived just before the tour started so I did get a glass but not a sample before we headed onto the floor of the brewery.

First stop on the tour

The tour guide explained the bottling process in some detail. The equipment they use is fairly new, having replaced the old bottling equipment from the previous soda-producing plant. The brewery spent years finding replacement parts for the fifty year old equipment and finally upgraded in the past few years. The machinery is now much quicker and easier to maintain.

Modern technology!

Beer bottles on the line

The guide asked us to guess the two most common enemies of beer. They are light and oxygen. To prevent as much UV light from hitting the beer as possible, they use brown bottles. To prevent as much oxygen as possible, they use a special filling and capping machine that uses carbon dioxide to force out any air in the top of the bottle. That's why a bottle has that sound when opened.

Next, he showed us one of the key ingredients in beer--hops. Hops are flowers that are dried. They give bitter flavoring to beer. He handed some out to us to feel and crush in our hands. Then we smelled our hands and they smelled delicious.

Hops

Nearby I saw an interesting barrel but didn't get to ask about it. I assumed it was some sort of cleaning solution.

Suspicious barrel

Label that causes suspicion

We walked among the large vats and the guide told us about another key ingredient--malt. Malt comes from the barley plant and it gives beer a sweet flavor. The brewer's art is in balancing out the hops and malt to provide a pleasing taste for customers.

Malt

The vats were impressively huge and had their own fun warning signs.

Barrels and vats

Where do I get a permit?

Near the end of the tour, we saw the old equipment that was no longer used by the brewery.

Old equipment

More of the old equipment

We walked back through the storage area to the tap room where I had the chance to try some of the ales:
  • Gold--"This easy-drinking session beer pours a deep golden color. It smells slightly floral and herbal, thanks to a hopback full of Cascade and Centennial hops. Gold is tasty and refreshing, with a round mouthfeel. In 2010, it took awards at both the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup." I enjoyed this beer though it wasn't my favorite.
  • Powder Monkey--"At Heavy Seas, we brew a traditional English-style pale ale with our own East Coast twist: UK Fuggles and Goldings dominate the flavor of Powder Monkey, but has subtle notes of citrus and flower from Cascade hops added in the boil and hopback. Brass in color, Powder Monkey, like all of our beers, is well balanced: distinct bitterness and a slight malt sweetness characterize the taste. In 2010, it won a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup; in 2008, it won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival." I liked this a lot, it reminded me of European beers.
  • Siren Noire--"Our Siren Noire isn’t your father’s chocolate stout. We’ve used almost 3 pounds of Belgian coco nibs per barrel. We’ve aged it for five weeks in bourbon barrels with vanilla beans added. A mix of dark malts gives Siren Noire a well-rounded body that is decidedly chocolatey—but without being extraordinarily sweet. Brewers Gold hops contribute an earthy spiciness, with notes of black current." This was very chocolaty and amazingly delicious. If we hadn't had to run out because Jacob was bored, I probably would have bought some.
We definitely recommend visiting the Heavy Seas Brewery for their tour!

Nicholas in awe

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum


Before there was the blockbuster movie, there was the book it came from--The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. My children have seen the movie and a few weeks ago we decided to read the first book in the Oz series for bedtime reading. Like the movie, the book starts with the grey and hard Kansas life of Dorothy. Unlike the movie, there aren't all the other characters (the farm hands, Elmira Gulch, Prof. Marvel) who are mirrored in the fantasy world. Baum devotes two pages to Kansas before the cyclone comes and takes Dorothy's house to the wonderful land of Oz. Munchkin land and the rest of that world is just as colorful as in the movie and even more fantastic. The Winged Monkeys have a back story, a bunch of other creatures (like the Winkies, the Quadlings, the China Doll people, the Kalidah, and others) inhabit the world and are obstacles or aids to Dorothy and her friends. The plot is mostly the same except there's nothing that makes the whole story just a dream of Dorothy's. The story has enough differences to make it well worth reading even if you've seen the film a million times. Reading the book even inspired some comparative discussions about the movie with Jacob and Lucy which made the whole experience even more fun.